Opinion: how much should your dive gear cost?

The best equipment money can buy, or just good enough to keep you alive?

Author: Pat
19th May 2020

Atomic Aquatics BC1

What’s your most expensive dive equipment purchase? You can be honest… even if you weren’t wholly honest with your other half, who has no idea what you really spent on that burgeoning collection stored in the garage. I’d wager at least some of your equipment cost more than it needed to.

Back when I was an aspiring motor journalist, I once provoked a furious debate in a car forum after one of my articles defended the sporty new BMW X6 4×4. Let me just say I don’t drive a BMW or a 4×4, before you hate me all over again – the central argument was that a lot of the critical comments about the car being too big/heavy/bloated/cramped/impractical/thirsty/slow/fast/expensive were misplaced; if you liked the car and could afford it, everything else was personal taste. At a purely practical level this car did what every other car on the market does, namely carried people from A to B. That is true of a Kia Picanto or a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

£1,100 BC – can a price like this ever be justified?

We’ve seen this argument crop up in scuba diving too, most notably with big ticket items like the recently introduced buoyancy compensators (BCs) from Atomic Aquatics. In case you missed the headlines, the BC1 (jacket) and new BC2 (wing) cost approximately £1,100 each, and that’s without the inflator. The May 2020 issue of SCUBA Magazine hitting digital doormats right now features their BC2 test article, headlined ‘If money’s no object…’ Critics seem fixated on the price tag.

Do they have a point – can a price like this ever be justified?

For those of us who dive for pleasure, the big ticket items are usually BC, regulator, computer, and suit (rebreathers take spending to a whole other level.) There is a dizzying array of products to suit all skill levels on sale, from the beginner to advanced, year-round UK cold water to occasional overseas diver, simple to complex, recreational to technical, and many more specialties besides. To focus on BCs, the cheapest new one on sale is probably from retail outlet Decathlon, which offers a jacket BC priced just under £150. I’ve not dived this product nor seen anyone using it, so can’t comment on its inherent qualities, suffice to say it meets CE regulations for sale in the UK and is likely to satisfy most starter or basic diver’s needs for providing buoyancy underwater. This Decathlon BC is approximately one-seventh the cost of an Atomic BC1 or BC2.

For comparison, the cheapest bicycle on sale in Decathlon is £150, and the most expensive is £3,500 – which is a ratio of 23:1. Yet does anyone object to a £3,500 bicycle? That’s a lot of money for a bit of carbon fibre, metal and rubber, at the end of the day.

For the unfamiliar, Atomic Aquatics is a California-based maker of dive equipment for the premium part of the market. In a recent Facebook live event, Atomic co-founder Dean Garraffa explained that the Atomic brand was for those who wanted the best: you’ve all met him or her, that friend who has the best carbon fibre bike, the best flatscreen TV, the best espresso coffee machine. There is pleasure inherent in the ownership of nice things, made without compromise. For Atomic, this is their unique selling point (USP), and is reflected in regulators like the T3 that cost over a thousand pounds and use Titanium against corrosion.

For that reason, an Atomic BC couldn’t be anything other than expensive – being expensive is part of the brand. Full disclosure: I’m lucky enough to own a BC1 (you can read the Atomic Aquatics BC1 review on British Diver.) It is a high quality product, with impressive attention to detail, that is extremely hard-wearing, comfortable to use and provides diving pleasure. It’s this latter quality that is often missed: what’s the point of a sporty BMW 4×4? It gives the owner pleasure, that’s the point of it. Not everyone craves the same ownership experience as everyone else, and if diving is your passion, what’s wrong with investing in it?

In the same way that Rolls-Royce could build an affordable run-about for mass production, it would run counter to what the brand itself signifies. Not all journeys are about getting from A to B – sometimes you want to recline in comfort and enjoy the view.


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