BCD (Buoyancy control device) is one of the main pieces of equipment in a diver’s collection. The inflatable pockets help the diver maintain neutral buoyancy underwater and positive buoyancy on the surface. The BCD is inflated using the divers breathing gas and it is done using a low-pressure hose from the diver’s regulator (first stage), a dedicated small cylinder only for this purpose or by blowing air through the oral inflation valve.
There are multiple types of BCD to choose from and in this article, we will go through them, explaining the differences between them and to help you choose the right BCD based on your needs and the type of diver you are.
Each one of the types of BCD is made for either experienced divers or beginners, recreational divers or technical divers and of course, there are male and female versions for a better fit on the body.
Before going into details about the styles of BCD, we will go through the basic parts in order to give a better understanding on the piece of equipment you are about to purchase and to help you make the right choice based on your diving needs.
Air bladders are the pockets inside the BCD that you fill out with air in order to achieve neutral buoyancy underwater or positive buoyancy at the surface. Depending on the style, they can be in the back, all around or in the front.
The adjustable band is located on the back of the BCD and it is used to strap in and fix in place the breathing gas tank. They are made so that the diver has an ease of adding or removing the tank.
The inflator and deflator are exactly what the name stands for. They are buttons available on all BCD’s to help you inflate or deflate the vest based on your needs.
Pockets are available on the sides of the jacket. It allows divers to carry different types of accessories and in some cases, weights. Some BCD’s have an integrated weight system that removes the need for a weight belt.
Dump valves are built in safety guards that allow the diver to quickly release the air without using the deflator. In case of an emergency, the user can release the air immediately using the valves, that will bring to the surface fast.
The industry is innovative, therefore you have multiple choices when it comes to choosing the right buoyancy control device. They are made on different sizes, shapes, purposes, and uses. Based on your needs, your range of choices is as follows.
Is one of the most common ones. The main feature of this type is that the bladders inflate around the waist and the chest, that gives you a nice “hug” feeling. It is quite comfortable if you choose the right size.
These types of BCD also come equipped with weight pockets, removing the need for a weight belt. Besides the weight pockets, you also have the Velcro or zippered pockets where one can store a torch or any other accessories they might need for the dive.
Is an emerging new favorite in the recreational diving. The difference between this one and the Jacket-Style is that the air bladder is positioned on the back. When inflated, the air is equally distributed alongside the back of the diver. This gives a better control over the horizontal position in the water.
Same as the above mentioned, this type of BCD contains storage pockets for different accessories and also integrated weight system. One thing worth mentioning regarding this type of buoyancy control device is that it might be harder to maintain a vertical position at the surface.
Backplate and wing BCD
Is a multipurpose piece of equipment. This type is getting more and more traction in the industry just by the fact that it is almost fully customizable and it is so comfortable that you have the feeling that you are diving without a BCD.
There are infinite combinations possible in choosing the backplate and wing set-up. It is a go-to choice for the divers that go a bit more technical, such as wreck diving or cave diving. For beginners, it is recommended to seek out the expertise of a professional before choosing the setup and purchasing the BCD.
As the industry is continuously evolving, the manufacturers are doing the same. Every year, there is a new model or type of diving equipment emerging, and it is getting more and more specialized. One example worth giving is the sidemount BCD that is commonly found among cave divers as it gives the ability to easily navigate in narrow spaces.
With luggage restrictions while traveling, the manufacturers have gone a step ahead and created the traveling BCD, which has mostly the same functionality and options as regular BCD, just much lighter. Any metal is replaced with hard plastic or aluminum which is much lighter, and the general construction of it is lighter.
Choosing your BCD
A very known fact in the diving industry is that every piece of equipment you need for this amazing sport is EXPENSIVE! Not only that, but there also is the hustle of transportation to the diving site and the maintenance of each piece of equipment. Keeping that in mind, these are the main factors one should consider when choosing a BCD:
Comfort – In diving, one of the most important factors is the comfort. First, you should orient yourself towards the gender-specific ones. The male version is a bit longer and the women ones larger or inexistent chest straps to avoid pressure on the bust.
Dive type – A freediver will never need a BCD, but the rest will do. So it is important to consider for what purpose the BCD will be used. A recreational diver, for example, might opt for a jacket style buoyancy control device as it is the most common one and offers everything that is needed for recreational diving, or a traveling BCD to have less weight in the luggage. A cave diver, on the other hand, will probably choose a sidemount or backplate and wing BCD as it will give him an ease of navigating tight spots.
Fitting – As mentioned earlier, the diving equipment should be comfortable. When choosing your next buoyancy control device, it is best to try different ones. Take them on and start inflating them. When you have done that, test it to see how well it sits on your body. If it is too tight, you should consider replacing it as it will put unnecessary pressure on your body when it is fully inflated and may cause some problems underwater. If it is too loose, you should also consider changing it as there might be a chance to lose it or having the gas tank moving freely.
Compatibility – You do not need to have your diving suit with you when shopping for a buoyancy control device. But it would be recommended that you bring along with you the regulator to ensure that all the hoses fit the ones on the buoyancy control device.
Maintaining your BCD
Like any other piece of diving equipment, it needs to be taken care of regularly. A first step towards increasing the life expectancy of your BCD is to clean it with fresh water after each dive. Besides that, all the valves should be thoroughly rinsed to remove any foreign materials, sand, and dirt. The inside should also be flushed to remove any extra materials from the dive. To avoid corrosion, let it dry completely before storing it.
Periodically, you should have it checked by professionals. Although the piece of equipment itself doesn’t look as much, there are few things that can go wrong if not taken care of properly. One example can be the failure of a dump valve or the sticking of the inflator. Take it to a specialist and make sure that all the valves and connectors are maintained or replace if needed.
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