Ask ten scuba divers about which is the best buoyancy compensator device (BCD), and you will get just as many answers. For most applications, brand names aren't as important as where you will primarily be using the BCD. When I first began scuba diving, I immediately bought a complete set of gear for myself and my wife. We bought regulators, dive computers, BCD, warm water wetsuits and cold water wetsuits. In this article I'd like to give you some ideas on how to buy a BCD.
- Research the different brands. Personally, I think that Zeagle makes the all-around best BCD on the market. That said, there are others who will argue that fact, so my suggestion here is to test the different brands. This is one of the places where rental BCD's have a place in scuba diving; you can rent the store brand and give it a try in the water before buying. I look for three things:
- Durability (The internet will be a gold mine of information, especially Scubaboard where you can get lots of opinions. Just keep in mind that all of those opinions will be subjective.)
- Suitability for the environment that I will be diving in
- What environments will you be diving in primarily? Probably the most important variable is what environment will be you diving in the most. For someone who will be traveling to a lot to vacation spots in the south where the water is warm, you will need to think about the weight of your luggage due to airline restrictions. In this situation, a warm water BCD will more than suffice; these are BCD's that have lower lift capacities of about 30 pounds. In warm water, you use less weight, meaning that you have less need for a larger bladder on your BCD. At this time, airlines only allow each passenger one bag, so the extra bag will cost more money. If that extra bag is over 50 pounds then it will be even more money. If, on the other hand, you're going to be diving in cold water, you will need a BCD with more lift -- somewhere around the 45 pound range.
- Should you buy a weight integrated BCD or not? The next decision is whether you should pick a weight integrated or non-weight integrated BCD. A weight integrated BCD allows you to place whatever weight you need for the dive in "weight pockets". In an emergency, you would pull a rip cord or release mechanism to dump the weight, allowing you to become positively buoyant. A non-weight integrated BCD means you will need an additional weight belt to carry any weight you might need.
- Does the BCD have trim tabs? These are tabs that are near the tank and take small amounts of weight in order to keep you level throughout the dive. Without the trim tabs, you could find keeping level difficult, making the dive stressful instead of joyful.
- Research the material of your BCD of choice. The material of your BCD and bladder is very important, especially if you're going to be an avid scuba diver. Your diving environment can, in some cases, be very harsh on your BCD and make your dive trip a bust or, even worse, cause injury or death to the person wearing the BCD.
- A comfortable dive makes for a happy diver. Most importantly, the BCD fit is paramount to your happiness with the BCD that you purchase. When you're diving, you want to be comfortable, not worrying about making the BCD fit right throughout the dive. The only way to ensure a comfortable fit is to try it in the water on an actual dive. My first point stated that rental BCD's were available; use them for testing the fit.
Keep in mind that scuba diving can be dangerous without the proper training, so get trained before trying to swim with the marine life. This article is written strictly for those who have been trained to use the BCD.
Gary G Nelson
Dive Control Specialist