Sprooooooinnnngggggg!" said my first-stage piston spring as it bolted for freedom. Evading my snatch, it escaped overboard into the deep blue.
"Poop!" I growled dejectedly. "Serves me right for trying to repair a regulator on a dive boat."
"What happened?" asked my tec diving partner, Chris.
"I was changing a leaky piston o-ring on a stage regulator and the spring got away from me. Guess I'll need to use my spare."
"Maybe. Maybe not," said Chris. "What type regulator?"
"Squidmaster 4000-XLC with hyperflow piston boost."
"Pre or post 1998?"
"Got it last year."
"Hmmmm." With that, Chris began digging through the oversized tool chest that he hauls around as a "save a dive" kit. With a dozen regulators between the two of us, it comes in handy.
"Aha!" he announced after opening the 16 millionth box-within-a-drawer-within-a-box. "Squidmaster 4000-XLC hyperflow piston booster spring. See? And this is one of the new Teflon-coated ones, by the way."
Thanking him, I started reassembly while he watched. He stopped me after about five seconds.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Putting it together."
"Duh, I got that. But you're not using a Squidmaster piston alignment tool. No wonder you eighty-sixed a spring. Gimme that."
Almost before I could protest, Chris reassembled the first stage using the tool in question.
"Amazing what you can do when you have the right tool. Now I suppose you're going to tell me you don't have an intermediate pressure gauge so you can adjust it properly."
"Uh, well, I was going to ..."
He rolled his eyes, dug out the requisite gauge and started adjusting.
"Chris, you're amazing," said Howard, a newly certified diver who was aboard the charter boat with us. He'd watched the entire drama unfold.
"Nothing amazing about it. You only need three things to work on dive gear: the right parts, the right tools and the right know-how," he said.
"How do you get them?"
"Parts and tools are easy. You get the parts from your PADI dive center. You get regular tools at a decent hardware store and specialized tools from the scuba equipment manufacturer. The know-how takes longer. You get some from experience, but you get most by taking courses."
"Like the PADI Equipment Specialist course?"
"Yes," said Chris, "but it's not an equipment-repair course."
"So why take it?"
"What's the difference between a diaphragm first stage and a piston first stage?"
"Ummmm ... one has a diaphragm and one has a piston?"
"Yeah, that's it," Chris laughed, "but a bit more. When you take an equipment-repair course, you need to know the basics about your gear how it works and how to take care of it. That's what the Equipment Specialist course is all about. Good info to have, even if you don't ever actually get manufacturer-certified to work on regulators and stuff."
"Oh, I do want those certifications," Howard stressed.
"Nothing wrong with that, but dive gear's very dependable if you take care of it. You've got one regulator so far. Why's this a big deal, if I may ask?"
"Are you kidding? Look around," said Howard. "You're the most popular guy on the boat right now!"