The item of gear that allows a diver to control their position in the water column, the buoyancy compensator is a crucial piece of dive gear. It not only allows us to control our position but also holds the tank. BC’s come in different configurations. These are generally divided into two classes. The jacket style; which generally has a bladder that wraps around the diver as it inflates and the back inflate; where the bladder is entirely on the back. Both essentially do the same thing. They allow the diver to control their position in the water column. The jacket style is the perhaps the most commonly seen in use by new divers. One of its characteristics that make it popular is that it tends to keep divers more upright and higher in the water when on the surface. The back inflate is believed to have a tendency to push a diver face forward on the surface. This is in fact a myth!
First of all the BC needs an air cell to inflate and deflate. It also needs a way to accomplish that. That way is via the power inflator. A BC power inflator is a device that is connected to the bladder by a corrugated hose. This hose generally is located on the left side and connects to the BC in the area of the shoulder. Some are connected in the center of the air cell. The power inflator is also connected to the tank by the regulators low pressure inflator hose. By depressing a button air is allowed to flow into the BC via a Schrader valve. Another button is used to control a valve that allows air to escape the BC. When venting or allowing the air to escape the BC the Inflator needs to be raised above the level of the connection to the BC or a trap – similar to that under your sink – is formed and the air cannot escape. Many BC’s however also have additional valves known as dump valves to allow air to be vented without using the power inflator. We all know that air will rise to the highest point underwater. When using the power inflator to vent some models require the diver to get nearly vertical in the water. Now as we have previously discussed – divers do not swim vertically! Our ideal position is horizontal.
When choosing a BC, one should not fall for the hype and gimmicks. One thing about gimmicks is that they are also known as failure points! Levers that add and allow air to be vented as opposed to standard inflators, drop down pockets, lots of D rings, and claims that these will make you a better diver should be ignored. The only thing that will make you a better diver is good training and diving regularly. I can take any BC that I can get on –regardless of size, style, or configuration- and within 10 minutes get horizontal and have full control over my buoyancy. This is the result of practice, experience, understanding the effects water has on me and my equipment, and proper weighting and trim. None of which is beyond the grasp of the average OW diver who wants to achieve this level of competence. A BC is a tool. As with any tool- simple is usually better
With this in mind, how do we choose a BC? First of all we should not look for the most expensive model. High price does not mean that one BC is better than another. In fact price has little to do with buying a quality BC. What matters is what the BC will do for the diver and how it will suit their needs. Earlier I noted that some believe that back inflate BC’s tend to push a diver forward in the water. This is a myth. Back mounted BC’s on a properly weighted diver DO NOT push a diver face forward into the water. This myth is perpetuated by divers and even instructors who simply do not understand them or know how to set them up. This myth is also perpetuated by dive shops that want to sell high priced BC’s. There are very expensive back inflate BC’s made by a number of companies. And if one has the money they can buy one. But they are not necessary for the new recreational diver and most times for the experienced diver as well.
What I look for in a BC is function. Looks are not very important and a lot of gadgets and doodads are nothing more than stuff that adds to the cost with no real benefit. I consider myself a minimalist diver. In that if I don’t really need it on the dive it stays in the bag or in the dive shop. Whether one chooses a jacket style, back inflate, hybrid, or modular system like a back plate and wing; simple is better. There is simply no need for a diver to spend more than a few hundred dollars on a BC. This is where the Zeagle Express Tech fits the bill on all counts. The Express Tech is a no frills, well constructed and well designed BC. The BC is based on the idea that less is more. The unit is lightweight due to the soft backpack and lack of unnecessary padding.
The Express Tech features two cam bands as seen above. These insure that the tank stays put when the straps have been properly tightened. The one shown is the BC I own myself and have added two weight pouches from XS Scuba. These allow me to add a few pounds to the BC to aid in trimming me out. By adding 2-3 lbs to each pouch depending on the exposure suit I’m wearing, I can set the BC up to mimic my steel Backplate from my Backplate and Wing set up. This aids in horizontal trim by placing the weight over my lungs where it needs to be. I have also added 4 D- Rings, and a replaced the standard buckle with a steel one from Piranha Dive Gear. The plastic one is not a cheap one. It is very heavy and my replacing it is simply a matter of personal choice, not function. I also use a plastic buckle on my weight belt and by having a steel one on the BC it helps to eliminate confusion if my buddy should need to dump my weights in an emergency. The Straps on the BC are not padded and neither is the soft backpack.
While it may look uncomfortable I assure you with just a t-shirt it is not. Add an exposure suit and you don’t even notice the lack of padding. There are two straps on the BC that are adjustable at the shoulder. The generous amount of webbing on the straps presents the user with one of the nest features of the BC. It is almost infinitely adjustable. I have had the BC on a young lady who was perhaps 98 lbs and a little under 5 feet tall. 20 minutes later I took the same BC and put it on her grandfather who was perhaps 170 lbs and 5 feet 9 inches tall. I then allowed her father who is 6 feet 2 and 225 lbs to try it on. This BC can fit nearly anyone! If you look at the backpack you will see numerous grommets for attaching accessories and a set of center holes. This BC can be used with lighter double cylinder setups such as aluminum 80’s or steel 72’s. The wing shown has 24lbs or 10.9 kilos of lift. There are optional wing sizes available for divers who would be using the BC in cold water and wearing a thicker suit that requires more lead. The lack of padding and soft back pack makes this the ideal travel BC. Deflated and carefully folded the BC will fit in a backpack and allow it to be taken as carryon luggage thereby avoiding excess baggage charges.
Another unique feature is the inflator. Zeagle has come up with way to not only inflate the BC but make it easier to rinse the inside of the BC. Simply unscrew the inflator from the corrugated hose as shown below.
Then hook a standard garden hose up to the end and run fresh water through the hose. The double dump valves on the bottom rear of the BC will allow the water and any salt or silt to flush out. Then simply replace the inflator, add a little air, and hang as you would any other BC. The BC is also available with a shorter inflator hose and plain elbow instead of the shoulder pull dump for those who want that feature. I had planned to go with this option but soon saw it as unnecessary. I have plain elbows on my Backplate and Wing setups but this is easy to get used to. The BC may also be used with the Zeagle integrated octo/inflator. Although in my opinion that just adds another big clunky thing on the end of the hose that seems to defeat the minimalist design of this BC.
Perhaps the best feature of this BC is the price. In the US the suggested retail is around $250 US for a quality BC. The added D-Rings and steel buckle added around $30 to the cost of the BC. The two weight pockets were around $10 each and for a grand total of $300 plus tax you can have a BC that will work in cold water and in the tropics. While I normally dive a Backplate and Wing on a great many dives the Zeagle Express Tech is my BC of choice for single tank diving. Whether in warm or cooler water the Zeagle Express Tech meets the challenge. For those who may be reading this that do not have a Zeagle dealer near them the company does allow internet sales. Just go on line and do a search for the BC. There is now a version they call a deluxe version that has padded straps, quick releases on the straps, and an optional weight system. For those that want these features they may be nice but can bring the cost of the BC to up over $400 and for someone looking to purchase a low cost BC, the additions defeat the purpose.