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Dive Gear Shopping for Dummies : the BCD

BCD dive gear
Which one is the right one for you?

BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) ...BC (Buoyancy Compensator) ...Jacket Style.....Backplate and wing.....hybrid design - We have many options as divers, but what do all these terms mean and which is the one for you?

Each design comes with its own benefits and drawbacks and your choice will be decided on both the type of diving you do and what your wants/needs are. In this post, we will take you through the different features and options so can make an informed decision on your next purchase.

What is a BCD?

The BCD or BC (depending on where you are from) is simply what we call the system we wear which we use to adjust buoyancy by inflating/deflating it with air. There are 2 main styles, the Jacket style and the Backplate/Wing.

Option 1: Jacket style

This is the design most divers will be familiar with. It is probably what you learnt to dive in and is the traditional and first design for recreational divers. It is worn like a backpack and has padding for comfort around the back, sides and shoulders. There are fasteners on each strap; shoulder strap, chest strap and abdomen strap. When inflated, the air fills the entire jacket, wrapping around the sides, back and shoulders of the diver.

Option 2: Backplate/wing style

This is a design originally for technical diving due to its ability to adapt to various configurations. It is a set up of three components; the harness, the backplate and the bladder or wing. The harness is a single long strap, which goes over the shoulder, between the legs and fastened with just one clip, on the abdomen. The backplate can be either Aluminium, steel or carbon fibre and is usually unpadded. When inflated the air fills the bladder, which is solely on the back.

What are the differences when using them?

Trim and position:

Jacket style:

When on the surface, since the air fills the entire jacket, it supports a comfortable upright position, with the force wrapping around the torso. Under the water, however, the air is free to move around and can travel up to the shoulder, giving the diver ahead-upp position and making it more difficult to find stability in the water. The nice horizontal diving position, which we aim for is then harder to achieve. When fully inflated, the jacket can feel very tight and squeeze the chest causing discomfort.

Backplate and Wing :

The air in the backplate and wing, inflates only the bladder which sits on the back. On the surface, this can push the divers face into the water as the force comes solely from the divers back, which some find disconcerting. Underwater, however, it provides easier and more natural diving position. The wing wraps around the cylinder rather than the diver and creates a more stable and streamline position. It can be fully inflated without causing any notice or squeezing of the diver.

Weights and pockets

Jacket style :

The Jacket style BCD tends to have more pockets and storage options, although, the zips can be slightly awkward to reach while diving. This is great if you like to carry SMB’s, torches and all the exciting gadgets and accessories! However, you may find when fully inflated, the pockets are inaccessible. Almost all jacket style BCDs will have integrated weight options, which is great as you can do away with the uncomfortable belt system, which can leave hips bruised! Having integrated weights in the jacket also means the weight is distributed around the torso and shoulders, providing more comfort than the belt, and leaving less stress on the back.

Backplate and wing style:

Due to the minimalist design, there are no pockets or integrated weight systems. However, to make up for it, there are usually many more D-rings, which can be used to clip your devices. The lack of bulk also gives a more streamline position in the water. Depending on the material of the backplate, it also makes the backplate and wing a significantly lighter option. Choosing aluminium can make your BC system as light as 2kg, compared to a traditional jacket which may be twice that!


Jacket style :

Tends to be a lot more bulky and heavy, not ideal if you want to travel and keep your luggage allowance to a minimum! Finding the right size can also be a challenge, for women especially. There are, these days more and more on the market which are designed for women or the smaller person, but there is much less choice if you’re on the petite size. Conversely, if you are on the heavier side and larger around the middle, you may also find trouble finding one that fits and when you do, the whole BCD ends up feeling too tight or bulky. The jacket syle is bought ‘off the rack’ so you must fit into it rather than the other way around and designed only for single-tank recreational diving. Should you find yourself attracted to tech diving, you would need to upgrade your gear.

Backplate and wing style:

It is fitted to you. With the use of just a singular strap, it can be altered to fit you exactly and more so, altered as your needs alter. Having the bladder on the back means no bulk around the sides or front, making it a very comfortable fit. There is a lack of padding, which some can find less comfortable than the jacket style. The other bonus of the backplate and wing is that you can adjust it to whatever diving you choose, whether recreational, twinset or side-mount, the wing can do it all. Since the components can be bought separately, you can shop around and are not limited to only one brand, but can mix and match to your heart's desire!

Option 3: the hybrid

This is a wonderful combination of the two designs. The hybrid is back-inflated like the wing, but with the comfort of the jacket. The straps are similar to the jacket style, usually fastening at the shoulders, chest and abdomen and the back is usually padded for comfort. Additionally, the hybrid usually comes with options for integrated weights and maybe even a pocket! It does lack the adjustability of the wing for adapting to technical diving, but it's no wonder, this style is becoming more popular with the recreational diver.

As a conclusion, here is what some of our staff members use:

Bastien: Scubapro Hydros

Helene: Seaquest Diva and Zeagle Zena

Ardi: Aqualung Pearl

Arafat: XDeep wingsystem

Julia: Mares Prestige

Yvonne: Scubapro LadyHawk

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