With anything SCUBA equipment related, there is always a great deal of consideration and care that must go into making selections for the type and level of diving that you are doing, and plan to do. From what type of mask fits your face and provides a good seal to what regulator set will breathe easily enough for your comfort and be robust enough to outlast the rigors that you put it through. Dive lights are no different in this matter, and there is no one size fits all solution for your underwater illumination needs. SCUBA diving lights not only provide illumination for added enjoyment of your dive, they can be crucial pieces of safety equipment that allow you to address emergency situations adequately. In some situations like night, cave, and deep wreck penetration diving…they are a flat out requirement. So, with this in mind, the prudent diver can easily see where careful consideration and research must be made in selecting the proper dive light for their dive application. In fact, just about every seasoned diver holds an arsenal of different styles and types of dive lights. With that in mind, let us delve into the world of underwater illumination.
Why Do You Need A Light For Scuba Diving?
Like said above there is a myriad of reasons as to why you would want or even need a dive light on your dives. A few of the more popular reasons are;
If you’re diving at night, you NEED a dive light. I mean, without one you’re just diving in blackness and who wants to do that? In addition, dive lights can illuminate certain flora and fauna underwater making for an epic dive experience when the sun goes down.
Murky Water/Low Visibility-If you’re diving in lower visibility water, a dive light can certainly be helpful in increasing your vision as well as making for seeing your dive buddy just that much easier.
Cave and Technical Diving
Cave and Technical diving require a special application of dive illumination. Most often these lights are brighter and have run times in the 3-8 hour range. This allows for the ability to see in overhead, blackout, and deeper environments. In addition, these type of diving applications requires backup lights in case the primary light has a failure.
Photo and Video
Underwater lighting solutions for photo and video really warrant their own specialty. With specialized light heads that provide a wider beam of light to strobes for specialized photography, you almost need a Ph.D. to fully understand every type and application of underwater photo and video lighting solutions.
As with about everything in SCUBA diving, there is a safety application. For example, that light you are using to illuminate the critters on your night dive could very well be used for signaling if you happen to surface away from the dive boat. The prudent diver will always keep in the back of his mind how a piece of equipment will perform in an emergency when making selections for their personal dive locker.
Characteristics Of SCUBA Diving Lights
Now that we understand the uses and applications for scuba diving lights, let us take a closer look at the various characteristics of underwater illumination solutions.
This is usually measured in LUX or lumens and is oftentimes subjective based on the particular manufacturer. Given that, you should “test drive” or, at least, handle the types of light that you need and get a comparison. This is where user reviews can come in handy.
Battery technology has come a long way in recent years and has allowed for smaller lights, longer run times and greater dependability. Gone are the days when cave divers had to lug around a canister the size of a small car battery to power their primary light for a 1-2 hour long dive. Nowadays, runtimes of 4-6 hours for a handheld light are commonplace. SCUBA diving lights can use both disposable and rechargeable power cells, and some can even use both interchangeably. As a caveat, be sure that when you’re traveling with power cells you check with the particular airline for their rules and regulations. They seem to change quite often. If you want to know more about airlines and traveling with power cells, go to the TSA website or read this article on the topic.
Dive Light Functions
Like most SCUBA equipment out there, dive lights follow two basic rules for operation…simple and robust. With this in mind, there are two primary methods for activation among dive lights. The first method employs the use of a magnetic switch that you press to activate the light. The second method involves a twist function of the light head that puts pressure on the battery stack to activate the light. In this method, 2 or 3 sealing o-rings are placed on the light body to ensure a solid seal preventing water from entering the sealed portions of the light body. There are some dive lights on the market that possess multi settings. These settings can be varied brightness or a strobe function.
Burn Times-Nowadays, SCUBA diving lights can vary in run times from an hour to over 10 hours and everything in between. It is important to factor your dive light decision on whether or not it possesses the amount of burn time you need.
Dive Light Styles
The styles of dive lights vary as much as the various forms and characteristics of them. From the plastic, recreational dive light to the high-powered canister light with 10+ hours of burn time and everything in between, there is a SCUBA diving light for just about every underwater application that you can think of. Let’s take a look at a few of the more common ones;
Recreational Dive Lights
These are often used for a basic recreational diving application to include night dives, low visibility, and emergency/signaling. Most often these lights are simple and inexpensive, giving the recreational diver just what they need in the areas of form and function. Some styles include the pistol grip type torch and handheld “flashlight” types.
Back Up Lights
This type of light is often used by the technical and cave diver as a redundant source of illumination in the case of a primary light failure. In the past, backup lights were low power and had short run times…just enough light to get you back to safety. Nowadays, back up lights can oftentimes give their primary counterparts a run for their money in terms of burn times and level of illumination.
Primary Dive Lights
The term primary dive light is often used in the cave and technical world to imply that there is a backup light somewhere in the equation. Primary lights are known for their high level of illumination as well as their longer burn times. Traditionally, a primary dive light is a canister type with a cord that links up the battery pack to the light head. In recent years with the advancement of power cell technology, handheld primary lights have hit the market allowing for a light weight and more streamlined solutions for the cave and technical dive world.
Photo and Video Dive Lights
Like I implied above, these types of lights are in-depth enough to warrant their own article…or even series of books. In fact, some have been written by experts in the field of underwater photography and videography. Some of the features include wider angle lightheads, strobe functions, and the ability to mount them onto a camera tray.
So there you have it, hopefully, you are able to take something from this article and apply it to choosing the perfect dive light for your particular diving application. Of course, we’re always around if you have questions.