This BCD is built to see the world. With four Alloy rings, three dump valves, and two zipper pockets on this BCD, it makes one perfect BCD for traveling divers. Additional features include: adjustable torso and waist straps, comfortable cummerbund, and an oral inflator with cable-activated pull dump.
Pros: Nice and light, packs down well. Cons: Lightweight denier means it won’t last forever. Type: Jacket
One of the most popular BCDs on the market, the Cressi Start is made from high denier Cordura. Two technopolymer D rings and two large pockets means there’s plenty of storage/attachment for dive gear. So many divers learn with this BCD, which is why it might feel familiar to some.
Pros: 2 additional spring-clips, and octopus/gauge holders are a nice touch. Cons: None Type: Jacket
The Hydros Pro with Air 2 is a top-of-the-range BCD and a favorite among dive guides and instructors. Features are minimal with two stainless steel D rings and two dump valves. It is one of the first BCDs on the market to have a unique gel construction that conforms to your body and is extremely ergonomic. As a comfortable workhorse, it’s meant to be with you day-in, day-out.
Pros: Compact and streamlined, excellent for travel as well as regular diving. Cons: Pockets, there aren’t any, this is disappointing and inconvenient. Type: Back inflation
If you’re amply endowed, then this could be the BCD for you. With an integrated sports bra offering additional comfort, support and stability. It’s a streamlined BCD with flat valves and built-in ‘SureLock II’ weight system and stylish design.
Pros: Two large pockets, and 4 D rings. Cons: Concerns about the durability of the ‘bra’. Type: Jacket
The Mares Kaila is a perfect blend of comfort, size and lightness with its cut-away style jacket and foldable backpack system. Ideal for regular and travel diving. It also features integrated trim weight pouches, and 7 aluminum D rings.
Pros: Good all-rounder that conforms nicely to the female body. Cons: None Type: Hybrid
Just like the 90s TV heroine, this BCD will be sure to flip some fins. The Zena redefines women’s buoyancy control by focusing on the waistline with a twin-strap fastening system. The standard two dump valves, four stainless steel D rings, and one expandable pocket will cater for most diver’s accessories.
Pros: Variety of colours and patterns for individual style. Cons: Pockets, we need them. Type: Back inflation
It’s what this BCD doesn’t have that makes it stand out. At just on 5.5lb/2.5kg this super-light BCD is a fantastic travel option! It has an integrated weight system and comes with standard 2 dump valves, and adjustable waist and chest straps.
Pros: Lightweight, streamlined design, great for travel Cons: Full-size pockets and heavy-duty D rings, it’s seriously lacking with only 2 small pockets and a single carabineer. Type: Back inflation
What to look for when choosing the best BCD for you
Women’s BCD vs. Men’s BCD
Most women have a different figure to the average man. Whether we’re tall, short, cuddly or slender, with a large bust or not, our curves set us apart, and quite frankly makes finding a BCD a real pain. Why? Because BCDs for men just don’t fit us properly. End of story.
How so? Our hips are different, so weightbelts really dig in. Also, accessing weights quickly in an emergency can be awkward. Our shoulders are narrower, creating chest strap discomfort when the girls get in the way! Lastly, men’s/unisex BCDs have a longer back for better trim, meaning for us girls our tank/cylinder hangs lower, thus uncomfortable when it hits our coccyx.
What to look for in a BCD
Fit: It should not be too tight or loose, either inflated or deflated – as this will be both uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. Put the BCD on, do up the straps and cummerbund, then check to see if there’s room for adjustment – making sure there’s enough room for your exposure suit underneath!
Manufacturers will have a specific sizing guide, but as a general rule of thumb:
XS: 36-38 in
S: 38-40 in
M: 40-43 in
M/L: 42-43 in
L: 43-46 in
XL: 46-48 in
XXL: 48-50 in
Materials: BCDs are usually made from a combination of materials, all strength and wear tested. Heavy denier Nylon Cordura with protective coatings for the jacket/bladder body and cummerbund are most common. Webbing for straps, stainless steel or heavy-duty plastic for D rings, with hard-wearing Velcro or squeeze buckles for closures.
Dump valves: They should be streamlined within the design, this will help you establish or maintain trim and buoyancy. Usually located on the rear, on the right shoulder, and left hip. Some newer BCDs also have a third one built into the inflator/deflator mechanism.
D rings: Handy shiny metal or plastic loops to hang or clip your octo and SPG, you can use others to clip on a reel, camera, or other scuba goodies.
Integrated weight belt: usually inbuilt within the BCD. Integrated weights are super easy to ditch in an emergency.
Pockets: Carry an SMB, torch, goody-bag, line cutter, anything really that you might need on a dive!
Style: There are three main BCD styles for recreational divers; Jacket, Back-inflate or ‘hybrid’, and Back-plate/wing.
Jacket: Traditional and most common. An air bladder inside the jacket surrounds the diver’s torso. This style is comfortable providing proper sizing has been carried out.
Hybrid: Similar to the Jacket design, the bladder is aligned with the divers back to promote a horizontal position in the water. Pockets for storage and integrated weights are standard features. This BCD can make vertical positioning difficult at the surface.
Back-plate-and-wing: A popular multipurpose BCD that is ideal for divers planning more advanced diving, i.e. wreck, deep, or cave dives.
Lift Capacity: What is it? Essentially, it’s the air capacity you need in order to compensate for the weight you take into the water as you dive – you, your kit, and weights. The air in your BCD helps to ‘lift’ you up and back to the surface.
All BCDs have sufficient lift for single cylinder dives. If you are using a twin-set, or carrying multiple cylinders, then additional lift will be required. As a general ‘lift’ guide, Tropical Diving wearing a thin exposure suit, or just swimwear, is 8-12kgs. Recreational Diving with a full wet or dry suit, is 10 – 20kgs. Technical Diving or other advanced conditions should look at 20-40+kgs.
The benefits of owning your own BCD vs. renting
There’s no right or wrong answer here. At the end of the day renting versus owning a BCD comes down to a few variables that only you will be able to answer.
Save on costs: How often do you dive? If you dive regularly, then rental cost may be significantly higher than purchase and service costs. But, if you only dive on holidays, then renting is a smart way to avoid excess baggage fees!
Comfort and fit: Are you comfortable with a different BCD each time you dive? Dive shops may issue you with a different BCD as they juggle students’ needs versus kit hire. However, this is also a great way to try out a variety of styles of BCDs before you buy one.
Safety: It’s not cheap, but it’s essential. If you buy your own BCD, it should be serviced regularly for your own safety. If you rent gear, then this is the dive shop’s responsibility and cost.
Peace of mind: It’s yours, you know how it’s been treated, what conditions it’s been exposed to etc. You can also have it set up how you want it and know that it’ll be like that for each and every dive.