Which is the best BCD? It’s a common question, but depending on who you ask you will get many different suggestions! Ultimately it will come down to what is most practical for the type of diving you do, and the environments you dive in. Here are a few tips on what to look for when buying a BCD…
Making sure it fits correctly is number one on the list! Having a BCD that doesn’t fit nicely can turn diving into an uncomfortable experience. If possible, try it in the water first. Some stores have a ‘try before you buy’ policy on a range of their gear that makes this easy for you. If you’re buying online make sure that you try it on BEFORE you get in the water, as if it doesn’t fit you may not be able to return it once its been used. Make sure it fits comfortably deflated and inflated and is neither too loose, too tight, too long or too short. Master Divers are proud to be an Aqua Lung Partner Centre, meaning that we have amazing access to try before you buy offers, as well as in store counselling and guidance at Koh Tao Aqua Master on all the newest trends and models.
Integrated Vs Weight Belt
Old school divers will remember the days before this was even a question, back when a traditional quick release belt with weights threaded onto them was the only option! However nowadays there is definitely a trend in shifting preferences towards an integrated system. Integrated weights are weights that are loaded into the BCD itself. Most integrated weights come in the form of quick release pouches that clip into the front of the BCD, normally right by the BDC pocket (if it has them). But many BCD’s also have trim pockets (although these are generally not quick release) on the tank band so divers are able to distribute weights more evenly to suit their needs.
It’s all a matter of personal preference, and many people prefer the traditional weight belt simply because that’s how they learned and that’s what they are used to. However most instructors prefer integrated systems as they are great for carrying additional weights for students. Many recreational divers prefer it for carrying extra weight in general, which is beneficial when diving in cooler temperatures or in a dry suit for example. You don’t have to worry about carrying or maintaining an extra piece of equipment when you have an integrated system. However on the downside it makes your equipment a lot heavier when the weights are in the BCD – which is something to consider of you are diving on smaller vessels and lifting your gear in and out of the water. Plus you do need to make sure you are extra thorough on pre-dive checks to make sure the system is locked properly.
Be aware that integrated weight systems do have limitations to how much weight they can hold though, and that any diver who needs a significant amount of weight may ultimately need a weight belt anyway.
Jacket, Wing or Back Inflate
Grab a seat and get your popcorn out, as this one can keep divers in discussion for hours!
The jacket style is generally the most common type of BCD, especially in the dive school environment. Here at Master Divers for example, we use the Aqua Lung Wave. This BCD type allows you to stay vertical at the surface with ease, and surface swim on your back in comfort too. Generally speaking, jacket BCDs also have spacious pockets, which are helpful in stowing/carrying additional equipment you may need underwater. They can be notoriously difficult to access on the surface while fully inflated though!
The back plate with wing style of BCDs originate from technical diving and are incredibly adaptable, hence the growth in their popularity. This set up consists of an adjustable aluminium or steel back plate and harness to which the inflatable wing is attached. This is great if you are interested in technical diving ( if using twin set tanks, you’ll need a wing with a greater lift capacity) or want to change the size of the wing for different environments or activities (for example switching between steel and aluminium back plates depending on water temperate and exposure protection). On the down side, there is no place for pockets or integrated weight pouches, so you’d need to add these yourself if this is a requirement. Underwater, most divers agree that buoyancy and trim is better with a wing than jacket style BCD, but they do tend to push you forward on the surface when fully inflated, so are not so great for extended periods of time on the surface.
Relatively new to the BCD market is the hybrid style of jacket and wing design, with back inflate designed to provide the best of both worlds in one system. The Aqua Lung Axiom is a perfect example of this. The idea is that it fits somewhat like a jacket (just without all of those jackety bits!) around the waist and shoulders, whilst providing lift from the back. They still have pockets, but generally not as sizeable as jacket style BCDs, and most have integrated weigh options. The back inflation makes horizontal neutral buoyancy underwater easier, although as with the wing, it can be more difficult to maintain a steady position at the surface.
Generally speaking, the more dump valves on a BCD the better, and it helps if they are well designed and streamlined. Usually located on the rear right shoulder area and rear left hip area, most BCDs have two. Modern BCD’s sometimes have a third built into the inflator/deflator mechanism on the left shoulder. You should learn where these are by feel so you can locate and use them effectively should you need to.
D rings are sometimes overlooked when choosing a BCD or wing but its important to keep them in mind, depending on what diving you intend to do and where your diving career is taking you. For example more D rings may be beneficial if you have a lot of additional equipment to carry. It’s also important to note the material of the D rings. Some BCDs only have plastic D rings which overtime are more likely to snap or bend in comparison to metal D rings.
Historically BCD’s were developed for the male market and became unisex by default as more women took up the sport. Now more and more dive manufactures are developing gender specific BCDs and wings, which is yet another step towards diving becoming a female friendly community. There are many benefits, but the primary reason is guaranteeing a good fit, which in turn means you’ll feel safer and enjoy more relaxed dives.
For the intrepid explorer, these are light weight and can be packed down small, however they are not as durable as standard BCs as the material used is a lot lighter that the normal ones. The material is robust enough for regular use though, and it is super easy to pack. Just bear in mind that you wont be able to carry lots of extra weights and most travel BCD’s don’t have enough pockets or clips to carry much extra equipment, so if you are a diver who likes their accessories, then perhaps this is not a great choice for you!
Hopefully this has helped explain some of the differences between the vast array of options available. Dont forget there is no substitute for research though, and its also massively important to physically try on a prospective new BCD purchase. So do be wary of buying online unseen. And if you need some help here on Koh Tao just let us know, and our staff will be more than happy to help 🙂