Keep it reel

Primary reel, jump spool and cave line

Time to send the SMB up or tie-off your primary reel to the cavern or cave line, time to go wonder on an off-shoot line… What type of reel should I use? A reel or a spool..??? These are questions you will have to answer while taking your Intro to Cave course or Full Cave diver training with me.

Primary or exploration reels

Well, to answer to this question there is no straight forward answer… With as many different types of reels/spools as there are types of scuba training, it is impossible to say, for me at least, this reel or spool is better than that one or the other… Have I made myself clear? ūüôā
It is good to question the whys and whats of any anything, be curious. Is there such a thing as a ‘rational’ to using a spool rather than another spool..??? I don’t think so. But there is a rational between using a spool or a reel.

It all boils down to what type of diving and what use is going to be made of off that reel/spool.
Where the simplicity of a spool is highly appreciated in some situation, a more complex and comfortable reel will make ‘reeling¬†back’ a walk in the park.

So in order to keep this article simple and easy to read, I will just cut this topic in three parts:

  1. Recreational Diving
  2. Technical Diving
  3. Cave diving

This article does not replace proper scuba diving training and in no way should be approached with the unique thought that I have THE answer to your reel/spool disastrous adventures. Get trained and practice what you learn.

Recreational Diving

When scuba diving off a boat, it is recommended to each divers to carry with them an surface marker buoy aka SMB plus reel/spool. The question here is not to teach you how to handle it but rather say what I have seen by experience.
Usually, such a kit will be used to signal the surface support, usually the dive boat, that you are on your way up and ready to surface.

Surface Marker Buoy

In diving terms, it means you are at your safety stop and the boat has to position itself to get you out of the water as soon as you surface.

So it is a simple task of deploying a spool with an SMB, connect them together (never forget that part!) if not already connected and follow protocol to fill up and launch the surface marker buoy. For this simple task, I recommend to use what we call a Spool or Finger Spool.  Simple, no need to have too much line on it, as you launch it from 20 to 15ft deep and very easy to spool back the line on it as you slowly make your last ascent to the surface. But main attribute, as it is for recreational divers, no risk of entanglement.

Technical Diving

If you are a technical diver, the gear you will be carrying during your dive, should only be, gear that you will use or will have to use in case of an emergency. The combo reel/spool and SMB/Lift Bag is no exception. And because of the sheer amount of gear you have on you, you want to minimize the complexity of each and every bits and bobs.
In a way, each piece of the puzzle serves a¬†purpose. If you have a mission such as salvage something and will use a lift bag, depending on the weight, you will choose the reel with the most resistant line. Why a reel in this case? Simply because I think, due to the heavy load and strain put on the equipment needed for the task, a spool with it’s piston clip are no match to stainless steel heavy¬†duty¬†reel.

For the deep Trimix diver, would you be on your favorite rebreather or in OC, same as above, the strict necessary tools are carried throughout the dive. We are no Christmas trees!!!
The difference with a salvage dive, if any really, is that a deep diver may have to launch his marker buoy from deep, due to decompression obligation. This is why, for the deep technical diver, it is favorable to carry a large, what we call, exploration reel with at least 400ft of nylon line. Being 24mm twisted or braided would be to the preference of the diver according to the task ahead.

Technical or Cave Diving Primary Reel

I can be either used to alert the surface support of a problem, such as loss of gas and/or need of more deco gas or simply to just mark the place the team is doing it’s ascent. For an exploration team, it is better to ascent from depth while in the blue as we say, no¬†reference¬†at all. But once reached the 70ft stop, a marker can be launched to alert the surface party. For this task alone, a large spool is as good as a reel. The down side of a spool, when launched at depth, is the task to spool back the line can become uncomfortable at times. But some divers prefer to use a spool for that depth and keep the big fat reel for depth.

As I told you, it is not black or white. We each have our¬†preferences. But thank to a growing number of DIR diver and DIR teachings, we can see a¬†standardization¬†of the use of reel and or spool. Each tool has it’s use, each use has it’s tool.

Plus, when I see recreational divers, hanging on their crotch D-ring an expensive technical diving reel, I am almost certain to hear about it once back on the boat as in: “you saw how I got dragged up by the reel..?? Good thing I did let go!”
So, do yourself a favor, talk to your instructor before buying any, I said, ANY piece of equipment. He, better than any retail salesman, knows what is good for you and knows if you have been trained with it or not.

Cave Diving

Keeping the best for the end as you would do, let’s see what cave divers have and use during their exploration dives or simple recreational cave dives.

The foundation of any technical and therefore, cave diver, is to keep it super simple. The KISS principle is our Mantra. So, when choosing a reel and a set of spools, it is also good to keep things simple, easy to use and to maintain.
For this, the cave diver usually uses a primary reel, with at least 400ft of line, a safety spool with at least 100ft of line and as many as needed, jump spools. Some jump being long in the caves we visit here, a second primary or a secondary reel is a good idea but only, if the planned dive include such a jump. Remember the Christmas Tree thing..?? For exemple, when vsiting cenote Naharon, on the way to do the famous travers to Mayan Blue, a primary reel and another reel of at least 200ft of line are a good set of tool to get you where you want to go. The jumps after are all doable with regular 100/150ft spools.

Which one for what reason?

Because the primary reel is laid at the beginning of the dive and retrived at the end (duh!!!) the type of reel does not really matter. But some prefer the DR style and others the H style reel or even the LM type of reel. What you need is a lot of line. The permanent cave line is sometime far away from the entrance.

When planning on a complx navigation dive with jumps, a normal spool, preferably machined rather than molded (stronger) is used. But again, some prefer small jump reel, simply because reeling back is easier to some rather than spooling back… What can I say?!?! I am a spool kind of person.

So basically that’s it. Each tool has it’s use and there is a use for each tool. Be aware of the retail market trying to sell you cheap imitation of the real deal. As I mentioned earlier, a molded spool is not going to last long. The rel deal in this case is¬†machined¬†Delrin. Same goes for the reel. Some are cheap imitation. The difference will be int he¬†price¬†mainly.

A little note should be made about the bolt-snap aka piston clip aka double-ender will last longer if SS steel rather than bronze. Either way, you need to take care of this part of your spool or reel. Regularly, I recommend to give them a bath of DW40 and wipe them clean before going diving again.

That’s it¬†folks, hope you liked it, comment,¬†rate¬†and share if you did.

In the mean time, keep diving and be wary and don’t forget to rate, comment and also, visit my website Essential Scuba Training. Book now!

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About Jason

Essential Scuba Training is aimed at divers looking to better their skills in recreational and technical diving while using a holistic configuration. Be it recreational or technical and/or cave diving, Essential Scuba Training will put it's twenty years of experience at your service. View all posts by Jason

4 responses to “Keep it reel

  • Kalle

    I’m no cave diver, but I am a tech instructor and I never use a big reel, or a reel at all. If I need to lay a line inside of a wreck I use one or more spools, and if I need to send up an SMB from a depth greater than my biggest spool I just join two spools together while sending them up. The reason for leaving the reel at home is the same as you mention, we don’t want more crap with us than we need, and a reel is, so far, too big and unnecessary on any tech- or wreck dive.

  • Ron Goodman

    Unless I know that I will need a large reel, I’ve found the small Light Monkey reel to be a really nice compromise, especially loaded with the high vis Dacron line, which is a little thinner than the standard #24.

    • Jason

      Hi ROn,
      sure, it all depends on the dive plan. Some caves have their permanent cave line way inside and a 400ft reel will do you good. But for example, some “hidden” jumps in some caves here required simply a 200ft spool/reel, so yes, you are right this type of reel is good. As for Dacron high viz line is just a personal preference/availability and maybe budget. The #18 we use in exploration is at 200pesos (16US$) so already a budget in itself! ūüėČ
      Thanks for commenting.

  • Jason

    Agree with you Kalle. But if you wreck dive and plan ahead to go far into the wreck, plus, you will use a reel to do the penetration, you may want to have sufficient line in one single reel. Following a line in zero or reduced viz is hard enough to have to “read” a spool-to-spool connection. This will slow down the exit and that is not a good idea in overhead. Mainly if there is an emergency.
    So, yes, don’t bring what you won’t need but if you need it, bring it! ūüėČ

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