As a diver, it's hard to imagine flying somewhere without your dive gear, especially if it's somewhere tropical. The sad truth is, dive equipment can be, heavy and add to your allotment for checked bag fees.
There are some airlines that allow you to check certain 'sports' equipment for no additional fee, however, you still must check with your specific airline for their rules in checking your gear.
Renting SCUBA equipment on location has its pros and cons. Dive centers in more active dive communities will tend to have a wider variety of gear, as well as highly trained technicians. A popular dive site, however, is not necessarily a marker of a fully-equipped dive shop, so make sure you do your research beforehand.
One component you’ll definitely be better off renting is your air cylinders. Flying with an air tank requires removal of the valve, which will then require a full inspection by a tech before you can get it refilled, which would be time much better spent diving! If baggage requirements are a limiting factor, consider renting your BCD and fins, unless you are so attached to yours your dive experience will suffer from the lack of them. Both are bulky and take up a lot of space in your luggage, but they will not be impossible to find at the dive shop.
The obvious disadvantage of rental gear is that it is gear you are unfamiliar with, and may come with a slight learning curve to adjust to the differences. For myself, I only have fins, snorkel, and a mask. I have to rent a BCD, Tank, and Regulator, and sometimes fins too. (fins are bulky to pack in my carry-on, so I'll often use the ones from the dive shop)
Scuba Gear Bags
Your first consideration is what you are going to use for packing your scuba gear for flying. Gear bags are generally big, can be expensive and are popular. There are an amazing number to choose from.
Many gear bags are in pretty, bright colors. You can't miss them. When I see one of them on a conveyor belt (or the pullcart, depending on the island!) at the airport, to me it screams "open me up, I have a lot of expensive gear inside."
For your gear bag, I would suggest buying a plain, non-descript bag. No need to advertise what's inside.
Many, if not most, scuba gear bags these days come in plain, unmarked (or very small label) black bags.
Now, I have no idea if the theft rate is any higher with a brightly colored scuba bag than with other bags. I haven't been able to find any statistics on the issue. I just feel more comfortable with a plain bag. It's just a personal choice.
What I use when packing scuba gear for flying is a big, black non-descript rolling duffel bag. The wheels are key since all that gear can get heavy. And you'll only look like you over-packed, not like you have hundreds of dollars worth of equipment with you. The bag is big enough for packing all our scuba gear for flying in the one bag.
I fit my mask, snorkel, and sometimes my fins, in the bag with no problem. I know others do have specific dive bags, and they can fit everything inside of them. BCD, regulators, computers, books, gloves, fins, suit, booties, surface signaling devices, etc.
Traveling with Scuba Gear
Invest in a portable luggage scale so you know exactly how much your bags weigh.
If you’ve got the cash, splurge on a first-class or business-class ticket. You can bring more luggage at no extra cost.
Pack your bulky, durable gear like fins, BCD and wetsuits in your checked luggage. Keep your smaller equipment, such as your mask, booties, etc. in your carry-on bag.
Consider sending your equipment by FedEx/UPS/DHL before you travel if you have an address or friend to receive it. This option may cost a little more, but you can insure and track it.
Be loyal to one airline and save the frequent flyer miles, which will give you extra baggage perks.
Some info on U.S. carriers with their travel allowances:
Allowance and requirements. You can travel with a:
Scuba regulator, Tank harness, Tank pressure gauge, 1 pair of fins, 1 snorkel and mask, 1 BC vest
Standard checked bag fees of your destination apply up to 50lbs/23kgs and 126in/320cm (length + width + height) and standard overweight fee applies from 51lbs/23kgs to 70lbs/32kgs.
One dive bag containing scuba equipment other than an empty dive tank is allowed as checked baggage. An empty dive tank is allowed. Tanks exceeding 100 lbs or 115 linear inches are not allowed.
Standard baggage allowance and fees based on cabin and travel region apply
Scuba equipment weighing over 50 lbs will be charged the applicable excess weight fee
If the outside linear dimensions (length + width + height) exceed 115 linear inches (292 cm), the item will not be accepted
Items in excess of baggage allowance will be subject to additional or overweight baggage fees
Scuba tanks exceed 100 lbs. (46 kg) or 115 linear inches (length + width + height) (292 cm) are not allowed
United accepts one dive bag containing diving or scuba equipment as part of a customer's standard checked baggage allowance. A dive bag containing scuba equipment that exceeds the standard checked baggage allowance will be charged oversize or overweight baggage charges.
Dive bags containing dive equipment over 50 pounds and/or 62 linear inches will be accepted as sporting equipment, and special item charges apply.
Dive bags are accepted as a piece of sporting equipment, as long as they contain equipment related to diving.
First or second checked bag service charges may apply.
An empty dive tank or up to three rebreather tanks will not be included in determining the baggage allowance and will be subject to a service charge of $150 USD/CAD (each way) for travel between the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A service charge of $200 USD/CAD (each way) applies for all other travel. The empty dive/rebreather tank must have the regulator valve completely disconnected from the tank. The tank must not be sealed (i.e., the tank has an open end). The tank must have an opening to allow for a visual inspection by a TSA Security Screener.
Note for rebreather equipment: Soda lime that is 4% Sodium Hydroxide or less will be accepted in checked baggage. Soda lime that is 4.1% Sodium Hydroxide or more will not be accepted in checked baggage.
An item of scuba equipment consists of one empty scuba tank, up to three rebreather tanks, or one dive bag containing equipment used in the scuba-diving sport. The empty scuba/rebreather tank and a separate dive bag containing scuba equipment will be charged as two separate pieces.
United is not liable for damage to scuba diving equipment.
Scuba equipment, provided air tanks are empty of compressed air and all accompanying equipment (e.g., BCD, weight belt, one regulator, one tank harness, one tank pressure gauge, one mask, two fins, one snorkel, one knife, and one safety vest) are encased together in a container acceptable to Carrier.
One bag which may include fins, mask, knife, snorkel, regulator, safety vest, spear gun, pressure gauge, tank harness, empty scuba tank (with the regulator valve completely removed).
Knife and spear gun must be checked.
Please allow an extra 30 minutes for check-in.
NOTE: Smaller items such as fins, mask, or snorkel may be packed within the standard baggage.
Scuba One piece of scuba equipment is defined as one scuba gear container and one tank. The scuba gear container is limited to one regulator, one tank harness, one pressure gauge, one mask, two fins, one snorkel, one knife, one spear gun and one safety vest. Scuba equipment may exceed 62" (linear) but no more than 115" (linear), without incurring an oversize fee. Note: Scuba tanks must have the regulator valve disconnected. The tank must have an open end for visual inspection.
So what should you pack? Well, here's a simple list, and of course, not all- inclusive...
Alternative Air Source
Surface Signaling Devices
Quick dry t-shirts
Quick dry shorts
Electronic & Spares:
Electrical voltage converter
Extra SD cards
Documents & Paperwork:
Dive Insurance card
No matter what you choose to do, it is important to carry your certification card and log book with you at all times, rather than packed away in your luggage. Nothing will ruin a dive trip quicker than being unable to dive! Remember your camera, and always the SCUBA mantra: “Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but bubbles.” Bon voyage!