The first in our new series of Scuba Buyer’s Guides this article takes a look at how to determine which regulator system best suits your needs as a recreational diver in this Scuba Buyer’s Guide to Regulators.
Whether scuba newbie or PADI Divemaster choosing the right regulator can define your dive experience.
If your regulator breathes to heavy you won’t relax and enjoy your dive, similarly if it feels uncomfortable or heavy on your jaw the irritation will distract from your underwater exploration.
If you’re unfamiliar with the various brands and models on the market then spend some time familiarizing yourself with the wealth of products on offer.
Ranging from a few hundred dollars to over one thousand budget will be one determining factor but it’s best to tackle the financial aspect once you’ve decided which set up is right for you.
If you’re still in training talk to your instructor about their personal preferences and understand what has lead them to make those decisions.
Speak to your local dive centre regarding the possibility of trying out brands they use for rental and if possible, whether you are able to ‘test dive’ products they have for sale.
The internet has a thriving dive community who are a great fountain of knowledge so search around for reviews and forums discussing the various systems and set ups.
What a lot of new divers don’t realise is that when we talk about a regulator we’re actually referring to a system of mechanisms which work together to decrease the pressure of the air from the scuba tank and deliver it to the diver at the ambient air or water pressure.
This equipment constantly changes the pressure at which it supplies air to the diver as both the pressure in the tank decreases – as the diver inhales – and the as the diver changes depth.
The main components are:
- The first stage – which attaches the system to the tank.
- The second stage – that supplies air to the diver.
- The alternate air / Octopus – the secondary air supply.
- The inflator hose – which allows the diver to regulate the buoyancy of the BCD.
DIN VS YOKE
The first consideration when buying a regulator system whether to opt for a DIN or Yoke attachment.
This is the part which attaches the system to the tank.
DIN fittings screw into the tank valve and so are deemed the safest option as they restrict the movement of the high pressure o-ring. Used predominantly by tech divers DIN is the only system which can couple with a high pressure tank.
Yoke fittings are used in recreational diving and are almost always seen on the standard 80L aluminium tanks found in dive operations worldwide.
THE FIRST STAGE
Once attached to the tank the first stage reduces the pressure of the air as it comes out of the cylinder.
A full tank releases air at 3000psi so the first stage takes that high pressure air and reduces it to a more sedate 150psi using a two chamber system.
Now at an intermediate pressure the air is fed to the second stage which then reduces the pressure again before delivering it to the diver.
When selecting a first stage divers can choose between a balanced / un-balanced piston or a balanced diaphragm release system. Both offer the same service however each has unique benefits.
BALANCED VS UN-BALANCED
There used to be notable difference between the performance of balanced and un-balanced regulators however modern advances have greatly reduced the gap between the two systems and today it is almost impossible to tell the difference once underwater.
In short balanced regulators deliver air to the diver at a constant pressure and is not affected by the surrounding ambient pressure or of that remaining in the tank.
I would suggest focusing on choosing between a piston and an environmentally sealed or unsealed diaphragm regulator.
With a more complex mechanical set up diaphragms do require a more in depth service.
However those which are environmentally sealed provide protection from dirt and debris in the water, and allow divers the freedom to utilize their kit both in the topics and when in cold water or even ice diving.
Piston regulators have minimal moving components and offer great durability and reduced service costs however, they usually allow water into the first stage and so require additional after dive care to avoid corrosion.
In my mind the two main factors here are price and convenience.
Although don’t forget to consider the length of warranty offered with the product and also the availability of parts and reliable servicing at the locations you intend to dive.
Fair weather divers who stick to the tropics can confidently select any system however if you would like the additional freedom to mix up your itinerary, then an environmentally sealed diaphragm is probably the best option.
THE SECOND STAGE
This is what is often referred to as the regulator, the part which you place in your mouth to receive air underwater.
Much like the first stage it too takes the air which it is supplied with and delivers it at a reduced pressure. Again a diaphragm or piston design it starts and stops the delivery of air as you breathe underwater.
The main features are:
- The purge button which empties the chamber of water or free flows a stream of air from the regulator in an emergency.
- The mouth piece which supports the external regulator and means you can breathe ‘hands free’.
- The exhaust value, which allows your exhaled breathe to escape.
Comfort is obviously a key consideration as you want to feel relaxed and confident in your kit during a dive. When testing out different models ask yourself:
- Does this feel heavy? Am I having to bite down on the mouth piece to keep the reg in place? – Don’t forget that the regulator is neutrally buoyant so the apparent weight will be reduced underwater.
- Is my jaw relaxed ? – If not it is probably because you are biting down on the mouth piece in an attempt to keep the reg in place. Watch out for the new ergonomic designs which are said to offer a more comfortable grip or consider testing a different second stage model.
ALTERNATE AIR / OCTOPUS / INFLATOR HOSE
Although another secondary stage your alternate air is designed to offer you a back up should your primary malfunction or should your buddy need to utilize your air source in an out of air situation.
While often rarely used diving standards stipulate that it should be clearly visible and easily accessible in an emergency. This is easily achieved with a bright yellow hose and vibrantly coloured mouth piece.
Although not regularly utilized during a dive it is vital that you regularly service and maintain this secondary stage as you never know when it may be required.
It is worth considering the more modern designs which incorporate the alternate air and the BCD inflator hose. Not only will this option make you more streamlined it will also reduce the weight of your kit, a bonus for anyone who travels to dive.
Feeding air from the tank to your BCD the inflator hose allows you to control your buoyancy at the surface.
Although the logistics of breathing underwater can appear rather complex, choosing the kit to enable you to defy the laws of evolution really doesn’t have to be.
Having chosen which system you prefer the rest is really down to personal preference. Much like buying a pair of new shoes the market is awash with sizes and styles which cater to a wide variety of tastes.
I know that price is often the main factor determining which products are purchased however don’t assume that safety is quantified by cost. All producers are subject to the same standards requirements so rest assured you’ve no need to assume the most expensive is much safer than that at the bottom end of the market.
The comparisons which can be made between the two ends of the price scale are between the quality of the components used. The higher end models offer additional features such as air flow adjustment, lightweight design, Orthodontic mouthpieces, greater durability and are tuned for optimum air delivery.
Look out for more of our Scuba Buyer’s Guide as we explain the logistics of dive gear and help you find the right kit for your diving career.
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