As a SCUBA diver for more than 20 years, I’ve seen dive computer technology come a long way. Dive computers started out as enormous watches with limited information, and they now offer everything you need to know about the progress of your dive in an easy to use package.
Having the best dive computer is now an essential part of diving safely and efficiently. Your computer plays a big role in planning decompression times based on your earlier dives, as well as tracking your dives so you know how much time you’ve spent at various depths. Your computer can also help you navigate underwater, so that you can be certain that you’ll be able to easily return to your boat or shore.
In order to help you get the best dive computer, we’ll take a closer look at everything you need to know about their features and how they work. Plus, we’ll review nine of the best dive computers on the market today to help make the choice easier for you.
Types of Dive Computers
The best place to start when considering a dive computer is to understand the different types that are available. Dive computers can be categorized according to how they are worn with your SCUBA gear and whether or not they come with a pressure gauge.
Wrist vs. Console Dive Computers
The first big decision you need to make when choosing a dive computer is how you want your computer to be configured. Some dive computers are designed to be worn on your wrist like a standard watch (albeit larger), while console-style dive computers attach to the rest of your SCUBA equipment via a hose.
This affects the accessibility of your dive computer, which is pretty important. With a wrist-based computer, you always know where your computer is. When your computer is attached via a hose that trails behind you as you dive, it can be a little bit harder to access it when you want to check on information.
On the other hand, wrist computers are much more space-limited than console computers – they need to fit on your wrist, after all. As a result, it can sometimes be difficult to see the information being displayed on a wrist computer. Console models often have more display area, allowing you to see more information on a single screen or to use bigger text.
Air integration is a terrific feature to have for your dive computer, but it can also be very costly. With air integration, you’re able to read the pressure information from your air tank using a pressure gauge that interfaces with your computer. Your computer can go one step further, estimating how much time you have left in your dive based on your rate of air consumption and your current depth.
Most console-style dive computers come with an integrated air gauge. In fact, the computer and gauge together simply replace the hose that is normally used for a pressure gauge alone.
For wrist-based dive computers, you can integrate air pressure information in one of two ways. You can attach a hose from your air tank to your watch, which is pretty inconvenient. Or, you can use a receiver that’s hooked up to your watch (or built inside of it) with a transmitter that connects to your air tank to read your tank pressure wirelessly. This setup can be very expensive, not to mention that you have to surface immediately if something goes wrong with the transmission and you lose information about how much air is left in your tank.
How to Choose the Best Dive Computer
Beyond those big differences, there a lots of features to think about when choosing the right dive computer for your needs. Let’s take a look at a handful of the most important ones.
- Display Type
Dive computers use one of three different types of displays. Segmented displays are found on most entry-level computers. This display is very similar to what you’d find on a digital wristwatch and uses lines to create letters and numbers. Segmented displays are fine for reading numbers, but it can be hard to read letters or to display more complex information.
Dot-matrix displays offer far more resolution than segmented displays, which makes them easier to read. One big advantage of dot-matrix displays for dive computers is that they can show graphs of your dive, which allows you to monitor depth and air consumption over time. If your computer has navigational information, it probably uses a dot-matrix display.
Color displays are found on the most premium dive computers. Color isn’t strictly necessary, but it can make it easier to read important information while you are underwater.
Traditionally, divers wore analog compasses for navigation. But today, many premium dive computers also include a digital compass. This is great if you’re leading a dive and need to know how to return to your ship or to the shore. Advanced divers may want to consider a computer that integrates GPS, which is even more accurate and allows you to follow a pre-planned route.
- Water Activation
Dive computers can be activated either manually or when you hit the water. Many divers prefer water activation because there’s no chance that you’ll forget to start your computer at the beginning of your dive. This feature adds a bit to the price of your computer, but it can be well worth it so you never lose dive data.
There is no single best algorithm to use for calculating your decompression times, times needed between dives, and no-fly times after diving. Rather, it depends on how aggressive or conservative you want to be with the calculations.
As a result, different dive computers come with more or less conservative algorithms. Many computers allow you to choose between several different algorithms according to the one you prefer. This is extremely important, since the choice of algorithms will define a lot of the critical information you’re getting from your dive computer.
- Nitrox Compatibility
If you dive with Nitrox – or plan to in the future – it’s important to have a dive computer that’s compatible with this gas mixture. Using Nitrox means you’ll have extended bottom times, but also very different decompression schedules and total dive times. So, your computer needs to be able to “know” that you’re using Nitrox for your dive and calculate the relevant times.
Thankfully, most modern dive computers can be used with Nitrox without a problem.
While you might not think you’ll need a backlight for your diving conditions, it’s extremely important to have one. This can make the difference between being able to read your computer display or not, which in turn impacts your decision making during a dive. Most computers include a backlight, but it’s a good feature to check for before buying.
Many dive computers come with visual alarms, audio alarms, or both. These are well worth having for safety. Alarms can alert you when you’re ascending too fast or exceeding your prescribed bottom time. Make sure your computer has alarms and that you know what they are signaling.
- Watch Size
If you opt for a wrist-based dive computer, size matters. Watch size is a trade-off between having a computer that you can wear comfortably, without it being heavy and clunky, and having a computer screen that’s large enough to read. Ultimately, what size of wrist-based dive computer is too large or too small for you comes down to personal preference.
- Built-in Memory
Almost every dive computer has some amount of built-in memory to store your dive data. However, the amount of memory differs. Entry-level computers may only store data for up to 25 dives at a time before the data needs to be erased. Higher-end computers may store data for hundreds of dives.
In either case, it’s a good idea to make sure your dive computer can be connected to your desktop computer via USB or another cable. That way, it’s easy to transfer your dive data to a more permanent storage home before deleting it from your dive computer.
The 9 Best Dive Computers of 2020
1. Victorinox Swiss Army INOX Pro – Best Analog Dive Watch
This beautiful analog dive watch from Victorinox is built for diving. The stainless steel construction is able to withstand pressures down to 200 meters, far deeper than any recreational diver will ever go. The casing is also anti-magnetic so you don’t have to worry about it interfering with any of your sensitive equipment underwater. The rubber strap is also a nice touch since it’s extremely durable and resists corrosion from seawater.
It’s important to keep in mind that this is more of a watch than a true diving computer. You can get the time underwater, but the INOX pro won’t calculate bottom time or decompression intervals for you. Some of this can be done manually by turning the bezel to keep track of timing, but it’s nowhere near the utility of a digital diving computer.
- Very durable construction
- Rubber strap fits over wetsuits
- Bezel allows you to track time
- Analog with basically no dive computer functions
2. Cressi Leonardo Underwater Diving Computer – Best Entry-level Dive Computer
This basic dive computer is very easy for beginners to use. It has only a single button, which makes navigating all of the computer’s functions impressively simple. Even better, the screen is large enough and the resolution high enough that it’s easy to read all of the information. There’s even a backlight.
For an entry-level model, this dive computer packs a lot of information. You can switch between three decompression algorithms depending on how conservative you want to be. The computer will track oxygen toxicity for deeper dives, and you can also pre-program in a deep stop for extra decompression. The watch features visual and audio alarm to keep you apprised of any developments or warnings, although the alarms come on relatively frequently even when there is nothing going wrong.
The computer has enough memory to capture up to 60 dives. Once it’s full, you can connect it to a computer via USB to transfer the data.
- Large screen with backlight
- One-button controller
- Memory up to 60 dives
- Alarms come on too frequently
- Not highly programmable
- No navigation features
3. Garmin Descent Mk1 – Best GPS Dive Computer
The Descent Mk1 from Garmin is one of the more expensive dive computers on the market, but it’s also one of the best. To start, this dive computer is completely outfitted with navigational features. It includes not just a digital compass, but also a GPS with topographic mapping. The display is very large for a wrist-based computer and it’s in full color with incredible resolution.
Even better, it’s very easy to plan complex dives without bringing your computer onto the boat with you. You can switch between air, nitrox, and trimix diving, as well as free diving, all from settings menus on the computer itself. In the water, the multiple customizable display screens make it easy to track everything from heart rate to water temperature to decompression stops.
The computer gets up to 20 hours of battery life while logging dives, or up to 10 hours while the GPS is activated. It has enough memory to hold 200 dives and connects easily to Garmin’s app when you need to transfer data.
The biggest downside to this dive computer is that it doesn’t support air integration. Given the price and all of the other advanced features, that’s a major drawback.
- High resolution color display
- Includes GPS navigation
- Plan dives right on the watch
- Supports Nitrox and Trimix gases
- Multiple customizable screens
- No air integration
- Only one algorithm included
- Very expensive
4. SHEARWATER RESEARCH Teric Wrist Dive Computer – Best Air-integrated Dive Computer
If you want a dive computer that supports air integration, look no further than the Teric computer. This wrist-based computer allows you to connect wirelessly to your air tank, regardless of whether you’re using air, Nitrox, or Trimix. You can monitor not just your remaining air pressure, but also the mix of gases in your tank.
The watch display is very large and comes in color, with extremely high resolution. There are multiple screens that you can customize, and complex settings menus allow you to plan dives right from the watch. You can even plot graphs of depth and air use to guide the rest of your current dive. On top of that, although the computer only supports the Bühlmann ZHL-16c decompression algorithm, you can switch between multiple gradient levels to choose your aggression level.
Another nice feature to this watch is that it supports vibration alerts in addition to audio alerts. These are easier to notice when there are other things happening underwater, and they aren’t noticeable to other divers.
- Wireless air integration (transmitters not included)
- High resolution color display
- Vibration alerts
- Modifiable decompression algorithm
- Supports multiple gas mixes
- Very expensive
- No GPS or navigation support
5. SUUNTO Zoop Novo Dive Computer – Best Recreational Dive Computer
This recreational dive computer from SUUNTO offers a ton of functionality at a modest price. For starters, you can use this watch for diving with air or Nitrox, as well as for free diving. There’s a built-in apnea timer for free diving, although the computer doesn’t support air integration.
The dot-matrix display is large, easy to read, and comes with a backlight. However, not all of the information given by the computer is simple to understand. SUUNTO’s manual is basically impossible to get through, which makes it hard to figure out what the various audio alerts are warning you about. If you can get past this, though, the computer does a nice job of displaying decompression data.
The computer also connects to your computer via a custom connection cable. That allows you to download and log data using SUUNTO’s app, although the software is less easy to navigate than the comparable app from Garmin. It’s a bit hard to plan a dive directly on the watch, but if you have your computer with you the process becomes painless.
- Relatively inexpensive
- Supports Nitrox and free diving
- Large dot-matrix display
- Audio alarms
- Manual is difficult to read
- Hard to plan dives on the computer itself
6. Aqua Lung i300C Dive Computer – Best Bluetooth Dive Computer
The Aqua Lung i300C wrist-based dive computer makes it incredibly easy to transfer your dive data. The computer connects wirelessly to your smartphone via Bluetooth to transfer data to the DiverLog+ app.
The watch is rather large, which is good and bad. On the one hand, the size makes it much easier to read the information on the line segment display. On the other hand, you probably won’t want to wear this dive watch outside of the water. Helpfully, the display includes a backlight so you can read it in murky or dark waters.
The computer supports air diving, Nitrox, and free diving. You can’t pre-program dives on the computer itself – instead, you need to use the smartphone app. This is another area where the Bluetooth compatibility is helpful, since it makes this process much easier. Once you’re in the water, it’s easy to keep track of decompression schedules and bottom times between consecutive dives.
- Bluetooth connection to DiverLog+ app
- Large display size
- Supports Nitrox and free diving
- Cannot program dives directly on computer
- Large size makes it bad for everyday use as a watch
7. Sherwood Vision Dive Computer – Best Console Dive Computer
This console dive computer doesn’t look as modern or exciting as some of its wrist-based competitors. But, it has a ton of features to offer, including simple air integration through a pressure hose connection to your air tank regulator. The computer works with both air tanks and Nitrox tanks, so it can be used for a very wide range of dives.
The display is quite large and can be customized to a very significant extent. That makes it much easier to get the data you need from the computer, when you need it. There are just three buttons, too, which makes it simple to navigate the computer’s menus underwater. You can choose from multiple decompression algorithms and plan dives directly on the computer.
While this dive computer doesn’t support GPS, it does come with a digital compass that works very well. The compass allows you to mark out headings to follow, and it adjusts for tilt so you don’t have to worry about holding the computer perfectly level while navigating.
The only disappointment about this dive computer was the desktop software it comes with to log your dives. It’s not particularly user-friendly, making it unnecessarily difficult to move data off the console.
- Air integration with pressure hose connection
- Supports Nitrox
- Large display with integrated compass
- Relatively inexpensive
- Desktop software is difficult to use
8. Oceanic Geo 2.0 Wrist Computer – Best Budget Dive Computer
This inexpensive dive computer from Oceanic is perfect for the occasional diver who wants to track dive data. The computer offers several essential features, like decompression scheduling and a deep stop function with a countdown timer. It also has audible alarms to warn you when you’re ascending too fast or running low on air.
The computer holds up to 24 dives in internal memory and is good to 100 meters depth. You can easily connect it via USB to your computer, which you’ll need to do to pre-program dives and save your dive data. Importantly, the computer won’t lock you out if it goes into decompression mode, which is a huge plus when you’re on a big dive trip. While the computer supports Nitrox, it’s a bit tricky to enter and confirm the details of your Nitrox gas mixture.
Unfortunately, figuring out how to operate this dive computer can be a bit difficult. The manual is not very well-written, and customer support from Oceanic is lacking. In addition, the display is very small for a dive computer.
- Very inexpensive
- Includes audio alarms
- 24-dive memory
- Supports Nitrox
- Doesn’t lock you out in decompression mode
- Manual is poorly written
- Poor customer service
- Cannot program dives on the computer itself
9. Mares Quad Computer – Best Dive Computer Display
This dive computer from Mares is designed to be simple, but powerful. It supports air and Nitrox diving, and has a bottom timer that allows more technical divers to add in extra data needed for accurate decompression scheduling. The computer can also be air integrated with a wireless transmitter (not included) so you can keep track of your remaining dive time.
One of the things that sets this wrist-based dive computer apart from the pack is the shape of the display. It’s rectangular rather than round. As a result, the information is displayed in relatively large, easy to read font, and it’s laid out in sections along the screen that make it easier to get key information at a glance. You can also customize the screens, which is a big plus.
The only downside to this computer is that, like many others, it will lock you out for 24 hours if it goes into decompression mode.
- Rectangular display for larger viewing area
- Simple data layout
- Can be used with wireless air transmitter
- Supports Nitrox and bottom timer
- Decompression mode will lock you out for 24 hours
Frequently Asked Questions
A dive computer can make your dives both more enjoyable and safer. By being able to carefully track your dive data, you can dive deeper and longer without worrying about having to deal with excessive decompression times afterwards.
Getting the right dive computer for your needs can be difficult since there are so many options on the market today. But thanks to our guide and reviews of the nine best dive computers available now, you can find the one that’s best for you and hit the water with confidence.