Dive Reel Buying Guide
Reels are essential tools for divers. They can be used to keep you in contact with surface support, guide you back to a known starting point, or to position you during search and retrieve operations. A common mistake is trying to use one type for all diving applications. This can lead to complications and potentially to danger. There is no point using a reel containing hundreds of metres of line to deploy a delayed surface marker buoy (DSMB) from a depth of five metres. Equally, trying to use a finger spool to reel out through a wreck or cave penetration might lead to entanglement.
Here we identify four main categories of reels and highlight ideal examples for each specific application. Naturally there can be crossover from one category to another, but eventually you'll probably want several different reels for different dive situations.
Marker Buoy Reels
Probably the most common application for a reel used by recreational divers is for the deployment of a delayed surface marker buoy or DSMB. For this task, it must be relatively easy to release the line to freewheel and there must be little chance of it snagging.
Caution: Never have the reel physically attached to you while deployment takes place. Should any snagging or jam occur you want to be able to easily jettison the reel, line and buoy.
Buddy Pocket Reel - 40 metre (130 ft) Line
RRP: $140, Our Price: $110, You Save $30 (21%).
Small and compact to fit into the smallest of pockets, this anti-jamming pocket reel features floating line that can't easily get snagged should the line go slack.
For teaching DSMB deployment AP Diving has manufactured a specially designed small DSMB.
AP Diving Training Delayed SMB
RRP: $125, Our Price: $99, You Save $26 (21%).
A must have for all dive instructors this DSMB allow trainee divers to practice deployment multiple times without serious depletion of gas supplies. The instructor can pull it back down and prepare it for the student to use again.
See Dive / Wreck / Cave Reels for more options.
Finger Spools and Jump Spools
Finger spools are ideal for shallow deployment of a DSMB, or as jump spools, to connect a diver from one already laid line in a cave system to another ensuring that at all times you are in contact with a line leading you back out of the cave. Spools require a certain amount of dexterity and caution is needed when wearing thick gloves. They also take time and practice in order to become proficient in their use.
IST Sports Finger Spool Reel - 30 metre (100 ft) Line
RRP: $25, Our Price: $20, You Save $5 (20%).
Great value, multi-purpose finger spool for deploying a DSMB and marking routes. The yellow coloured standard cave line makes the line easy to find. Comes with a double-ended bolt snap.
Divesoft Emergency Finger Spool Reel - 90 metre
RRP: $112, Our Price: $106, You Save $6 (5%).
The thin, but amazingly strong, white Dyneema line makes it possible to have 90 metres of line on this very compact finger spool. Comes with a double-ended, stainless steel bolt snap.
Alpha 2" Enclosed Narrow Jump Reel - 2mm x 20m Line
Our Price: $90
This small enclosed jump reel is an example of how dive reel/spool products cross-over functionally. It's a reel, but it's great to use instead of a jump spool.
See Dive Finger/Jump Spools for more options.
There can be some crossover in the use of reels, however wreck reels tend to hold between 50 and 100 metres of line, and different colours can be useful. Colour can indicate a specific route or a particular pair of divers.
Wreck reels need to be tough, and are often made from either hardened resin or metal.
Whether you choose floating or sinking line is a matter of debate, but the most important thing is not to get it tangled. Frequent belays, looping around pieces of wreck, are essential but don't tie a knot and avoid sharp edges that can cut your line.
Unlike when using a reel to deploy a DSMB, for any penetration it is vital that you are connected to the reel or line.
Sonar SMB/Wreck Dive Reel - 82 metre (270 ft) Line
RRP: $109, Our Price: $99, You Save $10 (9%).
This traditional handle wreck reel is typically used by the wreck or cave diver who is venturing in overhead, silt prone or virgin environments. Friction brakes are fitted to avoid run-on (bird nesting), and a large knob assembly is designed for easy use with or without gloves.
Alpha 5" Enclosed Wreck Reel - 2.5mm x 85m Line
Our Price: $310
This enclosed wreck reel is great for wreck divers venturing into virgin overhead environments.
See Dive / Wreck / Cave Reels for more options.
The largest capacity reels are the ones used for cave diving and they can hold as much as 1000 metres of line, although 100 to 200 metres is a more manageable amount. Ideally the line needs to be light in colour — white is the favourite — and made of either 24 or 36 gauge negatively buoyant braid.
As with wreck exploration, it is absolutely paramount that the start of the line is securely fixed to the entrance/exit point. At convenient intervals it is good practice to loop the line around prominent features to keep the line taught and also to mark the direction of the way out with line arrows.
For survey work, small knots can be tied in the line at say three metre intervals so that distances between know points can be measured.
Once again, the diver should be connected to the reel or line and bolt snaps are preferred. Avoid carabiners (suicide clips) as these can attach themselves to lines unintentionally under pressure.
See Dive / Wreck / Cave Reels for options.
Line can sometimes be difficult to see underwater, especially if it has been left in situ for some time in silty conditions. When diving in either wrecks or caves it is paramount that you know which way is out.
Line arrows enable you to mark specific directions of ravel. Finally, don't forget that when working with any kind of lines underwater, a good sharp knife or purpose built line cutter is essential.
Top Tips for Using Reels Underwater
- Keep the line taut to prevent possible entanglement.
- Take a sharp line cutter or knife with you when using lines.
- Choose the correct size of reel, with the correct length of line, for the task in question.
- Do not wind more line on a reel than it is designed for — it will jam.
- If the line has been rewound onto a reel when slack, unspool it and reload it under tension before using it again. Badly wound reels can jam or the line can lock in the loose coils when released under tension.
- When deploying s DSMB, do not attach the reel to yourself. Be prepared to let a DSMB and reel go if there are any entanglement problems when you deploy the buoy.
- Practise using the reel blindfolded on dry land — the release mechanism should become second nature.
- Use bolt snaps rather than carabiners (suicide clips) to prevent lines accidentally getting caught when clipping on.
- Small reels may appeal in the dive shop but make sure you can use them when wearing gloves.
- Sometimes using two reels, fully unwinding one and then attaching it to another and continuing to reel out, may be better than one large, hard to manage reel.