Christmas gift guide 2013

Ok so this is a bit late, and if you haven’t done your Christmas, Hannukah and Festivus shopping yet, shame on you. Or just shame. Most of these ideas don’t entail going to a mall and having your personal space invaded by ten thousand hormonal adolescents. You can order online, or make a phone call or two. Get going!

Christmas at Sandy Cove
Christmas at Sandy Cove


For the reader, you could check out our book reviews, arranged by topic:

I’m not going to suggest a magazine subscription – I’ve let most of ours lapse as we seem to have entered a long dark teatime of the soul when it comes to South African diving magazines. If the quality picks up, they’ll be back on the gift list at the end of 2014.

Dive gear

Check out What’s in My Dive Bag for some ideas… You can contact Andre for most of these:

Make sure you know the returns/exchanges policy of wherever you make your purchases. Some places can be difficult, and if the mask doesn’t fit it’s no good at all!

For lady divers

For the diving lady in your life (or your man friend with too much hair), what about some rich hair conditioner to apply before going in the water? Suggestions here. A pack of cheap, soft fabric elasticated hairbands is a good stocking filler.

Some high SPF, waterproof sunscreen, or a nice hooded towel for grown ups (available in one or two of the surf shops in Muizenberg) would also not go amiss.


Don’t forget to add a memory card for the lucky recipient’s camera if you plan to gift any of these! Contact Tony for prices.

For the non diver, you could inspire a love for our oceans with one of these:

For those who need (or like) to relax


Wall art

Clip Clop designs and prints beautiful tide charts for Cape Town and Durban and moon phase charts for the year. You can order online or usually find them at Exclusive Books.

My underwater alphabet is available for R200 in A1 size, fully laminated. Shout if you want a copy.

If you take your own photos, you could print and frame a couple, or experiment with stretched canvas prints if that’s your thing. A digital photo frame pre-loaded with underwater images is also a lovely gift for a diving friend.


For the person who has everything, or because you’re feeling grateful:

Christmas gift guide 2011

It’s that time of year again. I trust you are all feeling suitably festive. Here’s our annual (well, second so far) Christmas gift guide. Use it/don’t use it…


For the reader, you could check out our book reviews, arranged by topic:

There are also a couple of children’s books to consider.

Dive gear

Check out What’s in My Dive Bag for some ideas… You can contact Andre for most of these:

Probably not a good idea to get a mask unless the place you buy it will let the person exchange it if it doesn’t fit!


For the person who has everything, or just because you’re feeling grateful:


Don’t forget to add a memory card for the lucky recipient’s camera if you plan to gift any of these!

For those who need (or like) to relax

Magazine subscriptions

Wall art

Clip Clop designs and prints beautiful tide charts for Cape Town and Durban and moon phase charts for the year. You can order online or find them at Exclusive Books.


Tony and I love doing night dives. It’s wonderful to watch the sunset, and then be underwater as the sky darkens and the nocturnal marine creatures come out to play. Last year, mostly by accident, we gave each other strobes for Christmas.

A strobe is usually a small, battery powered device that emits a very bright, flashing light at regular intervals. The ones we bought for each other (from Andre) are both rated to 50 metres’ depth and visible for several kilometres on the surface, so useful for emergency signalling both above and below the sea. They burn for hours on only one or two small batteries.

Tony's Seemann Sub strobe
Tony's Seemann Sub strobe

Tony’s is from Seemann Sub (rebranding as Subgear at the moment), and has a small ridged wheel at the end opposite the lit portion that you turn to switch it on and off.

Mine is a Princeton Tec Aqua Strobe that runs on a single AA battery and will burn for eight hours. You turn the cover over the lit portion to switch it on and off.

My Princeton Tec Aqua Strobe
My Princeton Tec Aqua Strobe

Both strobes float head up in the water, so when we attached them to our cylinder (just put the lanyard over the pillar valve before connecting the first stage) and submerged ourselves, they floated just behind our heads. You can’t see the light of your own strobe in this position (which is good, because it would get really annoying!) but it’s very visible to your dive buddy. You could also attach it to the shoulder of your BCD – some vests have velcro there for that purpose.

We really enjoyed having these underwater the first time we used them. Lukas was with us on his first night dive, and we had another instructor and his student with us (they also both had strobes), and it was incredibly easy to keep track of where everyone was without having to swim right on top of each other.

These would also be useful on a deep dive, for diver identification, and if you’re diving anywhere that there’s a chance (however slim) that you might get lost on the surface.

Supporting the NSRI

We feel quite strongly about this, in the same way that some people feel strongly about supporting the SPCA or Amnesty International. So pardon me if I offend you!

Table Bay NSRI Station at the V&A Waterfront
Table Bay NSRI Station at the V&A Waterfront

If you’re a water user – scuba diver, boater, fisherman, surfskier, swimmer, surfer, or kite surfer (and I am sure there are more) – then supporting the NSRI is one of the things I think you should consider. They are entirely staffed by TOTALLY AWESOME volunteers, and do a wide range of work protecting and rescuing those who use the South African coastline. Their work is often dangerous, uncomfortable, and scary, and it’s in every one of our best interests – including the volunteers’ – that they have the most up to date and well-maintained equipment possible.

Table Bay NSRI Station at the V&A Waterfront
Table Bay NSRI Station at the V&A Waterfront

Becoming a member of the NSRI is the least expensive way of showing your support. It costs only R100 per year, and you get a subscription to Sea Rescue magazine – three issues per year – which has articles about everything ocean related.

Another way to support them is to volunteer. You need to live within a short distance (10-15 minutes I think) of  a base station, but they can use the services of even people like me (that is, with no sea legs!) – to make coffee, do administration, and assist at the base. If you know the sea, first aid, navigation, radio operation or anything like that then they’d be thrilled to have you on board.

Be my buddy…

Many experienced divers have very low tolerance levels for new divers, especially on a boat. It is sad that they have quickly forgotten that they were once a greenhorn, new to the world of diving and slow in getting ready once the boat had reached the dive site. These are usually the divers that will do stupid things thinking they are “exceptional divers” and in fact they are the ones that should know better. Experience comes with time, time underwater exposes you to many different situations and we all learn from these sometimes silly mistakes and sometimes dangerous errors of judgment.

An Open Water course, irrespective of the certifying agency, is essentially an introduction to the basics, and all the skills you acquire during your course will not be of a huge benefit in a dire situation unless you hone them from time to time. Many a diver will not have removed their mask underwater since they did their first dive course and I know of many such divers who have never performed any of the skills since the training days of their course.

You will seldom see an experienced diver doing a buddy check, but you will often be asked to turn their air on for them after they have kitted up and are ready to roll into the water. You will seldom see them checking their buddy’s training level, but will often see them alone at the bottom without a clue as to their buddy’s whereabouts. You will seldom hear anyone on the boat voicing any concerns about the dive site or the dive conditions, yet you will hear all of these thoughts after the dive. Imaging swimming around underwater blissfully unaware of the near-panic state half the group are in. What will you do if you are suddenly faced with a group of panicked divers?

Dirk, Tony and Cecil on the surface at North Paw
Dirk, Tony and Cecil on the surface at North Paw

A  few simple tips

Imagine this… You are qualified and ready to explore the world. You book a dive and are allocated a buddy on the boat on the way to the dive site. “Hi my name is Bob!” and a few minutes later you backward roll into the water. Descending slowly you look at your buddy Bob, who is descending like a rocket as he is wearing twice the required weight and wonder, “Can he dive? How long will he stay down? What will I do if he sucks his cylinder dry in 10 minutes and refuses to surface alone?”

Diving is a very safe sport. Follow the rules and things just don’t go wrong, but deviate, modify and ignore them and a good dive can turn bad very quickly.

  • Know your buddy. Prior knowledge that your buddy has problems equalising will prevent you sitting on the bottom waiting for 20 minutes for them to descend.
  • Know how his equipment works, know his dive style and know his level of experience
  • Have a plan that includes the depth you will go to, the route you will follow, who will lead and what your planned low on air pressure will be, will he ascend alone, do you both have an SMB, a knife, a snorkel and a whistle?
  • Know what feature of his attire you will use to recognise him as divers all kitted out in black look very similar in 3 metre visibility.
  • Know your own equipment well, know your limits and voice your apprehension if it is there before the dive Knowing your buddy is terrified of jellyfish makes it easier to understand their need to swim at high speed in the opposite direction when confronted by one.
  • Do a thorough buddy check: it takes but a minute, remember that there is a 100% chance that a problem experienced underwater by either you or your buddy is going to be your problem, so plan your dive and dive your plan.

Communicating underwater

One of the things I love about diving is the silence – the only sounds are your breathing, and the sounds of the underwater world. These could include crackling coral, the sound of parrotfish munching the coral or triggerfish being aggressive, and perhaps boat traffic above. Unless you’re wearing a full face mask (ask Andre about those fabulous devices) you won’t be able to rely on normal speech to make your thoughts and needs known. So what are the options?

Inaudible communication

Hand signals

There are the standard scuba signals that you’ll learn on your Open Water course (OK, I have a problem, up, down, etc), there are fairly standard signals for various kinds of fish (the one for shark being the most obvious!) and then there are the hand signals you’ll invent as you go along. If you have a regular dive buddy, you’ll be surprised how much you can communicate with each other as you figure out a little language between yourselves.

Justin and Fritz in Sodwana
Justin and Fritz chatting at the safety stop in Sodwana

I was highly amused to see in Sodwana that Fritz and Justin the Silver Fox, who are regular dive buddies in Cape Town, chat more underwater than on land. Thanks to his hand signals, the famously taciturn Fritz almost had his own current system swirling around him at the safety stop after our deep dive, as he and Justin discussed the turtles we’d seen and the shark who’d swum by in the distance. The photo above is dodgy because I think I was laughing so much when I took it!


If you’re in an environment where it’s dark enough for a light to be discerned, such as a cave, wreck or on a night dive, you can use your light to get your buddy’s attention. DO NOT shine it in his eyes… I can’t tell you how annoying that is!


Slates are usually white pieces of plastic that you can write on underwater with a pencil, and show to your buddy. This method of communication isn’t ideal for emergencies or for getting someone’s attention at a distance, but they can come in handy… Such as when Tami wrote “SMB?” at me on her slate after a wreck dive on the SAS Pietermaritzburg, while we completed our safety stop.

Audible communication

One of the central tenets of safe recreational scuba diving is to dive in a buddy pair, and buddy awareness is essential. You should be close enough to see your buddy’s face, if not to actually reach out and touch him. Audible signalling devices should thus not be necessary.

In an ideal world of perfect buddies and perfect diving conditions, none of these devices would be necessary. Fact is, they do come in handy, more often than not.


A shaker looks like a sealed test tube made of plastic, with a metal ball inside it. They are marketed under such catchy names as “Aqua Maraca”, which make me want to crawl under a table and hide.

You attach it to your kit somewhere, and shake it to make a loud rattling noise underwater that will hopefully get your buddy’s attention. Just make sure your buddy knows what it sounds like underwater so that he’s not left looking around wondering what that odd noise is, while you get into trouble!

These can be SUPER annoying if you misuse them… I’m just saying!

Signalling devices
Signalling devices, from left to right: shaker, air horn, whistle

Tank bangers

This is nothing more than a large ball or bead on an elastic band that you put over your cylinder. When you want to signal to someone, you reach back and snap the elastic, hopefully causing the bead to bang against the tank. (This is the ideal device for Tony, who LOVES to snap elastics of all kinds.)

This is a very simple device and very easy to make at home, but relies on you positioning it such that you can reach around to it when you need it. If you’re stuck somewhere, or have limited arm dexterity when in a wetsuit, perhaps this isn’t the right choice for you.

You could equally well rap on your cylinder with anything else hard that you have at hand – dive knife, torch, or a well-placed stone if you’re desperate!

Air horns

An air horn attaches to your inflator hose, and works above and below the surface. It’s essentially a pneumatic signalling device that takes a bit of air from your cylinder and uses it to generate a sound. This is probably the quickest of the noise-making signalling devices to use, because you should be very familiar with the location of your inflator button and able to find it by touch.

(Just as an aside, an air horn can be more useful than a whistle above the surface because you don’t need to remove your regulator to use it.)


If you’re quite nearby to someone, you can potentially get their attention by yelling into your regulator. Tony’s Zero to Hero student Kate would often sing classic rock songs to herself while we swam, and when I was buddied with her I could hear her singing. As far as forming actual understandable words… Well, good luck!

What’s in my dive bag

I have travelled around a bit and dived in some very remote places, miles from a dive shop. Over the years I have collected an array of gadgets. Dive shops are full of shiny things you had no idea you needed until you saw them for the first time. There are some very important basic add-ons to your standard battle dress, things that no self respecting diver would dive without, and then there is a range of nice to have items, and then the usual ”not required but I have it anyway” list.

Must have items

DAN medical insurance

DAN tag and spare O ring
DAN tag and spare O ring hidden on the hose protector

Attach the red DAN tag to your BCD or regulator so that in an emergency your rescuer can get you the help you need. DAN will cover you for the expensive possibility that you need recompression in a chamber if you have a suspected case of the bends, as well as for any other diving-related medical emergency treatment that your medical aid refuses to cover. An ordinary medical aid will probably not pay for recompression treatment. Visit the DAN (Divers’ Alert Network) website for details.

A surface marker buoy (SMB)

Reels and surface marker buoy (SMB)
Different sized reels and surface marker buoys (SMB)

Reels come in all shapes and sizes, with thumb reels, small reels and large reels. I use a small reel on shallow dives and a large reel on deeper dives.

In a rough sea or poor conditions an SMB makes you far easier to see than a head and shoulders dressed in black bobbing on the surface. You should not dive without one in Cape Town.

Dive Knife

This should be big enough to cut fishing line in case you or your buddy get tangled up (or need to rescue something or someone). Not to be used for stabbing sharks, or your dive buddy! You can buy huge dagger-type knife, but it may be an overkill, unless you have aspirations to be a pirate. Small cutting tools that you can wear on your gear are more practical.

Dive torches and a handy-sized knife
Dive torches and a handy-sized knife


This should ideally be small enough to keep in a pocket, unless you’re doing a night dive and need some serious light.

You don’t necessarily need a torch only on night dives – you may want to see something that’s hiding in a dark environment, or it might be an overcast day. On a deep dive, a torch is essential because the colours can look so washed out.


Knowing where you are going or where you came from is quite useful at the bottom, as on land. Enough said.

Dive compass styles
Dive compass styles

Dive computer

There are many different styles. Some can be worn as everyday watches, and others are only for diving.  Here are three variations:

Dive computers
Dive computers in three styles. The two on the left can be worn as dress watches.

Signalling devices

Signalling devices
Signalling devices, from left to right: shaker, air horn, whistle.

A whistle is required for the surface (many BCDs come with one attached – you may not have noticed it as it might be helpfully coloured black to match the inflator hose). An air horn works above and below the surface and a shaker works best underwater but can be used on the surface.

You can also use a hard object like a dive knife to rap on your cylinder, which will be audible to your buddy underwater, but don’t necessarily rely on having something suitable to hand – or having the presence of mind to look for it – in an emergency.


Dive slates
Dive slates: the one on the left is useful for compass navigation. The one on the right is a wrist slate (note the mysterious arm it’s mounted on).

Underwater slates come in all shapes and sizes. A wrist slate can be pleasant as it’s always close by but easily accessible. Flat slates must be clipped to a D ring – and don’t forget to secure your pencil!

DIN adaptor and O rings

DIN adaptor and O rings
DIN adaptor and O rings. The little blue cylinder clips to your keychain and can be used to store spare O rings.

Some resorts only have old style aluminum cylinders and if you have a DIN regulator they don’t fit as there is no removable insert. Here you will require a DIN adaptor so make sure you enquire as to type of cylinders available when you book your vacation, if you intend using your personal regulator.

It’s also handy to have an allen key to remove the inserts if you routinely dive with your own regulator.

Nice to have items

Clipping things to your BCD is a surefire way to ensure they do not become lost property. There are many different types of clips available. No matter what I take underwater, it will always have a clip attached that will enable me to clip it to my BCD if I suddenly need both hands for something.

Cyalumes, mouthpiece and spare finstrap
Cyalumes, mouthpiece, clip and spare finstrap

Spare mask and fin straps are nice to have particularly if you have a odd type of fin or mask.

Spare octo clips are handy as well as a few cyalumes in the event of an impromptu night dive.

If you travel to remote locations in your own 4WD you may find yourself with a puncture, so a tyre inflator is a handy addition to the dive bag. Deep divers know the benefits of Nitrox and the risks involved in diving with the wrong mix so a Nitrox analyser helps you to double check the reading reached by the dive store. If you find your reg breathes with difficulty, or you second stages constantly leak, checking the system pressure with your own handy pressure gauge will give you an indication as to the root of the problem.

Nitrox analyser and pressure gauge
Nitrox analyser (top) and pressure gauge