With the advent of modern dive computers that track, calculate, and display all of the pertinent dive data that you could ever need, why do divers need a dive watch? A dive computer can do everything that a dive watch can do and can even alleviate your mental load by alerting you when you’ve almost reached your no-decompression limit or gas limit in real-time. What do dive watches have to offer that a dive computer can’t do better?
Yes, divers still wear dive watches even today. As powerful as dive computers are, they should not be a replacement for your own thoughts and decisions. Though very rare, it’s not unheard of for a dive computer to provide inaccurate data through no fault of the user. It’s also possible for dive computers to suddenly run out of battery or for water to leak in. Even with a dive computer, you’ll still be diving with a depth/pressure gauge as a form of redundancy, and the same is true with a dive watch.
What does a dive watch do?
In layman’s terms, a dive watch’s primary purpose is to help you keep track of elapsed time. You can use it to keep track of your bottom time, total dive time, safety stops, and surface intervals (how long you must rest before diving again).
Time is a critical factor for divers because it means the difference between life or death for them. They have a limited gas supply, so if they stay underwater too long, they’ll run out of gas and asphyxiate or drown. Knowing how long you’ve been underwater will help you stay within your no-decompression limit (NDL). If you exceed your NDL, then you must keep track of how long to wait at your decompression stops to avoid getting bent.
Once you are 3-5 meters away from the surface, you need to perform one last safety stop for 3 minutes. Even after you surface, if you plan on diving multiple times, you need to track your surface interval so that you are giving your body ample time to off-gas. Failure to follow these procedures will certainly lead to decompression sickness which can be life-threatening.
As you can see, all of these complicated steps require you to time them very precisely. If you wait too long or are too impatient, you can be in serious trouble. Dive watches can help you accurately time each step so that you are doing them for exactly as long as you should. Dive watches also can be water-resistant to depths of 300 m (1,000 ft) which is incredible.
Furthermore, while the focus of this article is on how a dive watch is useful for diving, one major selling point of a dive watch is that they can be worn outside of diving. Since dive watches are a practical tool, you can use them to track how long you’ve napped for, how long something has been roasting in the oven, or how long until the laundry machine is done, etc.
Additionally, many people wear dive watches as a “desk diver”, meaning they ironically only wear their dive watches on land, often when they are sitting in front of their desk at work or in their office. Many people who collect dive watches have never scuba dived before in their life, yet they still own multiple dive watches.
And who can blame them? Dive watches are an incredibly good-looking fashion statement and should be proudly displayed whenever possible. The higher end dive watches are made by luxury brands such as Rolex or Patek Philippe at their usual exorbitant prices. With that said, there are many affordable dive watches that have a good balance between form and function.
Doesn’t a dive computer do everything a dive watch can?
In terms of functionality, even a basic dive computer can do almost everything a dive watch can and more. In addition to tracking dive data and elapsed time, the dive computer can help you create a dive profile. This is an overview of your current condition based on aggregating your past dive data.
The dive computer can make real-time calculations based on this data to give you the most accurate no-decompression limit. So even if you accidentally dive deeper than you intended, or needed to exert yourself to swim out of a current, or have missed a decompression stop, the dive computer will take all of the safety violations into account when providing you recommendations on how to proceed from there. You can even get a watch dive computer, which bridges the gap between dive computers and dive watches.
How can a dive watch hope to compare to the advanced features offered by a dive computer? Simple. Answer this honestly: are you willing to completely put your life in the hands of a computer? Surely not. Imagine if every single car in the world suddenly had self-driving functionality. Would you trust the car to be able to drive itself, or would you still keep your hands on the steering wheel just in case?
In a similar vein, most divers will bring their SPG, depth gauge, and a dive watch to compare the data given to them by the dive computer. They’ll also calculate their own dive tables and have a dive plan in mind. In effect, you are already doing everything you need to do to dive without a dive computer in the rare chance that a dive computer gives you bad data. It has happened before and it is extremely dangerous. If you aren’t able to do these calculations manually, you won’t even know when a dive computer is giving you strange numbers.
For this reason, divers still use dive watches and various other analog equipment because they have stood the test of time. They are reliable and are absolutely necessary as backup equipment. Some old school divers still don’t dive without a dive computer because why “fix” something that isn’t broken?
What dive watches do divers actually wear?
So now that you know the importance of a dive watch for scuba diving, you might be wondering which ones do divers recommend? If a survey where 500 divers participated is to be believed, an astounding 95% of them are all wearing the Casio G-Shock Frogman. It’s no surprise that this was also a top choice in our review of the best dive watch with depth gauge.
What’s so good about the G-Shock Frogman? To start, Casio’s G-Shock line of watches are known to be exceptionally durable. In an infamous 1983 commercial, Casio depicted a G-shock watch getting hit by a hockey player to the goalie’s mitts seemingly unscathed.
- Shock Resistant
- ISO 764 Class Magnetic Resistance
- Interchangeable bands
Viewers doubted the validity of this commercial, but an even more recent commercial shows a G-Shock watch being put through even more stress testing and remaining functional after each one. From these commercials, we learn that any watch in the G-Shock line is shock-resistant, water-resistant up to 20 bar (200 m, 656 ft), and can take a hockey stick in the face from a professional hockey player’s swing. Dive watches don’t get more durable than this.
Besides being durable, the G-Shock Frogman also has plenty of useful diving functionality such as:
- Dive time.
- World time.
- Tide graph.
- Moon data.
- Depth gauge.
- Full auto EL backlight afterglow.
- Full auto-calendar pre-programmed up to the year 2099.
- Solar-powered (never have to manually charge it, can last 10 months on a single charge).
Were you surprised that the top watch that most divers wear is the Casio G-Shock Frogman? Perhaps you were expecting a Rolex or an Omega watch? Unfortunately, diving is not an easy sport and whatever equipment you wear will get dinged and scratched up. Wearing a 5-figure luxury watch isn’t a very appealing option for scuba diving, even if these watches can technically be worn underwater.
With that said, if you want to wear a Rolex look alike, we don’t blame you. The Rolex Submariner, the dive watch that started it all, looks darn good. However, its price is out of reach for us mere mortals. If you have a Rolex itch that you just can’t scratch, an alternative is to get a Rolex Submariner homage watch that looks nearly as good and is literally 100x cheaper.
What should you look for in a dive watch?
Not every watch manufacturer can give the same durability guarantee as Casio’s G-Shock line of watches. Not to mention, not everyone likes G-Shock watches. Some people even vehemently dislike G-Shock watches and want nothing to do with them. So what are the 5% of the divers who aren’t wearing a G-Shock Frogman wearing? Well, as long as it fulfills the following criteria, it doesn’t really matter as long as you like it.
Depending on your budget, you can get a dive watch that is decked out with neat features or you can just get a basic one with decent water-resistance and basic time-tracking capabilities. For example, you can get a watch with a depth gauge or a watch where the entire dial is filled with lume.
Some modern watches are now constructed out of advanced ceramic composite, which is said to resist the water pressure even better than steel or titanium. Some watches have crystals in the display that decrease glare. You can get watches that allow for hacking the second hand and handwinding.
In terms of size, dive watches tend to be thicker than traditional watches because they need to be more durable. As such, it’s very rare to find a dive watch under 40mm, and there aren’t that many dive watches for women either, however they do exist.
A defining feature of an analog dive watch is its unidirectional rotating bezel. This allows you to set how much time to track up to 60 minutes. This should be enough for most recreational dives which last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the fitness of the diver.
When looking for a dive watch to buy, your focus should be on the watch’s body, and not the straps. It is almost always the better choice to swap out the default strap to a NATO/Zulu/rubber strap for diving. These are more durable and comfortable than whatever the dive watch came with. You can also get strap extensions so you can wear the watch over a thick wetsuit.
One feature we deliberately left out because it deserves its own section: the water-resistance rating of a dive watch. This is one area that you have to pay very close attention to. Many watches market themselves as a dive watch, but you actually can’t dive very deep with them before they take in water.
You can find watch manufacturers that claim their watch can be worn 100m underwater but aren’t ISO 6425 certified. This means their watch is not the real deal and you’ll be lucky if the watch can even reach half that depth. Another feature to look out for is if an analog dive watch has a screw-down crown or not. Digital dive watches do not need a crown, and have even more functionality than analog dive watches.
The crown is an area where water can easily enter from. You must remember to tighten the crown prior to diving, otherwise it will not be able to keep water from flooding in. All analog dive watches must have a screw-down crown, otherwise the validity of their water-resistance rating will be called into question.
If a watch is ISO 6425 certified, you can bet that the sales page is going to list it because it’s not easy to get this rating. The ISO 6425 rating is an official standard that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has defined. You can read the full qualifications here, but one thing that stands out to us is that a watch has to be strictly tested to be water-resistant in depths that are 20% deeper than their claimed maximum depth rating.
You might as well not even be wearing a dive watch if you’re having trouble reading it. In order to ensure the legibility is high, you should look for a dive watch with clear markings. This can be done in many ways. Generally, the larger the dial, the bigger the markings will be as well. Markings should contrast nicely against the dial, as should the hour, minute, and second hands.
Typically, the 3, 6, 9, and 12’o’clock markers will be larger than the rest to act as a reference point so you can easily tell the time. Similarly, each of the hands should have their own distinct shape so you can easily tell them apart. In case the visibility is low, the markers and hands should be filled with a luminescent material so that they can be seen in the dark.
In this day and age, do you still need to wear a dive watch? It depends on how much you trust technology. New divers will love dive computers because it does all of the complicated thinking and calculations for them. However, we feel it’s risky to entrust your life to a computer because how can you be 100% sure it’s calculating everything correctly? We like putting our life in our own hands.
Nowadays, a dive watch is relegated to being a backup watch. Some people will even just have a spare dive computer as the backup instead of a watch. Dive computers, for the most part, have drastically simplified diving so that basically anyone can do it. With that said, it’s still important to know how to read dive tables and calculate your own NDL. Don’t take all of the information a dive computer displays as gospel and verify it with your dive watch and gauges. That way, you have a redundancy in place just in case something goes wrong.
Last update on 2021-09-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API