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Home arrow Dive Reports arrow 60's Equipment v Modern - Pete assesses the changes to diving kit over the decades
Saturday, 21 September 2019
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60's Equipment v Modern - Pete assesses the changes to diving kit over the decades Print

Not everything has changed for the better!

When I first started diving in 1960 with the Kingston branch of B.S.A.C. my gear consisted of a wet suit, Navy pattern (pin in the hole type) weight belt, basic Heinke divers knife, black rubber fins with a heel strap, mask, snorkel, twin hose DV, and a contents gauge. Now this may surprise you, but over the years my diving equipment, except for a few items, hasn't changed a lot. I did get an A.B.L.J. and much later a diving computer.

Let's take a look at DIVING SUITS.

After starting off with a home made wet sulk I progressed to the so called semi-dry which I still call a wet suit anyway. One still gets wet in it! My first experience of a someone using a dry suit was when a friend of mine turned up one day with a second hand Navy type dry suit, complete with a metal neck band to seal the hood to the suit. With this type of suit a diver could suffer from 'squeeze' as they descended deeper as there was no means of inflating it with air. One day, on a cold January morning we went on a river dive. My friend was bragging about how warm he was going to be in his new dry suit and how freezing we would be. We had the last laugh though. Whilst kitting up he had forgotten to pack the metal neck seal ring, so no dive for him!

As dry suit development progressed so did the complexity of them - hoses here, valves there, buttons to press. I found divers with dry suits always seemed to have problems with them. Neck seals and wrist seals splitting, usually on the first day of a 3 day diving weekend. No diving for them. This affected me on one occasion as I had come down with this guy in his car and he insisted, after he split his neck seal, on going home that day. I had no option in the end but to go home with him. No diving for me! Suits would leak water in causing the diver to come up soaked. You know all about that, it's happened to you! I've lost count of the number of dry suit divers whose ankles I've grabbed because they have started to ascend to fast and I've had to hold on to a piece of wreckage or rock to hold them down so that they could sort themselves out. Some I've had to let go of, but I've always wished them luck on their rapid ascent. On one occasion a diver of ours inflation valve went wrong and he surfaced spread-eagled out like the Michelin Man. He couldn't even bend his arm to pull his wrist or neck seal up to let air out. We had to throw him a rope, pull him to the boat and lift a seal to let sufficient air out to enable him to sort himself out. So, I have to say, after seeing all that hassle, I've stayed a wet suit diver. After all, wet suits can be torn, knees worn away etc. I even ripped a leg off once but continued to dive during the rest of the 2 week holiday by putting the leg on separately, much to everyone else's amusement! And of course, with a bit of glue and thin fishing line wet suits are easily repaired and the big bonus is - you can 'pee' in them!


The first type of mask I had was a black rubber one with the single edge of the mask being the seal and there was no nose piece so were not so easy to clear. The material the mask was made from would sometimes leave a big black oval line on one's face when taken off after a dive. Funny how everything was coloured black in those days: black suit, mask, snorkel, fins, knife handle and sheath. It was a nightmare going on a night dive with a coloured buddy! Then masks started to improve. The nose piece, the double seal, clear silicone material, low volume. Great. I had to buy one of these and I've been using this type ever since. But manufacturers still thought they could go one better. They took a perfectly good mask design and drilled a hole through the bottom of the lens and stuck a rubber none return valve in it, which, they said, would enable one to clear it easier. What you did when the rubber perished, split, distorted, or fell out was, well, swear!

Then there was the really heavy Panoramic View mask, with lens each side as well as in the middle. Apart from being bulky, did one generally swim along looking out of those side lens peering to the right and then to the left, then bumping into something right in front of them? One of the latest masks coming on to the market is for those with ear problems. Have you seen it? Wow. It has what looks like two half pint glasses attached to each side with tubes coming out of the mask and in to the ear cups which cover the ears. There is one diver in our branch who received one of these masks as a present 16 months ago. He knows that we know he has one. We know that he knows we are waiting to see hire wearing it. But he still keeps using his old one! And seen in a recent ad for a mask, the strap buckle has now become a 'micro metric' buckle which requires only the 'pressure of a finger' and the seal has now become a 'skirt'. Can you imagine helping your female buddy to kit up, what she might say if you said to her, "Your skirt looks a bit tight. Shall I press your micro metric buckle with my finger and loosen it for you?"


You may think, what can be said about a snorkel? Well, I have always used the black rubber single bend type. You can stand on it, bend it in half etc and it will always recover. Then things started to happen to them. They began to be made in aluminium or elastic. A dive buddy staggers across the floor of the RIB, stands on it and you're left with one bent or split snorkel. Then what appeared like ping pong balls appeared stuck on the top of them. Mouth pieces came out in a variety of designs including the corrugated tubing mouth piece which hung straight down. A couple of years ago I went in to a dive shop to replace my old snorkel. I asked to see their range of snorkels and the assistant pointed to a counter with an array of all types of weird and wonderful ones but not the old black rubber type. I asked if they had any in stock to which he said "no". Then just as I was about to leave, I noticed a shelf high up on the wall-and upon it was a black rubber snorkel. I said, "You have got one, it's on that shelf up there". "We can't sell you that one Sir," he said. "That's our shelf of old diving relics." Cue for one live old diving relic to make a hasty retreat.


The early fins were quite basic and easy to use. The diver shoved his foot into the open rear end and pulled the strap over his heel. It's so easy, that's the type I use today. If one felt they needed a more secure heel fitting, you could always cut a 'Y' shape out of an old car tyre inner tube to use as a 'fin retainer'. Then the boffins got to work re-designing them. Fins twice the length appeared. Apparently they made you go twice as fast! Fins with cut out slots in them to let water pass through, apparently making finning easier. Fins with split blades etc. Lets be sensible here. All a diver wants to do is move through the water at their own pace, not break records for speed and endurance. And what about fin strap retainers? In the old days, if you wanted to help your dive buddy take his fins off after a dive, you just slipped your fingers under his .fin straps and pulled them off. Now, with all these new fancy strap buckle releases, I don't know whether to press, pull, flick up or what? By the time I've figured it out, they've got them off themselves. Have you seen the latest fin retaining straps? A dive shop in Plymouth I visited recently had them for sale. Called 'Easy Spring' fin straps, they cost 18 a pair and were huge and heavy. You wouldn't need ankle weights using these but you may need an 'Achilles tendon protector'!


I started off using the old navy pattern weight belt with the pin in the hole quick release. I wore out the first belt and am now on my second one. Why this type? Well, it's robust, very secure and releases easily. However, weight belts have not escaped changes over the years. Belts made of nylon webbing with the flip over metal buckle appeared. These were flimsy and twisted about. Instead of sliding the weights off like you can on my belt, you had to thread the nylon through two slots in the weight. The flip over quick release buckle worked too well so that if it caught on something and it flicked open, a diver would find their belt slipping down to their ankles or even falling off. Several times I've, had to hold on to a divers leg whilst they've struggled to re-fasten a renegade weight belt. And when a buddy's belt has actually dropped off and he's shot to the surface, have you ever tried to bring his belt up for him? It's not easy, I can tell you. What about the belts with lead shot in them? What a mess they can make in the bottom of a RIB. On a couple of occasions I've seen divers throw their shot belt on the bottom of the boat, go to pick it up later and then find lead shot all over the place. If gets everywhere! I think the most recent idea of putting one's weights in to the pockets of Stab jackets is going too far. One diver with this sort of set up, after surfacing and coming back to the boat said to me, 'Can you take my gear?' 'Where's your weight belt?' I asked. 'Oh, my weights are in the pockets of my stab jacket'. I laughed and said, 'If you think I am going to try to lift your cylinder with your stab jacket fully inflated and the pockets full of water and your weights, altogether, you must be joking'. 'I'll tie it all to the side of the boat; you get in, and then you can lift it in yourself'! Some people!!


There's not a lot one can say about knives except that they come in all shapes and sizes. I use a stiletto type Heinke divers' knife with a serrated edge one side and a sharp cutting edge the other. It fits in to an alloy sheath and is held in place with a spring inside. When I have had to buy a new wet suit, I have always glued and stitched a neoprene pouch on the thigh to take the knife. It works really well. I've, to date, never lost it and can grab it with one hand when needed. I have found more knives whilst diving than anything else. I think this has been mainly due to most knives fitting loosely in to a plastic sheath and the sheath having thin plastic straps. I've seen divers whose knives have slipped from the top of their thigh and ended up hanging around their ankle. One diver I knew kept his knife on a coiled telephone cable so as not to lose if. One day as we hauled the boat up the beach, his knife fell out of his sheath and stuck in the sand, unknown to him. He kept walking along beside the boat completely oblivious to what had happened. The coil stretched further and further until it reached it's maximum stretch then suddenly recoiled back launching the knife like a rocket which then hit the side of the RIB. Lucky for him it hit side on and not blade first, otherwise we would have been chasing him up the beach with our knives out!

ABLJs etc.

I still use a Buddy ABLJ without a direct feed . Oh, I hear someone say. Well, it does have a small air cylinder fitted to it just in case and I do have an Octopus. However, the progression from ABLJ's to Stabs has now gone too far with the practice of now stashing ones weights inside the pockets, especially when some divers, after a dive, expect you to lift the whole thing out of the wafer for them.

When divers first started using stab jackets they thought they were as safe as ABLJ's until someone pointed out that they would not keep ones face out of the water. So manufacturers started to put a label on them stating that they were not, in fact, a life jacket but a buoyancy aid. Wide the decline in ABLJ's I now have come across a problem. Twice last year when I have surfaced after a dive and got to the side of the boat I have released my harness etc and offered my shoulder up to the guy in the boat to take my set, I've found he's been trying to lift me bodily out of the water. I've had to explain 'NO, you can't pull my ABLJ off, it's attached to me, just take the shoulder strap!' Now, if strangers are diving with us, before diving, I explain to them what an ABLJ is, just in case!


I have to say modern DV's are exceptional. The old DV's had twin hoses and were a pain. They had corrugated rubber hoses that sometimes split and the early ones had no non-return valves in the mouthpiece. If water entered in to it, you had to squeeze the air inlet hose, blocking this off, and blow the water out the exhaust hose. Obviously if you squeezed the wrong hose, you got a mouth full of water back! Then things improved with the introduction of non-return valves. These were not too strong and if you laid your set on the floor of the boat and someone carelessly trod on your mouthpiece, then crunch went a non-return valve. The person who did it would usually say, 'Oh, sorry about that', but never said "I'll buy you another one"! Then came the 'Octopus'. For a few years I was reluctant to change to this system but when the buddy sharing was dropped from the BS-AC's training programme my Branch said, 'no Octopus, no diving'. So I bought one. Well I had to didn't I! After saying that though, I know two divers who, when faced with an out of air situation, both went for their buddy's mouthpiece instead of the octopus because it was, as they said, the easiest option. Did anyone read the HSE article regarding their testing of octopus rigs? It said that when two divers breathed from the same air supply, it was noticeably reduced. A quip at the end of the article stated that the two divers could possibly synchronize their breathing, i.e. one breathes in while the other one breathes out! Maybe there's something to be said for buddy sharing after all!

Editors notes

Not everybody is going to be familiar with some of the terminology used in this article. For the benefit of the younger readers we offer the following translations:

  • ABLJ stands for Adjustable Buoyancy Life Jacket. These things looked like a horse collar and were used much like your BC but with all the lift being in front of you. The theory was that if you were unconscious at the surface, they would hold you face-up with your head out of the water (unlike today's wings that will hold you face-down in this situation). The cylinder mentioned allowed one to breath off the ABLJ in an out-of-air situation. Divers were trained to do this and by using the ABLJ as a semi-closed rebreather were able to do up to 20 minutes of decompression with these tiny cylinders.
  • Direct Feed the hose connecting your regulator to the BC inflator.
  • DV Demand Valve otherwise known as a regulator. While still in common use, I have found that staff in some dive shops no longer understand the meaning of Demand Valve or its abbreviation.

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