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Learning how to use a dive watch is unlikely to come up when you’re learning to dive these days. 

Some say a dive watch is a retro relic of the past. 

Some say a dive watch is stylish and essential.

Either way, a dive watch is a seriously underrated bit of scuba diving gear. It is often eclipsed in popularity by its more technologically advanced big brother – the dive computer. 

But you’re probably wondering…

How do I use a dive watch?!

Fortunately, most dive watches are pretty self-explanatory –  another bonus of going old school! Here, we’ll give you the low-down on the humble dive watch: everything you need to know but didn’t want to ask. 

Let’s dive in.

What is a dive watch?

watch face close upA dive watch is a, typically analog, timepiece which is specifically designed for use below the water. They are one of the original pieces of dive equipment and are now considered by many to be a timeless style piece. 

Though the market is now dominated by the hyper-functional dive computers, a dive watch is still a worthy and reliable investment for the dedicated scuba diver.

what’s the difference between a dive watch and a dive computer?

So, now you’re probably wondering:

What’s the difference between a dive computer and a dive watch?

Well, first of all, a dive watch is normally analog, meaning it has hands and cogs, versus a dive computer which is almost always digital.

Dive watches have limited functionality. Some have bonus features including stopwatches, timers and depth gauges, but most simply feature a luminous timepiece with a rotating external bezel. They were originally used as a way of measuring bottom times for divers.

Dive watches are normally very stylish, featuring sleek designs that look as much at home in the boardroom as they do on a dive boat. It is this concession to style that has allowed them to keep a portion of the market safe from the dive computer. 

dive computerDive computers have boomed in popularity in the last ten years. They have become less clunky, more functional and cheaper than ever before. In fact, these dive computers for beginners are all a steal. Sleek, modern designs like the Shearwater Teric and Garmin Descent MK1 are helping them to catch up with dive watches in style. 

If dive watches have limited functionality, it seems that the dive computer is virtually unlimited. 

They not only measure the time and depth but can also be integrated with your air, compute dive plans and give you ambient conditions like the temperature – as well as complete analyses of your dives. They’re also bursting with safety features including ascent rate alarms, no-decompression times, no-fly times and built-in safety stop timers. 

So now you might be wondering…

But, why should I get a dive watch?

close up how to use a dive watchIt is undeniable that dive computers are more functional than dive watches. 

However…

Dive watches can provide an additional level of safety when scuba diving. If your dive computer fails, you will still know your dive time and, crucially, how long to wait out your safety stop

They are also a style statement, after all, everyone should have a nice watch. It’s a subtle way of connecting with other scuba divers – even when you’re at work!

What features does my dive watch have?

At its core, your dive watch is excellent at telling the time. An obvious point – but essential! 

The bezel allows divers to set the time of water entry so you can work out your dive time. This is also essential for safety as you can safely measure safety stop times. Some watches additionally feature stopwatches and timers.

close up luminous dive watch faceAnother important feature of your dive watch is the water resistance rating, which is typically 100, 200 or 300m. 

Dive watches are designed to be used underwater, where visibility can be limited. To assist divers, the watch hands are luminous. 

Some dive watches which are designed for use at great depths by commercial or technical divers have a helium release valve, which increases functionality at depth.

Components

When learning how to use a dive watch, you will notice that there are five main components:

  • The Case – Usually a combination of scratch-resistant glass and stainless steel, this ensures your watch is waterproof and protects the delicate inner workings
  • The Dials – The visible outer workings of the watch mechanism which allow you to read the time. Most traditional dive watches have an hour, minute and second hands. Many feature glow-in-the-dark capabilities to make it easy to read at depth and in low visibility. 
  • watch mechanisms cogs and gearsInternal Mechanism – The moving parts behind the scenes that allow your dive watch to tell the time! Some watches have small viewing windows in the face so you can see the cogs turning, but in most watches, you won’t see this bit!
  • The Strap – Dive watches often have different straps than normal watches. It is common for them to come in the usual metal, leather and rubber varieties – though rubber is the best suited to salt-water diving. Leather can get moldy when it gets wet and salt can easily corrode metal components. Additionally, dive watch straps are usually longer than normal watches, to accommodate bulky wet and drysuits
  • The Bezel – The bezel is the rotating mechanism that surrounds the watch face. There are different varieties of watch bezel types. We go into more detail with these below.

External bezel

An external bezel is the most common variation. They are fixed on the exterior of the dive watch. This means that they are more straightforward to manipulate, both in and out of the water. 

However, they do come with certain disadvantages including:

  • Wear and tear from sand, salt and other debris
  • Accidental moving of the bezel

Some models, like those by Citizen, have developed fail-safes to circumnavigate these issues such as lockable bezels.

Internal bezel

internal bezel dive watchThe less common variation is the internal bezel. It creates a more sleek and streamlined dive watch. The bezel is manipulated by using a small crown on the exterior. They are more secure than exterior bezels but they are much more challenging to set, especially underwater.

Limitations

Now you know how to use a dive watch, you’ll have clocked (see what we did there) that there are some limitations alongside the benefits. It is important to know the limitations of your dive watch so you can dive safely. 

  • Depth – Though there are exceptions, most dive watches do not display your depth, so it is essential to take another depth gauge with you. Additionally, all dive watches have a maximum recommended depth, below which you risk cracking the glass face or experiencing leakages. Though for many this depth is 100m or deeper, it is good to be aware. 
  • scuba diving on zenobia wreckStrong Magnetic Fields – Everything has a magnetic field – but some are bigger than others. Large magnetic objects, such as a large iron wreck, can negatively impact your watch mechanism. Magnetism can cause the tiny, hairspring coils to stick together, shortening the active life of the watch and causing it to gain time. They can also become so stuck together that they stop the watch completely. Most watches these days have anti-magnetic hairsprings, but they still have some ferrous activity which can affect your watch. 
  • Extreme Heat – It is unlikely that you will encounter extreme heat whilst you are diving – unless you are a deep-sea welder. However, repeated exposure to hot sunshine or other heat sources can damage your watch overtime as it stresses the metal and glass components. 

How to use a dive watch

First of all – ensure your dive watch is set to the right time!

The bezel of your dive watch will have notches indicating minute marks from zero to sixty. Just before your dive, rotate the bezel so that the zero indentation is on the minute hand. It is important that this happens just before your descent to ensure an accurate measurement. 

When you come up from your dive, notice which number on the bezel the minute hand is now pointing at. This is your dive length. If your dive length was over an hour, add on 60 minutes to the time read on the bezel. 

Well done! You now know how to use a dive watch! Easy, isn’t it?

Maintaining your dive watch

Like any piece of scuba diving equipment, maintenance is essential. 

Saltwater can build up quickly around small components. This can cause rust and corrosion which can lead to leakages. As a result, it is essential to rinse your dive watch well in clean, freshwater after every dive. A small brush can help make sure you’ve got all the intricate bits!

A microfiber cloth can help to dry and polish your dive watch. Though this is not vital to keep your watch in working order, it can help your watch to maintain it’s sleek finish.

watchmaker dive watch maintenanceIf you have a watch with an internal bezel, you should check the crown is secure before each dive. A loose crown can result in water entering the dive watch and damaging the device. 

To get the best from your dive watch, it is important to have it regularly serviced by a professional. If you dive regularly, once a year is recommended. 

Which dive watch should I buy?

Choosing the best dive watch for you is personal to each person. It is best to consider the things that are important to you. If you’re looking for more affordable options, check out our selection of the best dive watches under $500. If you can afford to splash the cash a little more, we’ve also collated a list of the best dive watches under $1,000.

close seiko how to use a dive watch on wristConsidering your own personal style is essential. Dive watches range from rugged models to sleek devices that wouldn’t look out of place in the boardroom. Additionally, consider the size of your dive watch. It can help to try on a few to get the feel of the size and weight you prefer. We have put together a list of the best dive watches for women, which are designed for smaller wrists. 

Conclusion

After reading this article, you should be confident in how to use a dive watch! You’ve learned how to set the bezel, maintain the watch and what the essential components and features are. You’re basically a pro!

Kitting yourself out for your next dive trip? Check out our ultimate guide to scuba diving gear!

Rachel Thannhauser Administrator

Rachel is a divemaster and full-time writer from Southampton, England. She loves the ocean, CrossFit, cooking, and travelling as much as possible – pandemics allowing!

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