While scuba diving, you’ve probably become used to your arms being pretty redundant and, as long as your buoyancy is good, your hands are free for other functions underwater. Starting and ending a dive is a different matter. You use your arms and hands a lot so carrying something like a camera, to satisfy twitching fingers underwater, can be problematic during entry and exit. Further, these sections of the dive are the ones most likely to result in damage or loss of your camera gear. Our guidelines will help keep you and your gear safe.
How you enter the water with a camera will depend on whether you are diving from the shore or from a boat.
Diving from the shore does pose minimal risk of losing your gear if you drop it, but it does pose other hazards. If you have a non-diver who is happy to help you with your camera, then this is by far the best way to enter the water. In calm conditions you can enter the water, ensure all your gear is in place and then receive your camera, clip it to you and start your dive. Otherwise, you have to work with your buddy to ensure you are both safe and don’t lose or damage any gear.
Do consider the surface conditions and how they may change, in choppy conditions there is a high possibility of falling. You can hurt yourself should you slip but falling with a camera poses greater risks. Regardless of what you tell yourself, you are likely to want to save your camera before yourself. Either way, you are more apt to be less balanced and run a higher risk of hurting yourself and damaging your gear. In high waves or when you think conditions might change, you may want to evaluate if taking your camera is the most prudent decision.
When diving from a boat, it’s likely that you will get in the water first and then have your camera passed to you. It’s at this point that cameras are dropped. Be ready. If you can see the bottom, orientate yourself to what is below you and have your mask on and regulator in ready to descend. Grab your camera with two hands and try to make sure that you have a secure hold of the lanyard, attach it to you before you do anything else. If your camera gets dropped, don’t panic, there’s no point in trying to race it to the bottom. Keep your eye on it and signal your buddy for help. If you can see it and the depth is not excessive then retrieving it and, in a lot of cases, continuing to dive is quite simple. If the depth is not extreme, but the visibility is not great, then you are going to need to drop a weighted line to the bottom as soon as possible so that you have the closest possible point from which to start a search. If the depth is excessive, then take a depth breath, and be grateful that you didn’t spend more than you were willing to lose and that you have great insurance.
In some instances, the diving conditions will dictate that it is not possible to have your camera passed to you. Strong current, for example, might require a backwards roll negative entry descent from a RIB. This type of entry would mean you would need to protect your camera around your stomach with one hand while the other holds your mask strap. If you were to giant stride into strong current, you are not going to be able to reach the boat to retrieve your camera. Giant striding with a camera means you have to hold it above your head, so the impact on the water is minimal. With some cameras, this is going to take two hands which means you have no way of securing your mask and weight belt. Of course, you do run the risk of hitting your head with your camera too. You can always fall backwards off the boat, ‘dead Mexican’ style, cradling your camera in your belly area. Again, you are going to have to choose which, if any, other equipment to hold. Given the added complexity, increased risk to yourself and gear, and the possibility of losing a piece of equipment necessary to make the dive you might want to consider if taking your camera is, in fact, worth it. Diving in current can be stressful anyway, and you should consider the extra effort required to take a camera as well as how difficult taking photographs will be.
Although you will have made a dunk test in the rinse tank before getting in the water, once you start your descent you will put your camera under pressure. The pressure can cause leaks that wouldn’t appear on the surface. It’s important to look at your camera and hold it in a port down orientation. Should there be a leak, this will allow water to run past the camera and collect in this reservoir. Look for streams of bubbles as this would indicate that water is getting in. Do note though that air will be trapped in button springs and levers on the housing as well as within your lanyard and other spaces on the exterior of the housing, so don’t panic, some bubbles are normal. Look to see where they are coming from, can you see water entering the housing, are the bubbles a consistent stream? Pressing buttons on your housing will help dislodge any trapped air and also test these point for leaks before you descend further. Waft your hand close to your housing to disturb the water which will move the bubbles off your housing; this will help you get a clear view through the housing. If you have a leak, read the steps you should follow.
It is prudent to stay vigilant on your dive and keep checking your housing. If you are not taking a photo, don’t let your gear dangle on its lanyard, hold it in your hand unless you need your hands to inflate your SMB or in the event of an emergency. Keeping hold of it will save it from getting in the way of other divers, banging against your tank, or damaging the reef.
If your buddy doesn’t have a camera, then it is easier to let them inflate the SMB for your ascent. If you need to deploy an SMB make sure it doesn’t get tangled with your camera. You can achieve this by clipping off your lanyard which will shorten it, passing your camera to your buddy, or ensuring you work at arm’s length. In the instance your camera is negatively buoyant, the camera will sink (on its lanyard) out of the way. Obviously, passing your camera poses risks.
Once at the surface, keep hold of you camera as this will keep it safe from getting knocked about or kicked. Getting your camera out of the water is likely to be the reverse of getting in but do evaluate for any change of conditions. Take is slowly and carefully and always remember that you are more important than your camera.