Don’t Dive Out of Your Depth: A Guide to Depth Gauges

The Importance of a Backup Analog Depth Gauge

A lesson that every divemaster impresses on his or her new students is that diving, if not practiced judicially, can be a dangerous activity. The counterpoint is that when you take SCUBA diving seriously, plan your dives, and dive your plans commensurate to your diving skills, you safely enter a world that is off-limits to most and spectacular in every way possible.

Managing Your Risk

One of the most basic ways to manage risk is to invest in dive gear that suits your dive profile and to learn how to use it. There is always a balance between cost and performance, but with a little leg work and research, you will identify the best gear for your budget.

Gauges, Depth, Air, and More

All divers need to carry a variety of gauges that display critical information such as remaining air (cylinder pressure), current depth, elapsed dive time, and compass orientation. These gauges are fundamental parts of your kit. While most dive computers have these features built into them, experienced divers will encourage you to carry an analog backup. For new, less tech-savvy, or budget-constrained divers, a simple approach often wins the day.

Managing your depth and bottom time is the cornerstone of dive safety. By diving within the safe parameters of the accepted dive tables, you will avoid the risk of decompression sickness, otherwise known as “the bends.” Diving tables require tracking depth and dive time, which in turn means that gauges are essential.

Analog gauges do not require batteries or a power source as they rely on mechanical rather than electronic sensors, making them robustly reliable. In a tight spot, such as a power failure or battery outage with a computer, they can save a dive.

When you purchase your gauge, make sure that the one you choose is easy-to-read, with a luminescent face and color-coded displays to make reading it in low light situations as uncomplicated as possible. The color-coding means that with one glance, you can quickly assess your maximum depth dived (your gauge should have a maximum depth needle) and your current depth. With an attached cylinder pressure gauge, you’ll also be aware of your remaining air.

Gil Smolinski - guide to depth gauges

Units of Measurement

Gauges are made in both the metric and the imperial measurement system. Unless you grew up in the US (which still uses the imperial system), you will probably prefer a metric measuring system. This can be a factor for those of you planning to make your purchase online. Keep your region in mind, and double-check your order before you check out.

Console or Wrist Mount?

SCUBA depth gauges come in two options. Both wrist and console mounts are acceptable choices, depending on your dive style and preferences.

Console Mount

All console-mounted gauges are attached to the regulator via a high-pressure hose. This eliminates confusion regarding where your gauges are, and they are easy to recover with an arm sweep if they come loose during your dive.

The benefit of a console mount is that you can customize the gauges that you house on the mount. You have the option of 1 to 3 gauges on your console, so at a glance, you will have access to all the critical information that you need—depth, remaining air, and compass direction.

Look for a console with eyelets so that you can easily attach it to your buoyancy compensator. You’ll know exactly where it is, you won’t be “that diver” who is oblivious to their equipment as it bangs over the reef, and you’ll keep it in good shape for a longer time.

Wrist Mount

Most gauges come with the option of a wrist mount, allowing you to attach it to a wrist strap. Some divers prefer the convenience of having gauges on their wrists so that it is easy to simply turn your wrist and have the details you need readily visible without having to reach for your gear. Others find additional wrist pieces cumbersome, considering the possibility that if you are carrying your depth gauge as a backup, you will likely have your computer on your wrist.

Know Yourself

There is no one way to sort this. This is where every diver, from novice to expert, has to take stock of their preferences and comfort level. When you are at depth, you don’t want to be fiddling with your gear and trying to get comfortable. Your gear needs to fit and using it should be second nature so that you can focus on your dive.

Buying a depth gauge may not be as sexy or exciting as a new dive computer, but this functional, old-school gear has a proven track record for decades and could save your dive and keep you safe.


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