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Part 2 – Buying a (new or) pre-owned BCD…with GREAT GADGETS!

Fun blog today! This blog is part 2 in a 4 part series on buying BCDs. I love gadgets, especially dive gadgets. I am always so excited at DEMA to see what is coming up in the advanced technology of diving for the year, and what new thing they are upgrading on BCDs. OK, down to business. Gadgets on BCDs and how this affects you BCD shopping…

Extras on a great BCD are the bomb, and I love them. Extras on a cheapo BCD are like putting a pig in a dress. A pig in a dress is still just a pig in a dress. I am NOT going to address the goodness or badness of any particular BCD today, but merely list the accessories you might look for as you shop for the perfect deal on a pre-owned BCD. I will start with the most necessary and basic accessory on the BCD, the C or D-ring!

Yep, the C or D-ring is number 1 in my book, for obvious reasons. It is the gadget that allows me to carry so many other gadgets! Many BCDs come with a massive deficiency in rings, having only 2. I always look for 3 minimum on the shoulder straps. But, a ring on the left shoulder can be an irritation too, as it can tangles with the safe second regulator. It can be a problem in an emergency situation, so I never really use it.  If I can get 2 on the front bottom, and 2-3 on the top shoulders, I am pleased. If I can get 2 more on the BCD bottom I am singing. And, they put out BCDs with ABS plastic rings, as well as cheapo nickel (they rust after first couple dives), which I think are completely inadequate. I am looking for hearty, stainless steel, D-rings.  The more the better!

There are a couple 2 or 3 common types of clips for the shoulder straps: open side squeeze buckles, solid side squeeze buckles, and round swivel buckles. I’m sure there are other that are slipping my mind. They are all made out of plastic. My preference is the old fashioned heavy duty solid side squeeze buckles. I find that the swivel buckles (you push the top “button” and they slide apart, and the swivel allows the shoulder straps to position for a better fit ) are difficult to disconnect in a hurry or in chop at the surface when you are removing the BCD to hand up to the boat crew. I also find the swivel buckles don’t always feel securely fastened when I reconnect them. They make me nervous, frankly. But, some folks love ‘em, and you might be one.

You can buy little dollar plastic hose keepers, but many BCDs come with these. They have a clip of some sort on one end and hooks for your hoses at the other. Costs the company almost nothing to throw one on the BCD when they manufacture it. I think is an obvious touch.

Your BCD should come with a heavy duty Velcro strap on the left shoulder, this keeps your corrugated hose safely trimmed. I have seen some of the less expensive BCDs without this standard hose keeper. I believe they are a must, you may disagree. Something to consider.

Pockets, pockets pockets! The all important pockets. Newer jacket BCDs with quick release weight systems tend to come with front pockets on either side overtop of the weights. I think these are somewhat impractical as the bulkiness of the weights makes it difficult to shove anything in the pocket, especially in a hurry at depth. Other jacket BCDs come with two chamber/zipper pockets on each side of the front. One zipper allows non-ditch weights to be added, and the other is a pocket for stuff. I don’t like these because if you dive cold water, with 5 mil gloves, you have trouble even getting zippers open, and you are in a pickle if it is the wrong pocket you do manage to open! Many of the quick release weight pockets on the back inflate BCDs don’t really allow for front side pockets, although some BCDs might have a small roll out pocket for trinkets. Many BCDs that come with a heavy duty cumberbund will put a small pocket on the front of the cumber bund, with a flap and velcro or a zipper closure. The rare BCD comes with a small hidden pocket to stash a car key for shore diving. I say pockets are wonderful, but they must be easy to access, they must not mess with your trim, and they must be totally separate and AWAY from your weight system. Safety first!

BCDs come with a basic safe second regulator. Some manufacturers (the old Zeagle Ranger for example) come with a MANUAL inflate safe second regulator. So if you need to use it at depth or at the surface you are blowing it up like a balloon. If I am dealing with a high stress situation at depth, or lots of chop waiting for a boat at the surface, or worse yet I am trying to ascend with a stressed out or unconscious diver, I DO NOT want to have to manually blow up their BCD! So, when you buy, especially if the BCD is older, make SURE the safe second is a POWER inflator. You will be happy later. If you have $50-250.00 extra to play with, I suggest you upgrade to a really good power inflator. Scubapro’s “Air2”, Atomic’s “SS1”, or Aqualung’s “Airsource”, will do nicely. This is a piece of life support equipment, go safe.

Tank pockets are great, especially on the back inflate BCDs. You can add some weight back next to the tank to even you out at depth. Many BCDs add them standard, but not all, so check it out.

BCDs come with 1 or 2 tank bands. I prefer 2. It takes some extra energy when you don and doff the tank, but it feels more secure at depth. I own 3 BCDs, and 2 of them only have 1 band. I always make sure they are heavy duty, stiff, durable weave bands.

Buckles on the tank bands are important. They come in metal (again look for stainless steel), and in plastic, or a combo of the 2. They come as cam buckles of different sorts. I prefer the durable all stainless steel solid construction buckles. Good and tight. Be sure to check the weave of the band through the cam buckle. Yes, if it is incorrectly done you risk losing the tank at depth.

Tank rests. Some BCDs come with plastic housings, or raised plates for the tank to rest on. Some have a cushioned plate, and some have just padded material. I have a BCD of each, and they all work fine for me. My oldest BCD is from the early 90’s, and has a plastic ballast chamber for the tank to sit on called a “Transpac”. The hollow plastic tank holder system would be filled with lead shot of some sort, which could be released, refilled. It is a workhorse of a BCD, made to last forever! I dive cold water with it. In any case, try some different styles before you decide. Plate, no plate, pac, lots of cushion, no cushion, it is all up to the wearer.

Weight systems can be quick release or no. Quick release are great, in a rush you reach to your chest and grab the handles. PULL. And the weight pockets are free, allowing you to drop and ascend very quickly in an emergency. I prefer quick release…safety first! Back tank pockets are NOT quick release.

Your BCD should come with a chest strap. And, you want it to be adjustable. Easy peasy, not much to say about that. Basic, but ya gotta be sure it is there.

Many manufacturers add a safety whistle to the corrugated hose. If there is not one there, go spend the $1 and get one, zip tie it snugly on your corrugated hose. You want to be able to get help on the surface.

Last, but not really a gadget, shoulder strap position. The shoulder straps attach to the lower body of the BCD in many positions (the swivel clips mentioned earlier apply here). Some connect towards the front, some way towards the back. On the heavy duty “Knighthawk”, for example, Scubapro attaches the straps up front, like suspenders, putting pressure from the tightened shoulder straps on your chest rather than digging into your shoulders. Whereas on the “Litehawk”, Scubapro’s travel BCD, the strap attaches to the back, not unlike a tec diving backplate/wing setup. In the Litehawk, when you tighten the shoulder straps to get a good snug fit, it tends to dig into you armpit/shoulder area. Again, as I said in part-1, test as many types of BCDs as you can before you buy something pre-owned. You want to be sure you are getting what is best suited to your unique needs.

Normally, I would consider this an aftermarket goodie, like a tank light or something. But, some BCDs are made with grommets on the left pocket to which you can permanently attach a dive knife/tool. Pocket knife grommets can be wonderful, or frustrating. The Mares BCDs come with this feature, and they sell the knife to fit. But, there was a design flaw and the knives tend to come loose and get lost. I think Mares adjusted this issue in newer BCDs however. So, make sure your grommets are well attached and periodically check and tighten them, or bye-bye knife/tool.

GOOD, STURDY, DURABLE, VELCRO. I will leave it at that.

OK, we have touched on pockets, zippers, trim, bands, clips, whistles, straps, buckles, and on-board knives/tools. I think I have given the “BCD extras” issue a thorough going over. You are almost ready to get out there and shop. The next blog, part 3 of a 4 part series, will address safety issues when shopping for pre-owned BCDs. There are special considerations when shopping for a pre-owned BCD, save your money and your life and look for part 3 soon.

Authored by Lisa J Henry

“Be the sea”