Scuba diving in the UK can be challenging with less than ideal visibility at times, colder water temperatures and inclement weather but the diversity that our coastline has to offer more than makes up for the extra effort we have to put in now and then. With everything from kelp reefs full of playful seals to WWII shipwrecks the UK has so many dives sites to explore.
But, with such a varying array of dive sites, the lower water temperature and potentially reduced visibility it is important you have all the kit you need to safely dive our waters. This list provides a good starting point to base your UK diving kit on with some helpful tips on what to look for when buying the right kit.
- Exposure protection suit - Semi-dry Wetsuit or Drysuit
- Undersuit (if diving with a drysuit)
- Boots (if diving with a semi-dry suit)
- Dive Computer
- Console / Instruments
- Buoyancy Control Device (BCD)
- Weights & Weight belt
- Knife or Line Cutter
- Surface Marker Buoy (SMB) or Delayed Surface Marker Buoy (DSMB)
- Dive Torch
- Hose holder / hose management
- Dive Slate
- Surface signalling device (Air Horn, Flag, Whistle)
- Personal Locator
- Mask Strap
- Fin Strap
Unfortunately scuba diving in the UK doesn't lend itself to a lightweight, thin wetsuit or rash guard. At the very least you'll want a nice thick semi-dry wetsuit but more than likely either a trilaminate drysuit or neoprene drysuit and appropriate thermal layering beneath it if you are going to make the most of our waters. The type of drysuit and undersuit you go for if very much personal choice but visit of Drysuit Guide and Undersuit Guide for more information and help on types.
Hood, Gloves and Boots
You'll absolutely need these! In the summer you can get away with a 3mm thick pair of gloves and 5mm gloves during the colder months but you'll want a decent 5mm thick hood all year round to retain all that heat lost from your head. Gloves with abrasion protection on the fingers and/or palm are a good idea to make them last longer and Kelvar (or similar) lined gloves are even better. If you are wearing a wetsuit then make sure you get nice thick boots, minimum 5mm but ideally 6mm to 6.5mm thick ones.
Recommended Hoods: Fourth Element 5mm Hood, Waterproof H1 5/7mm Hood
Recommended Gloves: Fouth Element 3mm Gloves, Waterproof G1 3mm Gloves, Fourth Element 5mm Gloves, Waterproof G1 5mm Gloves, Waterproof G1 5mm Kevlar Gloves
Recommended Boots: Scubapro Delta 5mm Boots, Waterproof B1 6.5mm Boots, Fourth Element Amphibian 6.5mm Boots, Scubapro Heavy Duty 6.5mm Boots
You'll want to invest in some robust open heel fins for the UK because the thick suits usually means extra lead to achieve the right buoyancy and therefore extra weight to manoeuvre through the water. A decent pair of open heel fins will provide the propulsion you need without flapping inefficiently in the water every time you kick. Spring or bungee straps are good idea as well as they definitely make the fins easy to get on and off with the extra bulk of kit and thick gloves you'll have on.
It isn't always crystal clear water diving in the UK so diving with a small watch style dive computer isn't the best option for two reasons. Firstly you'll probably want something big and easy to read in lower visibility conditions and secondly the watch type dive computers are intended for everyday wear on over thin wetsuits, not thick drysuits so you'll need a strap extension at the very least. A normal wrist dive computer comes with a chunky depth compensating strap that will maintain a good grip on your arm as your suit compresses and expands as you dive.
If you are planning on diving in the UK during the height of the summer seasons only then the sea temperatures are warm enough to not worry too much about what regulator you dive with but when the water temperature starts getting down towards 10°C you seriously need to think about diving with a cold water rated regulator. Water temperatures in inland lakes during the winter can get particularly low! Cold water rated regulators have been tested to EN 250 and passed for use in water temperatures between 2°C and 4°C.
Buoyancy Control Device (BCD)
Strong, robust, plenty of lift capacity and an integrated weight system are elements you'll be looking for in a BCD for UK scuba diving. Weight restrictions don't exist like they do when travelling abroad so you can afford to use a heavier duty BCD made from a long-lasting and tough material that can withstand a bit of rubbing up against rocks and rough surfaces if needs be. You'll also be carrying extra weight so an integrated weight system allows you to spread the weight around for better trim in the water. Good, strong D-rings and anchor points are worth their weight in gold as well.
Knives and Line Cutters
There is a very good chance you'll come across fishing nets and tackle if you dive the seas surrounding the UK. Getting tangled without having a means of cutting yourself free is not fun so many UK divers will carry a larger primary knife on their leg and a smaller redundant knife or line cutter attached to the BCD or wrist, giving you flexibility if you can't reach one or the other.
Reels and Buoys
The key thing to remember here is that you be trying to use potentially cold fingers wrapped in thick neoprene to operate your reel and buoy at depth so make sure you buy a reel that really easy to operate with reduced dexterity. Ratcheting reels are also very useful as you'll have much more control over the paying out and in line. Spools maybe small and fit conveniently in a pocket, but they don't make great primary reels.
When it comes to surface marker buoys (SMBs), most divers will opt straight for a self-sealing delayed buoy that combines both surface and delayed deployment in one. You'll want something of a reasonable length that aids visual location in a choppy sea as a diver that dips down into the trough of a wave can be difficult to see until they bob back up on the peak.
Particulates and tiny marine life in the water can quickly block out the sunlight so you will need a reasonably bright primary dive torch. Something small enough that fits into a BCD pocket is great as a backup torch but probably won't cut it for long as a primary light.
Beam penetration is something else to bear in mind which is where the difference between a spot and flood beam comes in. In clear water a wide flood beam is great for illuminating a large area but in low visibility conditions the light is quickly scattered and reflected by debris, silt, sand, etc floating in the water. A tight spot beam offers much better light penetration through the water, providing a much more usable beam. Although a spot dive torch generally only offer an 8° to 10° beam angle you will still get an element of light scatter created by the reflector / lens that produces a lit 'halo' area around the main beam that will provide peripheral visibility.
With regard to other features, a rechargeable torch is handy only in that you don't have to worry about changing batteries. Just charge it up before the dive and off you go. That being said, a battery operated dive torch works just as well and will likely be cheaper.
Bags are one off those bits of kit that everyone likes what they use. Some divers like to get everything in one bag with rollers, some use a box, some separate it up. It depends on the type of diving you'll be doing to a certain extent. Diving from the shore has different stowage requirements to diving from a boat.
If you are diving from a boat you'll likely need a separate bag such as a mesh bag for your mask, snorkel, fins and accessories as you'll kit everything else up before boarding and won't necessarily have room for a large kit bag. You'll probably want a dry bag for clothes, keys, phone, etc that can be kept somewhere out of the way for after the dive.
Signalling Devices & Locators
If you are diving in a large expanse of water then make sure you have at least a visual AND audible way of signalling your location. Having personally been separated as a group from our dive boat in the English Channel due to mechanical issues I can categorically say that these are essential. One without the other doesn't work nearly as well.
A visual aid can be your surface marker buoy (SMB) or a flag, strobe and dive torches in low light conditions or anything else that can be clearly seen over a great distance. Audible aids could be a whistle or air horn that will produce a sound wave that also carries a long way.
A third option, in conjunction with the other two, is a personal locator device like the Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS that transmits your GPS location to vessels, aircraft and compatible receivers up to several miles away. They are obviously the more expensive option but well worth the money.
Don't ruin a dive trip because you didn't bring a simple spare mask strap, fins strap, o-ring, hose, some silicone grease and a couple of tools. Changing a spare takes minutes if you have them, the trip home seems to take forever if you don't!
At the very least carry a universal mask strap and fin strap (if you have normal fin straps), a high pressure and a low pressure hose and a small tool kit. Even if you never use them you might save someone else's dive by being able to help them out.
I have dived for over 25 years in the UK, much of it in the English Channel and whilst diving holidays to warm destinations are fantastic trips I still prefer exploring what our coastline and its dive sites has to offer.
If you are looking for UK dive site inspiration then check out of Top UK Dive Sites list