Rec or Tec?

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Cheizz

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Most scuba divers - by far! - dive recreationally. By that, I do not mean they only dive for fun. There are literally hundreds of thousands of dive professionals who, as that term suggests, dive for a living, teaching or guiding others for example. ‘Recreational’ diving, at least for the purpose of this piece, means diving within the limits of entry-level certification (up to and including Advanced Open Water or equivalent). Meaning: maximum depth of 40 m/130 ft and within no-decompression limits (NDL). Anything beyond that I call ‘technical’ diving.

Why is this important? A lot of scuba diving products have been developed for technical diving, but are also used - or at least desired by and suggested to - recreational divers. Even though the latter strictly speaking don’t need tech gear, they/we (for now, I’m a recreational diver myself) want it nonetheless.

The opinion in this piece is nothing more (or less) than my own. It is about trends that extend beyond scuba diving though. I see the same thing happening in other sports that I am an enthusiastic participant in, such as backcountry skiing and offshore sailing.

Facts first
As I said, the vast majority of scuba divers are recreational divers. DEMA estimates that there are 6 million active divers worldwide. In September 2019, the Swiss researcher and dive instructor Jens Meissner (Lucerne University) published his estimation of 160,000 active technical divers (based on the number of advanced and technical certifications that would put them in the ‘technical’ category). That would mean that only 2.7% of all active divers are technical divers.

He also found that most divers venture into the realm of technical diving around nine years after they started diving in the first place. He did identify a group that fast-tracked to technical diver status in five years. With that in mind, we can say that active divers don’t need tech gear for the first five to nine years of their diving career, if ever.

With ‘tech gear’ I refer to functionality that only a technical diver would need, and a recreational diver would not use at all because it has no purpose within the limits of recreational diving. A backplate and wing for buoyancy, a long hose configuration, a nitrox and gas switching functionality on a dive computer - these were all developed for technical diving, but are of equally good use for recreational divers. So strictly speaking, I do not consider them ‘tech gear’.

Once you need gradient factors, trimix, or rebreather functionalities on your dive computer, though, you are well and truly in the realm of technical diving. That is something a recreational diver - by definition - would never need. For that kind of stuff, you need the training and certification that places you outside the limits of recreational diving.

To the point
So why then recommend the Shearwater Perdix AI to a newly certified open water diver that just wants to dive tropical reefs in the Caribbean three weeks a year and do some freshwater quarry diving at home to keep his skills fresh? Don’t get me wrong. The Perdix is the ultimate dive computer at the moment, it is the benchmark to which every other dive computer is measured.

It is, however, also an expensive dive computer that has features that no recreational diver will ever use. I am not talking about the design, build quality, ergonomics, or attention to detail of the thing - that certainly is worth the extra buck. No doubt it looks cool on your wrist as well.

But is it wise to leave a piece of fully customizable gear in untrained hands? You can play around with decompression models, gradient factors, and other stuff that I personally don’t (yet) fully understand. Perhaps that does not pose an increased risk since I will not be diving beyond recreational limits any time soon. But could it be extra risky? Part of that risk might be the mere fact that I am not yet able to definitely say yes or no to that question, because I don’t understand all the possible implications.

If I don’t exactly understand what settings I play around with and how they affect the risk-based feedback the dive computer gives me during my dive - wouldn’t that be risky in itself? At worst, I am putting myself at risk - unknowingly. At best, the Perdix is an expensive overkill of functionality for the type of diving I will be doing in the foreseeable future.

Bottom line
Offering recreational divers options that they don't understand increases risk. Instead, I would encourage them to focus on doing the basics right and building routines. The smooth operation of a dive computer is one such basic skill. Do you want the more elaborate version with integrated air, Bluetooth connectivity, compass, a large color screen? No problem. Those are not things that could get you into trouble if you don’t fully understand the implications of changing settings (as long as you configure your gas tank size and pressure correctly, that is).

So, in suggesting tech gear to recreational divers, be aware of overcomplicating things and thereby increasing risk. The question should not be ‘does the recreational diver need those features?’ The question should be ‘can he handle them?’ Just maybe, for a recreational diver, you don’t want adjustable gradient factors. Maybe you just want them to have a dive computer that converts complicated calculations into clear directive actions and alarms.

In five to nine years' time, if and when they get into technical diving, they can always reconsider. By that time, something new and shiny will have hit the market and is the hottest thing by then. They will probably want something new anyway. By then, all the above questions are still valid. It might just be the case that the answers to those questions will be different.

Sources and recommended watching
Jens Meissner - ‘How big is tech really?’ - X-Ray Magazine, September 2019 issue: How big is tech really?

Great introduction on decompression theory and gradient factors (even interesting for recreational divers):
 

Marie13

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Why is the Perdix recommended? Easy to use, easy to read. AA battery that can be gotten anywhere worldwide. Some of the so called recreational computers are a PITA to use and read. I dive lower viz and not having to push another button for a backlight is very nice.

The Perdix has a recreational nitrox mode.

Why should only tech divers have good stuff? (baby cave diver here)
 

Marie13

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Plus Shearwater now has the Peregrine, which is a more recreational computer.
 
OP
Cheizz

Cheizz

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Why is the Perdix recommended? Easy to use, easy to read. AA battery that can be gotten anywhere worldwide. Some of the so called recreational computers are a PITA to use and read. I dive lower viz and not having to push another button for a backlight is very nice.

The Perdix has a recreational nitrox mode.

Why should only tech divers have good stuff? (baby cave diver here)
"I am not talking about the design, build quality, ergonomics, or attention to detail of the thing - that certainly is worth the extra buck. No doubt it looks cool on your wrist as well."

I don't say it's not very nice and easy to operate. I'm just asking the question of whether features that one doesn't need - or worse - doesn't fully understand increase risk...
 

formernuke

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One your big points is the ability to adjust gradient factors. Most computers nowadays have that feature in them allowing the diver to be more or less conservative if they wish.

Price wise the perdix is comparable with other computers in the size, color screen, AI etc.

In short bad example. The only piece of gear I would consider tech only is a CCR, but I'm sure others will disagree with me on that point.
 

Marie13

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If you think the average diver is going to buy a computer so they can push the limits, you’re mad.

The balls to the walls/suffering from testosterone poisoning guys will always find a way to push the limits.
 

brsnow

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"I am not talking about the design, build quality, ergonomics, or attention to detail of the thing - that certainly is worth the extra buck. No doubt it looks cool on your wrist as well."

I don't say it's not very nice and easy to operate. I'm just asking the question of whether features that one doesn't need - or worse - doesn't fully understand increase risk...
I doubt it really increases risk.
 

CT Sean

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So why then recommend the Shearwater Perdix AI to a newly certified open water diver that just wants to dive tropical reefs in the Caribbean three weeks a year and do some freshwater quarry diving at home to keep his skills fresh?

It's just what happens in enthusiast communities. If you go to a PC forum and ask what's a good computer for internet browsing, you probably won't get many saying "Doesn't matter, just buy whatever's on sale at Walmart".
 

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