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  • Writer's pictureScuba Steve

Review of the Blacktip DPV (Made by Dive Xtras)

Unless you enjoy underwater stress tests and dreadful customer service, you might want to steer clear of the Blacktip DPV.


Dive Propulsion Vehicles (DPVs) used to be a tool restricted to technical divers. These underwater scooters were useful for cave and tech divers looking to cover a lot of distance while hauling multiple tanks or bulky tech gear. The first commercially available DPVs were expensive and mission-oriented, built with a specific purpose in mind.


Today, DPVs becoming more popular among recreational scuba divers looking to increase their range underwater. As battery technology and manufacturing techniques have improved, DPVs have become more affordable and accessible to everyday divers. Now there are dozens of different offering on the market, from the LeFeet S1, Tusa SAV-7, and SubGravity Aquaprop.


TLDR: Why I Don't Recommend Buying a Blacktip DPV

Broken Dive Xtras Blacktip DPV
My Blacktip DPV facing its first round of issues

Customer service is a cornerstone of the diving industry. As divers, we trust our gear with our lives, and word of mouth recomendations are essential. New divers frequently turn to instructors, peers, and social media sites (like ScubaBoard) to seek advice on gear to purchase. When I started diving a decade ago, my gear choices were heavily influenced by what my instructors used and what they recommended to us.


I'd argue that a brand’s most passionate advocates aren’t just product users; they’re the people who have may have had issues, but know that the company stands behind its products. Some divers swear by Apex regulators because of their durability and stellar customer service. ScubaPro’s no-questions-asked fin replacement policy is widely-known amongst divers.


That's how I feel about Garmin and Ikelite. Any rare issue with their products has been swiftly resolved, with the company going above and beyond to help fix the problem. When my Garmin Descent dive computer had an issue, the company overnighted me a refurbished replacement so I wouldn’t miss any dives while they diagnosed the watch.


Enter Dive Xtras and their Blacktip DPV. Dealing with their customer service, it quickly became apparent they prioritize profits over customer satisfaction. Instead of trying to build loyalty in the brand, they have fought with me for almost six months over a $600 repair bill, caused by an apparent defect in their product. A friend quipped, it seems like a company run completely engineers with no understanding of business, public relations, or customer service. As a small company that is supposed to be 'customer focused,' they're a real pain to deal with.


Sadly, this sentiment is echoed by many. A quick search on ScubaBoard and Facebook reveals numerous complaints about the company’s dreadful customer service. One poster noted:


"Dive Xtras is now the worst customer service company in my book. I was quite happy with the product but a good product without basic customer service is a big no go for me."


In my opinion, the Blacktip DPV itself isn’t winning any awards either. Users have reported quality control issues, and there’s even a safety notice on the company’s website about certain BlackTip Scooters failing at depths shallower than their rated depth. A DPV malfunctioning during a dive can range from annoying to dangerous. At a $2,000+ price point, you really don't expect the DPV to fail before the first 100 dives.


Dive Xtras Blacktip DPV Safety Recall
A fellow diver shared this image of their imploded DPV on social media

My personal experience with the Blacktip DPV has been a series of headaches and poor customer service. With so many capable DPV competitors on the market, I personnaly wouldn’t gamble my money on Dive Xtras, and I don't recommend them for my students any more. Until the company fixes their quality control issues, backs their products, and starts caring about their reputation, it’s just not worth the hassle.



My Experience


A little over two years ago, I bought two Dive Xtras Blacktip DPVs (the Tech model and a Travel model). Like most divers, I was attracted by the price and reported capabilities: a lightweight, easy-to-use DPV with decent range. Even better, the Blacktip DPVs use Dewalt Lithium Batteries (the same ones used in power tools), so replacing and charging batteries wouldn’t rely on a proprietary manufacturer. You could just go to Home Depot to pick new ones up if you ever had an issue. What could possibly go wrong, right?


Scuba diver with DPV
One of the few times the Blacktip worked

Design Issues


The Blacktip DPV has some design quirks right off the bat. To achieve maximum performance, you need to spend an extra $400 - $600 on the Dewalt FlexVolt batteries and charger, which aren’t included in the $2,000 price of the DPV. Dewalt is also very clear that their batteries are not intended for wet conditions, so any faults wouldn’t be covered under warranty. Cue the ominous music.


To install and remove the batteries for charging, you have to pull open the plastic DPV cap, exposing the internal wiring. Unlike most other DPVs, there is no way to charge the scooter without accessing the internal components and exposing the delicate electronics. You need to fully install and remove the batteries every time you use the Blacktip. There’s no easy latching or screw system to reinstall it; instead, you have to push the cap down on the top, then use a webbing strap to hold the whole thing together. Sounds secure, right?


If you don’t reinstall the cap properly, or if the few o-rings holding back the water aren’t seated properly, your unit will flood and become a very expensive brick. This requires replacing the electrical components and the batteries, which is almost as expensive as just buying a new DPV. Even if you do install the cap properly, you have to hope water doesn't leak in from the tail or the bottom o-rings of the unit, which you usually won't find out until the end of the dive. Just what every diver wants to hear.


As someone who has been diving over a decade and frequently uses underwater camera housings, the design choices for the Blacktip are baffling. Most underwater camera housings use metal or plastic latches to securely close the housing, ensuring a proper seal every time. Even the simple $30 underwater GoPro housing uses a locking latch system to ensure the case is secure. Redundant sealing of sensitive electronic components seems like a no-brainer, but the Blacktip has multiple points of failure. Even the trigger to activate the scooter is sensitive to sand and sediment infiltration. Everything is made as cheaply as possible to keep the price point low, and the overall durability seems to be sorely lacking.


Of note, Dive Xtras recently started selling a “Vacuum Bulkhead” similar to the vacuum testing systems used in underwater camera housings. The idea is that by drawing a vacuum seal in the DPV, you can detect any leaks before you get in the water. Unfortunately, it’s an extra $500 and won’t necessarily catch manufacturing defects like the ones I experienced.


In all fairness, when the system actually works, it's performs as a great DPV. The variable speed system is nice, and it has plenty of power and range for recreational diving. I've been able to get two-hour dives exploration dive off of the DPV running at a moderate pace, which is great for shore current in Oahu. The problem is that the system seems prone to quality control issues (even with the most delicate of care), and once you start having issues, the system is completely done for.


My Issues Begin…


Largely unaware of these design issues, I was naive and excited to start using Blacktip DPVs to explore new underwater areas. I could increase my range, exploring a wider radius around our favorite shore diving sites. A few of my friends had purchased them and were having relatively good experiences, so I took the plunge.


My issues started immediately after my first use. When I came back up from my dive, I noticed a small amount of water pooled at the bottom of the Blacktip Travel DPV tube. The local dealer I bought the unit from had given me a class on proper use and maintenance, and I had taken all the recommended extra steps to ensure the unit was sealed. Confused, I cleaned up the water and reached out to the dealer. He said I must have not fully sealed it, but since the unit hadn’t fully flooded, it should still be okay to use. I just needed to fully dry it out.


The second dive was no better. After spending extra time inspecting and double-checking the o-rings, I still found water pooled in the bottom post-dive. This occurred two more times before the unit started exhibiting glitchy symptoms, dying and restarting during dives. The whole time, I was in contact with the local dealer who insisted I must be doing something wrong.


I brought the unit back to the dealer to figure out what was going wrong. Being a local diver, he cared about his reputation and wanted to help take care of me. He watched me assemble the unit and admitted I was doing everything right. He stuck the unit in a dunk tank for 24 hours, but it came out dry on the inside. After some prodding, I finally convinced him to take the unit diving. He sheepishly admitted the DPV died on him within the first 20 minutes of the dive when they descended past 40 feet.


It turned out Dive Xtras had a “bad batch” of tail sections. Water was infiltrating from the tail part of the unit, and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. The local dealer filed a warranty with Dive Xtras for me and had the whole unit replaced. Unfortuately this took some time, since they whole unit had to be shipped back to Dive Xtras (who were experiencing manufacturing delays at the time).


The failed tail section of a Dive Xtras Blacktip DPV
Finally, we figured out Dive Xtras' faulty manufacturing was to blame

When I finally got the repaired unit back. I hoped that this was just a one-off problem. And for a while, it appeared that it was; I had about 35 successful dives. I slowly started building up confidence in the unit, trusting it to take me out further. At this point, the DPV was technically out of warranty since it spent so much time in repair, in addition to the back and forth trying to troubleshoot with the local dealer.


Then, with no warning, the DPV died mid-dive. Luckily my buddy and I planned for this issue, always making sure we had enough reserve power to tow us both in on a single DPV. When I got to land, there was nothing obviously wrong with the unit. It was just plain dead, even though the batteries still showed a half-charge.


Customer Service Woes


I reached out to the company for assistance. The initial response was underwhelming. It took multiple emails before they finally responded. Unfortunately, the original Blacktip dealer on Oahu had passed away, so there was no one who could look at or help diagnose the DPV. The company directed me to reach out to my “local representative,” even though he was located on a different island and couldn’t really offer any help.


After finally walking me through some troubleshooting steps via email, Dive Xtras informed me that I would have to send the unit in. Shipping from Hawaii was absurdly expensive, costing me close to $150 to have it professionally packed and shipped. The USPS customer service agent and I went through a whole roll of bubble wrap just to ensure the unit was properly protected.


A few weeks later, Dive Xtras reached back out. They informed me the VSEC board (electronic brain) on the DPV had died. They also claimed that the tail had somehow been damaged during shipping, and I’d now need to pay $600 to repair the unit.


At this point, I was incredibly frustrated. I had owned the DPV less than two years, and most of that time had been spent trying to fix issues. Now, after finally getting the replacement unit back and working, it suddenly died again. I pressed the company for an explanation as to why the VSEC board would suddenly die, and was told “this just happens sometimes.” They offered no explanation as to what could have happened and no guarantee that it wouldn’t happen again in the future. The company representative made sure to mention that the limited 1-year warranty had expired, despite the fact that the DPV had spent half that time in diagnosis or repair.


I tried to make my case with customer service, explaining that it was absurd that a DPV with less than 100 dives should abruptly fail for an unknown reason. I was hesitant to pay for repairs, especially considering they couldn’t give me the root cause of the failure to begin with. The idea of paying $600 for a DPV I had barely used was beyond frustrating.


Negotiating with the faceless and nameless customer service email seemed hopeless. I offered to pay for half of the repair bill if they were willing to pay the other half (no luck). A friend suggested paying for the repair bill if they were willing to send a vacuum bulkhead with the repaired unit (which costs around $500). The company would get some money, and I’d get some peace of mind that the unit wouldn’t immediately flood again when I tried to use it. I received a hostile reply in response, questioning why I’d ask for a “free product.”


I also tried opening a shipping claim with USPS, since part of the tail was supposedly damaged during shipping. USPS denied the claim, stating that there was no evidence the damage occurred during shipping, and Dive Xtras had no pictures showing damaged packaging or damage to the box. More importantly, this whole issue began when my DPV suddenly died for no reason.


Dive Xtras has stubbornly insisted that this whole issue comes down to the damage that alledgedly occurred during shipping. They completely glossed over the fact that none of us would be in this position had the DPV not broken (twice) in the first place.


In frustration, I sent an email asking what they expected me to do, pointing out that the damage would have never occurred had the DPV not died in the first place. In response, Dive Xtras customer service said:


“To answer your question, I would not blame the manufacturer for a broken part that happened in shipping and ask them to compensate me with hundreds of dollars in a part I want. So I would pay my bill, then I would have opened a shipping claim and used my shipping insurance to cover the cost of the repairs that were now required because of the damage. Then I would thank the manufacturer for repairing my unit and get back into my diving.”


This is where things took a really bizarre turn. I let things cool off for a few days, then continued trying to negotiate with them. They finally sent me an offer: if I returned the rest of the DPV parts, they would refund me the original purchase amount. I immediately accepted, figuring it to be the best possible outcome. They sent me a shipping label, and I started getting the remaining parts ready to send. The next day, they sent an email saying they changed their minds and canceled the shipping label.


To say I was shocked was an understatement. I had everything boxed up in my car and ready to ship, and now they decided they no longer wanted to honor the agreement we had made. To this day, they have refused to do anything to help me. I was told I’d have to pay to have the broken unit shipped back to me, or else it would be considered “abandoned property.” The best part is Dive Xtras scolding me (via run-on email sentence) stating:


"we take pride in our work and as a small business each individual on our team does their job to the best of our abilities and we take instruction for solutions as instructed by the owner."


Yeah, clearly.


Conclusion


In the world of diving, reliable equipment and exceptional customer service are paramount. The Dive Xtras Blacktip DPV, unfortunately, falls short on both fronts. From design flaws and frequent malfunctions to frustrating customer service experiences, my journey with the Blacktip has been anything but smooth. After paying over $5000 dollars for two Blacktips (and all the batteries), my dive buddy and I have gotten a grand total of less than 35 dives in two years without major issues. So far I've racked up about just as many dives on my new LeFeet S1 Pro, with zero issues to report.


While the initial allure of a budget-friendly, easy-to-use DPV is tempting, the reality is far less appealing. The Blacktip might seem like a great deal, but the headaches and poor customer service seem to be a package deal. Until Dive Xtras addresses these critical issues and stands firmly behind their products, I believe divers are better off investing their time and money elsewhere. Dive safe and choose your gear wisely!


The failed tail section of a Dive Xtras Blacktip DPV
"Quality craftsmanship" in my first Blacktip DPV tail that failed

 

Note: I sent a copy of this article to Dive Xtras asking for public comment. I'll publish their response if they decide to respond.

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