Choosing The Right BCD For You
With so many manufacturers of BCDs and so many different styles of BCD on today’s market deciding on the right BCD to meet your diving needs may be somewhat confusing especially to those new to the sport. This buying guide is designed to help new divers get a clearer picture of what these devices are and the different BCDs available.
What is a BCD?
One of the biggest thrills in diving is the ability to hover weightlessly underwater while staring into the eye of a colorful fish, or getting that perfect photo of an underwater wreck. It is a BCD that makes it possible for you to hover weightless in the water, float comfortably on the surface, or stand or kneel on that fresh water lake or ocean’s bottom. The BCD or Buoyancy control device is a harness or vest like piece of diving equipment that combined with a weight system for fine tuning, allows you to drift along effortless. The BCD also holds you tanks or cylinders necessary to remain under water for longer periods of time.
When choosing a BCD for your own diving adventures, you need to find one that fits you correctly and has the features you need for the type of diving you intend on doing.
Purpose of A BCD
BCD devices serve a variety of purposes for a diver. The various functions a BCD provides includes:
- Provides the diver with buoyancy when on the surface of the water
- Allows the diver to adjust buoyancy while underwater
- Provides space and straps with which to attach tanks
- Provides points to attach objects
There are basically three main types of BCDS and several sub types of buoyancy control devices. The three main types consist of the Jacket, the semi wing and the wing. The main difference in these three styles of buoyancy control devices are where the air is stored.
Jacket- The Jacket style BCD fits much like a harness or a vest and the air is stored along the sides of the jacket. This can put pressure on the hips of some divers. The Jacket is the most popular style of BCD especially among recreational divers. Jacket BCDs sometimes come in styles specifically designed for women and their unique shape.
Semi-Wing- In the semi wing style of BCD the air is distributed between the sides and the back of the device.
Wing- In the wing style BCD the air is stored on the back.
Along with the three main types of BCDs there are several subtypes as well. The most common of these subtypes include:
- Traveling BCDs- Traveling BCDs are designed to be as lightweight as possible and often contain special features that allow them to be folder in a more compact package, for easier traveling. These traveling BCDs often contain a less heavy and sturdy back plate than normal BCDs and often use less durable material, since they may not be intended for long term and frequent use. However, many companies are now making sturdier traveling BCDs that are extremely durable.
- Side Mount- BCDs that have the tank mounted on the device are not always suitable for all diving situations. Skilled divers who explore caves and ship wrecks, need to be able to easily remove their tank and swim it in front of them in order to get into tighter spots. The side mount BCDs allow tanks to be stored on the side of the device where they can easily be reached and removed (still connected by a cord) in order for divers to fit into smaller areas when exploring close quarters.
- Hybrid- Some of the newest BCDs are called hybrid and are designed to be used both as a travel and permanent BCD. These hybrids used extremely durable, but lightweight materials and contain additional features such as hinged back plates that makes it easy to pack and these devices while allowing them to be sturdy enough for continual and every day dives.
Standard BCD Features
Like most other products on today’s market. BCDs come with certain features that are standard on all BCDs. These standard features are considered the minimum features that any diver needs on a Buoyancy Control device. These standard features include:
- Expandable Bladder- The bladder is what holds the air, and it needs to be able to expand so that you can add as much air as necessary to maintain your buoyancy in the water.
- Low Pressure inflator and oral inflation mechanism- These inflators do just what you think they do, they allow you add air to your BCDs bladder to fine tune your buoyancy.
- Deflator Mechanism and Overpressure Valve- These features allow you to release air from the expandable bladder, allowing you control the amount of buoyancy and prevent you from overfilling the bladder causing it to rupture.
- Adjustable straps, bands, buckles, and releases- Having all the straps, bands, buckles and releases on your BCD adjustable allows to custom fit the BCD to your exact body size and shape improving it’s overall functionality.
- Adjustable tank band and sturdy back plate- Adjustable tank bands allow you to fit the tank in the most comfortable position for you and hold it into place. While having a sturdy back plate helps protect your back from the weight of the tank.
Optional BCD Features
There are some optional BCD features, that most divers find desirable and even necessary for meeting their diving needs. These features include:
- Integrated Weight Systems- These systems are usually special pockets build into the BCD for holding weights. If you choose a BCD without an Integrate Weight system you will need to wear belt.
- D rings, Clips and Hose Retainers- These extras come in handy to securing various diving accessories such as lights and cameras or anchors to the BCD itself. This allows the diver to keep more useful and desire extras on their person when diving.
- Pockets- Like the D rings and clips, zip pockets on BCDs gives the diver a handy place to store their diving accessories.
- Alternate Inflator regulator- Combines your alternate air source with the BCD
- Knife Grommets- Built right into some BCDs knife grommets gives you a safe place to store a knife in case you need to cut something while underwater.
Choosing the Right BCD For you
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Size is definitely important when it comes to choosing the right BCD. Choose the size with best fits you over your other diving gear and then use the adjustable straps and belts to fine tune the fit, so that BCD fits comfortably and does not continually slide around while you are in or under the water.
To help you select the correct size BCD we have drawn up an approximate size chart ? some BCDs have their own size chart as supplied by the manufacturer.
The measurements shown for the chart are for chest measurements taken over your exposure protection, so if for example you have 44inch chest and wear a dry suit which is approximately 2 inches of bulk, you should consider a size compatible with a 46 inch chest.
Remember to use this chart only as a starting point for finding a correct fitting BCD. You are going to want to try on the BCD with your preferred dive suit to make sure that the fit is correct.
Integrated Weight Systems
While not all BCDs come with integrated weight systems, these systems can really come in handy. In many diving situations (not all) having a BCD with an integrated weight system may mean that you won’t need to purchase or wear a weight belt. However, do keep in mind, that there may be times when these integrated weight systems simply cannot hold the amount of weight needed, and in such situations a weight belt may be needed in order to carry the needed amount of weight.
For warm water divers and especially for women divers who have grown tired of bruised hips, an integrated BCD is well worth considering. The special removable weight pockets on your BCD carry the weights normally carried by the weight belt relieving some of the added weight that bangs against your hips while diving.
These removable pockets can quickly be removed from the BCD if you need to dump weight in an emergency and they can also be removed and handed to the boat crew making it easier to exit from deep water.
If you are woman who likes to dive, you might want to consider a Ladies BCD. Some BCD manufacturers are now designing and manufacturing BCDs with modifications better suited to a woman’s shape and center of buoyancy. Ladies BCDs normally have a shorter back than do the man or unisex model. This is an improvement since women’s backs are generally shorter than men’s and this the shorter back on a womens BCD keeps the tank from exerting pressure directly on the spine.
In addition to the shorter back, many BCDs made specifically for women have integrated weight systems to relieve some of the pressure a weight belt exerts on a woman’s hips.
Lastly, ladies BCD’s either do not have a chest belt, or have an extremely adjustable chest strap that allows a woman to relieve the constriction on her bust that traditional chest straps cause.
Wing, Semi Wing or Jacket Style
One of the most important things in choosing a BCD is safety. The style of the BCD you choose can have a huge impact on your safety especially for beginning and infrequent recreational divers. The rule of thumb in choosing the type BCD is your experience level. Jacket style BCDs are considered the safest for recreational divers. That is because the air is on your sides which helps you remain upright in the water.
With a wing style BCD the air is all on your back which means it is far easier for a diver to end up face down in the water. Wing style BCDs are really only recommended for the experienced or professional diver. These type of BCDs are becoming more popular due to the fact that more and more divers are putting in the time to gain the experience they need.
Semi wing style BCDs like the wing style are becoming more popular and also like the wing style BCD they are best suited to the experience diver, although recreational divers with reasonable amount of experience are trying out this style of BCD and finding they like it.
When it doubt, always go with the safest choice. It simply doesn’t make sense to risk you life, simply to try something new or because you think a certain style of BCD makes you look more like a ?real diver.? The real divers are the ones who always put safety first regardless of their level of experience.
There has been a lot said about the lift capacity (the amount of negative weight the device can float) of BCDs. All BCDs offer plenty of lift under normal conditions and you should never expect the lift capacity of your BCD to take the place of proper weighting.
As with all diving you should make sure that you are properly weight. This is one of the very first lessons taught to divers and one you need to follow in order to dive safely.
Always make sure you are not over weighted when diving.
While BCDs do offer plenty of lift, there can be times when the lift capacity provided is simply not enough, such as when you are carrying extra cylinders and tools which will increase your need for extra lift.
Alternate Inflator Regulators
Safe diving almost commands that divers equip themselves with a Primary second stage regulator, and a secondary stage regulator (octopus) in case the first regulator fails or you have a buddy that needs an emergency regulator. With an alternate inflator regulator there is no need for the secondary second stage regulator as the alternate inflator regulator regulator replaces the normal inflator/deflator mechanism on your BCD and has a regulator built right in to it.
Alternate inflator regulators are slightly larger than the normal inflation units, but in an emergency out of air situation, you can use the regulator on the alternate inflator regulator as an emergency backup. Even with the Alternate inflator regulator in your mouth you still have complete control of your buoyancy.
While not an absolute necessity, an alternate inflator regulator is handy for people who do a lot traveling to dive as it reduces the overall weight as well the bulk of the equipment you need to carry with you. However, just like any new diving device, it is best to practice using this regulator in a safe environment before trying to use it on your own.
Travel BCDs are normally used by people who travel distances to different dive locations. These BCDs are usually made of lighter denier material, have only the very basic features and the D rings are often made of stronger but lighter weight plastic rather than stainless steel. Travel BCDs are best used in tropical locations.
Dump valves are necessary safety features on all BCDs. The are designed to rapidly dump air to stop an uncontrolled descent. The more dump valves you have on BCD the better. Most BCDs come equipped with two easy to release dump valves. One located on the right shoulder, and one located near the rear left hip. Some BCDs manufacturers add a third dump valve, that is built into the inflator/deflator on the left shoulder. Anyone planning a dive should practice being able to locate the releases for these valves by touch.
Pockets and D Rings
Pockets and Rings are handy additions on BCDs for carrying those extra things that you need for your dive. When choosing a BCD make sure that choose one with ample pockets and D rings to hold everything you need for the type of diving you will be doing.
D rings that are bent away from the body of BCD makes it easier to attach clips to than those that lay flush against the BCD.
Proper Care of You BCD
BCDs are expensive pieces of diving equipment, but with proper care can last a diver for a good many years of reliable service. Here are some tips that can help you care for BCD properly.
- Remove the weights from the weight pockets immediately after completing your dive.
- Thoroughly rinse your BCD both inside and out after each dive with fresh clean water. (this is especially necessary if you are diving in salt water.)
- Hang the BCD to dry in a place where it can catch a breeze, but is not direct in sunlight. This will help to prevent sun rot
- Once dry partially inflate your BCD and store in a cool dry place.
If you feel you need help selecting the right BCD for you, speak to your diving instructor or the pro at the dive shop, they can provide you with invaluable device that will allow you to find the right BCD for the type of diving you are planning on doing.