For a scuba diver, equipment is of the utmost importance for both safety and convenience. Not only do we rely on it to spend time underwater effectively, but the surplus of gear attached to us during a dive makes comfort extremely significant.
When it comes to your Buoyancy Control Device, or BCD, there are two main types to choose from. This piece of equipment is essential in allowing a diver to stay neutrally buoyant underwater (compensating for the heavy tank and other gear attached to them), as well as keeping them easily afloat at the surface (similar to a lifejacket). This vest is strapped to your body and is made up of air pockets combined with mechanisms to either add or release air. It also is what attaches every other part of your gear to your person. Necessary things like your scuba tank, regulator, and octopus, as well as has clips for a flashlight, net, knife, and any other helpful tools during your dive. Some even include pockets to secure your weights, rather than needing a weight belt. Clearly this is a very important investment in your diving career, and choosing the right BCD can be frustrating and confusing. Here is a more in-depth comparison, before making that big purchase:
The two types of BCD’s include the back-inflate and the jacket style. Both have many pros and cons, both are produced by many companies, and both are the choice of many divers. Unsurprisingly, the back-inflate BCD has all of its air pockets along the rear of the vest against your back, with only straps coming around the chest to buckle (like a backpack). This is helpful because it frees up the entire front side of you, allows for more flexible movement, and more comfort. In addition, since all of the air is on your back, the diver is able to stay more completely horizontal underwater.
Being neutrally buoyant and horizontal during your dive is significant so you aren’t wasting a lot of air trying to kick yourself up or down. It also helps reduce any tendency to accidentally kick the ocean floor, which can be detrimental to corals and other sea life. Finally, the back-inflate allows for a more streamlined shape in the water. This lack of drag is especially important when there’s a current present and swimming is already harder than usual. However, one downside to the back-inflate is the imbalance of air when you’re at the surface and upright. As mentioned before, it’s helpful to keep you horizontal underwater but makes it a bit harder staying vertical at the surface before and after your dive.
The jacket-style BCD is just that – a jacket. It more accuratelyre sembles a vest and has air bladders on the front, sides, and back for a more equally balanced inflate. An advantage of the jacket style is a more comfortable rest at the surface. It acts very similarly to a lifejacket and keeps the diver vertically upright extremely easily. This is important after a long and tiring dive, keeping you stable and safe above the water without much effort. Also, this is the type of BCD that has the option to integrate your weights in its pockets, allowing the diver to go without a weight belt. This provides one less piece of equipment, which can make things much more comfortable and less bulky. Unfortunately, jacket-styles make it a bit more difficult to stay horizontal throughout your dive since the air is all around your body, making you more buoyant on every side. The diver will have to work a bit harder to remain completely flat.
Both styles have great benefits, but it’s important to try out each type before committing to one. Every diver will find their preference, and it’s easy enough to rent gear a couple times to try them out before investing.