BCD Buyers Guide

The BCD (buoyancy compensator device) is usually one of the first big purchases that a diver will make when committing to owning all of their own gear. This will hopefully be a helpful guide into identifying features and making a decision on which BCD will best fit your needs as a diver. The first part will be understanding the differences between different styles of BCD’s, then we will focus on features. One thing we want to realize is that not all BCD’s are created equally and although almost all brands will produce bcd’s that function properly what they are being used for will greatly affect their usefulness.

Lets first get familiar with the different styles of BCD’s, I am going to break them down into 4 main categories that most shops will carry some assortment of. These four BCD styles are Jacket, Back Inflate, Travel, Backplate/ wing & harness. The two styles jacket and back inflate are what would be considered general or all around recreational BCD’s while the travel and Backplate are considered more specialized having a much narrower usage generally.

Jacket Style BCD:

The Jacket style is usually the first BCD that most divers encounter almost universally being used in rentals for dive shops. The get their name because they wrap around you like a jacket and the entirety of the bcd is a bladder. So air will fill the full bcd around the back and front. This is almost always the best budget option (which is why it is used for rentals) simple design and functioning in all environments. The downside to this style of BCD is when in flawed the Jacket tends to squeeze the user, which if adjusted to tightly or sized wrong can be very uncomfortable for the diver. The benefit of this style of BCD is when inflated at the surface it easily keeps the diver head up. This is a great option for divers on a budget or divers that will not be diving as often because they are generally not the most comfortable.

Back Inflate Style BCD:

The back inflate style BCD generally offers all of the same features of the jacket style bcd with a different style of bladder system. This one is exactly what it sounds like the bladder instead of being wrapped around the diver is attached to the back of the harness. This means that there is no squeeze when inflating the BCD. It also will give the diver better positioning in the water while diving because the bladder is oriented on the back around the heaviest object the tank. Divers that are new to the back inflate often complain that at the surface it tends to push you face down, this is true but can be easily remedied by leaning back on the bcd like a recliner. These tend to be more expensive than the jacket style BCD’s and in my opinion worth the money for the increased comfort and fit that is gained with the back inflate style.

Travel Style BCD:

The travel style BCD more often than not will closely resemble a back inflate style but with smaller features. These BCD’s are meant to be light weight for travel, so reduced weight and lift capacity. This is great for warm water destinations where the user is not wearing a thick wetsuit and does not need a great deal of weight. Most of these travel BCD’s will generally weigh from about 4-6 lbs while the standard jacket or back inflate will weigh from 7-10 lbs. So the Travel BCD’s are not well suited for cold water diving. If you are a diver that will only be doing diving while traveling these are great options. Much better quality and comfort than the BCD’s that you might rent while on a trip. They tend to be in-between the prices of a jacket and back inflate style bcd despite being far less material than either.

Backplate/wing & harness style BCD:

The Backplate style BCD is generally focused more towards technical diving but can obviously be used for recreational. They use either a steel or aluminum backplate with nylon webbing for a harness and some kind of rear mounted bladder attached. These types of BCD’s are very customizable usually set up very simply with few bells and whistles for the diver to add on later if they choose. They can be set up for single or double tanks (usually technical divers), with or without weight pockets and the size of the bladder can be exchanged for a larger or smaller one. The benefit of the backplate is the weight, most steel backplates weight about 5-6 lbs meaning divers can remove that much weight from their weight belt or pockets. If you are looking to get into technical diving this is definitely the best option.

Features: This is something that is hard to cover thoroughly because while most BCD’s will have all of these features each company will have their own take on them, the largest differentiators will be the Quick release weight system and the inflator. Beyond those two they are all fairly similar with a few outliers.

Quick Release Weight system: This in my opinion is one of the most important features to be aware of when purchasing a BCD with the exception of the backplate because they will be an optional add on. Almost all new BCD’s will have their own version of this feature and the reliability of these pockets are paramount. the difficult part of this is that the pockets need to be very secure when the diver is diving, the pockets should not come out unprompted, the locking mechanism holding the pockets in place should be secure (thank god they stopped using velcro it wore out so quickly). But the pockets should also not be so secure that they are impossible to release the weights in an emergency. It is a very fine line that I think few brands get right. In my years of diving I have found that there are a few brands that i find their pockets lost on the bottom much more frequently than others, while this could be user error I personally believe it is an inferior quick release mechanism.

Inflator: This is something all modern BCD’s will have and they all function the same there is a corrugated hose attached to the bladder and on the other end there is an inflator that the LP hose attaches to. There are two buttons one to inflate the BCD usually the one closest to the corrugated hose and a second button to release the air usually on or near the end. Each company will have their own little flair to the inflator with colored buttons or different shapes but for the most part they are interchangeable, you can even get generic ones that fit most corrugated hoses. For the most part this should not be a major factor in deciding which BCD to get each brand will have the same inflator on all of their BCD’s no matter the style. With the exception of Aqualung and their i3 system which integrates the inflator into the bcd and uses a switch on the left side to inflate and deflate, personally I am not a fan, to many moving parts to trust and not easily serviced but some divers do like them.

Tank Straps: These are what attach the Tank to the diver and usually use a standard cam buckle system with the exception of a few brands that have a metal pin latch system. BCD’s will usually have 1 or 2 tank straps depending on the brand, the ones with 2 straps generally secure the tank more efficiently preventing it from feeling like its swinging around. The BCD’s that have a single strap will usually have some sort of plastic backplate that the strap grips the tank to reduce this swinging feeling. Oftentimes with travel BCD’s to reduce weight they minimize this plastic plate with a single strap and add a second lightweight velcro strap to secure the tank slightly more. All of these are functional options that serve their purpose if the user secures the tank properly, which the sales staff should assist with if you are unsure.

Trim weight pockets: these are pockets usually on the back of the BCD located on or near the tank straps. They are not quick release pockets so only a small portion of weight should be placed in these to help adjust the divers trim while underwater. these are very popular for back in late BCD’s because all of the buoyancy is on the divers back. Personally I don’t find them useful, some can be removed if attached to the tank strap webbing which is what I generally do. But if you are a diver and you need to add more weight and have maxed out your quick release pockets and refuse to wear a weight belt this may help pack on those last few pounds. With that being said if you are diving maxing out all of your pockets with weights you should either dive a larger bcd with more lift or a weight belt/harness.

D-rings: these are attachment points for accessories they will vary from BCD to BCD and the number you may want or need could vary. The more technical style BCD’s will generally have more or the ability to add more while travel BCDs will be very minimal with only a few. Once again this is not a feature that i would choose a BCD on but to some divers like photographers it is handy to have more places to clip essential items.

The cumber bun: This is where you tend to see a divide between divers, the comber bun is a velcro strap that wraps the bcd around the waist of the user, there is usually a clip around the outside of the bcd as well that keeps the front pockets from dragging or swinging out when inflated (jacket style BCD’s) I personally find that the cumber bun secures the BCD comfortably to my body, while some divers find it unnecessary, it is a personal preference. Most Travel bcd’s and Backplates will not have a cumber bun, while most jackets and back inflates will.

Dump valves: There are multiple dumps on most BCD’s to release air from the bladder, in addition to the dump on the inflator there is also one at the top of the corrugated hose that is attached by a wire to the base and can be pulled on to use. Most non technical BCD’s will have rear dumps near the base of the bladder for when a diver is inverted needing to release air. Some will also have a dump on the right shoulder with a string to release air, if you are looking for option on where to release air depending on your body position pay attention to the dumps. Personally I find the inflator dumps the most useful and rarely use any other unless I am assisting a student that has not released sufficient amount of air.

I hope this has been helpful in guiding any diver to make an informed choice on their BCD.

Zeagle Stiletto BCD Review

Zeagle is a brand that is well known for its high end equipment, especially the BCD’s.  Up until recently Zeagle has been known for BCD’s being exclusively back inflate, recently Zeagle has released their first vest inflation bcd the Halo. Most of the time when divers hear the name Zeagle they think of the Ranger, and Zena a women’s specific bcd,  but this review looks to evaluate one of the lesser known classics from Zeagle the Stiletto.

The Zeagle Stiletto is a back inflation BCD that has the Zeagle patented rip chord weight system.  Most people are more familiar with Zeagle’s ranger BCD and the Stiletto is a slimmed down version of the standard ranger, with a less heavy duty bladder.  The general Specs for the Stiletto are as follows:

Dry Weight: 7.4 lbs
Lift: 35lbIMG_3637
Weight capacity:
24lb Ripcord System
16lb Rear weight pockets

Like many of the Zeagle BCD lines the stiletto has interchangeable and replaceable parts including cummerbund, shoulders and back pad.  The double tank straps are moveable to accommodate shorter tanks and the rear weight pockets can be removed and replaced if deemed necessary.  I found these adjustable options on the Stiletto to allow me to customize a standard bcd to fit my personal preferences.

There are Two key features that in my opinion put the Zeagle line of BCD’s above others.  The first is the iconic rip chord weight system that allows for the quick release of integrated weights with a single hand pull.  Many other bcd designs use a dual pocket release system requiring the user to have both hands free to release all integrated weights.  The other unique feature for Zeagle bcd’s are the quick screw inflator with standard hose attachment.  This feature allows for the user to unscrew the bcd inflator and attach a hose in order to flush salt and grime out of the bcd bladder more easily, and replace the bcd inflator when repairs are needed.

Pros:

  • Easily adjustable parts for custom fit
  • Adequate amounts of D-rings
  • Rip chord weight systems
  • Easily replaceable inflator
  • Inflator hose attachment
  • Double tank strap
  • Removable rear weight pouches
  • Custom color options (also available for Ranger and Zena)

Cons:

  • Smaller Lift Capacity (35 lbs) Adequate for warm water diving but might not be enough for some instances of cold water diving.
  • Mesh weight Pouches (sold separately from BCD)
  • Re-lacing the weight pocket system is not intuitive
    ZGLWP10.jpg

My larges problem comes down to the mesh weight pouches not being included with the BCD.  Although they are not absolutely necessary they do come in handy with using smaller increment weights mostly 1 lb weights, especially bullet weights because they can fall through the rip chord pockets without the mesh pouch.  the pouches do come in handy when carrying weights especially if you are using the same amount of weight and transporting them often.

The weight pocket system despite being very convenient and reliable, is not very intuitive when re-lacing the rip chord system.  There have been numerous encounters with divers that unfamiliar with the system laced the rip chord system improperly making the system ineffective and dangerous to use.  But because dropping ones weights is not a common occurrence so I do not see this as a big issue as long as proper instruction is given when the BCD is purchased.

Overall this is a great mid to high quality bcd compared to those on the current market.  Retail price starts around $630.

 

 

Scubapro Knighthawk BC Review

PIC_0075The Scubapro Knighthawk has been my go to BCD many years, I purchased it before I started my IDC in 2011 and it has accompanied me for many dives.  The Knighthawk was the first back in flat ion BCD that I have owned, and it was responsible for a complete change in my perception of BCD’s.  The Knighthawk had many features that I think made it a very great BCD, but over time and with exposure to other brands I began to see some of its shortcomings.

The Good: One of the features that I really enjoyed about the Knighthawk was that all of the straps and fast tech buckles tightened from one side making it easy to synch down everything at the beginning of the dive. It also had a metal cam buckle for the tank strap that if you were consistently diving the same size tank made set up fast and easy.  The bladder on this BCD was huge, I had a medium and the lift capacity was 44 lbs.  It had a padded neck and plenty of D-rings for accessories.  I enjoyed this BC a lot and I found it suitable for cold water diving and warm water diving.

The Bad: There were a few things that I began to realize over time with this BCD that I wish could be a little different.  The quick release weight pockets felt overly secure and difficult to remove in knighthawk-300x300an emergency, (obviously I wanted them to be secure, but in training new students on how to remove weights I always had to cheat a bit and actually unclip the buckles instead of just pulling the pockets out).  Another issue I ran into was the deflator purge valve getting stuck open on giant stride entries, because it is a little switch that can be manipulated with the hand I could quickly fix it after i was aware of the situation, but not ideal.  The auxiliary shoulder dump would often get stuck under the shoulder strap and was rather uncomfortable when it did happen.  One of my last gripes with the Knighthawk was that the bladder while large was not well secured, it has elastic lashing around the edges to keep the air distribution even but it is a single piece of elastic for both sides so it also shifts and I found it prone to collecting air on one side.  The pockets at the base of the weight pockets are also worthless, hard to fit a pocket mask or anything for that matter and very inconvenient to access during a dive especially in gloves.

Things I’m not sure about: The Scubapro lifetime warranty.  When I bought this bcd in 2011 before I started my IDC program one of the selling points was that there was a lifetime warrantee.  Over the years with an abundance of use teaching in the pool and ocean the BCD had begun to deteriorate, despite regular washing and rinsing.  When one of the velcro pieces broke at the base of the base plate and the pad had begun to swing when I dove, I decided to take advantage of the lifetime warrantee.  I jumped through the hoops of finding my receipt 3 years later and sent it in for repair.  When the BCD had returned it came with a $25 dollar fee, not huge but shouldn’t the warrantee have covered that, or did I just miss understand the guidelines of a lifetime warrantee.

Overall this bcd served it purpose, but like any piece of equipment its hard to get every feature you want in one.  Would I buy another Knighthawk, maybe in the future when the design changes a little, but I believe there are better BCD’s out there at the moment. That are a little less expensive and have more features.

The Knighthawk bcd is to be discontinued, scubapro is currently in the process of phasing out the nighthawk and plans to replace it with the Seahawk bcd.  The Seahawk has many similar features of the nighthawk but also has larger pockets for storage.