Maintaining gear crucial for safe dives

Angel Fernandez, the owner of ScubaTech who has certified thousands of divers, checks dive equipment at his Key Largo shop. Fernandez, who completed the PADI Gold Program, worked for Divers Den and Austin Dive Center before opening his own shop.
Angel Fernandez, the owner of ScubaTech who has certified thousands of divers, checks dive equipment at his Key Largo shop. Fernandez, who completed the PADI Gold Program, worked for Divers Den and Austin Dive Center before opening his own shop. keysinfo.net

Having been out of the water for a while, I was excited about diving again in a few days.

Divers learn, but sometimes forget, that there are some important things to determine before they arrive at the dive boat. I call it my list of OKs. Am I physically OK? Am I emotionally OK? Is my dive gear OK? Do I have all the other stuff I need?

All this is similar to getting ready to fly an airplane.

I went through my list and got to the gear part. I thought, “My gear worked when I cleaned and stored it. It should be fine. But it wouldn’t hurt to assemble the scuba unit and see if everything is still working.”

Maintaining scuba gear is important. Keeping your gear in proper working order can help prevent a bad day of diving or even save your life.

When you purchase scuba gear, the warranty has required service intervals to ensure the equipment is thoroughly tested and worn parts are replaced. Even if your gear is infrequently used, there might be natural deterioration to a number of parts including O-rings.

I put the buoyancy compensator (buoyancy compensation device or BCD, an inflatable jacket-like device that helps divers float at the surface and maintain neutral buoyancy underwater) on the scuba tank. I then attached the first stage of the scuba regulator to the tank (which is filled with compressed filtered air — not oxygen) and hooked up a low-pressure hose to the BCD. (A scuba regulator has hoses that provide low pressure to the breathing devices or second stages and the BCD for inflation, and a high-pressure hose that attaches to a gauge indicating how much air is in the tank.)

I pushed buttons to inflate and deflate the BCD. It seemed to work fine. I depressed the purge button (used to remove water that has entered the regulator second stage before you breathe) located on the front of the second stage and then took a few breaths. Everything seemed OK. But wait, the air kept escaping from the second stage. I tried a simply adjustment. The air kept flowing out of the mouthpiece.

“Better have this regulator checked out and use my other one,” I muttered. I tested my other regulator, no problems.

On the day of the dive, I stepped into the water, fully deflated my BCD, descended and happily kicked along next to the reef. But I kept floating up. Before I got into the water I had added the usual amount of lead weight, which is needed in proper amount to help a diver sink or to be able to stay at a given depth, to my BCD.

“Gee, have I gotten fat and need more lead?” I thought. (When dive masters ask how much you weigh, they aren’t nosey. They are trying to determine how much weight to add to your BCD or weight belt. Sad fact: More fat, more lead weight needed to sink.)

I depressed the deflator button on the BCD and air escaped. Odd.

I waited a few minutes and tried again. More air came out. “Guess it is time to take both the BCD and the regulator to the repair shop,” I thought.

As a safety precaution I uncoupled the low pressure hose from the BCD to prevent an unexpected ascent. New divers are taught how to do this and how to inflate the BCD with breaths to establish buoyancy both underwater and when back at the surface.

The next day I motored up north to mile marker 99 in Key Largo and pulled into a repair shop called ScubaTech, owned and operated since 2012 by a pleasant fellow named Angel Fernandez.

Angel has been involved with scuba more than 30 years. He became certified as a PADI Open Water Diver at 15, one year after his family moved to Miami from New Jersey. During high school, he kept moving up the scuba ranks and had his Assistant Instructor certification at age 18.

After to years at Miami-Dade College, he decided that scuba was going to be his life’s work.

Angel enrolled in the six-week PADI “Gold Program” in Southern California. The intense program included training and testing to become a scuba instructor, factory training in the repair of several major brands of scuba equipment and training in sales and the operation of scuba stores.

Returning to Miami, Angel worked for Divers Den for five years and Austin Dive Center for 14 years teaching scuba, and repairing and selling gear. He also started his own dive school. He taught scuba at Miami high schools, the Mast Academy and to firefighters, police and paramedics. During his career he has certified more than 1,700 divers.

Angel visited the Keys numerous times while teaching his scuba classes and saw a need for a full service repair facility that would cater to dive operators, residents and tourists. He scouted out a good location and settled on his current location.

His dedication to excellent service has paid off with growth in business each year.

“My business philosophy is to treat everyone with the same importance, whether it is for a small adjustment or a major repair,” he said.

As the business has grown, Angel has added services including hydrostatic testing for scuba cylinders (a water-pressure test to measure the flexing or integrity of the tank), and nitrox fills (enriched air, commonly referred to as nitrox, is a nitrogen/oxygen mix that has more oxygen than 21 percent and less nitrogen than 79 percent, which is the approximate amount in the air we breathe). Nitrox is used by divers trained to use it to help increase time under water at certain depths because to it helps reduce the amount of nitrogen absorbed.

The amount of nitrogen in a diver’s body and the rate of ascent can lead to decompression sickness or the “bends.”

Angel recently added a two-day equipment workshop, composed of comprehensive academics combined with hands-on experience, for scuba cylinders, regulators, BCDs, air station operations and nitrox blending.

ScubaTech is an authorized equipment service center for several major brands including Apeks, Aqua Lung, Atomic Aquatics, Genesis SCUBA, Sherwood SCUBA Ocean Reef and Zeagle.

After commuting from South Miami for two years, Angel, who has two grown sons, Reece, 28, and Darian 25, moved to Key Largo in 2013. I asked him how he likes it in the Keys. “ Always happy I moved, never would go back,” he said.

For more on ScubaTech see: http://scubatechkeylargo.com/

Don Rhodes, in addition to a career in government affairs, has taught scuba for 28 years. He and his wife retired to Tavernier three years ago, where he works as an instructor for Conch Republic Divers.