Stoney Cove Easter Weekend - OTS Full Face Mask & Equipment Review

Last update on May 9, 2014.

Stoney Cove Easter Weekend - OTS Full Face Mask & Equipment Review

Ok so this is a completely gratuitous posting (I've added an equipment review to make up for it!), but supplying gas masks and rubber suits to the great and the good is an infectious job ;-) so this Easter weekend after a 10 year moratorium I decided to don my own fancy dress and immerse myself in a luxuriant 4 degree C flooded quarry - the one and only Stoney Cove along with around 100 other perfectly sane divers. 

A Big thank you to Christal Seas Scuba, Norwich for organising the weekend and for persuading me to spend the extra on an O'Three drysuit - the best drysuit without doubt I have worn (although I hasten to add they are not suitable for contaminated water diving - those of you thinking of buying a Viking dry suit from us!) and a massive thank you to Ocean Technology Systems for posting my pic on their website & giving me my 15mins of Facebook fame - 80 likes woohoo, previous record....ahem...of about 4. The OTS full facemask was joy to use and assisted greatly to keep the cold at bay.

Equipment Review

The kit I chose was selected (within my budget) to combat as low water temperature as possible, whilst on the whole the equipment worked extremely well there were Pro's and Cons to it all, so I have left a review which I hope some of you will find useful. Please feel free to leave comments or you can email me directly at  r.gates@allpipe.co.uk if you would like any further info.  

Ri 2100 o’three drysuit:
This is the easy one, I have previously owned 2 membrane suits and as someone who has primarily dived in UK waters and who feels the cold looked forward to trying a neoprene drysuit. I initially looked at a 5mm Typhoon TCS suit, it looked heavy duty and the price of circa £500.00 was attractive but in the interest of warmth the latex neck & cuff seals were off-putting. The crunch came when I tried it on; heavy & restrictive. Trying on the othree Ri2 100 was an entirely different experience as it offered comfort & flexibility with its much touted 2.1mm resin impregnated compressed neoprene.

Pro’s
On the day it performed perfectly on all 3 dives keeping me warm in 3 to 4 degree C water temp - and dry – the neck seal being very comfortable but not leaking which is something I don’t associate with its latex cousins! I noticed a lot of other divers where using o’three suits at Stoney that day which probably speaks volumes for the company and its dry suits.

Cons
I had my suit fitted with both cuff and auto dump (and am pleased I did), as such the price came out circa £1000.00 so not a small purchase for many divers.

If, like me you haven’t dived for a while or are new to drysuit diving I would recommend using ankle weights as the boots were fairly buoyant and I did have to make a conscious effort on occasion to ensure my positioning was correct.

Lasting impression of the Othree Ri 2100: Excellent – best piece of equipment used on the day, use with the PBB under suit base layers.

OTS Full Face Mask:
This is a truly awesome piece of equipment and a lot of fun to use, it seems to be taking off in a big way in the US with sports divers but it’s true pedigree lies with Search & Rescue, Police & Public Divers so don’t think for a moment it’s gimmicky. Recently featured on the Discovery Channel series Gold Divers, all the sub-aqua prospectors were using the OTS Guardian full face masks under the ice in the Bering Sea adding to its credibility as a hard-core piece of equipment.

Pros
The FFM is both comfortable and the 5 point head-harness adds a high degree of safety in the event of diver unconsciousness, something perhaps more of a consideration for technical divers or those diving in extreme conditions. It comes with an adjustable nose-block for equalising and by gently pushing upwards / towards your nose with the regulator this can be achieved easily. The Ambient Breathing Valve (ABV) is an excellent feature allowing the diver to conserve cylinder air whilst on the surface. There is no doubt that by having the cold water kept away from the entire of my face made a big difference to overall warmth.

Cons
At the time of the 1st dive of the morning the ambient air temperature was -1 degree C, after suiting up, donning weights, connecting dry-gloves & BCD etc I was working up a sweat, to my concern almost immediately after strapping on the face-piece the visor completely steamed up, I really could not see anything and attempting to begin a dive like this would have been extremely hazardous. Ocean Technology Systems state they spent a lot of time developing and optimising the airflow within the mask, so placing my faith in them I closed the ABV, sat in the open boot of the car just breathed deeply and slowly, hoping that OTS R&D would pay dividends. Sure enough after about 20 seconds the lower right of the visor began demisting and after about 60 seconds all was clear and we were good to go.

I contacted OTS about this and they confirmed that visor fogging can occur when there are big hot / cold temperature differences between diver and ambient air temp. There is no mention of this in their otherwise thorough user guide however, so should this happen to you remember 1) Get comfortable, 2) Close the ABV (needless to say air needs to be on!) & 3) Chill out until the visor clears….and remember you heard it here first (possibly).

Like most SCUBA, diving in a pool or the tropics compared with cold muddy puddles is a vastly different experience and whilst diving in a cold low light environment for the first time in the FFM I would not advise attempting anything too challenging. The side walls of the mask project forward much further than a regular mask and with the ABV on the right, and in my case the adhesive patch of a GoPro camera bracket on the left added a sense of being blinkered - particularly  when I was struggling to equalise at 20m (nothing to do with the nose block, just 10 years of crap in my head refusing to shift), this in turn brought on a bit of tunnel vision – time to take it easy.

Testing the OTS FFM in the pool and practicing bail-out procedure’s is an absolute must. The thought of removing the mask, switching to Octo or buddy’s Octo and putting on a regular mask with dry or thick wetsuit gloves in cold conditions could be a big ask…which neatly leads me onto the next piece of kit.

Lasting impression of the OTS Full Face Mask: Great piece of kit, but a serious piece of kit. Like the manual says “Diving is an inherently dangerous activity……”. Try one out in a pool first if your thinking of buying or using one; some people will love them, some not. Can’t wait to use mine again.

APEKS DS4 1st stage:
After buying the suit, FFM & Gopro Hero 3 video camera my budget had dwindled significantly and with the aim of being able dive safely in water less than 5 degrees C I selected the APEKS DS4 1st stage which has a dry sealed system for cold water, mine has a DIN fitting and I picked it up for circa £200.00 with an APEKS Octo.

Both the FFM and 1st stage are cold water rated to EN250 which brought some peace of mind as the Stoney Cove website warned of high risk of regulator freeflow at the time. There are plenty of online reviews substantiating that this 1st stage is a cold water workhorse and it worked fine for me as well.

Lasting impression of the APEKS 1st stage: Delivered air to me when I needed it, didn’t free flow in 3 to 4 degree C cold water and didn't cost the earth – what more could you ask?

NB I was initially going to purchase a 1st stage from a different manufacturer and Google provided plenty of positive reviews for the product – all from tropical divers though. When I entered the model of the 1st stage with ‘cold water’ after, the tone of the reviews changed dramatically and reports of free flow issues where worryingly abundant.
Internet search engines are great for finding reviews of products but remember to use them to their full extent in context with the conditions you are going to be using your kit in. This should get you more relevant search results. 

Northern Diver Dry Gloves:
Back in the day I swore by my ND dry gloves so these were a natural bolt-on to the suit. They can be fitted to an othree suit without the requirement of removing the neoprene suit seals so in the event of a glove leak you’ll get a wet hand but that’s it.

Pros
The gloves have a slick new bayonet locking system from the original pair I owned (although I never had a problem with the old system). The inner gloves supplied looked a lot cooler than the original as well – a black thinsulate pair with a Kirby Morgan Superlite emblem on them.

Cons
Sadly they were a lot cooler – absolutely frickin’ freezing if I’m honest. Despite remaining dry on all 3 dives my hands had to endure the joys of after-dive thaw. A few of the divers where using a new neoprene wet-glove, if I can get hold of the make & model I’ll post it here as they reported (not at all smugly) remarkably toasty hands throughout the dives.

Lasting impression of the Northern Diver Dry Gloves: Inner glove supplied offered very poor thermal protection in low water temperature, thus defeating the object of the purchase in my instance. The Northern Diver website does state there is a thicker (grey) inner-glove available, but at time of looking it was not possible to buy these online.

Well that's the end of my review, for the few if any hardy souls who have got this far into the blog, thanks for reading. Have a pleasant night cap and reach for the light switch!

Richard Gates

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Comments

  1. sara

    sara on 07/17/2013 8:20 a.m. #

    looking good Richard!

  2. Jon

    Jon on 11/09/2013 8:47 a.m. #

    I like your blog, thanks for that. I would agree with all points... BUT I did recently change my O3 to an Otter Britannic Telescopic which is also mega (like the O3) . I was at Otter and loved their suits and the family so they did me a deal! Interestingly they added an attached hood which really helps to seal the Guardian and is warm as hell. I thought it might be a faff, but actually its great, for me at least. They also added the SiTech Antares dry glove system which is great to use, but I agree with you that the right inner glove is key to keeping warm. I also used the ND system on my O3. Sounds like we are like minded when it comes to kit

    I recently went back to using twins and added a switch block to the Guardian to give redundancy from each cyl/reg... as you mentioned, bailing out of the FFM isn't something that you'd choose to do if possible. It just gives me that warm fuzzy feeling....Ha Ha

  3. Richard

    Richard on 11/09/2013 9:07 a.m. #

    Jon, bailing out of an OTS full face mask with twins gives you a 'warm fuzzy feeling'?? OK bring it on!

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