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August 20, 2009

What do you do when your dive computer fails?

On the whole, dive computers are fantastically reliable. In an era where iPhones and other assorted high-tech gear run for a few hours on a battery charge, dive computers can go for years on the same battery. And while I often have to reboot even my Mac several time a day, dive computers never seem to crash. That is remarkable.

Nothing, however, is infallible, and my Uwatec Smart-Z dive computer finally quit on me. Unfortunately right in the middle of a dive trip. One day it was happily humming along, doing its thing, showing a remaining battery charge of 72% after just over three years and over a hundred dives, the next it displayed a little wrench symbol and nothing else. This means it needs service or repair. Not good when you're on a live-aboard in the Caribbean.

Fortunately for me, my dive buddy had been wearing two computers on every dive, and so I was able to use hers. Both of us had used Nitrox, and both of us had gone on the same dives, so using her computer was okay as we were both on the same nitrogen schedule. The backup computer wasn't air-integrated, but the boat had some spare/rental pressure gauges, and so we attached one of them onto my first stage.

I was still ticked off at my dive computer as I had not yet downloaded the day's four dives when it quit. I always use an infrared adapter to download my dive data from the dive computer to my notebook. I then go through the dives, add commentary and annotations, check average depth, average and peak air consumption and so on. For the rest of the week, none of that for me.

On some dive computers you can change the batteries anywhere. A guy on the boat had his done right before a dive, no big deal. Changing the battery on my liquid-filled Smart-Z with its soldered battery is a much bigger deal, one that requires sending the computer back to Scubapro. Not even Scubapro dealers can/are supposed to do it. And without a special rush order, sending and getting the computer back takes weeks.

I really missed my dive computer. The backup worked just fine, but it didn't record my dives so that I could later upload them, so there'll forever be a ten-dive hole in my electronic dive log.

I also realized once again that the plastic dive tables certification agencies use are really relics. Almost no one still uses them for actual dives. They probably still serve a purpose in making students better understand the concepts of nitrogen absorption and how it affects repetitive dives. However, even there PADI with its surly, heavyhanded legal staff is making sure divers remain uneducated by threatening anyone who uses their precious dive tables in an non-sanctioned manner (like explaining them on a website). Shame on them.

Anyway, my dive computer is now at Scubapro and I should have it back within a few days (yes, I paid the rush charge). I am not sure if the computer quit because it ran out of battery despite still showing 72% remaining charge, or if something else went wrong with it. I have come across other references suggesting that some dive computers quit with a lot of charge still remaining. If that is so, then the software should be fixed to display properly.

Postscript: I called the diveshop eight days later when I didn't hear from them despite having paid the rush charge. They told me Scubapro would give me a new replacement computer. It arrived at the diveshop 11 days after the rush was sent to Scubapro. It is certainly nice to have a new replacement computer, but it still cost shipping, a US$45 rush charge, and unfortunately Scubapro didn't report what was wrong with the computer or retrieve any of my data from the computer, so the six dives that I had not downloaded yet are lost forever.

Posted by conradb212 at August 20, 2009 01:01 AM

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