Top 5 Essential Bits of Scuba Kit

I have been chatting to a few divers on the Twitter thing about kit choices recently. Buying scuba kit is a nightmare. There are gazillion sources of information on the interweb about what scuba gear is undoubtedly the best.

The conclusion is, of course, you should remortgage your house, sell your car, whore out your wife and go and purchase a specific piece of gear immediately.

It is almost impossibly to give a definitive list of specific items, brands, price etc of kit that EVERY diver should purchase; yet divers still want to know.

I remember all too well when I was initially getting my gear together I wanted to know exactly what to buy!

Regretfully, even I, in all my plentiful wisdom and awesomeness, cannot provide the “Be all, end all scuba gear list of stuff to buy. “


I can provide a guide to what I feel every diver should take on every dive.

Obviously I am not referring to life support or basic scuba gear of fins and mask etc; I am focussing purely on additional pieces of essential kit.

I’m not going to centre on brands, as although there are crap versions of everything, these items are pretty much standard and it’s difficult to get them wrong … well, in theory.

So; on with

The Top 5 Essential Scuba Kit


This is my number one piece of scuba kit.

Not much training is required to use a whistle, simply stick it in your mouth and blow; job done. (Keep it clean people)

Obviously a whistle can only be used on the surface, but has a critical role in a number of situations:
  • Alerting shore cover of location
  • Alerting boat of location for pick up
  • Alerting buddy on surface if separated
  • Alerting boat traffic of diver presence on the water
  • Emergency use 

Amazingly there are many models of whistle to be had, but I would advise keeping it simple and buying a small plastic version with zero moving parts.

I have found a type with a “slide” clip thing that allows it to be bungeed onto my inflator hose when I haven’t got pockets available.


The next thing is the DSMB (Delayed Surface Marker Buoy); often referred to as a ‘Safety Sausage,’ ‘Bag’ or ‘Blob.’

A DSMB is an inflatable bag filled with air at depth, then shot to the surface whilst attached to a line, in order to mark diver position. A DSMB can also be inflated at the surface, doubling up as a SMB (Surface Marker Buoy) or “Safety Sausage.”

Useful for:
  • Marking location when on safety/deco stop
  • Essential on drift dives
  • Attracting attention on the surface
  • Can double as a ‘small’ lift bag
  • During an emergency or becoming separated on the surface it can provide an essential visual aid. 

The SMB also provides numerous sources of amusement for divers on the boat.

Sausage on you big lad!

When purchasing a DSMB I personally advise a closed version; either completely sealed or with a baffled end.

A closed version means, even if not filled fully, the marker will not ‘fall over’ on the surface, lose air, or fill with water. A tell tale of a closed unit is a dump valve located near the bottom of the sausage.

The size of the smb should be dependent on the dive site. If you are expecting swell or choppy seas take a taller smb; they only work if you can see ‘em.


The spool is a small, simple construct which makes it perfect for every diver. It’s basically a big ball of string for using underwater.

Spools are used for:
  • Attaching to DSMB and shooting from depth
  • Can be tied off to a fixed point and used as a guide line (back to the shot line for example)
  • Useful in an overhead environment
  • Used to mark starting point if conducting search and recovery 

As per usual there are a few variations of the spool in terms of material;

Plastic: Cheap and light, but not as strong as other options: Positively buoyant.

Delrin: Extremely strong and reasonably light, but expensive: Neutrally buoyant.

Stainless Steel: Strong, allows more line due to thinner walls, very expensive: Negatively buoyant.

Delrin, plastic and stainless steel spools

  • Common lengths are 20m, 40m, 50m. The more line on the spool the larger it becomes, but this will make it easier to use, but larger to store in pocket etc. 
  • Any option of spool is fine, but when using with a DSMB get one with enough line to shoot from depth allowing extra length in case of a strong current; the line will be dragged horizontally as well as vertically. 
  • Wet the spool before taking on a dive, and unspool fully to check the line is permanently fixed to the centre spindle. 
  • Stainless steel bolt snaps are preferable to brass in my experience; I find brass tend to suffer more to salt corrosion, and can cut soft skin. 
  • Practice DSMB deployment in a controlled environment if you have never used one before; they take a few goes to get the hang of. 
  • I prefer spool to a reel as they are smaller, so can fit in a pocket more easily and with no mechanical parts they are less likely to cause problems. 


Amazingly I don’t really get excited about knives, never have done. To be honest, they’re a bit boring.

I have an irregular dive buddy that owns a leg knife that wouldn’t be out place in the Amazon rainforest; chopping down trees, killing dangerous, wild animals and such.

A knife is only used to free a diver from entanglement, or for prying something off a wreck in the hope of obtaining the key to Atlantis.

If I am only carrying one cutting device, I prefer a knife to other options as I can cut, prise and saw with it.

Stainless steel isn’t usually stainless at all, and a useful tip is to apply a thin coating of silicone gel on the blade to prevent extensive corrosion.

Keep it sharp; a dull knife is no use to anyone.

A small knife is plenty, and it is best to have it attached in such a way that both hands can access it. I would advise against the ‘action man style’ lower leg, it may look cool but it’s not very practical.


Avid readers will know I have a fondness for the dive light. They’re my new cigarettes.

They’re awesome; lights I mean… 

However, I am not referring to the crazy expensive and globally illuminating torches I usually talk about; no, today is about the small, back-up style light.

Every diver should carry a light of some description on every dive:
  • Useful for peering into dark areas of a reef, wreck or cavern
  • Can be used to attract buddy’s attention
  • Used to attract the dive boat in dull conditions
  • Diving areas of heavy kelp / seaweed on the surface can be dark at depth
  • Weather conditions can change dramatically turning an evening dive into a night dive
  • If lost at sea, a light is piece of kit you wouldn't want to be without 

my lovely Light Monkey lights

Current technology of the LED has opened up a whole new generation of dive torches. I would advise carrying a small LED style torch from a reputable brand, reducing the likelihood of a failure.

  • The burn time on the small lights can be over 5 hours, but always remember to check the light before every dive. 
  • Use disposable batteries as they retain their charge longer, but replace periodically even if not used too much.
  • Choosing a small light will be easier to stow in pockets or on a harness.


There you have it; the top 5 things to take on every dive.

never dive without a gun
Of course I know that certain dives or environments call for additional equipment, but this isn’t a bad place to start.

It may seem overkill for some dives, but properly stowed you need not even know you have these items with you.

Have fun choosing your kit, and there are no wrong purchases; just expensive lessons!

Bet you never thought it was possible to write so much about a whistle eh?

Any other ‘Essential Top 5’ that are different to mine?


  1. My DSMB has a little compartment with mirror, light stick and whistle. Always have it with me, plus a light, small knife on inflator, and spool.
    I dry the spool line after every dive, inspecting the line as i reel it back in.

    Also carry a goody bag in my pocket.

    These on EVERY dive.
    Lift bag and spare mask on heavy current exploration drift dives(we do mostly river diving around here), and a bigger knife to use as an anchoring tool when stopping in current where no rocks to hang on to.
    Or to help open treasure casks full of gold when i'm narced to the bone.

    Good post, dude.


  2. Very well written post!
    I am so happy that I came across it.
    Thank you so much!


Thanks for commenting, I appreciate it!

Safe diving buddy.