If you’ve not done much SCUBA diving, then the term BCD might confuse you. If you’re no stranger to the water, however, then you know that a good Buoyancy Control Device, alternatively known as a Buoyancy Compensator, is essential to establishing neutral buoyancy beneath the water’s surface and positive buoyancy when you’re near the surface.
Obviously, you’ll want to get the best BCD you can, so today we’re going to look at some of the essentials. What styles of BCDs are out there? What should you be looking for when you’re trying to track down the right one for you? Here’s what you need to know.
As mentioned above, a BCD is a device that helps you control your buoyancy while you’re in the water. The BCD is an air bladder that fits onto your person and allows you to maintain neutral or positive buoyancy through control of this mechanism.
Most BCDs have other components as well, such as a pocket for weights, a hose that connects to your tank, inflators and pressure release valves, etc. By and large, there are two main styles of BCD that are most commonly used—jacket/vest and back-mounted/wing.
The jacket style BCD is considered the most common for those that want to do warm water diving and is the BCD of choice for those first getting their SCUBA certification. It fits onto the body like a vest and the air bladders wrap around your body from back to front.
This style of BCD is known for providing phenomenal vertical stability, meaning it allows you to float vertically at the surface of the water with ease.
The major advantage of this style of vest is the ease-of-use. There’s a reason they’re often used to train new divers. The jacket-style BCD can quickly be donned and removed. It helps beginners learn proper form during dives, since the diver can get a good feel for how the air increases inside the bladder when they are controlling it, and they can get an excellent sense of how much air it takes to achieve the change in buoyancy they desire.
On this style of BCD, the air bladders are located on the back of the diver’s body as opposed to wrapping around. This enables more freedom of movement and greater modularity. The advantages don’t end there, though.
Back-mounted BCDs allow for a larger lift capacity and more control for experienced technical divers, which makes the back-mounted BCDs the option of choice for those not engaging in recreation dive work since it allows them to carry more gear.
Unfortunately, back-mounted BCDs do come with a few drawbacks. Since the air bladders are located on the back, they put divers in a horizontal position most of the time. This is not exactly ideal for most divers, especially in emergency situations on the surface where you would want to be face up. Though, the fact that the back-mounted BCDs allow for a more natural style of buoyancy is preferred by those that like using this style of control.
As with all things in life, not all BCDs are created equal, and the specific circumstances you intend on heading out in will influence what sort of device will be most suitable for you.
In colder water, you’ll need more gear, and as a result, you’ll need a BCD with a higher life capacity. Generally speaking, that means going with a back-mounted BCD as they are typically designed for greater weight. To be certain, make sure to check out the weight capacity on any BCD you think about purchasing.
Your waistband and straps hold your BCD in place, so it’s important to get a unit that has sturdy ones to keep yourself locked in. As for the pockets and rings, they’re used to hold accessories that you might use during your dive. If you’re accustomed to bringing more stuff along, you may find it useful to have more of these (located in the right spots, of course) to accommodate all your gear.
BCDs with an integrated weight system have special pockets for incorporating weights (meaning you don’t have to wear a weighted vest). This also means that you can quickly ditch the weights in case of an emergency.
Some BCDs differ from unisex or men’s-only models. These kinds of BCDs, made for women, usually have shorter torso lengths, thinner shoulder straps, additional comfort padding, and built-in curvature to accommodate the female body type.
If you’re looking for the best BCD to take on your next adventure, here are a few options to get you pointed in the right direction.
This is one of the best jacket-style BCDs you’re going to find. This model includes an integrated weight system, single touch control for inflating and deflating the air bladders, a harness system with chest strap for extra security, and plenty of options for accessories.
There are five D-rings that allow you to attach what you need to this BCD, along with mounting grommets and an octo-pocket. All-in-all, this BCD is considered a superior product that is also suitable for beginner divers.
This is a back-mounted BCD that includes an integrated weight system in multiple capacities. Though not a technical model, this BCD is near the upper limit of what would be suitable for tropical or recreational diving.
To increase ease of use when dumping air, SCUBAPro included a 3-dump deflation system. There are multiple adjustable straps to help you achieve the right fit, along with plenty of pockets to fit in extra gear. To make the fit even more comfortable, they’ve also included extra padding along the backpad.
This women’s model BVD is lightweight and plenty easy to use. Multiple straps keep the unit in place. The weight loading system allows for easy insertion and removal of weights in the front of this jacket-style BCD.
It also has a generous amount of padding to keep the fit extremely comfortable. D-rings and grommets allow you to incorporate a good deal of accessories, and the large zippered pockets give you extra room to add whatever else you need to bring along.
The Zeagle Ranger is a technical-style BCD with 44-pound lift capacity. This back-mounted model was designed for those that need a heavy-duty rig with plenty of utility storage. It has two side utility pockets, along with a host of D-rings and grommets for attaching gear.
The adjustable straps allow users to fit the vest to their size, and the easy access dump valves make adjusting buoyancy a simple task. This BCD is well-suited for adaptable, cold-water diving needs but is versatile enough to function as a tough recreational unit as well.
The Cressi name represents the pinnacle of Italian-made SCUBA gear. The Aquaride Pro is a light and compact BCD that is great for warm water diving. Weighing anywhere from 7-8.3 pounds, the jacket-style unit has an 18-pound lift capacity, and has integrated weight pockets with an 8-pound capacity that allows for more precise buoyancy manipulation.
The adjustable straps run along the torso and waist, but have easy squeeze releases that make taking the Aquaride Pro off, or putting in on, a manageable exercise.
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