Home Innovations The H2O big test Reels

The H2O big test Reels

A diving reel is more than just a spool of line; it can be the connection to a diver’s safety.  Whether it’s being used with a buoy to indicate your position to the surface, or ensuring you don’t get lost on a long penetration, the reel can make the difference between life and death underwater. Gone are the days of divers making their own reels from bits lying around the house.  Replacing them are a large number of commercially available units coming in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and prices to try to cater for every possible diving situation. This test covers a number of styles which have different uses depending on your diving needs.

Dive Rite is a leading manufacturer of diving equipment and its reels are geared towards the technical diver. I tested the RE4250 jump/gap reel, the RE4300 cave/primary reel and the RE4800 finder spool.

The RE4250 has approx 30m of line and is classed as a speciality reel, retailing at around 70 euros.  Mounted on a solid aluminium bracket with a side handle, the reel is aimed at cave/wreck divers who need a smaller back-up reel to use in the event of losing the primary line or needing to bridge a gap between lines.  There is nothing to stop an open water diver from using it to deploy an SMB, but the side handle does make it a bit awkward.  It has the standard Dive Rite plastic locking screw, but otherwise has no means of control.  Due to its smaller size it could be used as a spare reel and will fit in a large BCD pocket, alternatively using the large steel clip attached to the frame.

The large RE4300 reel carries approximately 125m of line on a plastic spool mounted on to a simple aluminium handle allowing left or right-handed deployment horizontally or vertically. It costs in the region of 115 euros.  Ideal for primary penetration lines or as a main reel on extremely deep dives, it has a single plastic locking screw so making it slightly tricky to deploy an SMB without excess line getting wrapped up.  A small plastic handle makes it easy to wind back in although with thick gloves on it isn’t the easiest thing in the world to manipulate. This is a very solid reel and it would certainly be a good primary choice for the majority of technical divers out there.

Probably one of the most compact reels on the market and certainly ideal as a back-up pocket reel or a small main reel for recreational divers is the RE4800 finger spool, especially with a price tag of only around 30 euros.  With no handle or frame to it, the 30m of line is simply released by loosely holding the spool between the finger and thumb while it unwinds.  A very simple steel snap clip allows the diver to lock the reel off for safety stops.  

If it’s being used to deploy an SMB then the diver can simply release the reel and watch it stay neutral while it unwinds before catching it once the buoy reaches the surface.  Not a method I would recommend, but if you accidentally drop the reel then at least it won’t disappear into the abyss until the buoy hits the surface!

Custom Divers is a UK based company with a reputation for good, solid and reliable gear, aimed again at the technical diver market. I tested the CD125SS and CDR40.

The CD125SS has 125m of white line on a clear high grade PVC spool which is then mounted on a solid stainless steel handle.  It retails for around 105 euros.  This reel is designed for either a primary penetration reel or deep diving main reel which can be used either left or right handed, vertically or horizontally, although smaller versions holding 70 or 40m of line are also available.  A friction nut in the centre of the spool allows the user to either let the reel run free or lock it off.  It is very solid reel, and its weight reflects this, although due to its size it can be a bit tricky to use for people with small hands or with thick gloves on. Having said this though, it is a reel I would highly recommend for heavy duty use or in technical diving situations.

The CDR40, available for around 100 euros, has a unique design allowing it to be used on a ratchet or on free-run.  It has 40m of line, although is also available with 70 or 125m of either white line or a bright colour (yellow or pink) which made the line highly visible on a wreck penetration – a great additional safety factor in low visibility situations. The spool is high grade black PVC and again is mounted on a stainless steel handle, but with a plastic handle grip making it very comfortable to use.  The tension of the spool may be user-adjusted which is very useful on cave or wreck dives, and of all the reels I found this one by far the easiest to use.

AP Valves is well-known as the manufacturer of the Buddy range of diving equipment.  In looking for smaller reels to test which would be more suited to recreational divers, I found the Buddy pocket reel.  

This is a very small reel (7.5cm diameter by 5cm deep) and hence perfect for the SMB pocket where it can remain until needed.  It costs around 55 euros. The 40m of line is completely enclosed inside the polypropylene body and wound on a brass centre spindle.  It is designed to be operated simply in the palm of the diver’s hand with a simple thumb-operated lock and release mechanism.  It also comes with a fixed wrist lanyard although it must be stressed that this is only for use on the bottom for penetrating a wreck, for example.  No reel should ever be attached to the diver in any way whatsoever when it is being used to deploy an SMB in order to prevent any rapid ascent injuries in the event of a reel jam.
While it’s small size did make it a bit awkward to use first, this is a very good pocket reel for those divers who don’t want to use a reel on every dive, but who want to carry one with them ‘just in case’!
Beaver Sports is another UK manufacturer of diving equipment which distribute all over the world. They offer a large range of reels and I tested the Kingfisher SMB Reel and the Heron Tech Wreck Reel.

The Kingfisher comes with 70m of line on a plastic spool, all mounted on a plastic handle.  It is released by a simple thumb operated ratchet so making it very simple for one handed operation – an important factor when using a reel for the deployment of an SMB.  It comes with a bolt snap attachment for clipping to a BCD and an alloy carabiner for attaching to an SMB.  It retails for about 60 euros making it a very good value reel, although being plastic, it can be broken if mistreated.  This is a very easy reel to operate with or without gloves on and is a very good choice for recreational divers wanting a general purpose reel to cover most of their diving needs.

The Heron Tech Wreck reel is a small and compact 45m reel designed for the marking of short routes and for use in confined spaces.  The line is wound on a high tensile polymer drum and mounted on a lightweight alloy handle which is very ergonomically friendly.  It has an adjustable tension screw in the centre of the spool to release or lock the reel. The retail price is around 50 euros and so is an ideal cheaper option for those divers who don’t want or need the larger technical diving reels but who still need some form of safety line either for penetration or marker buoy deployment.

UK-based TTL Leisure distributes the McMahon compact reel. This is another plastic ratchet reel, but much tougher in construction.

The higher quality is reflected in the price which is around 65 euros. The McMahon compact reel holds a respectable 50m of lightweight line on a 7.5cm diameter spool.  The line is fed through a moveable guide which helps to prevent any jams.  

The thumb operated lever is quite large for such a small reel which only weighs 30g and so again, is very easy to operate with gloves on and with only one hand.  This is a superb reel for SMB deployment.  It is small enough to fit in most BCD pockets, and comes highly recommended as a lightweight, general purpose reel.

The dive equipment market is saturated with literally hundreds of reels from various manufacturers.  In testing these 9 reels I have tried to offer a selection which hopefully covers the needs of most divers, whether recreational holiday divers, or regular deep technical divers. It is important to note that whichever reel you choose to buy, it is very good idea to seek out a good instructor for some basic tuition on the use of this new kit after purchase.  While the reel is an almost essential piece of safety equipment in much of today’s diving, it can also be the cause of some very serious diving-related injuries if it is used incorrectly.


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