There can be some confusion for new divers between dive watches and dive computers. What is the purpose of each one? When should you choose a dive computer and when should you use a dive watch? Then, once you’ve figured out which one you need, what is the best option for you?
We are going to clear up the confusion so that by the end of the article all your questions are answered and then some. We’ll clear up what the purpose of each is and then look at the features you should look for when buying both. Then, we’ll take a look at the top four dive computers and dive watches so that you can find the perfect one for your needs.
What’s The Difference Between A Dive Watch & A Dive Computer?
Nine times out of ten what you see divers using nowadays is a dive computer. This is regardless of whether it is on the wrist or attached to the regulator.
Dive computers are worn around the wrist or connected to the first stage of the regulator via a hose. They track everything from air levels in your tank (or multiple tanks when technical diving), depth levels, no decompression limits, dive times, and more. They are battery-powered and have a screen that displays the information.
Dive watches are analog watches that were used in the early days of diving. These were used in conjunction with charts, pressure gauges, and depth gauges. Rarely will you ever see a dive watch in use today.
Instead, dive watches usually serve as more of a luxury fashion item. You may see some older divers who prefer to use dive watches, but that is becoming increasingly rare. Some dive schools even require divers to use computers due to improved accuracy.
So, if dive computers are so great, is there even a purpose in having a dive watch? Yes.
Not just to look good either. Redundancy in diving is vital. If you don’t know, redundancy is an engineering term used to describe back up systems and processes. These backups increase the reliability of critical systems and prevent catastrophic failure.
You might think of a backup system on an aircraft in the event something goes offline. Or, the many safety measures that keep an elevator from crashing in the event of power failure. You need the same in diving.
What would you do if your dive computer failed you in the middle of a dive? Even worse, you know you need a decompression stop but don’t have the computer to tell you when or for how long. You’re in trouble. Now you are reliant on your dive buddy, if you have one, to make sure you don’t get decompression sickness. But, you buddies information might be different. Their computer may use a different algorithm. If you had a backup, you wouldn’t be in this situation.
This is where having a dive watch comes in. Knowing and understanding the formulas common in scuba diving is vital. Unfortunately, more often than not, new divers never learn these formulas. Instead, they are over-reliant on their dive computer.
For most divers, computer failure will never be an issue. But, there is always a chance you could be in the situation described above. In this situation, you need to have a backup watch and knowledge of using dive formulas. This will help you to get yourself through the dive safely.
Again, it isn’t a situation that happens to many divers. But, it is one that if you find yourself in, you better hope you’ve built redundancy into your process.
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What Features Should You Look For In A Dive Watch And A Dive Computer?
Now that you know the difference between a dive watch vs. a dive computer, what should you look for in each? We hope that you understand the need to have both and will have both when you go on your dives. Also, we can’t stress enough that you need to learn the basic formulas for safe scuba diving.
But, to help you with all this, having the best equipment can help. Before buying a dive computer or dive watch, look for these features:
- Air System Integration
- Conservative Algorithms (for beginner divers)
- Water Activated Computer
- Basic Display Features
Air Integration System
Dive computers have two options when it comes to air supply. You can get an air integrated system, which monitors your air supply directly. Or, a non-integrated system which will not keep track of your air supply. In the case of a non-integrated system, you will need to rely on an extra gauge to monitor your air supply.
We encourage you to purchase a dive computer that has an air integration system. This can be accomplished in one of two ways. If you buy a console-based dive computer, it will attach via a hose to the first stage of your regulator. Should you choose to go with a wrist-mounted dive computer, it will come with a separate sensor. This can be screwed into the first stage of your regulator system. The sensor then transmits information wirelessly to the computer.
Which is better?
There are pros and cons to both. Console based integrations that connect via hose have the benefit of connecting directly. You are not relying on a wireless signal which can disrupt on occasion. But, because of how they measure the pressure, they are often less accurate. Hose based integrations will use either brass or glass sensors to measure the air pressure in a tank. Wireless systems use electronic sensors to measure the air pressure. These electronic systems are much more accurate.
Wireless sensors also have the added benefit of not having the hose. This reduces your dive profile and eliminates one of the hoses that could snag on something. As mentioned, they can occasionally lose connection, but this doesn’t happen often. In our experience, when they do lose a connection, it will only be for a few seconds. It can be disconcerting, but not a major issue.
The other point to think about is how the two different air integrations systems fail. Wireless systems tend to fail immediately. You will know when it happens as you will stop receiving information.
This may not sound like a positive, but when it happens you will know immediately and can stop your dive. This allows you to ascend with plenty of air. If you have a backup dive watch, you can use it with the last information from your dive computer to get yourself to the surface safely.
With hose connected systems, they don’t always fail immediately. Many times, when these fail, they do so slowly. It may be because of a leak due to a faulty o-ring or other issues. You may not even notice that there is an issue.
This can be a major problem if the information you are receiving becomes too far off. It can cause your computer to miscalculate bottom times and decompression times. Not good. Because of this, console-based dive computers need to be regularly serviced. We also recommend checking it over each time before getting into the water.
For these reasons, we recommend you purchase a wrist-mounted computer with a wireless air integrated system. Especially as a new diver, it is less that you have to worry about and will be more accurate. Just make sure you regularly replace the batteries so you don’t have to worry about them dying while on a dive.
All dive computers utilize one of a few different algorithms to make calculations. We won’t go into the algorithms individually. This is getting beyond the technical scope of this article. But, long story short, some of these algorithms are more conservative and some more liberal with their calculations.
What difference does this make? It can affect the total amount of time you spend diving. Conservative algorithms tend to have shorter no-decompression limits and shorter bottom times. They will also usually have longer decompression stops. This is all in the name of safety and can be a major positive for newer and less experienced divers.
More liberal dive algorithms shorten the times for each of these closer to the minimums. This will give you longer bottom times and shorter decompression stops. As an experienced diver, this usually isn’t a problem. You have the experience and understanding to to use the information correctly. As a less experienced diver though, there is a chance you can make a mistake as the margin for error is less.
Regardless of which one you choose, you can trust that it will keep you safe as long as you follow the guidelines. The algorithms in modern dive computers have been tested and proven to work. Whether you are using a more liberal or more conservative dive computer it will keep you safe as long as you use it correctly.
If you are interested in reading about the science behind dive computer algorithms, here is a great article.
This isn’t a feature unique to dive computers. But, it is one that can save your life. You want to make sure that whichever type of dive computer you decide to go with, console or wrist-mounted, that it has backlighting.
There are many situations you can find yourself in where lighting and visibility can be poor. This includes wreck diving, cave diving, night diving, or low visibility due to a silt-out. If you find yourself in one of these situations without a backlit dive computer, you are going to be in trouble.
Water Activated Computer
This is a handy feature that makes using your dive computer more convenient. A water-activated computer does just as the name implies. As soon as you enter the water the computer turns on and begins calculations. For new divers this can be a handy feature so that you don’t forget to turn on your dive computer.
This feature will often be available in higher-end dive computers. Even if you have to spend a little more money to get a computer with this feature, we recommend going for it. It can save you headaches and gives you one less thing to worry about when diving.
This is a big one. You want a computer that has alarms for different events during the dive. These alarms are for everything from approaching bottom time limits to alerts for decompression stops. With these alarms in place, you won’t have to constantly check your watch and can spend more time sightseeing.
This is probably the most basic part of the dive computer but also one of the most important. What is displayed can make or break a good dive computer. The last thing you want is to have to constantly swipe through the computer to see different readouts. There are a few basic data sets you want to see on the screen. These are:
- Remaining Air
- Dive Duration
- Bottom Time Limit
For technical divers, there are even more features you will want displayed. Primarily, your different gas mixes and decompression times.
As dive watches are analog, the features you will want on them are going to be much less complex. With a dive watch, you will be looking strictly for durability and ease of use. The main features to look for in a good dive watch are:
- Rotating Bezel
- Easy Legibility and Luminescence
- Resistance to Corrosion
- Water Resistance Depth
This is the most important feature of a dive watch. It is, in essence, what separates a dive watch from the average wrist watch. Though, many regular wrist watches also have this feature.
The rotating bezel is the series of notches on the outer face of the dive watch. You can turn the bezel to the exact minute so that when you go down you can tell how long you have been in the water. You use this with your depth and pressure gauges to determine maximum bottom time and no-decompression limits.
We prefer watches where the bezel can only rotate in one direction. This will usually be clockwise. The reason for this is that you want to minimize the chance that you will accidentally turn the bezel while on the dive. This will mess up your calculations and can cause you to make mistakes with your bottom limit timing and decompression stops.
Easy Legibility and Luminescence
If you can’t easily read your watch underwater, what’s the point in having it?
You want a dive watch which is legible at a quick glance. You should be able to see the numbers or the notches and easily make out what the time is.
Also, you should be able to see your watch in darker environments. This is where the luminescence comes in. Your watch should glow in the dark in a way that you can get all the readings you need in the dark.
Resistance to Corrosion
Dive watches aren’t always the cheapest pieces of equipment. The last thing you want is to drop a hundred dollars or more only to have the watch corrode after a few months. Choose a watch made from corrosion resistant material like titanium or stainless steel. You will also want the strap and other features to be either rubber or silicone if you opt for a non metal band.
Water Resistance Depth
This is a big one. Any dive watch you purchase should be rated to a depth of at least 100m (300ft). This is the minimum dive rating set forth by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
You will need to look for the mark which states that it is certified to a certain depth. It will usually say 100m, 200m, or 300m. Not all watch manufacturers have their watches certified due to the high cost. So, to make sure you are getting a quality dive watch, look out for this mark.
The ISO certification is unique. Every single watch produced by the company must be tested. So, you don’t have to worry that they only tested one watch and certified the whole line.
What Are Some Good Dive Watches And Dive Computers?
4 Best Dive Computers
Cressi is one of the leading manufacturers of scuba diving equipment. They have been around since 1946 and have a tradition of quality but affordable equipment. The Giotto fits into this category of both affordable durable. We recommend this as a great first dive computer. Especially for beginners who don’t yet want to shell out the money for a more expensive computer with air integration.
- For the price, the Cressi Giotto can’t be beat. It has most of the features we have outlined as being important in a dive computer. The main features it is missing, namely an air integration system, is what keeps the price low. As a new diver, you can get by without the air integration until you decide your ready for a more powerful computer.
- You can get all the information you will need from the Giotto. Data includes depth limits, total dive times, ascent rate, and tracking surface intervals between dives. It also tracks both air and nitrox which you enter manually. Though, without the wireless air integration, this will be much less accurate realtime.
- The alarm on the Giotto is loud. This was one of the first dive computers that we’ve used and had no trouble hearing it. This makes it an excellent choice for new divers. It lets you know if you are ascending too rapidly or if you have not spent enough time on a decompression stop. It also lets you know when you are approaching your bottom limit.
- As we stated above, there is no air integration system. This is not necessarily a major drawback for new divers. But, it does mean you will need a seperate pressure gauge attached to your first stage for accuracy. For advanced divers, we do not recommend using this. Instead, we advise you to buy a dive computer with air integrated capabilities.
- One complaint a few people had is that the Giotto was rather large for their wrists. Many said that they were able to tighten the straps so that it fit securely. But, the main complaint was that it felt bulky and was not the most comfortable dive computer they had used.
- Some users have complained that the Giotto can be complicated to use. We found this to be true with certain features like dive planning. Other users have mentioned having issues activating the backlighting during night dives. In our experience, we were able to solve all our issues by referencing the dive manual. But, this is a drawback for beginner divers.
Here is a video review of the Giotto so you can get a better idea of its features.
- Optional wireless air integration
- Monitor tank pressure and air consumption
- True reading 3D compass
- Programmable for 21% to 99% oxygen mixtures
- Air, nitrox, gauge and free dive modes
This is a great option for new divers looking to get an air integrated dive computer. What makes this good is that you have the option to buy just the computer, or to buy the computer with the wireless air integration. If you are on a budget and cannot yet put up all the money this gives you options. Suunto is also a highly reputable brand for dive computers. They were one of the first manufacturers to come out with a dive computer in the mid-1980’s.
- The Vyper Novo is a great price for an introductory dive computer. It comes in over $400 cheaper than similar computers and almost $1,000 cheaper than higher end computers. This makes it the perfect dive computer if you are looking to purchase your first dive computer. As stated in the intro, you can purchase the computer and transmitter separately. This makes it even cheaper up front.
- This dive computer has everything we recommended. Along with the wireless air integration system, there are also alarms, a 3D compass, air and nitrox capabilities, gas switching, and more. You are getting a lot of bang for your buck with the Vyper Novo.
- The computer comes with a USB cable so that you can upload all the information from each dive to your computer. This will allow you to track patterns in your dives such as air consumption rate. You can use this information to improve your diving experience overall.
- Some users have complained that they had a hard time hearing the alarms. They had to regularly check the computer and lost the benefits of having alarms in the first place. This isn’t something that affected all users. If you are hard of hearing, this may not be the best dive computer for you if you are planning on using the alarms.
- This is not a good computer if you plan on doing technical diving. You can only measure air and nitrox using the Vyper Novo and only up to 3 different tanks. This is great for normal recreational divers but lacks the helium capabilities needed for most technical divers.
- The Vyper Novo is rather large and bulky. If you are looking for a dive computer that you can double as an everyday watch, this may not be the best option.
Here is a video review of the Vyper Novo so you can get an idea of all of its features.
- Compatible with 3 different transmitters and gas...
- Intuitive design and menu navigation
- 4 operating modes: Air, Nitrox, Gauge, and Free...
- Digital compass
- Free Dive mode
This is another great wrist-mounted dive computer for beginners. It’s got all the features we talked about above and has the added benefit of being stylish. There is also the fact it is made by Aqua Lung, a leading manufacturer of dive gear since 1946.
When you are going to spend a lot of money on a dive computer, buying from a reputable brand is always a good decision. This is a good option for beginner divers looking for their first computer as well as advanced divers.
- The i550t has all the basic requirements we outlined as being necessary in a dive computer. It has backlighting, alarms, and displays all the necessary information on the first screen
- Like the Suunto Vyper Novo, the i450t give you the option to buy the wireless transmitter separately. If you are on a budget and need to purchase your equipment in parts this is a great option.
- You can record up to 24 dives and review the history. This is great for allowing you to review your dives and observe patterns and trends. Overtime, you can use this information to help you improve your air consumption rate.
- One of the main complaints we have about the i450t is that even though the screen is backlit the dials are not. We’ve used this computer on night dives and had to constantly shine our torch anytime we wanted to use the dial. The problem with this is that you are having to shine the torch and use the same hand to push the buttons. Not a major problem but certainly not optimal either.
- Something many users have noticed, including us, is that the dive compass is quite basic and can be troublesome to use. A better option would be the 3D compass similar to that on the Suunto Vyper Novo. Some users have even had major issues calibrating the compass. We did not experience this.
- Tech divers will not be able to use the i450t. Even though you can measure air and nitrox there is no helium capability. You can track up to three different gas mixtures but this may not be enough even for basic technical diving. This is still a good option for beginners and advanced divers using nitrox.
Here is a video review of the i450t to get a better idea of its features.
- Bearing tracking, Cardinal directions, declination...
- Advanced media isolated pressure sensor, easy to...
- Wireless air integration w/up to 10 pods with...
- Dimensions: 4.12" x 2.38" x 0.91" (104.6 mm x 60.5...
- Includes: eon steel computer, USB cable, quick...
This is a great dive computer if you are thinking about getting into technical diving. As we discussed above, Suunto is one of the leading manufacturers of dive computers. The Eon Steel is one of their upper tier models for advanced recreational diving and technical diving.
This is not a good choice for beginners. The features are too advanced and outside the scope of basic recreational diving. But, if you are planning on going through technical dive training, or have just finished, this is a great starting computer.
- You can track up to ten different tanks using the one computer. This makes it a great option for advanced technical diving if you plan on using multiple gas mixtures. The Eon Steel tracks air, closed circuit rebreathers, and mixed gases (nitrox, helix, etc.). Whatever setup you decide to dive with, this has you covered.
- Every one of the features that we described above as basic requirements for a dive computer are present. It comes with a clear bright display screen, 3D compass which accounts for tilt, alarms for every imaginable scenario, water activation, and every piece of data you could want displayed.
- You can update the software as new options become available. This is a major plus as you won’t have to buy a completely new computer in a few years when the software becomes outdated.
- This is the most expensive computer on this list. As you can tell, it is also the most feature rich. The old adage you get what you pay for holds true for this dive computer. But, this is absolutely not for lower and mid-level budgets. You can expect to pay over $1500 for the full computer and transmitter. If you are getting into technical diving, this is in line with many computers made for this purpose.
- As with most technical diving computers, the Eon Steel is very large. You won’t be able to use this as a regular watch during the daytime. If having a large wrist-mounted dive computer is not something you enjoy, there are smaller alternatives suitable for technical diving.
- One major design flaw is that you need to have the transmitter pod on air to check the battery. This is not optimal if you don’t have access to an air tank until the dive. Especially, because you cannot change the battery by yourself. You will need to send it off to have it changed. The best option is to go to a dive shop before you plan on going on a trip to make sure everything is working properly and your battery is good.
Here is a video review of the Eon Steel to get a better idea of all of its features.
4 Best Dive Watches
- Round watch featuring unidirectional bezel and...
- Eco-Drive technology is fueled by light and never...
- 48 mm stainless steel case with mineral dial...
- Japanese quartz movement with analog display
- Molded polyurethane band with buckle closure
Citizen has almost 90 years of history producing top quality watches. Their dive watches continue in the same tradition. The Promaster Professional is one of their leading dive watches and an excellent entry level watch.
- Over the years, dive watches have become a sort of status symbol. Because of this, they can get quite pricey. We’ve used the Promaster and have selected it for this list because it has the looks and quality of a high end dive watch without the extreme price tag.
- The Promaster is rated to a depth of 200m. This is perfect for both the beginner and advanced recreational divers. It is ISO certified so you won’t have to worry about the depth rating being inaccurate.
- The face is both easy to read and luminescent. You won’t have to struggle to read this even in lower light situations. This is important as the last thing you want is to get stuck in a low light situation without your dive computer and unable to see your watch.
- One thing that we don’t like about this is the bezel is unidirectional. This means it can move both clockwise and counterclockwise. The problem we have with this is that it makes it easier to accidently move the bezel while mid-dive. This can throw off your dive time calculations.
- Another issue we had with this watch is that the band can be quite stiff. Everything about this watch is high quality. But, the band did become a bit uncomfortable to wear towards the end of the day.
- The crystal on this watch is mineral and not sapphire. The problem with this is that it is more prone to scratching. If you take good care of your watch this won’t be a major issue. But, if you are like us, then you may begin to notice scratches after a few months of diving.
Here is a video review of the Promaster to give you an idea of how it looks.
Seiko has long been a leader in dive watches as well as traditional watches for everyday wear. The Prospex continues in this tradition. It’s made from stainless steel and has been used by thousands of divers around the world. You can use it for everything from recreational to technical and commercial diving.
- Like the Promaster, this is a top quality dive watch without the price tag of other leading manufacturers such as Rolex and Omega. It is both stylish and functional and will stand the test of time. The watch is made from stainless steel and comes with a rubber band so you don’t have to worry about corrosion.
- The Prospex is rated to a depth of 200m (600ft). Perfect for recreational and lower end technical diving. It is ISO certified which means it can go well past 200m without issue. All ISO watches are tested to 120% their stated depth.
- The face is luminescent and easy to read. You should have no problems using this in low light situations.
- Like the Promaster, the rubber band can be uncomfortable. This is a bit unavoidable when it comes to rubber bands on dive watches vs. metal bands. But, it is a minor inconvenience.
- We aren’t big fans of the unidirectional bezel. As we mentioned above this increases the odds of accidentally moving the bezel in the middle of a dive. This can throw off your calculations. As long as you are aware of it this isn’t a problem.
- This is a mid-level dive watch in terms of price. As mentioned in the description, it is significantly less than top level dive watch brands. But, you can get the same level of quality the Prospex offers for much less. If you are on a tight budget, this may not be the best option for you.
Here is a video review of the Prospex to give you a better idea of how it looks.
- Providing a nostalgic nod to the classic nautical...
- Japanese Quartz movement with analog display
- Protective anti-reflective mineral crystal dial...
- Features date function, luminosity, and stainless...
- Water resistant to 330 feet (100 M)
This is a great option for women looking to get their first dive watch. Invicta is a well known brand with well over 100 years of history. The Mako Pro is both functional and stylish and comes in much cheaper than other womens dive watches without sacrificing quality.
- This is one of the cheapest dive watches available at this level of quality. You can find this watch for under $100. The best part is that it retains the looks of a high end dive watch without the same price tag. You can wear this both in and out of the water without any issue.
- The Mako Pro is rated to 200m (656ft). This is well within the range you will need for recreational diving and can even be used for technical diving.
- Both the watch and the band are stainless steel so they are resistant to corrosion. Metal bands are also more comfortable than hard rubber which many dive watch bands are made of.
- The crystal is made from mineral instead of sapphire. This is to be expected at this price but it does mean it is more prone to being scratched. If you know you are rough on watches it may be worth spending a bit more money on a watch with a sapphire crystal.
- The main complaint that many women have is the watch face is quite small. This can make it difficult to read. You might have trouble seeing this watch at a quick glance.
- Some users have complained that the watch lost time after a few months. If this occurs, you will be making a trip to the jewelers. This shouldn’t affect your dives as long as you make sure to set the bezel properly. But, it can be an inconvenience when using the dive watch for everyday use outside of the water.
- ELEGANT DESIGN:The smallest, thinnest M1 ever!...
- LONG LASTING PRECISION:This ladies fashionable...
- WATER RESISTANT FOR DAILY USE:Each women’s watch...
- COMFORT ON YOUR WRIST: This wristwatch for women...
- PERFECT ON THE WRIST, OR AS A GIFT: The M1 Mini...
Another fantastic dive watch for beginner divers. This watch looks like a high end dive watch on a lower mid-level price. It is rated to 200m (656ft) and is ISO certified. As with the other dive watches on this list, the M1 Mini offers a nice compromise between function and style so you can wear it both in and out of the water.
- The M1 Mini is made from stainless steel. Botht the band and the watch are corrosion resistant so even after saltwater dives you won’t have to worry about the watch being damaged.
- The numbers on the face are very large. This is great so that you can easily see them without having to strain too hard. It is also a luminescent watch so you can use this during low light situations.
- The battery life for the M1 Mini is around 2 years. You can dive with the confidence that your watch isn’t going to break down on you when you need it most. Perfect as a backup option for your primary dive computer.
- Even though the numbers on the face are large, the date is small. This isn’t an issue when it comes to diving as you won’t be using this feature. But, it can be a minor annoyance during everyday use.
- The crystal is mineral. As we’ve stated previously, a sapphire crystal is much better as it is less prone to scratching. For extra money, you can upgrade this to a sapphire crystal.
- The bezel for the M1 Mini is unidirectional. As we’ve mentioned this isn’t a huge issue as long as you lock it down. But, if you forget to lock it, you can accidentally move it during a dive and mess up your calculations.
Here is a video review to give you a better idea of how the watch looks.
We made it! What do you think? There are a lot of options when it comes to dive computers and dive watches. But, at the end of the day, you should always go with what is comfortable for you.
Do you have any recommendations we didn’t cover? Or, do you have any experiences with these dive computers or watches? Let us know in the comments. We love to hear from fellow divers. You never know when your advice and experience can help someone else.
Last update on 2020-07-11 at 16:07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API