Beginners Guide to Buying a BCD

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A new BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) will be an awesome addition to your scuba rig. Why? Because using the same BCD instead of a different rental from one dive to the next will help improve your buoyancy control and streamlining in the water. This adds to the overall enjoyment of your dive experience. Though, renting a BCD, if you can get one that actually fits, is pretty easy, and you can probably wait until after you buy your dive computer and regulator to get one. 

READ Beginners Guide To Buying A Dive Computer

READ Why You Should Stop Renting and Buy Your Own Dive Gear

BCDs are jawsome additions because they are much more than a piece of gear to keep you afloat. They are what ties the brain of your scuba unit, your regulators, to everything else. You could say BCDs are the backbone.

Your BCD holds your tanks, routes and secures your hoses and gauges and gives you a place to clip and stow all your dive accessories, so you will want one that is well-engineered to suit your diving needs.

But if the tide is right for you to invest in a BCD, this guide will help you get started!

Whether you’re diving in warm, tropical waters, cold waters or deep waters, there’s a BCD that will give the control and reliability that you need.

Styles

BCDs are used to maintain positive buoyancy on the surface and neutral buoyancy underwater. This is accomplished using the BCDs key component, an inflatable air bladder. There are three main styles of BCDs with slightly different air bladders.

Jacket BCDs

Jacket BCDs are traditionally the more popular style. If you used rental gear to learn how to scuba dive, it’s likely you used a jacket.

The explanation is in the name. The air bladder is primarily along your back, but fills in around the sides underneath your arms and hugs you like a waistcoat. This provides more balance when inflated on the surface. They are user friendly underwater and most divers choose this style for their first ever BCD. The one drawback is that finding good trim (staying horizontal in the water) may take time. 

Back Inflate BCDs

Back inflate BCDs differ from jackets in that the air bladder does not conform to your body, rather it is doughnut or horseshoe shaped and rests on the back. Back inflates are secured using a harness and straps. Most divers agree that this style helps maintain better trim underwater, but while on the surface, the position of the air bladder on your back pushes you forward. If you cannot confidently manage this on the surface, it’s best to stick to a jacket style BCD.

In the future, if you find an interest in technical diving, a back inflate style BCD is a popular choice.

Hybrid BCDs

Hybrid BCDs are becoming increasingly popular. As the name suggests, hybrids combine the features of both the jacket style and back inflate BCDs. They’re more simple to manage on the surface like the jacket, but offer the benefits of maintaining easier trim underwater, similar to the air distribution found in a back inflate unit.

Weight System

The next major key to deciding on your BCD is the weight system. This comes down to personal preference. 

Integrated Weights

BCDs with integrated weight systems have large pockets that you put weights into. These are slotted into the BCD where you can clip them in securely. This may be a lot of weight on the front for some divers. To help distribute the weight, look for BCDs that have trim pockets (not quick release), which are found on the back on either side of the tank strap. If the BCD does not have trim pockets, some choose to strap a small amount of weight onto the tank strap itself.

A note of caution however, trim pockets should only be used to hold a pound or two. The bulk of your weight should be in your designated pockets in case you need to drop them in an emergency.

Another consideration you need to take into account for an integrated weight system is where you will be diving. If generally diving in cold waters, you will be wearing thicker exposure suits, which means you will need more weight. Be sure that the BCD you choose has weight pockets big enough for the amount of lead you will need and that it abides by the manufacturer’s weight restrictions.

Integrated weights are popular among regular divers and the pros. They are usually more comfortable and you can eliminate a piece of equipment (weight belt). It also helps to maintain a horizontal position in the water.

If you choose to stick with the classic weight belt or pocket weight belt, that’s great too! Though we do suggest giving all options a try.

BCD Fit

Getting a proper fitting BCD will make an ocean of difference on the surface and underwater. It will help with comfort and safety.

When buying online, do a little research on the manufacturer and sizing. Some brands run larger than others. Fortunately, most BCD sizes are adaptable with adjustable straps on the shoulders, chest and around the waist.

A well fitting BCD should leave the adjustable straps about half way tightened. This gives you room to use different exposures suits, such as a thick wetsuit, or thin sun suit. May also help with those post holiday dinner expansions.

You will want to find a BCD where you feel comfortable in your movements. Your breathing should also not be restricted when fully inflated. Having the ability to easily access other standard BCD features, which are discussed below, is also whaley important.

Unisex BCDs dominate the market, but more and more designs specifically for women are emerging. These models accommodate extra area around the hips and chest and tend to be narrower around the shoulders and shorter in length. Again choosing a BCD comes down to personal preference. If you are a  woman diver, a unisex BCD still might be exactly what you need.

Pockets and D-Rings

Pockets may not seem like your biggest concern when it comes to choosing your BCD, but trust us, it’s definitely something you need to think about.  Most units come with two large pockets at the front. These are great for storing things like your SMB, slate, dive light or knife.

However, if you really don’t like the idea of bulky pockets, some divers use clips to attached these accessories to D-rings.

D-rings are metal or plastic rings that allow you to securely clip extra equipment onto your person. Be sure if you go the pocketless route, your BCD has enough D-rings or that you explore other options such as thigh pockets.

We prefer metal D-rings because they are more durable and less likely to snap or bend compared to plastic ones.

Inflation System

Your BCD will inflate in one of two ways. One, using air from your tank by pressing the inflator button on your LPI (low-pressure inflator hose) or two, by manual inflation.

BCDs are sold with LPIs, so you do not have to worry about purchasing one separately. When you buy your regulator, you may also get the hose that connects your LPI to the tank.

READ Beginners Guide to Buying a Regulator

Though not as popular, some LPI setups integrate an alternate air source that you breathe from in an air-sharing emergency.

Deflation, Overpressure and Dump Valves

Remember, to maintain neutral buoyancy as you ascend, you will have to release small amounts of air from your BCD. To remove this air, you must deflate your BCD using the deflate button on your LPI or using dump valves.

Most BCDs have at least one dump valve either on the right-hand side shoulder or right-hand side by the hip. Some even come with one on the left-hand side shoulder where the LPI is connected to the BCD.

The more dump valves you have, the easier it is to control your buoyancy in different positions.

Almost always, these dump valves double as overpressure valves, which open before your BCD bursts if you have accidentally over inflated.

Travel

For the intrepid divers, there are BCDs designed specifically for travel. These are lightweight and can be rolled up to fit nicely into your diving bag. Travel BCDs are sometimes not as durable as the standard ones, but they are robust enough for regular use.

Keep in mind, for travel BCDs, their goal is to be lightweight and easy to pack, and therefore cannot bear as much weight and will have smaller pockets. If you are a diver who likes accessories and needs a lot of weight, a travel BCD may not be the right choice for you. 

Buying all your own scuba diving gear may seem like a giant stride, but once you are completely outfitted, you will have wished you had done so sooner.

READ Buying Your First Set of Dive Gear.

Just breathe and take your time in asking questions and doing your research. You may find that once you own your own gear, you’ll be getting wet a lot more, which is JAWSOME!

And lastly, as always, dive safe and have fun!

“I find the lure of the unknown irresistible.”

– Jacques Yves Cousteau

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