Should I buy a dive computer or depth gauge?

Good question! As you start diving more, it makes sense to own your equipment instead of renting them. Dive computers are said to be among the most essential gear to own. But they’re expensive too. Will a simple depth gauge do?

These days, most dive computers are bloated with features and functions that the regular diver will never need or use in their lifetime. Personally, I don’t believe in paying extra for features that are irrelevant or will remain unused. I don’t understand why divers should accept the manufacturers’ way of dictating the price and functions of these essential pieces of dive equipment. A quick search on the Internet leads to a page listing dive computers that mostly cost above US$500, and several above US$1,000. That’s a lot for a dive computer!

I’m not keen on splurging on a gadget with multiple functions that I wouldn’t use, so what I would recommend to like-minded folks is a simple depth gauge and bottom timer. These are really foolproof and simple to use, with no options to get confused over and no settings to get wrong. Their batteries tend to last a whole lot longer than the new-fangled dive computers with fancy coloured displays, which typically need a nightly charge.

However, detractors will say that bottom timers don’t calculate decompression limits for you, so that could be dangerous. Realistically, most divers wouldn’t be diving to those limits. More often than not, most recreational single-tank divers are limited by gas consumption instead.

This is probably a controversial point, but I’ll say it anyway: Decompression computers are known to be unreliable, so the better way to conduct dives is really to understand how decompression works, including how to conduct a slow controlled ascent, and how to manage your gas supply while doing that ascent. If a diver understands these elements, then by and large he will be able to stay safe and within limits. To err on the side of caution and add a buffer to decompression limits, you could also use Nitrox when diving within suitable depth limits.

These days, computers are considered mandatory by certain dive operators and at certain dive locations. The rationale is safety—and that’s a good thing–but a dive computer can be a costly purchase. If you must get one, go for the simplest dive computer available. It is more than sufficient for most recreational divers and most kinds of diving. Instead of shelling out a thousand bucks for a brick that is overpriced and feature bloated, I’d rather spend that money on doing more diving!

Leon Boey is a GUE, HSA and PADI instructor based in Singapore and Bali. He runs the dive education centre Livingseas in Singapore, Bali and Jakarta. Diving since 2005, he first fell in love with wrecks. He enjoys all sorts of diving, and loves being surrounded by fish.

Discussions — 2 Responses

  • Ramon April 26, 2016 on 5:03 am

    Great article!

    Is there any particular depth gauge+bottom timer that you can recommend?


    • Leon Boey Ramon April 27, 2016 on 3:41 am

      Hello Ramon,

      Thanks, glad you liked the article.

      Personally, I like the Scubapro Digital Depth Gauge. It’s in the above picture, on the left. We’ve used it and its previous version (Uwatec) for many years as a rental depth gauge, and it works really well. I think one of them even lasted 6 years of rental use on a single battery! It’s possible to buy it online for less than USD300, and for that price, it’s a real good deal for the use that you’ll get out of it!

      Just get a boot for it and use the bungee straps, that keeps it nice and neat.