Jan 2018

How to Prevent your Underwater Camera from Flooding

By Mike Waddington

Buying your first underwater camera set up can be a daunting task. With so many options on what camera and housing to buy, making a decision can be difficult, especially when you consider the price – and that’s not including all the additions you might want, such as trays, arms, strobes and extra lenses.

What is perhaps even more daunting that buying the camera set up, is taking it underwater for the first time.

Bringing a camera underwater with you is the best way to help you remember your dives, and it is an essential piece of equipment if you are one of those divers who like to list all the amazing critters you spot (good luck remembering all the identifying features of a Nudibranch without one…).

Watching your camera housing fill with water during a dive is one of the most heartbreaking diving experiences you will ever experience. Not only are you going to have to spend quite a bit of money to replace it, but also all the images from that dive ruined, and unless you packed an extra camera, you are done with underwater photography for that trip.

Underwater housings are designed to last, so if the housing has flooded during a dive, 99% of the time you only have yourself to blame. By following these tips, your camera should keep snapping underwater photos for many years to come.

Check the Housing Before Taking the Camera Underwater

Although underwater housings are designed to last and withstand the pressure exerted on them while underwater, defects occasionally happen during the manufacturing process.

If you have just purchased your new set up, before sticking the camera inside and going for a dive, it is wise to do the first dive with only the housing. You should still set everything up properly, but instead of putting the camera in the housing, put tissue paper or tea bags inside. This way, you will be able to identify even the smallest leaks, and if there is a problem with the housing, at least your camera is not broken too.

It is also a good idea to do this on every first dive of a dive trip. Airport baggage handlers are not known for being gentle with your bags, and a heavy impact could damage the housing, even if you cant see the damage.

Set Everything Up in the Light

Hotel rooms, especially beach villas, are not known for having the best lighting, often instead going for the ‘romantic lighting’ approach – A.K.A. dull lights and dark wooden walls. Setting your camera system up in an area of low light is just asking for trouble.

You need to work on your camera in a well lit, clean environment, so if there are any hairs or dirt on the O-rings, you can see them properly.

The best lights to use are the horrendously bright kind used by supermarkets or hospitals. They are not the most pleasant to be around, but they make setting a camera up much easier.

Many dive resorts that cater to underwater photographers will have a place where you can properly set cameras up – known as a camera room. If available, you should defiantly use it. If there isn’t one, ask for a bright lamp so you can work on your system properly.

Check and Grease your O-Rings Properly

The main reason that camera housings flood is because the main O-rings are either broken, too dry, or too greased.

Every button on your housing will have O-rings, but you don’t need to worry about these ones. The ones you need to worry about are the large ones where you can actually open the camera. On smaller compacts, there is probably only one on the main door of the housing, but larger cameras may have more – for lens ports for instance.

O-rings prevents water from entering the housing by creating a seal between two solid pieces of the housing. If the O-ring is broken or chipped, water will be able to seep through the gap the break has proved.

To keep your O-rings from breaking, you must keep them greased, otherwise they will dry out, become brittle, and eventually break. To do this you need to remove the O-ring from the housing. This should always be done with a proper O-ring pick so you don’t tear or dent the O-ring. Once removed, you should gently clean the O-ring, and apply a thin layer of grease. Putting on too much can cause problems too, as thick blobs or grease can prevent a proper seal forming.

Once clean and lightly greased, you should check the O-ring seat for dirt, before gently putting it back in place. Most housing manufacturers will recommend using their own brand of lubricant, but these are far more expensive than the generic brands, and ultimately it is the same stuff. What you are looking for is ‘Silicon Grease’ as it is waterproof, and you should always carry a couple of tubes with you on a diving holiday.

It is important to remember that these O-rings won’t last forever. Over time, the removing them, cleaning them and greasing will stretch them so they no longer fit properly. You should always keep a spare in your luggage, and if in doubt, throw the old one away and move onto a new one.

Bubble Check Before every Dive

Even the most careful photographers can miss a hair or a grain of sand, so you should always conduct a thorough bubble check before every dive.

A bubble check is exactly what it sounds like. You submerge the camera in water, and check to see if any bubbles are escaping from anywhere. If you see any bubbles it means there is a leak somewhere, and as the bubbles are seeping from the housing, water is entering, so time to check again but this time more thoroughly.

The best place to do this is either in the rinse tanks for the dive equipment, or in a bucket. The water doesn’t need to be very deep – just deep enough so you can submerge the entire system. A bubble check won’t guarantee your housing won’t leak, but it will help you spot obvious mistakes.

Keep your Camera Housing Closed

A simple but often disastrous error many divers make is opening their camera housings on the dive boat to show off all their amazing pictures and videos.

The problem with this is that dive boats are never truly dry, and even a single drop of water on the O-ring can create a small gap where more water can enter later. Even if it doesn’t flood the camera, these small water drops can cause the housing to fog from the inside, which will render it useless until you can properly dry it later.

You should only even open the housing on a dive boat if you really need to – to change battery for instance – and only if you have the right equipment with you to set it back up properly. Most camera batteries should easily last for at least two dives, and often even three. If you find that your battery cannot hold enough charge to two dives, you should either try to buy a more powerful battery for that model of camera, or change the way you use your camera – don’t look at the pictures while underwater and keep it turned off when not using it.

Wash your Housing after Every Dive

For underwater photographers, salt water is the enemy.

It slowly eats away at all of your expensive equipment, and if left to dry it will form salt crystals in places that are difficult to reach.

An essential part of underwater photography is caring for your camera system, and that includes thoroughly washing it after every dive. Most dive boats will contain a bucket of fresh water for you to do so, and every dive resort will have fresh water bins for washing equipment after a day of diving.

When washing the housing, the most important part is repeatedly pressing all the buttons while the camera is submerged in fresh water. This way you can rinse the salt water out of these hard to reach places, and failing to do so could cause a build up of salt that either cases the housing to leak through one of the button O-rings, or renders that camera function unusable as the salt will jam up the button.

Final Thoughts

Although we can take all the precautions in the world, accidents can still happen.

Make sure you back up your photos and videos after every single dive to prevent losing all your holiday snaps, and if possible, try to carry an extra camera (same model) with you on your dive trips so if the worst does happen, you will still be able to keep shooting.

Have you ever experienced a flooded camera? Do you have any tried and tested tips for keeping them safe? If so, we would love to hear from you. Pop your comments in the box below and we will be sure to get back to you.

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Mike Waddington

I first discovered diving in 2008 after going snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. After trying diving at a flooded quarry in England I decided to head out to warmer more interesting waters in Thailand where I ended on the Island of Koh Tao completing my Open Water course. Instantly addicted with money to spend and plenty of time on my hands I decided to continue until I became a Divemaster so I could live what seemed as the perfect life.

After that I headed to the Caribbean to an island called Utila to complete my instructor course, I spent several months out there completing the MSDT internship, teaching students and leading dives. This is also where I discovered my interest in the technical side of diving, taking part in equipment repair courses and learning about blending gasses and running compressors.

With all my new qualifications it was time to head back to where it had all started, Back to Koh Tao where I intended on living the dream. Once I arrived I quickly found a job and started teaching straight away. During my time on Koh Tao I took part in all many technical diving courses, learning how to dive with re-breathers, in caves and even going down to 90m/300ft!

Qualifications:

PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
PADI/DSAT Tech Deep Instructor
PADI/DSAT Gas Trimix Gas Blender
PADI/DSAT Trimix Diver
TDI Intro to Cave Diver
TDI Advanced Wreck Diver
TDI Inspiration rebreather Decompression Procedures
PADI Professional Videographer
BSAC Compressor Operator
TDI Equipment Service Technician

Dream Dive Locations:

Silfra, Iceland
Cenotes, Mexico
Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia
Ice Diving in Russia