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Dive / Wreck / Cave Reels

A Dive, Wreck or Cave Reel is the most popular way of carrying line during a dive. Whether it be for deploying a delayed surface marker buoy (DSMB), lining off into a wreck or cave, or even surveying a dive site, a reel should be part of every divers equipment. The Scuba Doctor offers reels from some of the top brands so we are positive you will be able to find a reel that perfectly suits your needs.

Did you know? North Florida cave diver, Woody Jasper, first invented sidewinder style reels around 1980. Less likely to entangle it can be easily switched from hand to hand whilst laying out line.

If you're looking for a finger spool, please see Dive Spools.

Dive Reel Buying Guide

Dive Reel Buying Guide from The Scuba Doctor

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.

Delayed Surface 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 (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.

For teaching DSMB deployment AP Diving has manufactured a specially designed small DSMB.

  • AP Diving Training Delayed SMB AP Diving Training Delayed SMB
    RRP: $125, Our Price: $112, You Save $13 (10%).
    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.

Also see, How to Deploy a SMB.

Winding and Tension

Winding Knobs
When selecting which reel to use, take your other gear into consideration. If you wear thick gloves while diving, a finger spool might not be a very effective design for you. Cold water divers frequently prefer reels that have winding knobs, which allow them to wind the spool more easily.

Tension Control
Some reels offer tension control, which is typically controlled by a spring. Tension control keeps your line on your reel from free-spooling, or uncontrollably unwinding off of the spool. A strong argument for using a reel with tension is it allows you to control the rate at which a lift bag moves to the surface.

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 Proline Finger Spool Reel - 30 metre (100 ft) Line IST Proline 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Wreck Reels

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.

  • 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.

  • This enclosed wreck reel is great for wreck divers venturing into virgin overhead environments.

See Dive / Wreck / Cave Reels for more options.

Cave Reels

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.

Reel Line Choices

If you use reels for your diving activities then spare reel line is one handy item to have on hand. Nylon braided line is used because it's sturdy and it doesn't float. This is the type of line used on top quality reels and spools and thus makes great replacement reel and spool line. These are three line sizes recommended by GUE and DIR...

#18 (or 18 gauge) is the lightest line and commonly used for distance lines.

#24 (or 24 gauge) is the middle weight and most widely used line. It's commonly used in cave diving applications, plus for gear ties, and open water reels and spools.

#36 (or 36 gauge) is the heavier line and is more popular for wreck diving. It's the line of choice among experienced wreck penetration divers.

These reel line sizes are highly recommended for use on primary reels, safety reels, jump/gap reels, and finger spools. Overloaded reels and spools are common and too much line can cause jams during initial deployment. If you are having a problem with jams, check the length of the line and try removing some excess if your reel or finger spool has been overloaded.

  • Catahoula Manufacturing Braided Nylon Reel Line - Size 18 Catahoula Manufacturing Braided Nylon Reel Line - Size 18
    RRP: $39, Our Price: $29, You Save $10 (26%).
    This white braided nylon reel line is made from 100% nylon yarns and guaranteed 100% defect free. It's resistant to abrasion, oil, gasoline, mildew, rot, marine growth and most chemicals.


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 travel. Line cookies help you identify your markers and route or mark a point of interest on the route. Finally, don't forget that when working with any kind of lines underwater, a good sharp knife or purpose built line cutter is essential. See Line Arrows and Cookie Markers.

Jon Line
Buy yourself a little breathing room. Use a Jon line during your decompressions stops to tether yourself to the anchor line and then float a slight distance from the line to keep you from bumping into other decompressing divers.

Top Tips for Using Reels Underwater

  1. Keep the line taut to prevent possible entanglement.
  2. Take a sharp line cutter or knife with you when using lines.
  3. Choose the correct size of reel, with the correct length of line, for the task in question.
  4. Do not wind more line on a reel than it is designed for — it will jam.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Practise using the reel blindfolded on dry land — the release mechanism should become second nature.
  8. Use bolt snaps rather than carabiners (suicide clips) to prevent lines accidentally getting caught when clipping on.
  9. Small reels may appeal in the dive shop but make sure you can use them when wearing gloves.
  10. 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.


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