Configuration & the quest for perfection
In his sixth article in this series, SIMON PRIDMORE asks if your dive gear is set up as well as it could be, and suggests some techniques you could adopt to improve it. Photos by ANDREY BIZYUKIN
AN IMPORTANT STEP towards becoming a better diver is to acquire the habit of constantly reviewing the way in which your equipment is set up. As I mentioned in the last article in this series, in the technical-diving community this process is known as configuration.
Technical divers constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the purpose of the equipment they carry with them under water, and the way they put it all together.
If you have been diving for some time and your equipment is currently set up exactly as it was when you learned to dive, a review may be well overdue.
No two divers have exactly the same requirements or preferences, but good configurations do share a number of basic attributes. Here is a guide to getting started.
Your first aim is to make sure that you look good: not when you stand admiring yourself in front of your bedroom mirror, but when you’re in your dive gear and under water.
Your profile should be clean and streamlined. When you’re horizontal, nothing should be hanging down below you, so clip off hoses and tape down or tuck away securely any loose straps.
This is not simply for aesthetic reasons. It helps prevent you getting caught up on a reef or wreck and thus damaging yourself, your equipment or the environment; or all three simultaneously.
Furthermore, the less interruption there is to the smooth flow of water over your body, the more efficiently you will be able to swim, allowing you to conserve both air and energy.
These are the same reasons why each accessory you carry should be stowed away rather than just left to dangle down from your BC.
Everything must be secured so that it stays in place and is there when you need it, but not hidden away so well that it is difficult to find and deploy.
There are a couple of crucial rules to follow. If you use pockets, put only one loose thing in each because if you have several items loose in the same pocket and pull one out, everything else will come out with it.
Pockets with clips inside are a good idea. If you are attaching things to D-rings, ensure that each piece of equipment is secured at two points so that it doesn’t fall off and disappear into the depths if one attachment point fails.
Think carefully about what equipment you really need to take with you on any particular dive. Look critically at each item, examine its purpose and consider its usefulness.
The mere fact that you own something is not sufficient justification for carrying it on every dive.
However, if a piece of gear is so important that its failure or loss would threaten your safety, make sure that you have two of them. An obvious example is torches on a night dive.
Be wary of taking this concept too far. Carrying back-ups for non-essential equipment can over-burden you.
If you’re sure that you don’t need something, leave it behind.
This decision is not always straightforward. For example: you wouldn’t usually take a snorkel with you when diving in an overhead environment, but if the dive was on a wreck and involved a long surface swim out from the shore and back, then yes, it would be a good idea to take a snorkel, and keep every breath of your air supply for the dive itself.
You wouldn’t keep the snorkel attached to the side of your mask during the dive, as it would represent a potential entanglement hazard if you encountered any line or dangling cables, but you could tuck it away in your BC when it’s not in use (there are folding snorkels specifically designed for this purpose), or strap it to your harness.
Give a good deal of thought especially to the length and placement of your regulator hoses. A key point to note here is that there are no standard hose lengths, although it may be convenient for manufacturers and retailers to pretend that there are.
Regulators and submersible pressure gauges are mostly packaged with hoses, but one size does not fit all.
Don’t just accept unquestioningly the hoses that are in the box or on the display model. Large people need longer hoses than small people and different configuration options require different hose lengths. Good dive-centres understand this and will help.
Even if you find that you have to buy extra hoses, it’s well worth the expense to get it right. There is no need to discard the packaged hoses, however. Your configuration might evolve and you could need them one day.
Be aware that, as well as intermediate-pressure regulator hoses and high-pressure hoses, various lengths of corrugated inflator hose and low-pressure inflator hose are available too.
A discussion of the pros and cons of various regulator set-ups deserves an article of its own, and I will return to the topic later in this series.
AN OPEN MIND IS THE BEST ACCESSORY
You will notice that this article does not preach the benefits of any particular configuration. As I said earlier, no two people are exactly the same. So, while it is an excellent idea to look at how other people configure their equipment, beware of blindly copying your diving heroes, or succumbing to peer pressure to conform to other divers’ preferences.
Have confidence in your own solutions. If something works well for you, then that is all that really matters.
When choosing your own path, however, by all means be inventive but avoid the temptation to get carried away and look for complex solutions. Keep everything as simple as possible.
Even when you feel you have arrived at a configuration with which you are pleased, maintain an open mind.
Always be prepared to adapt your style if you see something you think might work better.
If you are part of a team, your configuration should ideally be compatible with that of the people with whom you dive.
This doesn’t mean that all of you need to carry exactly the same make and model of equipment but the thinking behind the way each diver’s gear is set up should be similar.
The whole team needs to have confidence in each member’s system.
GOING THROUGH CHANGES
Configuration is a process of evolution rather than revolution. Make changes one at a time, and give yourself time to get used to each change before making the next. Don’t embark on a testing dive before doing a few dives in relatively benign conditions to get used to the changes first.
Keep only the changes with which you are completely happy. If anything feels awkward or uncomfortable, don’t persist with it. It’s surprising how easily a minor irritation can nag away at your subconscious during a dive and raise your stress levels.
Ask a friend with a camera to record how you look as your configuration evolves. We all have a picture in our minds of how we look under water, but the reality may not live up to that image. Seeing incontrovertible evidence before your eyes may offer you a powerful incentive to improve.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Reflecting carefully about how you put your equipment together makes you both a safer diver and a better team-player.
Just the simple fact that you have given thought to how to store or where to place every piece of equipment you carry will enable you to deploy it more efficiently in an emergency.
Of course, a key part of the process is that once you’ve decided where something should go, you then have to practise both deploying it and replacing it. There is no point in tucking something away tidily if you then can’t reach it on a dive.
It’s also awkward if, having deployed a piece of equipment, you then have to hold it in your hand for the rest of the dive, even though you no longer need it, simply because you can’t put it back or stow it somewhere else.
To summarise: your set-up needs to be comfortable, streamlined and uncluttered as possible. Everything must be secured or stored out of the way when not in use, yet be easily and quickly accessible when required.
You must carry everything you do need and nothing that you don’t. Finally, your configuration should be both individual and compatible with the other members of your dive-team.
All this may sound like an impossible mission but the goal is well worth pursuing. Think of it as a never-ending quest for perfection.