I think most of us, whether you are a highly experienced dive instructor or an occasional holiday diver, can remember our first time donning scuba gear.
At first it feels like “so much stuff”! Your instructor is explaining in great detail what every little gadget does and it’s rather overwhelming. Before you know it, three days later and your gear feels second nature. Now you want to keep diving and that shop gear that’s been used 100 times is just not going to cut it anymore. When you take a look at your local dive centre or try looking online for your own gear where do you even start? With so many brands and so many styles it can be a tough decision, especially when you don’t know what to look for. After all, is it not just a “jacket that fills up with air”?
1. Ladies First
When you did your open water course, there is a good chance the dive centre did not have different models for men and for women. Well ladies, let me say one thing, you might have to pay a little more, not always, and if you have to – it is well worth it. BCD’s designed for women make all the difference. They are fitting for our smaller shoulders, wider hips and most importantly… our chests.
2. Comfort Is Everything
Comfort is a given. The BCD will be your backpack carrying a very heavy tank and if it doesn’t sit right you will only hate wearing it. Good cushioning on the back plate is important. Even if you don’t have to do a shore dive where you walk with all your gear, those moments before you get in can either be utter bliss or sheer pain if your BCD is pushing into your lower back. Other than good back support wearing integrated weight pockets can help. By shifting the weight from your belt to your BCD you take immense pressure off your hips and back. If you are someone who uses a significant amount of weight then this is particularly important.
3. Lord of D-Rings
Something you probably did not pay attention to when you were completing your open water course were those D-rings on your shoulder straps and pockets. These are of vital importance to dive instructors but they are also important to novice divers. Soon you might get into underwater photography and will need to securely attach your expensive camera somewhere safe. Maybe you love night diving and need to safely secure your back up light. The fact of the matter is you will eventually get a new gadget, and will want to make sure that it can be attached to your BCD so that you won’t lose anything and can stay streamlined. Metal D-rings are a good idea as they won’t break as easily as the plastic ones, especially if you are clipping several items to one D-ring. Where the D-rings are placed is also something to be aware of. In some cases there are too few D-rings and sometimes they are just placed in awkward positions where it’s not so easy to reach. It’s rare but good to keep in mind.
4. Wings Or No Wings?
Chances are you used a jacket-style BCD for your first dives. The other style is what they call a wing BCD. They work just like the name suggests – like wings. Instead of the air inflating around the body they have designed the bladder to inflate behind you and you essentially don’t feel any pressure around your body when the BCD is fully inflated. Experienced divers, technical divers and most dive professionals who use them swear by them but I will say this – if you are not used to it, it can seem weird at first. When you are at the surface instead of floating comfortably it will usually push you forward. The reason for this is when you are diving the wing style is designed so you hang effortlessly.
5. Gear Isn't Everything
With either a wing or a jacket style BCD nothing can beat experience when it comes to being a good diver. The wing BCD won’t make you a better diver just because of its design. When you first learnt to dive you were probably slightly overweighed and this can be for several reasons. When you are anxious or nervous you tend to hold more air in your lungs than you should. The more you dive and the more comfortable you are underwater you will automatically relax, your muscles won’t be so tense and you will exhale all the air in your lungs. In turn you will need less weight and won’t be adding unnecessary amounts of air in your BCD to compensate.
Your BCD is an important piece of equipment. It holds everything together and it should last years with the proper care and maintenance. It’s important you take your time when selecting one.
For more info, check out the Complete Guide to BCD's on Mozaik UW Cameras' blog.