Your Buoyancy Control Device, or BCD, is a convenient way to control your buoyancy and position in the water while you’re diving. There are hundreds of BCDs on the market and they all have fancy features on them which can make buying your first, or even your 2nd or 3rd BCD, hard because all you really have to go on is reviews online and a picture. Some BCDs just catch your eye and you feel like you need to buy that one, but trust me, you don’t want to invest in a BCD just by looks, it needs to match you, a bit like Harry Potter’s wand, the BCD chooses you as much as you choose the BCD.
BCDs can be split into 3 basic categories; Jackets, Wings, and Backplates. They can then be filtered down to your diving discipline and obviously budget so the main thing you need to do when you’re looking to invest in a BCD is decide what kind of diver you are and will be. If your goal is to dive on twins then put your focus on that. If you’ll only be diving on holiday then go down that route, don’t invest in a big, heavyweight BCD if you’ll be jet setting all over. If you’re going down the professional route, then you’ll want a tough BCD because it’ll be used and you don’t want to replace it every year.
Most of this is going to be focused on single-cylinder divers, because I’m presuming that’s what most of you watching are, and then at the end, I’ll talk about different disciplines and how that can affect your BCD choice. Because your choices expand when you switch up from single cylinders.
So let’s take at what to look for when buying a BCD
Most divers start off with jacket style BCDs when they learn to dive because they’re quite nice to wrap yourself up and they’re quite forgiving with your position in the water. Jacket style BCDs boast pockets for storage but to be quite honest, they’re not the easiest to use and most divers quickly progress to wing style BCDs because jackets are just heavier and they don’t always hold you in the best position in the water. Plenty of divers still use them though and they’re not bad BCDs it’s just many tend to switch to a wing style.
Speaking of Wings these guys tend to be focused on the travelling diver but I’ll talk more about that later. Wings have all of their inflation behind you in a donut around your tank which hold you in a great horizontal position. Because they don’t have any bladder around your waist or clunky pockets here you have much more adjustment and you’ll never be squeezed by a fully inflated BCD. The only downside divers tend to recite online is that they push you forward on the surface. Which is what they’re kind of made to do. It’s never been a problem for me though. If you find your wing pushing you forwards then just dump some gas. It really isn’t as bad as some divers lead you to believe.
The other style is a backplate setup, which is fully customisable and modular, and this is what tech divers and advanced divers migrate to because they can be in full control of each part of the BCD. They’re not as complicated as they seem and they are a very powerful tool once you get your head around all of the parts and options. I won’t talk about them too much in this because they deserved their own video but if you’re an ambitious diver and you have your heart set on advanced diving, then save your money on recreational BCDs and skip straight to backplates.
Your next choice is if you want integrated weights on your BCD or not. Integrated weights are nice because you don’t need to have a weight belt sitting on your hips. Popping lead in quick-release pouches gets it off your hips and you don’t need a separate belt to keep your lead. Take a look at the weight release, it’s a tricky contradiction, you want a release that’s secure but quick and easy to release in an emergency. Some have a bad reputation for unintentional release, but check for yourself and bear in mind that manufacturers listen to comments and amend their designs from time to time so don’t write off a BCD for comment from 8 years ago.
Look for trim weight pouches on the back too because you don’t want all of your lead all in one place, you should really spread it out and reallocate it where you need it. If I dive an integrated BCD I’ll often wear some lead on a separate weightbelt so that if I need to dump some lead I can dump a little, but not all of it. And If I need to get out of my BCD for whatever reason, I’m not going to just float off while my lead-laden BCD sinks.
The downside to integrated weights is that it makes your whole BCD setup very heavy when moving it around. It’s heavy at the best of times with a tank in place but add 8 kilos of lead and it’s even worse. Weightbelts also have a very simple and tough buckle system with a grand total of one moving part. Weight pouches have multiple parts that wear out through extended use…
Travel is the largest shift in dive gear and many manufacturers have a dedicated range of kit that is made for travel. Thinner materials, fewer bits and bobs just make for a lighter BCD that packs down easier. Sure you can use them at home but they’re not made to be tough, they’re made to be light. If you’re looking at your diving and know that you will never be diving at home then you can definitely look at travel BCDs.
Travel BCDs are designed for divers who are travelling to warm sunny locations, so they’re only going to be wearing a rash vest and boardshorts right? So they’re made to be soft and squidgy and most of them don’t have rigid backplates which is both a blessing and a curse. Without a big rigid bit of plastic or metal the BCD can literally be rolled and folded but it does mean that your tank can roll around a little.
Look at the shoulder and waistbands and look at the buckles. Wing style BCDs will have more room for adjustment so if you’re planning to dive in just a rash vest, then a 5mm another day then the extra adjustment will be handy. It’s also handy just after Christmas and when you just don’t want to fight your way in and out of your BCD to have plenty of space but when you try your BCD on and tighten the straps they should be about half way tight, not all the way to the bottom, not right at the top, but somewhere comfortable in the middle.
The buckles are important to note because the better the BCD the better the buckles you’ll get. Most BCDs will have a simple pinch clip, which does the job, but these work best in straight lines. Fancier BCDs will have hinged clips for better ergonomics around the shoulder, so no part of the strap digs into you. And look at the actual mechanism. Most are just a standard pinch clip but others have a unique push-button or something else which is worth considering, you really want something easy to undo in an emergency.
A lot of divers focus on the amount of lift a BCD has and get confused. The lift is very important but they often confuse the lift with the max weight of their kit it can support, or something to that effect. The lift of your BCD is the maximum amount of positive buoyancy your BCD can add to you. It’s there to compensate for the negative weight of your gear and lead so if you’re correctly weighted, you won’t need any lift.
All recreational BCDs should be able to handle a single 15L or less, double-check the label first, all BCDs will have a label somewhere on them with a max cylinder size but again, it’s not as simple as what size tank you have, it’s all of your gear added up, but it’s not the weight of it, it’s the buoyancy of it all. You can have a 12L cylinder and a fully inflated BCD but still sink if you’re wearing too much lead. It’s a balancing act, and instead of compensating your negative buoyancy with extra lift, you should really be losing some of your lead if you don’t really need it.
When you move onto backplates it’s a bit simpler because you get single tank wings in two sizes and twin wings in two sizes. Explaining lift requirements for tech diving in a paragraph is kinda hard so I might cover it in another video if that’s alright? The most important thing is to learn the difference between dry weight and buoyancy.
Sidemount BCDs are the epitome of specialist BCDs. Sidemount BCDs do side mount very well but they can’t do anything else. And that’s because each discipline of diving requires different buoyancy characteristics and mounting points. Nobody, as of yet, has really made a jack-of-all traits BCD that can handle singles, twins and sidemount except for maybe backplate setups. And those are the three disciplines you need to decide which you’re going to be diving; singles, twins or sidemount.
This makes it quite simple for you really and you can quickly condense your choices based on what discipline you’re going to be diving. If you’re only diving on single cylinders you can go for either a standard recreational BCD or a backplate setup. Recreational BCDs do single cylinders very well and that’s where I leave them. Sure some can handle twins but it’s not really what they’re made for. If you want a simple BCD that just does singles go for a recreational BCD, but if you ever think you’ll want to go to twins then I’d invest in a backplate system.
If you want to dive twins, then just invest in a backplate setup. They can do both twins and singles, you just swap out the wing. You can even mount side slung stages to them too because you can fit D-Rings where you need the tanks to be mounted but a sidemount specific BCD is always going to be better.
When I talk to people about BCDs I often relate them to cars, your recreational BCD is a family hatchback, it does the day to day run but isn’t winning any races or transporting heavy loads. Backplate setups are your white vans, they’re tough and can do most things but they’re big and more expensive. And your Sidemount BCDs are racecars, they do that one thing very well but not much else. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it works for me.