How to Dive on a Budget Part 1 - Becoming a Diver

SCUBA diving can be expensive and it does take some cash to get started. Ben and I were talking about how this can deter some otherwise motivated folks who want to become certified or who already dive but maybe not as often as they’d like due to budget constraints. Here are a few thoughts.

Don’t skimp on the training. All the major self-defense voices out there say the same thing when they teach people how to responsibly handle firearms: If you have $1500 to spend, don’t buy a $1500 dollar rifle. Buy a $500 rifle and a $100 sight then spend the rest on training. Once you get to an elite level, the gun and sights make a difference. Before any type of mastery is achieved, the training is where you get the most benefit.

The same holds true with SCUBA equipment. Get a basic rig and spend the rest on education. What’s between your ears matters more than anything else for recreational divers especially.
Mask, fins, and snorkel plus open water certification class and dives was about $600 spread out over two months. The certification is good for life and I hate swimming without fins now, so I’m getting plenty of mileage out of the basics. The basic gear will take you far and is really all that is necessary starting out.

Consider renting from your local dive shop. Renting gives you the chance to try new gear and go diving without a major capital investment. You can rent everything you need including two tanks for $50 here in Indiana.  One weekend a month at $50 is a good deal. I can easily spend that one night at a decent restaurant, especially if I’m ordering Old Fashioned’s. We decided early on that diving is something we want to do, so it made sense for us to begin purchasing gear. 

When you’re buying gear, a brand-new regulator and BCD can be had for $1200-$1500. Of course the sky’s the limit and you can certainly spend as much money as you want (or have) on this activity.  Every piece of gear I own I bought used except the snorkel. Mask, fins, boots, snorkel, BCD, regulator, 7mm wetsuit, hood, gloves, and tank cost probably $850 all in. I didn’t buy it all at once and I waited for the deals to show themselves. Ben has bought several tanks at flea markets and garage sales along with a boatload of diving weight. He can always sniff out a deal. He’s kind enough to let me use his weight so I haven’t got around to buying it yet…

Craigslist is another great resource. I recently came across two full sets of gear and two dive computers without weight for $1,000. It’s out there. Of course, with any used gear purchase, especially regulators, make sure to have them serviced by a reputable technician before diving. This is, after all, life support equipment. If you are a new diver, seriously consider getting good advice from a trusted adviser or instructor before making a used gear purchase as a private sale.

Here is an important point about gear. There is a lot of it. But it all more or less does the same thing, at least when you are starting out as a diver. That’s why we don’t talk a lot about gear. It’s a very personal choice. At the end of the day, every regulator is going to deliver breathing gas. Every BCD is going to function more or less the same. Every wetsuit is going to provide some exposure protection. Weight is weight. It’s heavy. Tanks are tanks. As long as they are in good shape and pass testing, they are fine. The rest is details. The important point is to DIVE! Being a good diver is not about having the newest shiniest gear, it’s about getting out and practicing those skills you learn in your training class. 

$600 for mask fins, snorkel, and certification can be a tall order for some, especially if they aren’t sure how much they’ll dive or if they’ll even like it. I’m confident you’ll love it but I’m a little biased. I can say that I highly doubt you would regret spending the money. Money is just a tool and it can be used to buy you experiences and fun you wouldn’t have otherwise had. Diving is a unique experience. It give us access to a part of the world otherwise inaccessible to humans.  If you’re still hesitant, most training centers offer an opportunity to try SCUBA before enrolling in the class, our local shop calls them “I Tried SCUBA” nights. For a small fee you can get a taste of the fun that is SCUBA. Give it a try! Once you take that first breath, I don’t think you will want to stop.

Despite appearances to the contrary, SCUBA is not primarily a gear driven activity, it is a skills driven activity. As one of our instructors once told Ben: “Don’t try to solve a skill problem by spending money on gear.” Good Advice! As a diver, the most important thing you can do with your resources is go diving! Most any gear in good repair that is appropriate for your local environment is good enough to start and rental gear from reputable establishments is both plentiful and inexpensive.

If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. Hopefully, this post is encouraging to those who may be wondering how they can afford to try SCUBA. Pick up gear and skills little by little. It’s a long path to becoming a better diver and we’re just getting started. One thing we know for sure, is that we don’t want to be the best kitted at the dive site with the least amount of practice and knowledge. SCUBA diving on a budget is not only possible but can also be the most rewarding. Stick around for part two on how to travel and dive without breaking the bank. We will show you how diving in different and interesting places does not have to be a once a year event.