Dive watches and dive computers both serve important purposes for scuba divers, but which is better for scuba diving in 2023 – a dive watch or a dive computer?
This guide will do the heavy lifting for you, as a diver to make the right gear choice. We’ll examine how they work, features, accuracy, safety, cost, and more. By the end, you’ll have a clearer picture of the key differences between these tools and which is better suited for your diving needs.
Table of Contents
- 1 A Brief History of Diving with Timepieces
- 2 Dive Watches Are The OG Undersea Timer
- 3 Dive Computers – The New Joe in Town
- 4 Dive Watch Pros And Cons
- 5 Dive Watch Pros and Cons
- 6 A Head-On Comparison Between Dive Watches and Dive Computers
- 7 1. Accuracy
- 8 2. Safety
- 9 3. Cost
- 10 4. Ease of Use
- 11 The Verdict: Should You Surface with a Dive Watch or Computer?
- 12 Final Thoughts
A Brief History of Diving with Timepieces
Before beginning, let’s take a quick dive into the backstory here.
Dive watches have been around since the 1920s, with rotating bezels blowing up in the 1950s. Brands like Rolex and Blancpain made them totally trendy. Then in the ’80s, dive computers came on the scene as electronics got better, banishing paper dive tables and pencils into history. Companies like Oceanic and Suunto dropped some early models, further elevating their popularity.
Dive Watches Are The OG Undersea Timer
Before computers, dive watches were a diver’s ride-or-die companion.
- Uses water pressure to move gear wheels and indicate depth on a display
- Rotating bezel calculates no-decompression limits
- May have luminous hands/markers
But let’s get real – these babies are now vintage tech. They only tell you the basics and you gotta calculate the rest yourself. Not so accurate or safe when you’re 30m down! Still, some divers just can’t quit their old-school gadgets.
While originally used as a diver’s sole reference, today dive watches play a secondary role as back-ups to dive computers.
Dive Computers – The New Joe in Town
Dive computers use electronic sensors to monitor depth, time, and ascent rate, and process it all using decompression algorithms to provide constant dive data.
- The water pressure sensor monitors the depth
- Tracks dive time in real-time
- Calculates no-decompression and decompression status for you
- Warns divers of important depth/time limits
- Monitors ascent rate for safety
Dive computers compile more data points for greater accuracy and user functionality so, in terms of offering space-age functionalities, dive watches take the cake.
Dive Watch Pros And Cons
- Fewer electronic circuitry, hence lesser chances of malfunction
- Less distracting with a minimal number of variables to monitor
- Fashionable on land and sea with a vintage aesthetic
- Less expensive than Dive computer
Dive Watch Pros and Cons
- Requires manual calculation of no-decompression limits
- Does not track the ascent rate
- Depth and time accuracy are not up to the mark
- Cannot indicate decompression obligations
- Constantly monitors depth, time, ascent rate
- Temperature and gas integration on higher-end models
- Provides warnings for depth/time limits
- Tracks tissue saturation and gas loads
- Logs dive profiles for download
- Generally much more expensive than dive watches with advanced models costing up to $2000
- With multiple data streams to monitor it becomes confusing to new divers.
- Malfunction risk with electronic circuits and displays
A Head-On Comparison Between Dive Watches and Dive Computers
A major distinction between dive watches and computers is instrumentation accuracy.
Depth accuracy on quality watches reaches +/- 3% but cheaper models maybe 10% or more. Time tracking depends on the watch’s movement. No-decompression time estimates require manual calculations prone to error.
In contrast, dive computer depth accuracy has an error margin within a minuscule 1% range due to electronic sensors. Time is precisely tracked to the last second. The decompression data provided by dive computers offers a hands-free approach on the part of the diver.
In terms of safety, dive computers again have an edge. While watches provide basic depth/time data, computers monitor multiple data points continuously. They track the no-decompression status and tissue saturation precisely and issue clear warnings at important depth thresholds. Dive computers also come with a fairly precise in-built compass to help you navigate better in case you’re feeling disoriented.
Advanced air-integrated dive computers take this a step further by tracking your breathing gas supply in real time. By connecting to your scuba tank, they can monitor your air consumption rate and provide warnings when your breathing gas runs low. This additional capability adds yet another layer of safety compared to dive watches.
Dive watches, on the other hand, require manual efforts from the diver’s end to give satisfactory results. As a diver, you’re still required to have top-notch navigational skills, knowledge of interpreting dive tables, knowing how to calculate bottom time and safety stop intervals, and SAC rate while using a dive watch.
Inexpensive dive watch models cost under $50, while quality watches range from $200 to over $1000. Don’t worry, the expensive ones are solely due to brand name and appearance, the functionality of your $50 dive watch is no less than the $1000 one. Besides, dive watches have limited ongoing recurring costs. Your dive watch batteries are just lithium batteries that cost less than $5 and each one can last you for over a year.
Dive computers start around $250 for basic models but advanced units with extensive features can cost $2000 or more. There are also recurring costs for battery replacement and boy oh boy the costs are hefty. Even the cheapest dive computer batteries cost around $40 and these things burn out quicker than hay stacks. Then there’s the cost of replacing failing circuits or displays and given the cost, if that happens you’re better off buying a new computer.
Here dive watches provide reliable utility at a lower cost point and if you’re diving at recreational depths which doesn’t demand too many technicalities, dive watches are clearly a cost-effective choice for you.
4. Ease of Use
Finally, convenience and simplicity matter. Dive watches have simple, familiar operations easy for divers to learn. They are less distracting during dives. You dive in, your watch tracks your bottom time, you calculate no-deco limits with simple formulas, you surface after the dive. As simple as that!
Dive computers offer more complicated functions and data to monitor. This can be distracting and require mugging up the user manuals to use properly, not to mention the hundreds of troubleshooting issues each model comes with. For focused utility without distraction, dive watches get the nod.
The Verdict: Should You Surface with a Dive Watch or Computer?
When it comes to diving watches versus computers, there’s clearly one winner for modern underwater adventurers
Dive Computers Are Superior
While dive watches have that retro appeal, dive computers with their precision, algorithmic power, and robust features edge out watches for overall dive safety and function. For technical divers, dive computers are the undisputed champions these days.
Features like air integration, digital compass, and wireless connectivity justify the higher cost of dive computers for serious divers.
Consider Your Needs
That being said, dive watches can still have a place for more casual divers. If you only dive occasionally in relatively shallow water and want to keep things simple, an inexpensive but quality dive watch may meet your needs. For deep, frequent diving where maximum data is critical, rely on the power of dive computers. Analyze your diving habits and choose the gear that aligns with your requirements.
Use in Tandem For Safety
An argument can be made for relying on both a dive watch and a dive computer to provide redundancy. By wearing a dive watch as a backup, critical depth, and time data are still available if your computer fails, which, let’s be honest, happens quite frequently.
Using a dive watch and computer together gives you the best of both worlds!
The debate is settled folks! For most divers today, computers have eclipsed watches as essential scuba gear due to their advanced functionality.
However, watches still possess advantages for more casual divers focused on simplicity, style, and cost savings. No matter which instrument you choose, focus on diving safety and be sure to match your gear to your experience level and needs. With proper training and practice, both dive watches and computers can serve you well underwater!