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BCDs: A Buyer’s Guide
Anyone who has tried scuba diving before will know that you will need a lot of equipment when starting out! To be able to swim beneath the waves safely, you’re going to need plenty of air, plenty of control, and lots of buoyancy. If you’re just starting to learn how to scuba dive, you may already know what a BCD is – in which case, read on and find out everything you need to know about the best choices on the market!
For the rest of us, the concept is actually pretty simple. BCD stands for Buoyancy Control Device. They attach to you and your cylinders when you dive, and not only can they help you to keep all your diving accessories and features at close hand, they will help you to float easily both above and below the surface.
BCDs can differ greatly. That’s because there are many different types. However, they all have the same general purpose, and that’s to give you extra buoyancy while swimming around at depth. Some can use air pockets and integrated bladders. Others are even more complex! However, the best thing to remember is that they are your number one ally when it comes to keeping control of your dives, especially when you are going in particularly deep, or if you are just starting out.
In this guide, we will look at a variety of different things you’ll need to consider when buying your first BCD. How do you know what will work best for you? It’s time to – pun intended – dive in.
What Are the Main Types of BCD?
Some guides and experts will tell you that there are many different kinds of BCD. They’re not lying! However, to keep things simple, we only really need to consider two styles of floatation device – wing, and jacket. While there are different types of wing BCD and jacket device out there, you’ll normally find that most models will fit under one of these two main categories.
When you’re starting to scuba dive for the first time, it’s likely you’ll do better with a jacket BCD. A jacket BCD will give you maximum security and control in the water. In a similar way that stabilisers on a bicycle will help you find your own level of control; a BCD jacket will help you acclimatise to deeper water and will help to keep you safe while you dive and swim around.
When you’re confident enough to start swimming and diving without so much support, you’ll need a wing BCD. A wing BCD won’t wrap around you the way a jacket will. Therefore, it’s a lighter, freer experience. This is why they are often preferential for divers who have been swimming in deep waters for some time. There’s nothing to say that you can’t start out with a wing BCD, but it’s sometimes best to work your way up.
Wing BCDs tend to be easier to travel with, as jacket BCDs weigh down with pockets, rings and storage. For divers who are really unsure about what’s best for them, there are hybrid systems available.
Things to Keep in Mind
When shopping for a BCD for the first time, there are various things you are going to need to keep in mind. For example, cost! We’ll cover this side of things in our FAQs section below. However, before you even look at price, you should think about what’s best for you in terms of usability, comfort, and your level of experience. Here are the absolute basics you should consider before you part with any money.
As a floatation device, a BCD is going to need to inflate. Many BCDs will let you inflate your kit through a hose that attached via your shoulder. However, more modern BCD systems let you control this valve closer to your person, meaning that you can easily inflate and deflate with your hand. More convenient inflation and deflation will likely cost more money, but in most cases, it’s certainly worth it.
When buying a BCD, you’ll find that there are different weighting options available. This can change the way you float and therefore control your swimming. For ease, many divers choose to wear a weight belt with a BCD, simply because it’s lightweight enough to carry around out of the water and is quick to attach and adjust.
However, many people may prefer to use a BCD that has weight built-in. This is called weight integration. With a weight integration BCD, all the weight you need for balance and buoyancy is evenly split across your pack. This means that you won’t have to remember attaching a belt, and all the weight pockets you need arrive sewn into your pack. You can also detach and re-attach these pockets, meaning you can customise your experience as you go.
Comfort and Fit
Naturally, BCDs are going to vary in terms of size and fit. One size rarely fits all, and a BCD is never going to be the exception. You should look at buying a BCD which will fit your style of diving suit as well as the size of the cylinder you’re likely to use. You should also follow online guidelines as well as verified user reviews to pick the best fit for you.
A BCD is something you may wish to fit yourself for on the high street before buying online, however, there are fewer dangers and mis-steps than you may think when it comes to purchasing via the web. Online retailers make it very easy for you to find a good, comfortable fit. Ultimately, a poor-fitting BCD is going to cause you no end of trouble when you hit the water, so make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into.
Many experts and guides elsewhere will also tell you that lift capacity is a key element to all BCDs. Once again, it’s a true statement. The lift capacity will tell you how strong a BCD is at full inflation. You are going to need a good enough weight balance to make sure that you can easily rise to the surface and release when you need to. Make sure to compare the lifting strength and style of various BCDs before you buy any particular jackets outright.
If all else fails, make sure to ask the opinion of an experienced diver, or of an instructor. They will soon tell you what you can expect from a BCD with a good amount of lift capacity, and how you can make the most of those weight pockets.
D-Rings, Pockets and Dump Valves
Three of the main features of all BCDs are D-rings, pockets and dump valves. We’ve already looked a little at pockets and weights, but it’s worth re-considering them alongside the full package. D-rings and pockets are fantastic at helping you keep all your accessories and safety facets together while diving. D-rings allow you to connect and attach various items and accessories so that you do not have to carry around cumbersome items on your person the whole time. Look for BCDs that offer minimal pockets if you don’t need the extra weight, and D-rings fitted via the shoulders for the smoothest dives.
Dump valves are crucial when it comes to controlling your buoyancy. Unscrewing or releasing air from these valves will ensure you get rid of anything excess post-inflation. Most BCDs should have valves that are very easy to find and release during diving, so make sure to look closely at BCD designs in this regard before making a big purchase.
Frequently Asked Questions
New to diving or BCDs in general? Don’t worry. Here are a few commonly-asked questions buyers like you are already posing across the web.
How Much Should I Pay for a BCD?
This is really going to vary in terms of type, build and manufacture. Complexity and comfort are big factors in pricing, too. Therefore, you should be careful to think about what really matters to you. You’ll likely find good entry-level BCDs available for £300-£400 online, however, do expect to pay more for the best models, especially if you’re new to the concept and need extra support. It’s a worthwhile investment.
Do I Always Need a BCD When Diving?
While some expert divers may not use formal BCD equipment to dive, it’s never a good idea to avoid using a floatation system of some kind. It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when you’re just starting out.
What’s Better – a Jacket or a Wing BCD?
This will depend on a few factors, though mainly on your experience level and confidence as a scuba diver. However, it may also depend on your own comfort levels, and how portable you want your pack to be when moving around out of the water.
Should I Always Clean a BCD After Use?
Yes. Always make sure to rinse it out even if you’ve been diving in pool conditions! Saltwater and chemicals can really break down your BCD in the long run. You should also drain and dry your BCD before you deflate it.
For many scuba divers, a BCD is an essential piece of kit that allows them to take greater control of their dives and swims. If you’re new to scuba and are unsure which options will work best for you, make sure to check out our picks and to click through to the helpful links below for more advice.