The BCD Conundrum – Choosing the best BCD for you and your needs?

What kind of diver are you and which is the best BCD for you?

Maybe you are a seasoned diver; or maybe you are newly certified and are contemplating purchasing your first BCD; or are you refreshing your gear after retiring your old BCD that has given you years of reliable service. Are you unsure of what style is best for your needs and/or the differences, benefits, pros and cons between a jacket type similar to what you might have learned in. Maybe the BCD you’re most familiar with and what you’ve been using for years such as the Aqualung PRO HD versus a back inflation type of system but you’re still unsure if it’s the best BCD for you. Back inflation BCDs come in 3 main BCD types. A “one piece” system like an Aqualung Dimension, a “Semi Modular” system like a Scubapro Hydros PRO or a “Fully Modular” backplate system such as the Halcyon Infinity System.

“Jacket”, “back inflation”, “one piece”, “semi modular”, “fully modular”, what do all of these mean? 

How do they perform in the water and how do they stand up to regular, long term use and maintenance.

When I reference a “one piece”, whether it be a “jacket” (PRO HD) or “back inflation” (Dimension) both pictured below, I am referring to the BCDs construction in that these BCDs are made of the bladder/aircell and harness as one continuous piece and due to this construction only certain components of a BCD such as OPVs (Over-Pressure Relief Valves) and power inflator assemblies are serviceable. When maintaining these types of BCDs in the long term or due to damage a tear or significant failure of the air-cell/bladder is not considered to be serviceable/repairable and the BCD is recommended to be replaced. To be put simply these BCDs will “live their serviceable life” until they are no longer considered safe to use and are retired and replaced, this is of course not cost effective in the long term nor is it environmentally sound….. This is where modular BCDs come in……

Aqualung Pro HD BCD
The Aqualung weight integrated BCD Pro HD in Petrel Blue.

BCDs such as the Aqualung Rogue or Scubapro Hydros PRO (both pictured below) are “Semi Modular” in that they can be better maintained over their life compared to a “one piece” BCD. The back-pad, shoulder or waist harness and wing/air cell can all be individually replaced separately from the rest of the BCDs components, this is beneficial of course for long term maintenance giving you the ability to replace only the worn or damaged component, for example replacing just the wing if it were damaged instead of the entire BCD. This type of system is also beneficial for configuring your BCD for different environments and/or to be lighter weight for travel, for example the Scubapro Hydros PRO includes Scubapros Trav-Tek straps, this simplified harness waist assembly easily replaces the bulky integrated weight pocket harness that might not be necessary for warm water diving better streaming your kit for both travel weight savings and streamlining in the water.

Last but not least “Fully Modular” BCDs, One BCD to rule them all! 

These systems are more commonly referred to as backplate or sometimes Hogarthian systems and are based around a solid backplate whether it be stainless steel, aluminum or carbon fiber depending on personal preference and/or where and how the system is intended to be used. 

The “fully modular” nature of these systems means these types of BCDs are infinitely configurable, maintainable and customizable*. I sometimes refer to these as “the last BCD you will ever need to buy” because certain components such as the backplate, harness hardware and single tank adapter being made of resilient materials (most often stainless steel) will last “forever” where each individual component otherwise is cost effective to repair, service or replace if need be.

As mentioned above the Hogarthian system is built around a backplate, the type of backplate you choose is best decided on the intended environment the system is to be used in whether it be solely cold water or a combination of cold water and warm water diving. A Stainless Steel backplate weighs about 6lbs, Aluminum about 3lbs and Carbon Fiber about 1.5lbs. In this type of system the weight of this plate is considered as part of your ballast (you’ll need less Lead:) further streamlining your in-water profile and helping with trim (proper efficient horizontal body position while underwater) as this weight is evenly distributed across your back, this will ultimately make you a better and more efficient diver.

The harness used is a continuous one piece webbing with stainless steel hardware which further keeps these systems simple and failure point free (no plastic buckles) while being infinitely adjustable and easily (and cost effectively) replaced whether due to wear and tear or the need to remove the BCD quickly by cutting it in an emergency situation. The Wing, available in different sizes/lift capacities depending on whether you are diving single tank recreational (often 20, 30 and 40lb options) or doubles technical diving (often 40 and 60lb options) is easily changed via unthreading a couple bolts and is also easily repairable being a 2 piece design with an outer protective shell and cost effective replaceable inner bladder** in the event of puncture or just due to long term wear and tear.

The only disadvantage to these systems and one of the reasons some people stay away from them is quick and easy harness adjustment, where most Hogarthian system harness setups are a “set it and forget it” harness while being very simple and failure point free do not allow the user to quickly adjust the harness (tighten and loosen) to their liking but this is where the Halcyon Cinch System (pictured below) comes in. This simple yet effective system puts a glide surface under the waist section of the harness that allows the user to quickly tighten the shoulders by pulling on the waist prior to closing and securing the waist buckle, loosening the harness means just pulling on the shoulders after opening the waist buckle. This allows the best of both worlds, simplicity and lack of failure points and quick and easy adjustability.

*Yes, Customizable! You can now make your Halcyon System your own by selecting a multitude of color combinations, badges and embroidery options for an additional fee. Customize your Halcyon BCD today and get noticed!

**For long-time Halcyon System users, As a long time user myself of this system (10+years) I recognize that the reliability and robustness of Halcyon Systems are 2nd to none however this does not mean that there is no room for improvements and/or updates. In recent years Halcyon recognized that the finely threaded flange where the OPV and upper inflator flange assembly connects to the wing could use a change due to the very fine threads upon repeated removal and replacement of these components for regular upkeep/service becoming worn so Halcyon has released a bladder upgrade kit which replaces these fine threads with a much coarser and durable thread. This kit includes a replacement bladder (available in all Halcyon wing sizes), a new coarse thread OPV and coarse thread upper inflator flange assembly. This kit will not only fix the thread issue but also make your tired Halcyon wing brand new again on the inside…… and it’s what’s on the inside that matters right;)

In Summary

Not every BCD is for every diver or every kind of diving. Many recreational divers who learned with a jacket type BCD still prefer this type often due to familiarity as they may not dive much and like the stability and sense of security (The BCD Hug:) a jacket type BCD provides while on the surface. On the other hand, back inflation type BCDs I feel are best for divers wanting to best streamline their kit for both travel as well as when in the water and I also find that back inflation BCDs help promote better and more efficient trim ultimately making you a better more efficient diver. For those divers able or whiling to spend a little more in the short term and/or are interested in buying potentially their “last” BCD the Halcyon Infinity might be the best BCD system for you. If you are interested in potentially moving towards the technical realm of diving a modular backplate system like the Halcyon Infinity System would also be the best type of BCD for you.

I hope that this might help in deciphering which is the best BCD for you and your needs however if you have any questions about any of the above or if we can offer further assistance in helping you decide which BCD is best for you do not hesitate to reach out to ask any member of the IDC Team.

Happy Diving!