The longer I dive, the more stuff I accumulate. The more experience and confidence you gain, the more 'bits and pieces' you need to branch out into new facets of diving or to make the experience more comfortable.
Here are a few things i've collected along the way which have become staples in my dive kit. Aside from the usual, these are items I wasn't aware I would need, especially as they weren't sitting front and centre in every dive shop I perused.
1. Zip ties
I can't tell you how many zip ties i've used since I began diving and in how many different ways.
The first and obvious use is when things break. I remember being on a dive boat when the arm of my camera snapped off. Call off the dive? No! My dive master grabbed a few zip ties and fastened the arm on tight and I was back in the water before the end of our safety stop.
It's not going to work for every situation but these little pieces of plastic have been used to temporarily repair BCDs, masks and camera parts of a number of dives.
Bonus benefits? They're easy to remove and don't leave a sticky residue like most tape. You can also put a few in the pocket of your BCD and use them underwater, again, can't do that with tape!
The second, less obvious use? This is a little trick I learned from photographers in the Cayman Islands. You can use zip ties to coax little critters out of their holes. Now, there is a level of common sense here - NEVER put the zip tie into a hole, NEVER touch the critter with the zip tie and obviously choose your subject wisely (you can't want to end up with bites and stings). Always ask your dive guide or dive master if it's appropriate before you test out this technique.
You can gently disturb the sand a few centimetres outside of a hole and more often than not, you will attract the attention of a curious little shrimp, crab or octopus.
2. Plumbing tape
Before we write off tape altogether, I like to keep a roll of plumbing tape in my dive bag. Again, this can be used for minor tears and breaks but if you're a photographer, you can use it to block annoying light leaks on your camera equipment.
I tied out a technique in underwater photography utilising fluorescence. My first try, I had severe light leak coming from my housing which completely ruined the shots. The next day, I cut small pieces of tape and placed them around the clear plastic pieces of the housing and am excited to report that the issue is now resolved.
Bonus benefits? Plumbing tape will stay on for an extremely long time (over hundreds of dives). I still have the original tape on from over 6 months ago. When I took some of the tape off? No annoying residue. If you do happen to find that your brand of tape is leaving sticky marks, you can use eucalyptus oil to easily get this off.
Additional use, if you use a snoot, you can use tape to create additional templates to shape light. Simply create a few layers of tape with the sticky sides facing inward to meet each other and cut or punch the desired shape. If you have a Retra snoot this will create exceptional results.
3. Tooth Paste
I used to be one of those people who bought the 'store brand' anti-fog from my local dive shop. Sure, people said to me you can use tooth paste to initially clean you mask, but it never occurred to me that this could be used in place of more expensive anti-fog.
If you're travelling and diving, chances are you will have toothpaste handy and using it in place of anti fog also means one less thing to remember/travel with. Most hotels will provide you with a complimentary travel sized tooth paste which will slip conveniently into a dive or dry bag, rather than taking out your big tube each time!
4. White Vinegar
Torches and camera gear - baiscally anything with metal parts are prone to rust. Especially if soaking them in water alone doesn't clean the gear thoroughly. Built up salt over time and not correctly washing camera equipment can cause damage. To help remove build up and protect against rust, I soak my gear in water mixed with white vinegar.
This doesn't need to be a big production. I will simply soak the gear for at least as long as it was in the salt water (preferably longer) in a mixture of 1 cup of vinegar for every 2 litres of water.
5. Camping Mirror
This is another trick I learned from photographers on Grand Cayman Island.
You can use a cheep camping mirror underwater and some critters will exhibit interesting and exciting behaviours. Make sure you ask you dive master or guide before hand if it's appropriate to use a mirror and allow them to provide any required supervision. Remember, we're trying to product both ourselves and the wildlife from any harm or stress.
A local dive guide on Grand Cayman placed the mirror about 10 cm away from the hole of a Pikeblenny. All of a sudden, a little face immersed from the sand and flicked out a beautifully coloured sail-like dorsal fin. It also examined its reflection in curiosity. A really special moment.
When selecting a mirror, choose one that is made from plastic, has no sharp edges and is small enough to fit into a pocket of your BCD or swimming costume. This is to protect hands and fingers but additionally, creatures like barracuda are attracted to bright, shining objects. Only take the mirror out when you intend to use it and when your dive guide indicates that it is safe.
6. Paper towels/q-tips
I probably easily use paper towels and q-tips more than any other item in my dive kit. They are my go-to to remove dirt and debris from o-rings and crevices in camera parts, lighting tools and my dive dive gear (removing sand from my reg).
The trick? Buy the cheapest, roughest towels you can find. You really want them to be as fluff free as possible. The expensive paper towels and q-tips are soft and comfortable because they are fluffy. You really don't want to remove grit and replace it with fine fibres. For q-tips, buy the ones with the firm, pointed head to get into any hard to reach places and get right into corners.
Any time you clean gear, especially anything that depends on o-rings to protect electronics - always... allllwaaaayyysss.... ALWAYS - use your magnifying glass to check for residual grit and fine fibres.
7. Velcro strips
The last item on my list is velcro strips. Have you ever travelled with your chargers, only to find they've moved in transit and now you have a rat-king at the other end? There is a simple solution for this. Buy small strips of velcro and wrap them around each bundle of cables. When you get to the other end, everything should be tangle free and ready to go.
Bonus benefit? Reusing velcro is a reusable and environmentally friendly solution. The less waste you create while enhancing your comfort and convenience the better!
Think i've missed something? Got some staples of your own that enhance your diving experience? Leave a comment below!