Reel in Scuba Diving


A reel is an essential piece of scuba diving equipment utilized for storing, deploying, and recovering long lines underwater. Its primary functions are to facilitate navigation, maintain safety, and establish temporary guidelines during dives. This versatile tool is used in various diving applications, including wreck, cave, technical, and search and recovery dives. This article will provide an in-depth overview of the types, construction, and usage of reels in scuba diving.


The origin of the reel dates back to ancient times when similar mechanisms were used in fishing and maritime navigation. However, modern scuba diving reels were first introduced in the 1960s as cave diving gained popularity. Early reels were rudimentary and handcrafted, often constructed from materials like wood, metal, or plastic. Over the years, reels have evolved, and manufacturers now produce a variety of specialized designs for different diving applications.


Reels are composed of a spool, a handle, a line, and a locking mechanism. The spool, made from durable materials such as aluminum, plastic, or stainless steel, stores the line and allows it to be wound or unwound. The handle, typically made from the same materials as the spool, offers a firm grip for the diver to control the reel. The line, typically constructed from nylon or braided polyester, is chosen for its strength and resistance to abrasion, tangling, and degradation. The locking mechanism, which may be a ratchet or friction-based system, prevents the line from unwinding unintentionally.


There are several types of reels available for different diving applications, including:

  1. Finger Reel: Compact and lightweight, finger reels are ideal for short distances and shallow dives. They are commonly used for deploying surface markers or setting up short guidelines.
  2. Safety Reel: Designed for deploying safety lines and surface marker buoys, safety reels are typically larger than finger reels and hold more line. Their locking mechanism ensures the line remains taut and secure.
  3. Jump/Gap Reel: Used in cave and wreck diving, jump/gap reels are designed for navigating complex environments. They are employed to create secondary guidelines or connect the primary line to other points of interest.
  4. Primary Reel: Primarily used in cave and technical diving, primary reels have the largest line capacity and are built for strength and durability. They are used to establish primary guidelines from the dive’s entry point to the furthest penetration point.


Reels serve various purposes in scuba diving, such as:

  1. Navigation: Divers use reels to lay guidelines to navigate underwater environments, particularly in low-visibility conditions, confined spaces, or complex structures like caves and wrecks.
  2. Safety: Reels help divers maintain a continuous line to the surface or exit point, ensuring they can find their way back in case of disorientation or emergencies.
  3. Surface Marker Buoys (SMBs): Reels are used to deploy SMBs, which signal a diver’s position to surface support personnel, boats, and other divers.
  4. Search and Recovery: Reels play a crucial role in underwater search and recovery operations, as they help divers establish search patterns and secure recovered objects.
  5. Decompression: Technical divers use reels to deploy decompression lines, allowing them to maintain a stable position at various depths during decompression stops.

Maintenance and Care

Proper maintenance and care of reels are essential to ensure their reliability and longevity. Divers should:

  1. Rinse the reel with fresh water after each dive to remove salt, sand, and other debris.
  2. Inspect the line for fraying, cuts, or abrasion and replace it if necessary.
  3. Check the spool and handle for damage or corrosion and clean them with a soft brush or cloth if needed.
  4. Lubricate the locking mechanism periodically with a silicone-based grease to ensure smooth operation and prevent corrosion.
  5. Store the reel in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to prevent UV degradation of the line and other components.
  6. Regularly practice deploying and winding the reel to maintain familiarity and proficiency with its operation.

Training and Safety

Proper training and understanding of reel usage are crucial to avoid potential hazards and complications underwater. Divers should consider the following safety measures when using reels:

  1. Obtain appropriate training: Divers should seek specialized training in reel usage, particularly for cave, wreck, and technical diving. Such training courses cover the proper deployment and management of guidelines, as well as emergency procedures.
  2. Plan and prepare: Before each dive, plan the route and assess the required line length, type of reel, and the best method for deploying and recovering the line.
  3. Practice good buoyancy control: Maintaining proper buoyancy is essential to prevent entanglement and damaging the underwater environment.
  4. Be aware of surroundings: Divers should remain aware of their surroundings and monitor the guideline to avoid snagging, tangling, or entangling other divers.
  5. Carry a cutting tool: In case of entanglement, divers should carry a cutting tool, such as a dive knife or line cutter, to free themselves or others.
  6. Practice redundancy: Divers should carry a backup reel or spool in case the primary reel fails or additional line is needed.


The reel is an indispensable tool in scuba diving, offering navigation assistance, safety, and versatility in various underwater environments. With a range of types and applications, reels cater to the needs of recreational and technical divers alike. By understanding the construction, usage, and maintenance of reels, along with proper training and adherence to safety protocols, divers can greatly enhance their underwater experiences and ensure their safe return from each dive.