For the past few years, Apple’s wearables, including the Apple Watch Series 8, have had a water-resistance rating that, in theory, guarantees their survival in water up to 164 feet (50 metres) deep. This makes it an excellent companion for tracking laps around a pool or snorkelling on occasion.
Taking an Apple Watch scuba diving was, until recently, a sure way to return to the surface with an expensive paperweight strapped to your wrist: the hardware simply isn’t designed to withstand the pressures exerted on it at recreational diving levels—between 10 and 130 feet.
The Apple Watch Ultra, on the other hand, is. The Ultra is designed to survive at depths of up to 328 feet (100 metres). In fact, Apple was so confident in their new watch’s aquatic capabilities that they collaborated with one of the biggest names in underwater tech, Oceanic, to turn the $799 wearable into a full-fledged dive computer.
How well does it perform in comparison to a traditional dive computer? I decided to… find out because I’m the most qualified writer at Reviewed to do so.
Why should we pay attention to you?
Because I’m a Master Scuba Diver Trainer in addition to writing for Reviewed (MSDT). I have over 20 PADI certifications and have at least 600 dives under my belt. I’ve worked as a Dive Master off the coast of Costa Rica and as an instructor on Vancouver Island, Canada, certifying divers in the frigid ocean.
I’m familiar with diving and the equipment required to do it safely.
What’s the big deal about Oceanic+?
While the Ultra is durable enough to be worn deep beneath the surface of the water for extended periods of time, it is not yet ready to be used as a dive computer.
To use it as your dive buddy, first download Oceanic’s app, Oceanic+, to your iPhone. To get the most out of the app, you must subscribe to it. (We’ll get to that in a minute.) First, it’s worth noting why Oceanic’s involvement in transforming the Apple Watch Ultra into a capable dive computer is such a big deal.
Oceanic has a solid reputation in the diving community, thanks to decades of experience producing tough, dependable dive computers. Oceanic makes both of my dive computers, which I currently own. Veo, my oldest, is 14 years old. I literally entrust my life to them.
My only complaint about my Oceanic dive computers is that, while they perform admirably underwater, they can be difficult to use once you’ve resurfaced. It’s a pain to download the data that the computers record from each of my dives. The software is difficult to use, making it difficult, if not sometimes impossible, to transfer my dive data from my Oceanic devices to my laptop.
When I first heard about the Oceanic+ app, I was ecstatic because it promised to automate the transfer of my dive logs from the Apple Watch Ultra to my iPhone.
What We Enjoy
The belt slaps
Dive hardware must be tough, adjustable, and comfortable—a difficult combination even in the best of circumstances. All of these criteria are met by the Apple Watch Ultra (and is a good-looking watch, too). My favourite feature of the Ultra is something that many people might overlook: the Ocean Band.
The ingenious clasp system of this rubber, dive-oriented strap allows divers to custom fit the band’s hardware to accommodate what they’re wearing while in the water, whether it’s bare skin, a wetsuit for added warmth, or a drysuit and undergarment. The hardware on the strap is simple to adjust and, once in place, stays put.
Logging of dives automatically
For those who struggle to keep proper diving records (which are required for further training or demonstrating experience for more difficult dive sites), the Ultra’s automatic recording feature is very appealing. The last thing I want to do after a dive is look for my logbook and pen, or fiddle with cables and a laptop to transfer my computer’s data. That time should be set aside for recounting what you saw while diving with your dive buddies.
All of the details of my test dives were automatically recorded and saved on the app using the Apple Watch Ultra and the Oceanic+ app. Following a dive, the watch sends dive data to the Oceanic+ app, including the dive location, dive profile (a graph that shows time plotted against depth), time, ascent rate, maximum depth, and minimum water temperature. All I need is my iPhone to add comments about the dive or make notes about my gear, such as the amount of weight I used on a dive.
Integration of weather and tides
In the case of shore diving, having accurate information about dive conditions determines whether or not the dive takes place. The app makes dive planning simple by providing tide predictions and weather for the area you want to dive in.
While the app’s prediction window is small (only covering the next day or so), the information provided by the Oceanic+ app is detailed and as accurate as the data provided by the numerous weather and tide information apps and websites that I consult when planning a shore dive. I felt that the information provided by Ocenaic+ was accurate as long as I was looking for conditions information for the day of my dive or a dive within the next 24 hours.
We’ve only just started.
Oceanic was taking pre-orders for their new Smart Housing at the time I wrote this review. An iPhone case designed to withstand the pressures of the Oceanic+ appears to be only the beginning of an Apple-Oceanic relationship.
What we dislike
Oceanic App+ has an additional fee.
Nobody wants to keep paying for something they already own. While the Oceanic+ App is free to download and includes a number of free dive functions such as dive depth/maximum depth, dive/activity time tracking, a limited logbook, and the ability to look back on how many dives you’ve taken using the app, you’ll need to invest in a subscription to access its dive computer functionality.
A subscription to Oceanic+ unlocks essential metric tracking such as decompression information, those 72-hour weather, temperature, and tide forecasts I mentioned earlier, dive conditions reports, and tissue loading, which gives a diver an idea of how much nitrogen is in their bodies—an important factor in avoiding decompression sickness.
After paying for an Apple Watch Ultra, some divers may find that this additional cost stings like a Portuguese Man-of-War tentacle being dragged across your bare leg. Given that other dive computers, including those made by Oceanic, function perfectly well without a subscription, the app’s pay-to-play model may put off some divers.
However, Oceanic makes paying as painless as possible by offering a variety of service tiers to choose from. At the time of writing, the app provided several subscription options. Individuals can pay $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year. An annual subscription is also available for those with up to five divers in their Family Sharing group for $129.
Logging is restricted.
Oceanic+’s GPS logging accurately recorded my two snorkelling sessions during testing, marking my shore entrance on a neat map. My shore dive, which began about two blocks down the road, however, did not record a GPS point, which surprised me when I returned to my car to check the dive on my iPhone. I believe this was a technical error and not the norm.
Given the interconnected world we live in, I’d like to believe that there would be a way to share dive log information with other divers—telling others about a great dive spot is one of the best ways to build community in our sport—or to add photos to a log. However, when I tested the app, Oceanic+ did not appear to have this feature.
However, the latter two points are ‘nice-to-haves’ rather than failures of the Oceanic+ app.
We can’t do it alone.
The Oceanic+ app expressly states that using the Apple Watch Ultra as your sole computer on a dive is not acceptable. It suggests that you wear a second device while diving or plan your dive using tables. While I and most of the divers I know only wear one computer on a dive (relying on gauges attached to my tanks and the computers of my dive buddies as backups), I understand where Apple and Oceanic are coming from. While the Apple Watch Ultra is a capable piece of hardware, it, like any other electronic device, is prone to failure. Having a backup to the Ultra, or being able to use the Ultra as a backup to a dedicated dive computer, adds another layer of safety that may allow you to safely ascend back to the surface in the event of an emergency.
The Oceanic+ app cannot be used in place of a dive computer.
It would be irresponsible and potentially dangerous for us to disagree, given that both Apple and Oceanic advise against using the Apple Watch Ultra and Oceanic+ app as your sole dive computer.
However, with its excellent weather and tide tracking, automatic log syncing between the Ultra and the iPhone, and dive metrics that begin providing as soon as you hit the water, using one to supplement the capabilities of your existing dive computer is an absolute win. (It’s also a fantastic smartwatch on the outside.)
If you own an Ultra or are thinking about purchasing one, adding the Oceanic+ app to your digital toolkit, even if you have to pay for a subscription, will likely make you happy.