SCUBA Diving is a very equipment extensive sport, usually using specialized items that you will never use for anything else, in fact you may need a few different variations of the same piece of equipment depending on what different types of diving you wish to take part in. Today we will focus on possibly the biggest, and possibly the heaviest piece of equipment you will need for every dive. (Apart from the cylinder of course) The BCD (Buoyancy control device) or sometimes referred to as BC (Buoyancy Compensator).
Every dive you go on you need a BCD of some sort, not only to control your buoyancy but also to attach your tank/ tanks to you. They have changed a huge amount in only a relatively short period of time. Now they come with all kinds of added features, dump valves in different places, and various places to put weights so you don’t have to stick an uncomfortable weight belt on!
Jacket Style BCD
This is the bog standard BCD, it has 2 shoulder straps, for your arms to go through. A Velcro cummerbund and a pinch clip that go over your stomach, and a chest clip. This is what you will use when learning how to dive, and most likely what you will buy as your first BCD. Almost all SCUBA brands will manufacture a wide range of them. The basic ones are usually as described above, nothing fancy but durable and does exactly what it needs to. You will often find that the entry level BCDs are what dive schools will offer as rental equipment, as they do not cost too much and are generally very durable. Some companies (Such as Aqualung) offer a lifetime warranty on their BCD’s showing just how much punishment they can take!
As you advance up the models the first addition is usually weight integration. These are pockets that sit on either side of the BCD, where you can place weights so you don’t have to wear a belt. Of course the weights have to be quick release, in case of any emergency. Not many companies have perfected the weight integration pocket just yet, and are always having to give out new ones because of malfunctions. The best weight integrated pockets I have ever experienced are made by Subgear, and their parent company Scubapro. These use a slight variation of the classic pinch clip, and so far I have never seen one break or weaken.
Again going up through the ranks and there are some slight changes, reflective strips on the shoulder straps, trim weight pockets, integrated whistles and zipper pockets are some of the common upgrades. The best thing about upgrading I have found is the use of round pinch clips on the shoulder straps. These work the same was as a standard pinch clip, but instead of being dead straight, they can rotate slightly. This sits a lot more comfortably on the body as the straps can change angle slightly to fit your body shape. Another addition is a different method of inflation. Many companies are now producing BCDs that you inflate and deflate via a switch on your waist, instead of the classic left shoulder inflation. It means that you don’t have to go upright to release air from the BCD, as you simply press the switch and it opens a dump valve behind you. I personally prefer the inflator arm on the shoulder as it is easier to find in an emergency.
If you are looking at getting into diving professionally this is what you want to get, as they last a long time and you should really be wearing equipment that is similar to the students. A cheap one can cost as little as £180 and the top end ones can go for over £400. If you want a nice one then I advise meeting those prices in the middle, for about £300.
Before purchasing you should look at the weight of the BCD, a light one weighs around 4 kg but I have seen them weighing up to around 10 kg! If you are traveling around a lot then this is a hell of a weight to have to shift about. They also don’t pack down into a small size very easily so this is another thing to take into consideration.
If you are just a holiday diver, and don’t plan to work in diving, or deal with too strenuous conditions then this may be the BCD for you. They are super lightweight (Usually weighing in at around 2 Kg) and fold into a very small amount of space. They are basically just a watered down version of the standard jacket style BCD.
Some of them do include weight integrated pockets, but because of the lightweight material used to make the BCD, I would advise against putting too much weight in them as you may end up ripping it. They are also not designed to be used very often. I have seen SCUBA instructors and Divemasters using them while working, and they will often start to fall apart quickly. Not because they are poor quality, but because they are not designed for professional work, which often includes the dive leader needing to carry extra weights and lots of different bits of equipment.
Wing, Harness and Back plate
If you take part in many different types of diving then this may be for you. It is made up of 2 different parts. First you have the Harness and back plate. The plate itself is usually made of steel or aluminum, and the harness is made of a similar webbing to what weight belts are made of. You need to spend quite some time adjusting the harness to fit you but once it is set it is very comfortable. They usually do not offer the same shoulder clips as a jacket style BCD, as they are used for more demanding types of diving and the clips can be seen as a weak point.
The wing itself is a inflatable tube which is either horseshoe, or wing shape. Then setting up the gear the diver will sandwich the wing between the tank and the harness. The harness is then bolted to the tanks, making a very secure connection. This is the type of Buoyancy control device chosen by technical divers, because of the durability and lack of weak spots, which is essential when using such heavy equipment and loss of gear could very easily be fatal.
They are also good for travel, as the wing rolls into a very small space and the aluminum back plates are relatively light. However if you are a professional it is not too suitable as it differs greatly from what most student divers will be wearing. Because the harness is usually made from webbing it is recommended to wear an exposure suit, even in warm waters, because the webbing can rub a lot, making a dive become very uncomfortable!
There are positives and negatives to the different varieties of BCD on offer. Because it is quite a large purchase you should carefully consider what you want to be using it for. You don’t want to get a travel BCD and then decide you want to go Cave Diving! Whichever style you go for be sure to look at all that the major manufactures have to offer, as sometimes there can be some real bargains out there!
‘A Guide to BCD’s’ was written by Mike