Not everyone is so lucky to have accessible diving at home. Or maybe you’re tired of diving in your backyard and want to explore other reefs of the world?
Regardless, we’ve compiled all the information that you need to know regarding packing and flying with scuba equipment.
Can you Take Scuba Gear on a Plane?
Research Airlines Their Baggage Allowances, Prices and Policies
Every airline has slightly different pricing structures, rules, and regulations when it comes to traveling with carry-on luggage, checked baggage, and overweight bags. Other than baggage fees, there aren’t many differences between airlines when you fly with diving gear.
Budget airlines like Spirit are cheap but they can actually cost you more as they have a lot of rules and fees for checked baggage and weight. Usually low-cost and budget airlines have stricter rules for baggage and will weigh and check the dimensions. If you do charter flights they would be the strictest since they are smaller and it is for safety as well
You need to anticipate that many airlines will have a set amount of luggage that they allow for free. If you plan on flying domestically in the US, here are a few of the most common airline prices for a single checked bag (these are subject to change and may not reflect all airports):
$50 to $90
$60 to $90
$25 to $30
$35 to $40
Because Southwest is the only main airline that does not charge money for checking a bag, and even allows two for free it is a popular choice for divers. You can split up your dive gear into two bags without worrying about the 50-pound weight limit.
American Airlines’ policy requires bags to be under 50 pounds, and charges for checked bags.
All Airlines that we’ve found will charge you a fee for an overweight bag, anywhere from $75-$200.
So it’s key to keep the bag under 50 pounds, in order to keep your dive trip budget-friendly.
In order to get your scuba gear bag under 50 pounds and still get everything you need, tune into our next section on packing your bag.
Many airlines offer loyalty programs the more you fly with them, sometimes leading to extra free checked bags, or waived overweight fees. So if you’re planning a lot of dive travel, it could make sense to pick the same airline every time.
How to Pack for a Scuba Trip
Think about what you are going to take. This sounds easy enough but people tend to under or overpack for one reason or another. Try to speak to the dive shop or with friends that have been to the destination before to get a better idea of what gear is appropriate for that destination. Below I will go over what gear you should bring and how to travel with each piece of gear in the safest and most economical way.
The first step in packing for a scuba diving trip is to account for everything that you truly need to bring.
Here’s what we would recommend bringing in order of importance:
- Dive Computer
- Photography Gear
- Dive Light & Torch, SMB, Dive Knife, Etc.
- Reef-Safe Sunscreen
Items like a scuba diving tank or weights are unnecessary in most cases, as any worthwhile dive shop or liveaboard will have these available for their customers.
These also happen to be some of the heaviest pieces of scuba gear and would make it super difficult to get everything under 50 LBS.
A few other things to note when it comes to packing your dive gear, is that in almost all locations, your mask defog spray, and sunscreen must be a reef-safe variety. For example, the state of Hawaii has banned sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. It’s unclear how the ban is enforced, but most dive shops will check with you before they take you out on a boat.
After scouring a few Facebook groups, here are a few tips we got:
Choose a Proper Wetsuit
Another factor to consider when traveling with scuba gear is to choose a wetsuit that will fit the needs of the destination. You don’t want to take a 5mm suit if you are going diving in the Caribbean. Investigating the local water temperature on the specific days we will stay there is the first thing to do.
But even if the water temperatures are hot, it might be a good idea to pack more than a shorty. For most dive trips you will be making multiple dives a day and often night dives. You will get colder the more that you dive and the temperature will drop at night.
As a general rule of thumb, you should have a 3 to 3.5 mm wetsuit that is easy to put on and in good condition and will suit all your diving needs without getting too hot or cold. A wetsuit with a hood is always handy, but just bringing a separate hood is also a good idea. Do remember that you always have the option of not bringing a wetsuit and just renting one there to save space.
Take Special Care of Your Regulator
Your regulator is such a key and sensitive piece of equipment I wanted to make a special note of it. The mechanism and hoses are fragile and it’s easy for the regulator to be damaged by careless baggage handlers so be cautious when packing it.
You can buy a regulator bag and this is probably the best option to make sure it does not get damaged. If you are truly worried it can be brought on to the airplane as a carry-on but since it is heavy you will not have weight for much else. What I do is wrap it up all snug and safe in lots of clothes and in my wetsuit for added cushion and protection.
Carry-On Your Scuba Diving Computer
While all Scuba gear can be expensive your dive computer is probably of the most expensive pieces of gear you have and the one that keeps you safe. You should either wear it on the plane or have it in a case in your carry-on. You do not want this to be scratched or damaged.
Traveling With a Scuba Diving Mask
The nice thing about scuba diving masks is that they usually come in a hard case that you can use when packing. If you don’t have one Tupperware or ask a dive friend or shop if they have any extra, most divers have a bunch of these lying around.
If you don’t have a case don’t worry too much (unless it is a prescription mask). Masks are quite durable and made to take a beating. I always bring two masks and an extra mask strap as that is the weak point of the mask. You can just put them inside some clothes if you want to save space.
The BCD will take up a lot of your bag space when flying unless you shell out for a travel BCD. You can’t really fold it or have it take up less space. Make sure you have all the air out of it before putting it in. I put it on the bottom of the bag and then open the sides so it offers some protection to my other dive gear. I have seen people wear them on flights, but I would not recommend that unless you are really trying to save money.
When putting these in a bag you will need a larger bag or a dive bag. You don’t want your fins to be bent if at all possible and I put them on the sides bag. If the fins are smaller or made of a more fragile material like carbon fiber, you can carry them on. I have never had any issues putting them in my carry-on bag.
Scuba Diving Accessories
You should be able to fit everything else in your gear bag tappers, flashlight (take out the battery if possible), defogger, etc. I do recommend having the knife, flashlight, and any liquids more accessible in case you have to open your bag and show the TSA. It has happened to me a few times and if the stuff is at the bottom it is a hassle.
What to Pack In
There are a lot of options out there for suitcases and dive bags. The first thing to think about is the size of the bag, it needs to be large enough to fit all your gear but be strong enough to get tossed around and not damage any of it. You also do not want oversized bags as they will charge you for them and you also have to carry them around. I like to have a good wheel system and a telescopic handle for ease. Your zippers should be sturdy, and able to have a lock put on.
These are the three main types of bags you can choose from. But the most common bags to pack in our duffle bags or roller bags.
- Hard Outshell Suitcase- This plastic shell will give you an extra layer of protection while traveling but adds a lot of weight.
- Roller/ Duffel Bag- It holds a lot, and usually has wheels, an option to be carried like a duffel bag, and a good handle. They are lighter and can also be waterproof as well.
- Gear Bag- There are bags specific for diving, they tend to be waterproof, thicker to be moved off and on dive boats, and have special compartments to carry smaller items.
Getting Through Security
Assuming you checked your dive gear, you shouldn’t really have any trouble getting through security. If you packed your dive torch inside your carry-on, then you might have some issues depending on what type of battery it is. It’s likely a good idea to check the battery next time you fly.
If you have a question about airline baggage rules, we recommend checking out the MyTSA app to get an answer. You don’t want to take something only for you to be told it can’t come with you.
The TSA’s website does have a statement about dive gear. It states that you may bring regulators, buoyancy compensators, masks, snorkels, and fins as carry-on or checked luggage. Dive knives and spear guns are prohibited from carry-on luggage. These items must be packed in the checked luggage.
Also depending on the size of your dive knife, they may not even allow you to bring it, I have heard stories about this but never have met anyone to whom this has happened. Just don’t bring a Bowie knife and you should be ok. The TSA agent and their mood at that moment will always have the final say on what is allowed and what isn’t.
Pro-Tip, Skip The Security Lines-Get Pre-Check
It is under $100.00 USD and after an in-person appointment, you will be able to join the trusted traveler’s program (as long as you do not have a criminal background). It allows you to skip the security checkpoints but isn’t available at every airport or with every air carrier. Click here for more details on signing up.
Other Tips for Traveling on Your Dive Vacation
Have a Backup plan
With all the things happening in the world it is good to have contingency plans. I always carry another small bag in my carry-on with at least a change of clothes in case my luggage gets lost or they make me check that bag. I also carry any electronics, my dive computer, and all my documents. As for my bags, I have Samsung trackers (they have them for all phones) so I know where my bags are in case they are misplaced.
Do you need to bring your wetsuit? Can you purchase reef-safe sunscreen there? Think about what you have to take or can get there as opposed to carrying everything on you. Sometimes it is cheaper to rent gear there and I just bring my mask, find and dive computer.
Travel with Copies of Your Documents
Traveling with copies of your documents like diving certifications, travel insurance, and flight tickets is a good idea as you may not have access to the internet at some remote location, or the originals get lost. I also have electronic copies on my email and in the cloud.
Memory to Save Dive Photos and Videos
Have enough memory on your phone, and memory cards to hold everything. Do not rely on uploading to the cloud as it may not be available or the internet may be too slow to do so. Bringing a laptop is a good idea if you have the space means weight. An external hard drive is probably the best option as it is small, light, and now cheap.
Now that you have a better idea of how to pack for your next scuba trip, we’re excited to hear where you’re headed!
To recap, we recommend that you pack your dive bag with:
- Dive Computer
- Dive Light & Torch (if lithium battery place in checked luggage)
What are you going to take with you?
Let us know in the comments!