Choosing the Right Wreck-Diving Reel

Posted on 06/15/09 1 Comment

Reels are essential equipment for technical divers, particuarly for those diving wrecks and caves. Yet, as any experienced techie will tell you, they’re a pain to use. Even the best reels will jam, foul, tangle, warp, drop, swing, trap, ratchet, keyhole, bind and bascially drive you nuts.

Today’s TECHnique post attempts to make reeling in a good dive easier by teaching you how and when to deploy a reel and which type of reel is the right one for the job.

Doppler’s Tech Diving Blog took a look at the common jobs reels are asked to do in an April post and, focusing on wreck diving, looked at what’s avaiable to divers. Included among those tasks were the emergency up-line, the temporary up-line, guide line, survey line, jon line, drifting deco and line receptacle. 

Are divers going to carry seven different reels? No. But certainly more than one is necessary. For that, Doppler provides a guide to reel features and the kinds available.

Firstly, they come in open- and closed-faced designs. They also feature different handles, the “standard” and the “jasper.” But, most-signficantly, they fall into four categories: jump/gap, cavern/safety, primary, and explorer. Doppler also discusses the role of spools.

For me, there is no silver-bullet answer to the question: Which reel is the right one for me to buy. However, a spool is not an option: is a necessity. I often use a spool to fly marker bags when doing drift deco. I’ve used one as a guideline when a reel brought along for that purpose jammed. And I have used one in four or five other common and uncommon applications.

One way not to choose a reel is by manufacturer. As Doppler notes,

Most manufacturers respond to market forces and a model that may be a terrible investment because of its poor design and manufacture, may be replaced with something absolutely brilliant from the same manufacturer six months after you get this book.

Of course, the laws of nature being what they are, the opposite may also happen. So no brand favorites.

Instead he lists the features that good reels will have:

  • A clean, simple design
  • Good materials (not plastic)
  • Well-balanced and substantive spool
  • Compact size

Finally, in his exhaustive post, Doppler covers the actual use of your shiny new reel.

Proper use begins the moment you open the pacakge and toss the thin line included with most wreck reels. Then comes practice.

The place to learn how a reel works, and how you work with a reel, is on the surface. If you are lucky, you have a large garden at home with lots of trees and space to work complex patterns with reels and lines.

This practice, with eyes open, eyes closed, lights in hands at night and so on, is essential. If you have small garden, curious neighbors or live on the 20th floor of a 32-floor apartment building, a quiet public park should work.

Just don’t do as a buddy of mine did early one morning in a small green space on the Michigan side of Lake Huron. Don’t zig-zag line to and fro across a well-used bike and roller blade path. At least not without setting up a hidden video camera to catch video evidence of the results of your selfishness.

Get used to walking while letting line out. Keep tension on the side of the spool with a finger or thumb so that line does not bag out behind you.

Practice throwing loops around tree limbs and lawn chairs. When you are proficient, try it at a run. When you have that mastered, head off to the local dive site and expect to be humbled at first. But persist.

There is no substitute for practice.

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