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Used regulator shopping, how do I buy smart?

That is a really good question, and here is where you will find the answer! When you go on the hunt for a good, solid, durable, pre-owned regulator, you are really going on the hunt for 1 of the most important parts of your Total Dive System. You want your regulator in peak condition, it is your life support.  So, how can you be sure the regulator you are about to lay good hard cash down for is a safe one? This blog will tell you how…

Let us look at some regulator basics:

Modern scuba regulators are all 2 stage, in that the air pressure coming from the tank (at around 3000psi) needs to be regulated to 125-160 psi for you to comfortable breath. To do that a regulator system (1st stage of pressure reduction) is placed over the tank valve to reduce pressure coming from the tank. Then air pressure is reduced again at your mouth (2nd stage pressure regulation) thru a second system. By the time the air is being inhaled from the 2nd stage regulator the pressure has been reduced to a comfortable 125-160psi. An inhalation of ~3000 pound per square inch of air will explode the inner bits and pieces of your lungs. Imagine, it takes just 35 psi to float your car on its 4 tires going on down the road! This is why they are called “regulators”, the air pressure is regulated throughout the system from an unsafe to a safe breathing pressure.

1st stages are either piston or diaphragm in design. Two different ways to get to the same end. As you inhale, the air pressure in the 1st stage decreases, allowing sequential movement of the inner parts. Either a metal piston (similar to that in your car engine), or a flexible diaphragm (yep, like that too), move. This movement opens a valve, which in turn allows air to flow from the tank into the 1st stage. When the pressure reaches a certain point the valve automatically closes and the piston or diaphragm resets.

Which is better a piston or a diaphragm? Well, piston regulators come into contact with sea/fresh/pool water. They can be damaged due to corrosion or blocked by small particles. But, they have fewer moving parts, so they have less failure points, are cheaper to service, and are thus less expensive to purchase. When you took your scuba certification class, your instructor taught you that it is imperative to get your regulator set serviced annually or every 100 dives, maybe more frequently with heavy diving. The long held “1/100” rule of thumb has changed a bit in recent years as manufacturers have improved the overall design of the regulator. Many regs you buy now will come with a service guide for 1yr or 100 dives, extended to once every 2yrs or 200 dives, as a standard for that system. It is important to know which regs are relegated to which service timeframe.

On to the purchase:

Purchasing a balanced 1st stage and an unbalanced 2nd stage will provide the average recreational diver with more than acceptable performance and good cost savings. However, you need to weigh out the some issues specific to buying used. There are 2 kinds of divers that will be looking to buy used regs, for the most part. New divers who want to enter the sport, but have limited cash and can’t afford the expensive shiny new gear. And, experienced divers who have been around the reef and know that new gear comes with a 100%+ markup for the dive shop! New divers should be wary when buying used regs. First, you might not have the experience on board yet to recognize a good, OR SAFE, deal from a not so good one. Second, you might not have a good feel for your personal needs and tastes yet. I am not saying new divers should not buy used regs, I am saying new divers should buy used regs with great care (and maybe the guidance of a more experienced dive buddy).

Do you want to buy something with more parts, that will be more costly to service, and possibly even more costly if repairs are needed (repair is different than a basic service)? Maybe the reg you want is out of your price range new, so the cost for the servicing/repair is still a savings and you get the specific reg set you are determined to own? Or, maybe the basic workhorse of a reg that you can trust to last for years, on your limited income, is the best find?  There is a lot to consider.

You want to get your used gear in the best shape possible. Are there visible signs of wear, does it look cared for or beat up? Do the hoses, connections, fittings, caps, plugs, all looks as they should? Is the reg so old you can’t find parts or get it serviced. Has the reg seen a technician recently? Unless the seller can provide valid receipts from a recent service that YOU CAN VERIFY, you need to go take that newly purchased used regulator or reg set to your local authorized dive technician for servicing.

In summary, check the following as you assess your potential buy:

  1. Hook the set up to a tank and breath through it.
  2. Check that the moving parts move and the non-moving parts don’t.
  3. Check for connection tightness, fraying, whistles indicate air leaking.
  4. Check for obvious signs of wear, misuse, mishandling, dents, etc.
  5. Check for any signs of corrosion; pitted metal, rusting, discoloration, frozen parts.
  6. Check for signs of repairs via non-authorized technician; scratches, ill-fitted parts, parts that don’t match manufacturer brand.
  7. Check for paperwork from authorized repairs and make the call to verify the info BEFORE the sale.
  8. Check the body of the hoses and housings for splits, cracks, or defects.
  9. Check for signs of debris in any open areas.
  10. Is this reg a 1/100 or a 2/200?
  11. Is the 1st and/or 2nd stages unbalanced, balanced, or overbalanced?
  12. Is it so old it is obsolete, or soon to be obsolete?

*If you don’t get the right answers, walk away! If you decide to make the buy, take your life support equipment to a dive shop for servicing before you dive it, even in the pool. 

Regulator Maintenance Tips:

  • Always replace the DRY dust cap over the first-stage opening as soon as you disconnect the regulator from the cylinder.
  • Keep damaging water OUT of the 1st stage! With the dust cap in place, rinse the regulator system in fresh water, after each use. This removes salt, sand and other potentially damaging debris.
  • After a dive trip, soak the regulator system in fresh water overnight, then rinse thoroughly. While soaking in water do not depress the purge button, or leave reg with purge button in a way to be depressed by comingled equipment.
  • Air-dry out of the sun. Store it in a cool, dry, place. Do not tightly coil hoses, this stresses connections. Do not hang the regulator to store it, it puts pressure on the hoses and connectors.
  • Keep a regulator bag handy for storage and travel.

Last word: There are many points to ponder carefully. Your reg set is not only the second most expensive piece of basic dive gear you will by, it is life support equipment! Buying pre-owned scuba gear can save you a bundle of cash. But, you have to take your time, educate yourself, and make smart purchases. Anytime you can get a copy of a receipt for work done on your gear when you buy it, is a bonus. Anytime you can track back to the servicing technician or shop and verify,  is a bonus. Any time you can add a solid piece of gear to your total dive system, is a bonus. But, any time you can get brand name well cared for scuba gear without paying the 100%+ mark-up at a dive shop…YOU WIN.

Authored by Lisa J Henry

“Be the Sea”