How Often Should You Have Your Scuba Gear Serviced
Every responsible diver should understand the importance of proper scuba gear maintenance. As a regular user, you should take your time to visually inspect, clean and perform any other necessary steps for pre- and post-dive care of all the pieces of your setup. However, another crucial part of your equipment care is a timely inspection and service by an authorized technician. Not only will it greatly prolong the life of your dive equipment, but it is also one of the best insurance policies for staying safe while diving. So, do you know how often you should have your gear serviced? Let’s try to answer this question in the following article.
The One Year Rule
The common industry practice concerning gear service is the one year rule, i.e. the belief that divers should have their equipment serviced annually, regardless of the number of times it was used during the year. This postulate was formulated back in the 1950s, and the reason behind it was that some of the regulator parts, such as valve seals and o-rings were made of rubber, which would stretch and decay after repeated use and stop sealing properly. Metal and plastic parts could also corrode and break rather quickly.
Today though, the situation is very different. While it holds true that rarely used equipment needs regular service as much or even more than equipment that sees more frequent use, the one year rule may not be as accurate anymore. Because modern equipment materials generally last much longer than those used in the past, the topic of how often scuba gear should be serviced became somewhat of a gray area. Although many divers still have their gear serviced annually, others see regular servicing as a money making scheme and go for years without professional equipment inspection. So how do you find the middle ground and stay safe without overspending on servicing? Let’s try to figure this out by looking at which pieces of gear need to be inspected and serviced, what should be included in a routine service and when it is the best time to service your equipment.
When talking about gear service, most divers immediately think about their regulators. Indeed this piece of scuba equipment consists of many intricate parts and needs regular inspection and service.
What most dive centers will do if you bring your regulator in for servicing, is perform a regulator overhaul. It includes complete disassembly of all stages, followed by degreasing and ultrasonic cleaning of all parts. Each metal part is inspected for wear and replaced if necessary. O-rings are automatically changed even if they don’t show deterioration. After this, the regulator is reassembled in accordance with all manufacturer specifications and using only authorized parts and service kits. The regulator is then tested for cracking pressure (inhalation effort), exhalation resistance and interstage pressure. Each of the pressures is adjusted as needed so that the regulator breathes easily but does not free flow. Many good dive shops will also give you back the old parts they took out during servicing so that you can see what was replaced, as well as the wear and tear on those parts.
Many manufacturers, however, don’t require a complete overhaul annually to keep up with the warranty. When you come into the dive shop you can specify, whether you want an inspection, adjustment or overhaul. If your regulator isn’t misbehaving, you can ask for just an inspection or a “bench check” to save some money. In this case, a trained technician will normally perform a visual inspection of the regulator’s general condition to determine if there are any obvious problems, such as a torn mouthpiece, cracks on the hoses or some corrosion on the inlet filter fitting. If there are no external problems that need to be addressed, the tech will proceed to check the interstage pressure, cracking pressure and exhalation effort at the second stage, and flow rate through the regulator. This will show whether there are any internal issues that require the regulator to be disassembled. Finally, the technician will submerge the entire regulator system to check for any leaks or bubbling. If the problem is detected on any of the stages, it will be fixed, if not, then the regulator has passed the basic inspection and is considered safe to use.
As for the best time to service your regulator, it often comes down to the equipment's warranties and a matter of precaution. If you want to keep your dive gear under warranty, you will need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Most manufacturers still require that their gear is serviced annually, or after 80 to 100 dives, whichever comes first. Some other manufacturers though, particularly those that produce higher-end regulators, require servicing less often since their products are remarkably durable.
Remember the date of your regulator purchase and get it serviced on or before the anniversary to ensure your warranty is not accidentally invalidated. If you want your regulator to be inspected before a dive trip, always leave enough time to do at least one or two dives or pool sessions after a service. This will allow you to see whether you need any adjustments to be made.
What many divers don’t know is that their BCDs require the same amount of care and service as their regulators do to function and look their best. So what does a BCD service consist of? In short, the technician will perform:
- a complete disassembly;
- inside and outside cleaning of the BCD, including the power inflator and dump valves;
- replacement of the inner workings with the special parts from the manufacturer, if needed;
- examination of all straps and releases;
- a comprehensive leak test.
Performing all of these steps allows to inspect each part of your BCD for defects and wear indications that may cause problems for you later on. After the BCD overhaul is finished, it will be just like new.
If you are wondering when your BCD should be serviced, once again, read the manufacturer’s instructions to keep up with the warranty. The most convenient way is to bring your BCD in whenever you bring your regulator for service. This will save you time and extra trips to the dive shop.
Unlike regulators and BCDs, all tanks have the same servicing requirements. Regardless of the manufacturer, number of times in use or material (steel or aluminum), all tanks should receive a visual inspection every year and a hydrostatic inspection every 3-5 years, depending on the country you live in (for North America it’s 5 years).
Visual inspection is done to prevent corrosion, cracking and premature demise of your tank. Normally, a technician will check the outside for corrosion, dents, cuts and bulges. The inside will also be inspected for corrosion or contamination with the help of a bright light. Additionally, the technician should check the threads, the valve, the burst disc and the O-rings.
During a common hydrostatic test, the technician will pressurize the scuba tank to 5/3 of its working pressure in order to measure the flexing of the tank walls. This is done by replacing the valve with a special hydraulic testing connection and filling the scuba tank with water. The tanks are not filled with air during the testing because it would be too explosive in case the tank was to let go. Because water cannot be compressed, the tank cannot explode if it fails.
The valve service is another important part of tank maintenance. It is recommended that you have your tank valve serviced annually. You can request either a valve rebuild, which means that the valve’s inner workings will be replaced, or a valve clean with the replacement of o-rings.
Remember, although the tanks have a long life expectancy (approximately 25 years for aluminum and 30 years for steel cylinders), they are not designed to last forever. So, in case your tank fails visual or hydrostatic inspection you’ll just have to deal with the fact that you need a new one. Otherwise, if you attempt to use it or get it filled, either you or the filler may get severely injured.
When it comes to gas fills, the rules are simple: choose a reputable dive shop, maintained compressor, and visually inspected tanks. In North America, most dive shops should have their air tested quarterly to grade “E” standard and filters changed every 100-200 hours to a maximum of 6 months. Don’t be afraid to ask the shop owner these questions and, if they can’t answer, find a different place.
The Bottom Line
To recap, here are a few things you should remember regarding equipment servicing.
1. If you are just about to buy your first set of scuba gear or need to replace one of the units, consider manufacturer warranties before making the final choice. Look at how often they require servicing and what is their policy on replacement parts. Most manufacturers will have a special parts warranty that will give you free parts if you stay within your service agreement. If your gear manufacturer does not offer the parts for free, you will have to pay for them with each servicing, which may add up to a hefty amount over time.
2. Make sure that the shop you are buying your gear from and the one you get your gear serviced at is an authorized dealer of your equipment brand. Otherwise, the service you are receiving could potentially be unreliable and void your warranty as a customer.
3. Read and follow the manuals that come with your gear. As we have already stated, different manufacturers will have different requirement on how often you should have your gear serviced. Follow their recommendations to keep your warranty. In case you have lost your manual, it can usually be found on the manufacturer’s website.
4. Keep a file with all your gear purchase, servicing receipts, and warranty statements with the serial number, so you can prove you merit for free parts. It will also come in handy if you encounter a defect in your gear covered by the warranty program, are improperly charged or, for some reason, refused service and need to contact the manufacturer for resolution or restitution.
5. Finally, remember, divers treat and handle their gear differently, so there is no one approach to servicing that would fit everyone. Ultimately, your scuba gear is your life support equipment, and you are the one responsible for your own safety. Learn to recognize the performance level of your equipment and never dive it if you don’t trust it to perform flawlessly.