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Is a Dive Computer Necessary While Scuba Diving? Well It Kinda Depends

Back when I started scuba diving in the late 90s dive computers weren’t popular, at least not for regular divers on tight budgets. Fast forward to today, dive computers have become an integral part of our scuba gear arsenal.

But owning one can still burn a hole in your purse, which begs the question: is owning a dive computer necessary? Let’s be honest here, before the advent of dive computers scuba divers were breathing and kicking just fine. A dive computer is simply a more accurate and convenient substitute for your sensory scuba skills.

The short answer will be: If you’re a recreational diver, a dive computer is hardly necessary but it will be safer to dive with one if you can. Although, I doubt you’ll need to check decompression limits or your gas mixture consumption rate frequently on a regular dive.

For the long answer: make sure to read till the end. I will touch down on every question you have on your mind regarding dive computers in this post.

5 Reasons Having a Dive Computer Might Benefit You

Now that dive computers have gotten compact and lightweight it’s no more a question of exceeding the weight of scuba gear but that of affordability. Hence, the following reasons are evaluated keeping in mind the cost-benefit ratio of dive computers.

1. It’s a Must-Have for Real-Time Dive Data Geeks

The scuba community is filled with stat nerds who love to keep note of every minute detail on each of their dive, be it their average depth, average gas consumption rate, ascent rate, water temperature, or SAC rate. If you belong to the data geek community, by all means, get yourself an intricate dive computer.

Besides, real-time data will only help you make informed decisions before your next dive. Maybe, your cylinder capacity far exceeds your breathing gas requirements for the entire dive and you can do well with a much smaller dive tank. A dive computer with its real-time data collection will only help you in taking these decisions with more confidence.

2. It’s Your Decompression Monitoring Assistant

Decompression sickness is a serious risk for novice divers who haven’t yet developed an acute sense of depth and often cross the decompression depth limit. Or maybe you’re struggling to find the sweet spot for your ascent rate without triggering the onset of DCS.

Dive computers continuously monitor your nitrogen uptake and calculate the necessary decompression stops during ascent to safely off-gas excess nitrogen. So it’s needless to say that in such cases even a basic digital dive computer will be an immense upgrade to your diving experience.

3. A Dive Computer Is Your Underwater Danger Alarm

It’s not uncommon for divers to get so enchanted by what the submerged world has to offer that they lose track of everything else.

So, you spotted a vibrant nudibranch idling below you and you’re determined to reach it and take a photo unaware of the fact that the nudibranch is at a depth that is just outside your decompression depth. As you glide closer in a haze, the decompression limit beeping warning and flashing screen of your dive computer bring you back to your senses.

Yes, I have witnessed this absent-mindedness quite a few times among fellow divers, especially underwater photography enthusiasts. In such events, you will just feel grateful to your dive computer for giving you those precious last-moment visual and auditory warnings.

Some advanced computer models also incorporate features like integrated compasses, dive planning software, and gas monitoring capabilities.

4. Feeling Disoriented? Your Dive Computer Got Your Back

It’s easy to lose your sense of direction underwater and navigating back to your dive boat (having a dive flag helps) through the endless blue can be a real challenge. Yes, the option to resurface and spot your dive boat is always there.

But an advanced dive computer like the Garmin Descent G1, with its super intricate GPS/Galileo support, enables you to mark entry and exit points of your dive with ease so that you can resurface right where you want without breaking a sweat. If you’re into drift diving (where dive entry and exit points are not the same) a dive watch will help you easily chart your dive.

5. A Dive Computer Can Be Your Digital Logbook

Keeping a log of your dives in a notebook is a hassle. Dive computers serve as comprehensive digital dive loggers, you can say goodbye to manual record-keeping. This includes dive profiles, maximum depth, bottom time, water temperature, and gas dive locations. Again, this isn’t a question of necessity but that of convenience.

If you’re old school like me you’d probably want to track your dive logs manually instead of relying on a computer.

What About Dive Computers for Advanced Diving?

Now, if you’re an advanced diver who often needs to exceed the recreational depth limits or a cave diver, dive computers can be your lifesaver. We are talking about depths where even a small deviation from standard protocols can prove fatal. What else is better for such situations than a dive computer with pinpoint accuracy regarding your decompression limits and ascent rates?

Air-integrated dive computers have almost become the norm among cave divers nowadays and that has significantly contributed to lowering the rates of cave diving fatalities over the last decade.

The Future of Dive Computers

As technology becomes more sophisticated the dive computers keep getting smaller and smaller. Nowadays even your tiny Apple smartwatch is capable of acting as your dive computer.

Pretty soon, the price curve of dive computers will take a nose dive in the upcoming years and make them more affordable to your regular divers. After that, there’s no reason to ignore buying a dive computer as part of your standard dive gear set as the cost factor is settled.

Reliance on Dive Computer Is Okay but Don’t Overdo It

We must keep up with the ever-evolving tide of technology instead of holding prejudices against it (freedivers I see you). You’re not a poor diver if you rely on your dive computer. You’re just a smart diver who knows better.

Now that doesn’t mean you should completely ignore going through the basics of reading a dive table or the decompression theory behind them and completely offload your safety concerns on your dive computer. It’s a piece of electronic equipment at the end of the day and can fail you anytime while the tried and tested basics of scuba diving will never betray you.

To Conclude

At the end of the day if your aim is casual scuba diving, dive computers are like leather car seats: having one isn’t necessary but boy does it feel good to have one! It’s all about your budget and convenience. If your budget permits you, why not? Just strap one to your wrist and be part of the smart diving community of the 21st century. Here’s to the future of smart diving!

Scott Braxton

Scott Braxton

Growing up in Florida I have always regarded cave diving as not just some adventure sport but as a medium between me and nature. Cave diving requires an unwavering respect for the delicate balance of overhead environment ecosystems. I cannot resist the call of the caverns. I also indulge in spearfishing (much to the disdain of my buddy William), mountain hiking and occasional wind-surfing.

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