Garmin Descent MK1 Dive Computer Review

deco stop

Garmin is a titan in the outdoor and sports technology industry, and is known for a wide range of products from sports watches all the way to dog collars. It was a surprise, though a welcome one, to find that they have expanded over to the scuba market with their first ever dive computer, the Garmin Descent MK1.

Despite Garmin dipping their toes into the dive industry for the first time, the Garmin Descent MK1 is very impressive. It looks just like a sports watch which they are already known for, except it is chock full of truly incredible features and functions for recreational and technical scuba diving.

Garmin has done its research and combined its expertise on environmental measuring tools to make a high-end dive computer that can compete with the best of them. The Descent has GPS navigation, a wide range of dive modes, an HD color display, excellent battery life, and even a heart rate monitor. You can even use the Descent to aid you in spearfishing.

If the price tag isn’t enough of a hint, it’s clear that the Descent is designed for experienced divers who dive frequently and can take full advantage of its numerous features. For these divers, it’s not frivolous spending; it’s an investment in their safety and growth as a diver. Beginners who are looking for a dive computer they can grow with should also consider this device.

If this sounds like something up your alley, then keep reading on as we review what else this dive computer has to offer.

Garmin Descent MK1 At a Glance

The Descent MK1 is not just a dive computer; it’s also a smartwatch and fitness tracker all in one device. People often liken it to a Garmin Fenix 5X on steroids since it has similar functionality but supports diving as well.

You can change your music, check your calendar, check the weather, receive notifications, and safely dive a couple hundred feet underwater while switching between six gases with a Descent MK1. Just a regular day for an active individual such as yourself, right?

When you first open the sleek black packaging, you will see nestled comfortably in the middle is a dive watch with a sapphire crystal display. It looks stylish, as you’d expect a smartwatch to, with black rubber bands and an extension strap so you can wear it over extra thick drysuits or wetsuits.

Underneath is a small charging cable and an instruction manual to help you learn how to use the device and understand the ins and outs of each setting.

Multi-Sport Capability

As we mentioned above, for better or for worse, the Garmin Descent MK1 is not exclusively a dive computer. It’s a sports watch that can track and monitor your stats in various other sports as well. For instance, you can also use it while golfing, thanks to its 40,000 preprogrammed golf courses built-in. The MK1 can even notify a skier if they are using one foot more than the other.

So if you are a diver who also happens to participate in various other sports like swimming, cycling, running, etc., then you can take full advantage of this device.

Heart Rate Monitor

A heart rate monitor is a common feature in sports watches, but not so much in dive computers. But now you can track your heart rate during your dives with the Descent MK1. Of course, there’s no reason why you can’t use this feature on land either, since it’s more than just a dive computer.

Using the heart rate monitor, try to keep your heart rate within their predefined heart-rate zones to get a good workout for your heart and cardiovascular health.

Touch Screen Interface

The Garmin Descent MK1 has five (5) buttons along its bezel. Starting from the top left and going in a clockwise direction, they are: 1) Light, 2) SELECT, 3) BACK, 4)DOWN, and 5) UP.

If you find navigating the menus with the buttons to be too cumbersome, then you’re in luck. The Descent MK1 has a touch screen that you can activate by double tapping the device and then scrolling with your finger.

GPS and Compass Navigation

Never get lost again with the GPS tracking and compass function on the Descent MK1. You can examine entire maps or plotted points on your device or your phone using the Garmin Connect app. When the watch is in dive mode, the GPS tracking will automatically track your entry/exit points. You can also manually set these points from shore and find water regions where there are plenty of fish to look at.

With the compass activated, you can simultaneously track the directions you are headed as well as view your decompression information at the same time (a feature that is often neglected in other dive computers).

Deco Lockouts

Love it or hate it, but the Garmin Descent MK1 has a lockout feature. If you fail to follow the computer’s deco instructions, then you will get locked out of the device. In beginner dive computers, such as the Suunto Zoop Novo, we can understand why this might actually be a desirable feature.

In the case of the Suunto dive computers, however, this option cannot be turned off. Thankfully, the Garmin Descent MK1 has the option of disabling this feature. The fact that it is on by default has left us scratching our heads though. Why does a computer designed for technical diving even have this thing in the first place? Well, it’s there, so we recommend you turn it off.

Diving Modes

The Garmin Descent MK1 features six different dive modes. Five of the dive modes are standard modes you’d expect to find in many dive computers (single-gas, multi-gas, gauge, apnea, and planning mode). The sixth mode, apnea hunt, is a little unusual, since it is designed with spearfishing in mind. We will go over each mode in more detail below.

Single Gas Mode

The default mode you should be using if you are only diving with a standard mix of compressed air.

Multi-Gas Mode

Use different gas mixes like nitrox or trimix, which contain a mix of numerous gases like argon or helium and a lower nitrogen content. Diving with multiple gases can let you reach new depths or spend longer underwater.

Switching between gases is supported and factored into the decompression stops accordingly. The Descent MK1 can support six gases, with the first being the base gas.

Gauge Mode

Your typical no-gas diving.

Apnea (Freediving) Mode

Not to be confused with one of the other dive mode, Apnea Hunt. It provides functions to help you track your freediving progress.

Apnea Hunt Mode

Similar to the above Apnea mode, Apnea Hunt is designed with spearfishing in mind. While active, it disables audible alarms that would otherwise alert your prey due to the loud noises emitted from your dive computer.

Spearos can use this dive mode to stay quiet underwater while using the apnea (freediving) mode. This is probably a feature that won’t get much use even by freedivers, but for spearos it is a great addition in an already feature-packed watch.

Plan Dive Mode

This mode is essentially a full-fledged dive calculator. First you enter the depth you’re planning on diving to, as well as repeat dive data. The Descent MK1 will compute a no-decompression limit (NDL) for you. You can even go so far as to generate an entire decompression plan for your dive.

Using the “deco plans” option, divers can further customize the settings by entering the type of gas mix they plan on using to get more accurate calculations for their decompression stops.

As mentioned above, you can switch between gases even in the middle of a dive, but doing so requires a few button presses underwater. This can potentially result in user error, and may lead to incorrect time notifications and incorrect depth displayed occasionally.

Automatic Features

For your convenience, the Garmin Descent MK1 will automatically perform certain actions for you so that user errors are minimized. For instance, it will automatically start and stop tracking your dives even if you did not manually start one yourself. All you need to do is activate the feature through the GPS function and it will take care of the rest.

Additionally, the Descent can also automatically adjust your altitude settings, however the watch needs to be calibrated first. You can manually calibrate the watch yourself, or turn on Auto Cal., which will enable the device to calibrate itself once the GPS tracker is turned on.

Logbook Memory

The Garmin Descent MK1 will save your data in real-time into its internal log. As soon as you enter the water, the dive computer will start to track your dive information. The real-time data it tracks include dive time, depth, water temperature, and so on.

It has a whopping 16GB of storage capacity, meaning you can record up to 200 dives before it runs out of space. This is a very generous amount. People who dive daily, perhaps multiple times in a day, would appreciate how convenient it is to access all of their dive data without worrying about running out of space even after a few days of diving.

You can transfer your dive logs by connecting your Descent MK1 to your computer using a USB cable. However, we prefer to take advantage of the wireless Bluetooth technology to easily transfer the data to a portable smart device such as your smartphone. You may not bring your laptop with you on a trip, but chances are you’ll always have a smartphone by your side.

You can view the dive log on the device itself, or using the Garmin Connect App to view it on your phone instead. If you want a quick look at the results of your most recent dive, such as how long you spent at the bottom or GPS data, then you can do so using your smartphone as well.

Decompression Model

The Garmin Descent MK1 uses the Bühlmann ZHL-16C algorithm which is known for its gradient factors. It has been in use for over 30 years and is therefore very reliable. The Bühlmann gives you more control over where you can have your deco stops.

By adjusting the gradient factors, you can, for instance, set it so that you have deeper first deco stops and longer shallow stops, or vice versa. Generally, it is recommended that you do not adjust the algorithm from its default settings unless you know what you’re doing. There is a lot of debate regarding what settings are acceptable, and there is a possibility you can put yourself in danger.

Besides the default setting, recreational divers can also choose between three pre-set conservatism settings. If you’d rather adjust the algorithm to be more conserative, you can select one of these three instead.

Smartwatch Features

Besides being a dive computer and fitness tracker, the Descent MK1 also has smartwatch capabilities. You can easily check text messages, emails, online apps, and so on. Forget the Apple Watch, the Garmin Descent MK1 is basically an Apple Watch that you can take with you underwater.

With the continued rise in popularity of phone apps, you can continue to enjoy them on your dive computer so you won’t be missing out.


There are numerous custom alarms you can set when certain conditions are met, such as a specific dive time, multiple depth markers, and so on. It is very useful if you just want a quick reminder when you reach a specific moment in your dive. Rather than having to mentally track something in your head, just let the device do all of the tracking for you. That way, you can focus all of your attention on the dive at hand.

Reset Functionality

The ability to completely wipe your dive computer is crucial for dive stores or instructors that loan out their dive computers. It’s also great for the average diver if you ever decide to sell your watch and upgrade to a new one.

With the factory reset option, you can make your dive computer like new again. If you find your watch running slow, you may want to transfer your data out and factory reset to improve its speed. To use this feature, go into the settings menu and select “Restore Default” to reset your device.

Garmin Descent MK1 vs. Other Dive Computers

Shearwater Teric

We think both are fantastic dive computers but there is a clear difference in functionality between these devices. It’s easier to think of the Teric as a “pure” dive computer, and the Descent MK1 as a powerful smartwatch with dive computer features.

In spite of this, the Descent MK1 doesn’t cater towards recreational diving, but rather technical diving with its features. For example, you can plan a decompression dive with up to six gas switches including Nitrox, Trimix, and 100% oxygen. Even the Teric can only handle five gas switches.

However, the Teric has a maximum operating depth of 200m (650ft) and supports wireless air integration. Air integration is missing from the Descent and this left us scratching our heads because it is clearly trying to target the high-end, technical diving market, yet it does not support this much sought-after feature. Perhaps a future offering from Garmin will have it.

Next, the Descent has some nifty features that help it hold its own against the Teric, such as a 3-axis compass and GPS system. With it, you can easily determine your location, including entry and exit points, and travelling divers will surely love it.

Here’s where Garmin’s outdoor expertise begins to shine. The Descent MK1 has a heart rate monitor which is ideal for outdoor athletes like runners, hikers, cyclists, swimmers, and so on. At its core, the Descent MK1 is like a super Fenix 5X that can also be used for diving. The Teric does not have a heart rate monitor.

Technical divers may be turned off by the Descent’s multi-sport identity, however despite not being a “pure” dive computer, it does an undeniably good job as an underwater precision measuring instrument. In the future as technology advances, this kind of all-in-one design of smartwatch, dive computer, and everyday timepiece may even become the norm.

Divers who also dabble in other sports would be better suited with the Garmin Descent MK1. Scuba diving purists who want a “pure” dive computer with air integration support should get the Shearwater Teric instead. If price is a concern, the Descent MK1 is slightly cheaper.

Read our in-depth review of the Shearwater Teric by clicking here.

Suunto 9

This is yet another multi-sport watch that also has dive tracking features. The similarities go so far as their appearance; these watches look nearly identical. They are both on the smaller side and have a high-resolution display that you can navigate with the touch screen or buttons on the side.

Like the Descent MK1, it is not a “pure” dive computer. It can operate up to 100m (328ft) underwater, which matches the Descent MK1, however it doesn’t have much else going for it in terms of diving features. However, the Suunto D-series devices, such as the Suunto D4i Novo or D6i may be better suited since they are built for diving.

Where the Descent MK1 Falls Short

We really like that Garmin has made such a versatile watch, however its strength is also its weakness. By being a jack-of-all-trades, you have to expect some compromise in what it offers, and we notice it especially in the diving functionality.

To begin, despite the high-end price and design, the Descent MK1 does not support air integration. This feature is crucial for technical divers to track their remaining air time more accurately and reliably. It is one of the most sought after features in a dive computer for experienced divers. Recreational divers don’t need to worry about it until they have more experience.

Furthermore, it has a lower maximum operating depth of 100m (328ft), which is a bit on the low-end for commercial and technical divers. The Descent MK1 also does not have rebreather compatibility.

Technical Specifications

  • High-contrast, color display panel.
  • Six diving modes: single gas, multi-gas, apnea, apnea hunt, gauge, and planning mode.
  • Apnea hunt mode disables alarms and is excellent for spearfishing.
  • Supports Nitrox, Trimix, and 100% O2.
  • Maximum operating depth of 100m (328ft).
  • 16GB Logbook Capacity, can store 200 dives.
  • GPS features including entry/exit point markers.
  • Smartwatch features such as text message, app, and phone call notifications.
  • Runs the Bühlmann ZHL-16C algorithm with adjustable gradient factors.
  • Three conservatism settings to choose from.
  • Automatic altitude adjustments once GPS is turned on.
  • Automatic dive tracking even if you forget to start/stop a dive.
  • Can disable the deco lockout function, or leave it on for more safety.
  • Built-in heart rate monitor.
  • Can be used for numerous sports outside of diving, such as running, cycling, swimming, golfing, skiing, etc.
  • Bluetooth connectivity makes downloading dive log data and updating the firmware extremely convenient.

Garmin Descent MK1 Review: The Verdict

Overall, we feel that the Garmin Descent MK1 is a versatile dive computer that can be used by numerous athletes and even for technical diving. Use it to track your adventures whether you’re up on the mountain or hundreds of feet underwater. It can be used like a smartwatch so that you can monitor your heart rate and check your text messages.

Using the Garmin Descent MK1 is easy thanks to its user-friendly interface and touch screen capability. Beyond recreational diving, its various dive modes means you can use it for freediving, spearfishing, and technical diving as well.

The design of the Descent MK1 is sleek, and that’s because it can also be worn as your daily timepiece. Is there anything this device can’t do? The battery lasts for up to 19 days in watch mode, and approximately 40 hours in dive mode. Given how many features the Descent MK1 has, this is a good amount of time.

Garmin’s foray into the dive watch market with the innovative Descent MK1 may mark a shift in the design of dive watches in the future. Don’t be surprised if future models combine the functions of sports watches, smartwatches, and daily timepieces to keep up with the fast-paced life of adventurous power users. With how jam-packed full of features the Descent MK1 is, we are excited to see what future dive watches from Garmin are capable of.