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Need Scuba Gear, but Have No Idea? Part 3: BCD’s (Buoyancy Control Device)

Need Scuba Gear, but Have No Idea?? Fear Not.

Scuba Gear

Scuba Gear: The BCD is an essential and personal piece of kit

Part 3: Buoyancy Control Device (BCD)

Cost: €200-1000

What do I need a BCD for? What do they do?

Scuba Gear: The BCD. Buoyancy control is one of the most essential skills that a diver must master. It not only gives you greater control, but also streamlines your body while diving and protects the delicate marine life. It is part of your life support system. It allows you to float at the surface by offsetting the weight of your gear and so should have adequate “lift” for you and the rest of your equipment. It is also what holds your tank on your back and secures all the hoses from your regulators. It is a vital bit of kit, and one that has many options to choose from.

Before you buy a BCD there are many things to think about. What style should you get? What accessories will you need (more metal D-rings or more pockets etc.)? Is it easy to operate? What kind of inflator/deflator do you want?

Scuba Gear. BCD Style

There are two main styles of BCD – the traditional “jacket” or the back inflated “wing”. The “jacket” has a bladder that wraps around you and is extremely comfortable to float at the surface with. The “wing” has its bladder behind you and can give you an excellent profile under the water. It does take a little getting used to however as it has a tendency to push you forward and makes floating comfortably at the surface a little more challenging.

There are also hybrid BCD’s which combine features from both the wing and jacket styles. There are even BCD’s for ladies. Most equipment manufacturers now produce BCD’s with ladies in mind. Specially designed, ladies BCD’s work to move the majority of the weight of your heavy equipment from your upper back to across the hips (where were are better suited to carry it). They may cost a little more, but are very comfortable and safer for your back too.

Travel BCD’s are also an option. Travel BCD’s are generally those that are lighter in weight and are less bulky to pack. They typically have fewer stainless steel D-rings and they’ll usually be made with in a lighter fabric. Many of them lack any kind of back-plate to reduce weight and make them easier to pack.

Scuba Gear. BCD Lift – How much do you Need?

Simply put, lift capacity is a measurement of how much weight the BCD can hold on the surface when the bladder is fully inflated. Lift has many factors that determine it, and is hugely complicated, so the following is a general guideline that you should look for when making your selection.

  •         Tropical Diving (with little or no wetsuit protection) = 8-12kg
  •         Recreational Diving (with a full wetsuit or dry suit) – 10-20kg
  •         Technical Diving (or diving under other demanding conditions) – 20-40kg


Scuba Gear: Weight integrated BCD

Weights are needed to offset the buoyancy in our bodies and wetsuit in order for us to actually get under the water.  Weight belts can be quite uncomfortable or even painful. The last decade has seen a huge rise in popularity of the integrated weight BCD. These have removable pockets to hold your required weight and are very comfortable. They have a quick release mechanism (the most important feature of a weight system) that allows you to dump your weight in the event of an emergency. Your weight system is a personal choice, but I think that being comfortable is ideal at all times – not only while scuba diving.

What am I looking for in my scuba gear?

Correct size and fit. Don’t try on a BCD without first thinking of the exposure protection that you will be wearing with it. If possible, test the size with your exposure protection on to give truer feel for the correct size. You want your BCD to fit snugly, but it shouldn’t squeeze you when it is inflated, inflate it all the way until the overflow valves vent while trying the BCD on. You should also be able to reach all the adjustment straps, hoses and inflator easily, for fluid motor muscle movements on every dive. You don’t want there to be any restrictions.

Another thing to look out for is the inflator itself. Does it have clearly distinguishable buttons for both the inflator and deflator? Look for ones that have two colours, one for each button, so you can avoid making a mistake.

Scuba Gear. What do I use?

I love my Aqualung Soul i3. It is a ladies BCD with the new inflator design (the Balanced Power Inflator or BPI) that moves the orientation of your inflator/deflator from the shoulder to where your left hand usually rests. It is fixed and does not move, unlike the floppy hose of traditional BCD’s. It is intuitive too – push the lever up to add air and push it down to release. It is filled with a soft gel too – so may back has a soft cushion between me and my cylinder.

Scuba Gear

Scuba Gear: Buy the best BCD that you can afford. With the right care it will last you for years.

My best bit of advice is to spend as much as you can afford on a BCD. With the right maintenance and annual servicing it will last years if not decades, so don’t buy the cheapest option. The BCD, along with regulators and dive computers, are the three bits of kit that I would never watch my pennies over. Choose the best one for you, take care of it and never forget to go through its workings with your dive buddy before EVERY dive. Always dive S.A.F.E. and be happy!


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