As scuba divers we travel often by nature. Maybe to check out that new quarry 100 miles down the road, or to dive with Thresher Sharks in the Philippines. Without travel we would only be able to dive the same sites over and over, until there wouldn’t be any point going back there! Scuba diving equipment is not light, even the travel rated equipment weights can add up quickly. With some sound planning you can be sure that you and your equipment end up where you need to be, and still in one piece, without breaking your wallet!
When booking flights the amount of luggage each passenger is entitled too seems to be getting smaller and smaller as the years go by. Many international carriers are only offering 20kg per person now, and some are even only offering 15kg. A few still offer an extra bag for scuba diving equipment free of charge, so check before you book. Airlines that offer free sports equipment are few and far between, so I use flight comparison websites and compare the baggage allowances of each airline, or how much it costs to buy extra luggage.Most airline will only charge between twenty and forty pounds for an extra full weight bag (usually 23kg). This is a lot cheaper than turning up to the airport with excess baggage, when the pricing for excess baggage usually starts at around ten pounds a kilo!! Most airlines have no limit on the weight of hand luggage either, only size. I find that I can fit all the clothes I need for a week long tropical scuba holiday in one of those carry on sized roller suitcases. This then frees up my entire hold baggage for scuba equipment!
The equipment bag you use for international flights is important. While a mesh bag may be great for boat diving excursions, it is not designed to be thrown around by airport baggage handlers. I prefer to use the proper dive branded suitcases (such as the Scubapro Caravan). Although these bags are not as cheap as other options, they are made of tough, durable materials that will help protect your gear from the moment you leave home to the moment you get to your room. Some of the bigger dive bags will just about fit two divers worth of equipment inside, so if your travel buddy is also your dive buddy then you can work together to try and take as little space as possible.
Personally I will always take my regulators and dive computer in my hand luggage, for a couple of different reasons. Firstly these are probably the most expensive pieces of equipment that you own so it is nice to keep this sort of thing on your person, but secondly, regulators are actually pretty heavy! If most airlines will only allow you around 23kg of hold luggage, this will normally count for at least 3 kg of that, if not more. Because they don’t take up too much room, I will always place them in my hand luggage. Just to be safe I will always keep one diving manual in my hand luggage, as many people around the world will have never seen a regulator, nor understand you when you start speaking in English. I have been through India, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Kenya, Madagascar and many other places with my regulators in my hand luggage, and although I have been stopped every time, just quickly showing the airport staff what the regulators are used for, I have never had a problem getting through.
If diving is not the sole reason you are traveling then it might be a good idea to cut down on what you take with you. All scuba gear can be rented relatively cheaply from almost anywhere in the world. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take anything, but just the essentials. Unless you are diving in ice cold conditions then you probably don’t need your awesome set of environmentally sealed balanced regulators, and although your BCD is comfortable, you will probably be ok in the rental Aqualung Wave. You should still take some bits and pieces with you though, but only the pieces that are more personalised to you, such as mask, snorkel, fins and wetsuit. Most diving accessories are pretty light too, so an SMB, reel and computer are not going to fill your suitcase. By simply removing regulators and BCD you may be able to remove the best part of 10 kilos from your luggage!
When preparing to travel with scuba gear, it is essential to thoroughly wash and dry all of your equipment. BCDs and exposure protection can hold a large amount of water, and as you will know, water is extremely heavy. I like to remove all the dump valves on my BCD and allow it to hang in a dry place for at least a day before packing it away, this way my gear is as light as it can possibly be.
If you take frequent scuba vacations but rarely dive at home, then it might be a good idea to invest in some travel scuba equipment. Most manufacturers offer full kit packages, including light weight BCDs, wetsuits, fins, masks, regulators and even a light weight bag to put it in. The Aqualung package even fits within carry-on baggage limits, which means you can take your entire scuba equipment and not have to take any hold luggage with you! Just remember to take any knives out before trying to get through security. The problem with lightweight equipment is that it is built to be light, not durable. Most divers find they will only be able to get a couple hundred dives out of their gear before it starts to fall apart, and the regulators are kept as basic as possible to reduce weight (which means no cold water diving).
Although traveling with scuba gear can be a pain, it is still worth taking, as most divers will feel more comfortable in their own gear than in rental gear. If you are planning any trips soon, then it is important to get your gear checked out well before you go. The last thing you want is to turn up to your two week Liveaboard only to discover that your regulator is leaking from every connection and you BCD wont inflate! You should get regulators and BCDs serviced before you go, and have your dive computer batteries changed. Everything else can be visually inspected and anything should be replaced if it doesn’t look up to scratch. Oh and one final point, always pack a few spares with you!
‘Traveling with Scuba Gear’ was written by Mike