UW Photo: 15 Steps to a Leak-Free Housing

The lack of proper O-ring care and preparation are two of the main causes of camera housing leaks. Underwater photo pro and photography instructor Kate Jonker offers advice and tips to help avoid these problems, keeping your housing (and hence, your camera) in good shape.

Underwater photographer with camera rig, photo by Kate Jonker
Prepare your camera carefully for a stress-free dive.

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When you prepare your camera housing for diving, follow these important steps to minimise the dreaded housing leak!

Step 1: Prepare your housing, unhurried, in a well-lit area, where you will not be disturbed.

Clean the O-ring

Step 2: First, you should remove the O-ring from the door of the housing, using the O-ring remover provided with your housing. Don’t pinch it with anything sharp that may damage it.

Step 3: After that, you need to check the O-ring for stray hairs, fluff or sand. These little things can damage your O-ring and prevent it from sealing your housing properly. Do not hold the O-ring under a warm light to check it, this can heat the O-ring up and cause it to stretch.

Step 4: You should then check the O-ring for tears, cuts or damage. Do not use the O-ring if it is damaged in any way. Replace it with a new O-ring specifically made for that part of your housing as not all O-rings are of the same size or diameter. This means that if you use the wrong O-ring, your housing will not seal!

Step 5: Next, you must apply O-ring grease to the O-ring. It is best if you use the one supplied with your housing. To do this, take a small, rice-sized blob and dot it around the O-ring. Do not apply too much as this can make the O-ring swell! Gently run the O-ring between your forefinger and thumb to ensure it is evenly coated. Do not pull or stretch the O-ring when you do this!

Step 6: Once the O-ring is clean and evenly coated, you can put it into its groove.

However, before putting the O-ring back, you should clean the groove with a clean earbud covered with lint-free cloth or lens-cleaning tissue. You can also use a small, clean, fluff-free make-up sponge instead.

Place the O-ring back in the housing

Step 7: Double-check the groove for stray hairs, fluff or sand that might have found their way there after you cleaned it. Double-check the O-ring and place it into the groove.

Step 8: It is important to remember that you should not stretch or twist the O-ring when putting it back. Rather, gently roll it in slowly and make sure it is not twisted. With that in mind, if it is twisted, you can use the O-ring remover to pull it up slightly so that it can untwist itself.

Step 9: When you are happy that the O-ring is in place, give it a final once-over to check that no sand, dust or hair has magicked its way back onto the O-ring.

Step 10: You can then place your camera into the housing and check that it is properly lined up in the housing. After that, close the housing and lock the door. As you gently close the door, check that nothing is trapped between the O-ring and the housing / door. Common culprits include housing straps and desiccant packets.

Do the necessary checks

Step 11: After that, you must check that the housing is properly locked. You should also check that the O-ring has not popped out and is trapped between the door and the housing.

Step 12: If you use sync cords for your strobes, double-check that you have screwed them in securely.

Step 13: Test that all camera buttons are aligned with the housing buttons, that the zoom or focus gear is working and that your strobes fire at the proper time.

Step 14: If your housing comes with a vacuum pump, pull the vacuum, and then press all the buttons, turn all the knobs, and press the levers. This is to make sure all the O-rings on the buttons and levers are sealing correctly. If your vacuum stays intact for around 20 minutes, you are ready to hit the water!

It is important to remember you would need to repeat these steps every time you open your housing!

When not using your housing

Step 15: When you are not using the camera for a while, remember to remove it from the housing, clean it and give it a bit of O-ring grease. Additionally, place it inside a clean Ziploc bag and keep it inside your housing. You should ideally store it somewhere safe, cool and dry.

Bonus tip

For mirrorless or DSLR users: If you want to change the port, you need to repeat Steps 2 to 9 with the O-ring of the port whenever you change it! Also, if your housing door or port has two O-rings, remove, check, clean and replace them one at a time so that they are returned to the right groove.

Follow these 15 steps to a leak-free underwater housing to take your camera underwater without stressing about it getting wet!

Kate Jonker is an underwater photographer and dive writer, underwater photography instructor, dive guide and dive boat skipper based in South Africa who leads dive trips across the globe. For more information regarding diving and underwater photography in Cape Town, divers are welcome to find her at:


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