Scuba diving has gone through and past the age of being a male dominated sport and more and more equipment is designed and specified for the female diver. The ratio of male:female divers is shifting and you see far more female divers in and around dive sites then every before which is great! There are now groups dedicated to girls that dive around the globe, just check out our talks with Sarah from Girls That Scuba and Her Website on how to get involved and go diving.
Years ago dive equipment like BCDs and Masks were just unisex and not much thought went into it but when more and more women took up diving to explore the underwater world there was more demand for gear that was more comfortable and practical.
Some gear will always be unisex such as dive computers and snorkels, there’s not much difference between us there wetsuits and boots you will find female specific gear obviously because we’re not all the same shape and modern neoprene is much more forgiving and flexible to allow for more body shapes.
First of all lets focus on women’s BCDs because that tends to be the most uncomfortable if it doesn’t fit.. I can only relay what I have been told by my customers and students but the overwhelming feeling is once you have gone gender specific there is no going back!
A few general assumptions, ladies are a different shape to men, side, back, front, all different and ladies also tend to have shorter back lengths. so how can you have a unisex BCD for everybody? Armed with these few facts we can make a good case for diving with a ladies BCD rather than a unisex one.
A unisex BCD often leads to the same discomfort for female divers:
Women tend to fit their weight-belt higher up on their waist over their hips compared to men so the lead blocks sit underneath the pockets of your BCD. You tighten the waistband of your BCD which applies more pressure on the lead and then when inflated it just pushes the blocks further into your hips which gets really uncomfortable.
The same point as before longer BCDs cover your weight belt that in the event of a problem you need to get rid of quickly but if you have to dig around to find the buckle and shimmy it out from under the BCD it can be quite dangerous.
Unisex BCDs have quite long backs to cover a male diver and provide good trim in the water but on a female diver they can overlap and cause the cylinder to bump your coccyx which over time on a dive can be uncomfortable.
Generic shoulder straps aren’t particularly ergonomic and can slip over the shoulder with too much weight applied. To counteract this manufacturers fit chest straps to stop them from slipping apart but this can pull the straps together with all the tension pulling right over your bust which gets old really fast.
Swap to a female BC that has been designed and cut for a female fit and you will find that it is cut a lot shorter so it sits above the hips, giving you access your weight belt. Go one giant leap further and dive a BCD with an integrated weight system and now the weights are away from the hips and comfort reigns!
Modern female specific jackets have either removed or relocated the chest strap by changing the ergonomics of the shoulder straps. Another breakthrough is a modern hybrid support system where the weight of the cylinder is placed lower in your back so it’s far easier to carry the heavy load even out of the water.
A feature I believe was introduced by Seaquest (now Aqua Lung) on their Diva BCD a while back was an angled back plate, like a cheese wedge with the narrow bit towards your head and the fat bit at the base of your spine, this would angle the cylinder away from your lower back avoiding this rubbing.
At the time of writing this the ladies BCD rated as the best is the Aqua Lung Pearl. Do you own a women’s BCD? Are you pleased with it? Please let others know your thoughts and comments.