How to Choose the Best BCD for Your Needs
Most novice divers tend to rent their dive equipment until they get at least a few dives using differing kits under their belt. However, once you really go in for scuba diving and start building your personal gear preference, it makes a lot of sense to purchase your own equipment. Buying a BCD is one of the best investments you can make, as it will help you to become a more comfortable, confident and efficient diver. Learning such little details as where your pockets and D-rings are, how exactly your weight system works, etc. will add to your safety and the overall enjoyment during the dive.
When choosing a BCD you need to focus on where and how you are going to use it most and take a closer look at the models that fit those requirements best. In order to simplify the selection process and point out the features you need to pay attention to, we have composed this 5 step buyer’s guide.
1. Choose Based on Your Gender
While many BCD models are labeled as unisex, major scuba gear manufacturers more and more frequently present gender-specific buoyancy compensators. This approach allows accounting for anatomic differences between male and female divers. In particular, woman’s BCDs are usually shorter in the length of the torso and have narrower shoulder straps than similar men’s models. Some women’s BCDs also don’t have the chest straps to avoid compressing the bust. Therefore, many women divers, prefer to settle for a woman’s BCD.
2. Consider the Style
There are three common styles of buoyancy compensators for you to choose from - the jacket (vest), back inflation (wings) and hybrid. The type of style best suitable for you will depend on personal preference, your experience level and the kind of diving you plan to use it for.
Jacket (Vest) Style
This style is used by the majority of divers, as it offers a good all-around buoyancy when inflated. The bladder in jacket style models inflates on the sides, the front, and the back, making it easy for the diver to control him/herself underwater. Most BCDs of this kind are also equipped with pockets for storage or weight integration. The common disadvantage of Jacket style BCs is that they can be somewhat restrictive and, if not fitted properly, can cause chest squeeze when inflated.
Jacket style BCDs are usually the best option for recreational divers.
Back Inflation (Wings BCD)
As the name suggests, the back inflation BCDs have no inflatable bladders on the front or the sides and inflate only the back portion. This style of the BCD allows for more freedom of movement and is generally more comfortable to wear. It also makes it easier for the diver to maintain a horizontal position, which is a plus when you are underwater. However, some drivers complain about being turned face down on the surface. This can be fixed by adding weight to trim pockets on the tank band.
Back inflation style BCDs are mainly used by more experienced divers.
Hybrid BCD is a combination of the jacket a style and back inflation. It inflates 3/4 of the back and 1/4 of the front, which contributes to both better buoyancy control and more comfort. The diver can easily maintain horizontal and vertical positions.
3. Think of the Kind of Diving You’ll Do
Cold water divers need to pay special attention to such features as lift capacity - a measurement of how much weight the BCD can hold on the surface when the bladder is fully inflated. Divers, using a thicker wetsuit, hood, boots, and gloves will need to wear more weight to counteract the higher buoyancy. Therefore, the BC should have enough lift capacity to keep the diver afloat at the surface.
Warm water diving requires much less lift capacity and having a BCD with too much lift for your setup can actually do more harm than good. The larger wing, for example, causes more drag.
Here is a guideline to help you figure out how much lift you will need:
- Tropical Diving (little or no exposure protection) - 12-24 pounds
- Recreational Diving (full wetsuit or drysuit) - 20-40 pounds
- Technical Diving (diving under demanding conditions) - 40-80 pounds
4. Consider Whether You Plan to Travel a Lot or Do More Local Diving
Nowadays, as many divers prefer to visit different dive sites around the world, there are a variety of lightweight and compact travel-specific BCDs available. These buoyancy compensators have a low profile, and can often be folded in half. The benefit of purchasing a travel BC is that you will be able to easily store it in your suitcase or dive bag and stay within the airline’s weight restrictions if traveling by plane. The downside is that these BCs normally have less lift capacity and smaller weight pockets.
General-purpose BCDs are considerably heavier and may be difficult to pack into your luggage. However, they usually provide more lift and can have integrated weight systems. General-purpose BCs are best for cold water divers, who need to use thick wetsuits or drysuits.
Dual Purpose BCDs offer the benefits of both general-purpose and travel BCDs. They pack small for dive trips and can still provide enough buoyant lift to be worn with thicker wetsuits or a drysuit. This option is perfect for those divers, who plan to do an approximately equal number of travel and local dives.
5. Decide Whether You Want a Weight Integrated BCD or Not
Those divers, who don’t like wearing a weight belt can choose a weight-integrated system. It allows the diver to put their weights into designated pockets that all together can normally handle about 22 lbs (10 kg) of weight. All of these pockets should have an easy-release system for dumping weights in case of emergency. When choosing a weight integrated system, make sure that it is secure enough and you can operate it easily. You should also check if the BCD has trim pockets at the back, as they will help you to achieve better weight distribution.
If you are looking at saving money though, BCDs without weight integration are generally a bit cheaper. Although, before making a final decision, you would need to account for the cost of the weight belt and the weights that you could use for a weight-integrated BCD vs. those that you would buy for your weight belt.