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Your scuba BCD is an essential part of the scuba gear package, mainly due to its role as part of the diver's life support equipment. The primary functions of a scuba BCD are to control buoyancy and hold the tank during diving. BCDs come in a variety of styles, but generally fall into two categories: Jacket Style Scuba BCDs and Back Inflate Scuba BCDs.
Jacket Style Scuba BCDs have a bladder (the compartment that holds air) that surrounds your torso like a jacket. Jacket Style Scuba BCDs are best suited for divers who need to maintain a vertical orientation or spend a lot of time on the surface (ie: shore divers).
Back Inflate Scuba BCDs place the bladder behind the diver. Many divers find this more comfortable, as it allows for easier movement of the arms, and also feels less restrictive. A rear inflation BC also helps divers maintain a horizontal body position while in the water.
Choosing the right scuba BCD can be overwhelming for first time scuba divers. There are four main components in searching for the correct BCD.
Safety should be the first priority in all scuba diving equipment purchases. When searching for a BCD, this is no different. A diver should look for a BCD that has strong retention of air. A good BC will retain air in all conditions and after harsh treatments. A high lift capacity is beneficial because it holds the diver high out of the water on the surface, helps maintain neutral buoyancy at depth, and allows the diver to help assist a buddy in need. Another important safety feature is a single-handed, quick release weight system.
The second main component in searching for the correct bouyancy compensator is comfort. Divers need to be comfortable in any BCD that they choose. Divers should choose one that provides air cell inflation without squeeze. It must be designed to fit properly. There are women's scuba BCD models that specifically designed for the female body. Much more comfortable for women than a standard scuba BCD, as they are contoured for a woman diver's curves.
The third main component in searching for the correct scuba BCD is durability. Scuba diving can be a rugged sport, and a diver needs equipment that can stand up to all the different conditions. Divers should look for double stitching, along with the highest quality threads and bindings. Major manufacturers of scuba BCDs like ScubaPro, Mares, and Aqua Lung have done extensive UV, abrasion, salt water, and chlorinated water testing, so divers know they are purchasing durable gear.
The fourth main component in searching for the correct BC is based on the individual diver's needs. There are traveling divers, recreational divers, and technical divers. There are divers who dive often and those who dive once or twice a year. Each diver is different, but the good thing is there is a buoyancy control device designed for every diver. They pack up small and lightweight, yet are still comfortable and suitable for the the toughest conditions.