I often tell people that the key word in a long and happy relationship with u/w photo gear is 'meticulous.' This is particularly important when setting up your rig to go diving. With careful attention to detail, you will never have to utter the 'F word'. While our suggestions below reference housings, many of the same principles apply to strobes, video/focus lights, etc.
Let's start with o-rings...
I know, this takes time, but after all, you're probably on vacation, so you probably have some spare time. Think about the cost of a fl**d vs. the cost of a few extra minutes to do it properly.
How often should I maintain them?
There is no simple rule for this question, you have to let common sense be your guide.
If you're enjoying the beautiful shore dives in Bonaire (or any shore dives), you are most likely dragging your rig thru the sand or at least thru shallow water full of sand from wave turbulence. In that instance, we recommend o-ring maintenance each time you open the housing. O-rings are like sand magnets.
If you are boat diving or on a live-aboard, you should service your o-rings each day. I like to find a quiet spot (away from the crowd) each morning to take care of this chore. The famous Jim Church said he always kept something in his mouth while setting up his rig... so he could not talk to anyone. That is good advice. This is the meticulous part, don't get distracted.
How do I remove them?
Most people make this way, way too hard. The best way is to use both hands. With the index finger of each hand, press down on the o-ring channel with about 1" to 2" of o-ring between your fingers. Then gently slide your fingers together while still pressing down on the o-ring and the channel. You should see the o-ring 'bubble up' making a small loop that you can easily grasp.
If that fails, or you just don't have room for this method, a thin plastic card (think Blockbuster card) makes a good o-ring pick. Never, never use a knife, tweezers or any sharp object to remove your o-ring. These tools are steel. O-rings are rubber and housings are acrylic, polycarbonate or aluminum, all of which are softer than steel. You can damage not only the o-ring, but also the housing!
How do I clean them?
First, make sure you have a clean, lint-free, pet-free, hair-free area to work in if possible. Most of the time, you can clean them by just pulling them, very gently, thru your fingers, pulling off any foreign material. Your finger tips are a great detector for any grit or other crud stuck to the o-ring.
Occasionally you may need more help. Just a drop of dish soap on your finger tip will do the trick as you pull the o-ring between your finger tips. Be very gentle. You never want to stretch the o-ring. After washing just give it a shake to remove any remaining water. Now you're ready to lube it up.
What about the housing?
The best tool for cleaning the o-ring channel on your housing is a small foam tipped swab (no Q-tips, they can leave fibers behind). You can buy these swabs foam tipped at any Radio Shack, but even better, man-up and visit a local beauty supply. Foam tipped makeup applicators are about $1 per dozen and are the perfect size to fit even the smallest camera kit. Wipe the groove thoroughly with the swipe each time you remove the o-ring.
How much lube?
The short answer is 'not that much.' For most divers, the tube that came with your housing (or strobe) is enough for years of diving. Your o-ring should have just a light sheen of lubricant, no globs!
Now, just re-install the o-ring on your housing. A few brands of housings have pre-formed rectangular o-rings, but for most housings, just slip it back into the channel, insuring that it lays flat around the entire sealing surface. Even if you did not remove the o-ring, make a final visual inspection for lint or hair and you are ready to seal it up and dive!
What about desiccant?
Most housings never need it. Fogging occurs when there is moist warm air trapped in the housing and you plunge it into cold water - instant condensation inside the housing. Aluminum housings in particular are very good conductors of heat, and very seldom require desiccant. If you experience fogging, the best remedy is to seal your housing while in the comfy confines of your air conditioned room where the air is drier than outdoors. On the boat, don't leave your housing out in the sun. If no shade is available, cover your housing with a damp towel.
On the Boat...
Rule Number 1:
Never leave your rig in the rinse tank! More cameras get flooded in rinse tanks than in the ocean. No matter what you do, chances are good that someone will stumble along and dump a bigger rig on top of yours.
If there is no camera table, wrap your rig in a towel or other padding and stow it under your seat or in the cabin.
One of our favorite tools is a soft sided cooler sold just about anywhere. It not only makes a great padded carrier for your rig, but it can be filled with fresh water, making a private rinse tank for the boat and/or the ride home.
- Don't hesitate to explain to the boat crew any special handling for your rig. There are so many u/w photographers these days that most boat crew are very good with cameras. If the boat is crowded with photographers, you might request that they just put your rig on the camera table or on the deck near your station instead of the rinse tank. See Rule Number 1.
After the dive.
Give your housing a quick dunk in the rinse tank to rinse off any salt residue or sand, and then move it to safety. See Rule Number 1.
Your rig deserves a good soaking. A bath tub, laundry sink, wash tub, or the aforementioned soft sided cooler will make a great place for your housing's bath.
Work it out.
While your housing is lounging in fresh water, push its buttons, rotate its dials, squeeze the shutter, caress its... never mind. This will force out any remaining salt water that might be trapped along the shafts of the controls. Crystalized salt and o-rings are a bad match!
Break it down.
It's also a good idea to remove the tray, break down strobe arms and dismount strobes at bath time. This assures that nothing will get corroded in place.
If you will be storing your rig for an extended time without use, it's a good idea to remove the o-rings for storage to avoid deforming them. Add just a smidge of o-ring lube to the inside of a zip-loc baggie, smear it around really good, and put the housing and port o-rings in it for storage. Important...store the zip-loc baggie inside your housing so you don't forget the o-rings next time you dive.
Let it breathe.
When flying with your rig, it is important that the housing is not sealed. Either remove the o-rings, the port, or leave the back of the housing open. Flying from altitude to sea level with a sealed housing makes for a nasty vacuum lock on the housing.
Never travel with your camera in the housing.
At first blush, this seems a logical way to save space, but the impacts that your luggage receives can cause damage to the housing controls, the camera or both. If you need space that badly, stuff your underwear inside the housing, but not your camera.
Another question that cannot be definitively answered here. Obviously, the more you dive, the more often you should have your housing serviced. Where you dive is also important... salt water is harder on a housing than fresh water. Equally as important is how religiously you have followed the guidelines above.
For most divers, at least every two years is a good rule of thumb. Your use and care should be factored into that equation along with any problems that you've noticed with your housing.
How much does it cost?
Sorry, no simple answer to this one either. It entirely depends on the condition of the housing when it arrives for service, and the complexity of the housing. To be fair to all of our customers, we charge by the hour for service, so the more crud the technician has to remove, and the more buttons and gears in a given housing, the more it will cost to overhaul.