You’ve probably worn a few rental BCDs on vacation or during your Open Water course. Chances are you’ve had one immersion too many where the buoyancy control device fit poorly or didn’t function the way you wanted it to. What should have been a fun, relaxing dive turned into a frustrating nightmare with the BCD sliding around, riding up or dragging side to side.
As one of the pricier and larger pieces of scuba equipment, we understand that investing in a BCD isn’t the highest priority on a diver’s list. However, there’s no reason you should keep diving with rental gear that you aren’t comfortable with. We think it’s time you invested in a BCD of your own.
In this review, we review the best scuba BCDs currently on the market so that you can stop diving with rental gear and fully enjoy your scuba diving experience. After the review, we have written an extensive buying guide to help you understand our selection criteria. You can use that information to do some additional research on your own if you’d like. Let’s get started.
- Best Scuba BCDs Review
- Best Scuba BCD Buying Guide
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Best Scuba BCD Recap
Best Scuba BCDs Review
- Type: Jacket
- Lift Capacity: 29.3 – 44.9 lbs (13.3 – 20.4 kg)
- Weight Integrated: No
Are you just getting started with scuba diving? Are you not yet proficient at controlling your buoyancy? If so, then a great BCD to ease your way into things is the Cressi Start. If you want a budget BCD, then better to buy one from a reputable company like Cressi. It’s quite clear that, despite being a cheap BCD, that a lot of effort was put into making the Start a quality product.
To start things off (excuse the pun), the Start is constructed using both 500 Denier Nylon Cordura on the inside, and 1000 Denier Nylon Cordura on the outside panel. This material is robust and resistant to most scratches and rips that might occur during daily use. Combine that with an incredible price, and you can see why the Start is commonly used all over the world.
Next, the air cylinder can be tightly and easily secured onto the BCD so you never have to deal with a shifting and sliding tank. The Start also has a decent sized air bladder compared to other budget BCDs, meaning it has a large lift capacity and helps beginners float in the water.
Since it is a jacket model, there are two large pockets at the front with velcro closures and they can double as weight pockets if needed. Above each pocket is a special pocket for storing pressure gauges and the octopus. The jacket also includes a carry handle so that divers can more easily bring the device around with them.
One downside of the Start is the lack of an integrated weight system. Unless you already have a weight belt lying around, you will need to factor in the cost of purchasing a weight belt into the price, which should still be very low. Experienced divers will want a BCD with integrated weights, and because of this, we can only recommend the Start to beginners.
Genesis Drift BCD
- Type: Jacket
- Lift Capacity: 24.0 – 40.0 lbs (10.9 – 18.1 kg)
- Weight Integrated: Yes
Out of all of your scuba gear, the BCD is one of the more expensive pieces of equipment, if not the single most expensive one. However when you’re just starting out, it can be difficult to justify investing so much money. Out of all the BCDs on the market, you need one that is both reliable and provides great value for the money. The Genesis Drift is a jacket-style model that can do just that.
At an incredibly affordable price for BCD standards, much like the Cressi Start, you might suspect that there are a lot of compromises made. With that said, the Drift has all of the essentials a BCD should have and is very comfortable to boot. And unlike the Cressi Start, the Drift actually includes weight integration with two large quick-release weight pockets.
The integrated weights are easy to reach and can be dumped with just one hand which is very important if you are caught in an emergency. The harness system is versatile, consisting of adjustable waist, shoulder straps, buckles, and even a removable sternum strap.
The exterior layer of the Drift is made from 420 denier nylon which is very resilient considering the price. The interior layer is made from urethane lamination. The Drift is one of the best budget BCDs and is another excellent choice for those on a tight budget.
Aqua Lung Pro HD
- Type: Jacket
- Lift Capacity: 24.0 to 55.0 lbs (10.9 – 25.0 kg)
- Weight Integrated: Yes
The Aqua Lung Pro HD has all of the makings of a top-notch BCD at a reasonable price. It can be used by both beginners and veteran divers thanks to its full suite of features. This BCD is constructed using fade-resistant material so its colors will last a long time.
More importantly, the material is tough and resists saltwater and chlorine deterioration in addition to being lightweight. The Pro HD comes with an integrated weight system that clicks the weight in tightly and releases it with a simple tug on a handle.
Storage space is taken care of with the two zippered utility pockets that can store dive lights, cameras, dive computers, whistles, and other such accessories. The scooped octo pocket can keep your octopus safely secured and visible without letting it drag along the ocean floor.
Just put your octopus into the sleeve on either side to hold the second stage in place, and it can be detached with a quick release mechanism. The left pocket is available for storing your gauge console and keeping your setup streamlined. With five stainless steel D-rings, you will not be lacking in places to attach your accessories to.
Depending on which size you get, the Pro HD can provide anywhere from 24.0 to 55.0 lbs (10.9 – 25.0 kg) of lift capacity. The Aqua Lung Pro HD is a cost-effective, feature-packed dive BCD that will allow beginners and pros alike to embark on numerous underwater immersions safely. If you don’t yet own a BCD, this is a great starting point.
Mares Prestige 2
- Type: Jacket
- Lift Capacity: 45.0 lbs (20.4 kg)
- Weight Integrated: Yes
Mares is a company that is known for making meticulously designed items that have been constructed using high-grade materials As the name suggests, the Prestige strives to uphold their reputation. Material quality in a BCD is something a diver should always be interested in, because that dictates how durable and reliable it is.
When it comes to the Prestige, the combination of various tough materials makes it exceptionally functional and high quality at the same time. By combining different types of Cordura and Polyurethane, both in 1000 denier, they have crafted a resilient BCD that doesn’t require much in the way of maintenance.
On top of that, it is easy to don and doff, well-padded for comfort, and capable of withstanding rough weather conditions. It even comes with a handle that gives it additional stability. Additionally, the dual-adjustment chest and abdominal closures ensures the BCD stays snug on your body at all times.
As for storage space, the Prestige features large zipper pockets that drain quickly. With air bladders designed to envelop instead of press against, your diving apparatus will always feel snug instead of tight. Its padded shoulder pads help make long diving sessions bearable.
Lastly, there is also space for trim weight pockets in addition to its fixed weights system, as well as four stainless steel D-rings and two additional D-rings made from techno-polymer for attaching your accessories. The Prestige is one that experienced divers should look out for, especially when considering how competitive its pricing is.
Cressi Aquaride Pro
- Type: Jacket
- Lift Capacity: 18.0 – 42.7 lbs (8.2 – 19.4 kg)
- Weight Integrated: Yes
Yet another excellent beginner BCD from Cressi is the Aquaride Pro. You will often see this jacket BCD used in dive schools all around the world. The reason for that is the Aquaride Pro is versatile; it is lightweight and compact, streamlining its dive profile and making it an ideal travel BCD.
This all-around BCD can be used for a wide-range of diving, from warm water to cold water. Its air bladder provides great lift capacity and allows divers to dive with a thick wet or dry suit in cold-weather conditions without issue. It is constructed from 420-denier Nylon which is perfectly suitable for daily recreational use.
The slim profile makes the Aquaride Pro easy to use and comfortable to wear no matter what your diving experience is. The generously padded shoulder straps and solid backplate also contribute to its comfort.
Additionally, the elastic chest strap and cummerbund help to ensure a comfortable fit even when the air cells are fully inflated. The Aquaride Pro features three dump valves: two shoulder valves and a rear waist valve. This helps you deflate faster if desired and also prevents the air bladder from being overinflated.
Next, the integrated lock system ensures that all of the weights you put into the integrated weight system stays secure and will only move if you use the quick-release mechanism. Two trim weight pockets allow for an additional 5.0 lbs (2.3 kg) of trim weights to be used, and the release pockets can store up to 20.0 lbs (9.1 kg). The Aquaride Pro is just full of great features and is available at a solid price point.
- Type: Back-Inflate
- Lift Capacity: 29.2 lbs (13.2 kg)
- Weight Integrated: No
Scubapro has a reputation for making exceptional scuba diving gear and accessories, which is why we have featured their products on various lists. They continue to uphold their reputation with the release of the Litehawk back-inflate buoyancy compensator. The name is a hint as to its function, which is a lightweight travel BCD.
The “lite” refers not only to its weight, but also its streamlined design. Diving with the Litehawk feels very free and liberating, allowing divers to make all kinds of maneuvers they otherwise couldn’t in other BCDs. Despite its weight and size, the Litehawk does not feel flimsy and in fact feels incredibly secure when strapped up.
With its 1000-Denier Nylon construction, “flimsy” should never be used to describe how resilient the Litehawk is. The back-inflate design keeps the air cell away from the diver and contributes to its streamlined and open design; providing divers with excellent range of motion and lift capacity.
As for storage, the Litehawk provides four aluminum D-rings and two utility pockets for you to bring along all of your diving accessories, from dive light to dive computer, and easily access them when you need them. Though the Litehawk only has three sizes available, it has enough adjustability to cover a wide range of body sizes and types.
Hollis HD 200
- Type: Back-Inflate
- Lift Capacity: 35.0 – 45.0 lbs (15.9 – 20.4 kg)
- Weight Integrated: Yes
As anyone with diving experience will know, it is extremely difficult finding a BCD that strikes the perfect balance of functionality, flotation, and versatility. How much a BCD satisfies these requirements depends on the materials used, how adjustable it is, and whether the BCD type is suitable for your diving needs.
The Hollis HD 200 is a great all-rounder that excels in each of these criteria. It features a thick 2-inch waist strap and a durable stainless steel buckle to secure the BCD in place. Additionally, it uses 2-inch stainless steel D-rings that you can attach various scuba accessories to.
The HD 200 has an intricately molded back-inflate pad which provides the necessary amount of support for your back. Its overall cushioning will keep you feeling comfortable and snug. The outer shell of this BCD is designed to endure rough conditions. The PU-laminated Cordura 1000-denier material will last you for years if you properly maintain it.
Furthermore, the Hollis HD 200 includes interchangeable quick-release weight pockets and uses their unique pinch and pull buckle technology. The air cells are located inside and they are constructed from high-grade urethane. All of the sections in this BCD are solid on their own, but combine together to make a versatile BCD that can be used in nearly all conditions.
- Type: Jacket
- Lift Capacity: 22.0 – 40.0 lbs (10.0 – 18.2 kg)
- Weight Integrated: Yes
The Sherwood Avid BCD makes it onto our list because not only is it undoubtedly one of the best scuba BCDs currently on the market, but it is available at a great price. This model comes with an improved integrated weight-release system, simplifying the process of adding and releasing the weight from the pockets.
Thanks to its unique design, you will feel like you are diving with a device that provides an air wrapping around your body, providing a sense of weightlessness and freedom that makes navigating the waters much more enjoyable.
Additionally, the Avid is able to stay secure on your body and you will feel virtually no squeeze thanks to its suspension chest straps and 3D air bladder constructed from 1000-denier nylon and a urethane lamination. When fully inflated, the avid provides you with a secure and reliable fit.
There’s much to like about the avid, and it comes in a variety of sizes from XS all the way to 3XL. Pair that with its highly adjustable straps, and finding one that fits the contours of your body perfectly should be straightforward.
Apeks Black Ice
- Type: Back-Inflate
- Lift Capacity: 53.0 lbs (24.1 kg)
- Weight Integrated: Yes
If you are in the market for a feature-rich scuba BCD that can withstand the wear and tear of daily use, then the Apeks Black Ice back-inflate BCD from Aqua Lung is something that should be on your radar. The Black Ice has an extremely robust design and a unique weight integration system that will meet any diver’s needs.
This BCD from Aqua Lung uses their patented SureLock II Mechanical weight release system that keeps the weights secure under normal circumstances, but can immediately unload all of the weights with a single-pull release. Inserting the weights is as simple as putting it into the pocket until you hear a click, securing it in place.
Despite its compact design, the Black Ice does not lack any crucial features that may be missing in other scuba BCDs of a similar size. It even comes with nifty extras that make it a convenient and reliable piece of equipment.
Additionally, thanks to its modular design, the Black Ice can be customized to fit you perfectly, with the exact features you want for your next dive. There are three sizes available so finding properly fitting straps for your body type and size is painless.
Scubapro Hydros Pro
- Type: Back-Inflate
- Lift Capacity: 36.0 – 40.5 lbs (16.4 – 18.4 kg)
- Weight Integrated: Yes
The Scubapro Hydros Pro might be out of most divers’ price ranges, however it is simply too good to leave out. It will almost certainly provide you with incredible comfort and last you long enough to justify your investment. Furthermore, it is one of the best BCDs for women.
So what else makes the Hydros Pro a high end device? The premium-grade materials it is constructed out of is chemical and UV-resistant, and the injection-molded Monprene gel is highly resistant to damage. Whether it is impacts or abrasions from rocks, coral, or other underwater structures, the Hydros Pro can take a beating.
Another great thing about the Hydros Pro is its near-zero buoyancy which means less lead weights are needed in your setup. This leads to better stability underwater, less hassle, and ultimately a more enjoyable experience for divers. For comfort and stability, a dual-compound backplate is included. This model uses a single tank band adjustment system that is much easier to set up.
Next, the Hydros Pro is modular and is therefore easy to customize by adding or removing components to suit your diving needs. The included harness is well-made and does not use Velcro or zippers. You can swap it out and change the pouches, straps, weight system, and more, all depending on your needs.
Its modularity is also beneficial for travelers that worry about luggage space. The Hydros Pro has an instant-dry feature which basically means it absorbs very little water and dries quickly out of the water. If you are a seasoned diver who travels often, and you have the funds, then the Hydros Pro is a great investment.
- Type: Hybrid
- Lift Capacity: 44.0 lbs (20.0 kg)
- Weight Integrated: Yes
When selecting the best scuba BCD you need one that is suitable for the type of diving you will be doing while also considering comfort, durability, and lift capacity. Thankfully, the Zeagle Ranger covers all of these aspects because of its integrated weight system, back-inflate design, and heavy-duty construction.
What makes the Ranger stand out from its competition is its versatility that is also intuitive to set up. Like the Black Ice, the Ranger is a modular BCD where you can swap components around for technical diving, twin or single cylinder set ups, cold water diving, or just plain ol’ tropical travel diving.
Since it is so versatile, seasoned divers will find it ideal for their needs since they can just use the Ranger in lieu of having multiple BCDs. Since the Ranger is capable of technical diving, it’s not surprising that it is made from the incredibly tough 1050-denier ballistic-style nylon that provides unrivaled resilience.
Being a hybrid BCD, the back-inflate functionality on this jacket makes it suitable for cave and wreck diving. The streamlined design and ruggedness makes it the perfect choice for overhead diving environments where precise trim control is necessary.
The Ranger’s modularity allows it to be compatible with numerous accessories, like rigid backplates, additional pockets, large air bladders, and any other customized gear components.
All of these awesome features means the Ranger carries a higher price tag than most of the BCDs on this list. However, it is a BCD that will last you for years if you take good care of it. If you can take full advantage of its features, it is one of the best investments you can make for your scuba kit.
Best Scuba BCD Buying Guide
With so many types of BCDs out there from various manufacturers and a wide spectrum of price ranges, it can be difficult to pick out the best scuba BCD for you that meets your needs without breaking the bank. In order to make the most out of your investment, you need to know what to look for in a BCD.
From what materials it’s made from to how much lift capacity it provides, this section is designed to provide you everything you need to know to pick out a scuba BCD you can depend on. It is the same criteria that we used to evaluate the BCDs recommended in the review section, and it can assist you on your own research. Without further ado:
The most common type of BCD is the jacket design. It’s not surprising that it is the most popular; people are already accustomed to wearing jackets for regular clothing as well as life jackets in the water. The jacket style BCD is very intuitive to use and easy to don and doff.
Next, when a jacket style BCD is fully inflated at the surface it will keep the wearer’s head and shoulders above the water much like a life jacket would do. People feel very safe when this happens and for this reason, beginners are often recommended to start with jacket BCDs.
The vertical buoyancy that the jacket style BCD provides is great at the surface but leads to trim issues underwater. In order to efficiently swim, divers need to remain in a horizontal position. They will need to take advantage of the trim pockets to comfortably weigh themselves with the correct amount of ballast so that they are not constantly being forced upright.
Another issue of the jacket style BCD is that it can be very restrictive. The air bladders are located all around the torso. When fully inflated, not only will it restrict your movement, but it can also make it difficult to breath or otherwise uncomfortable in general.
A back-inflate BCD features an air bladder only at the back of the device. When it is fully inflated, it feels more comfortable than jacket BCDs because you are not being constricted by the air cells.
Due to the location of the bladder, it will force your face forwards into a horizontal position by default, making it easier to swim. At the surface, it will constantly force the diver’s face back towards the water which can be panic-inducing for beginners. As such, it is generally recommended for experienced divers.
There is a specific type of back-inflate BCD known as the backplate and wing BCD, or simply wing BCD. Wing BCDs are completely modular meaning that you can combine and remove various components to make an ever-changing BCD. This is almost exclusively used by technical divers that need very specific setups for cave or wreck diving.
Wing BCDs have a high barrier of entry. The initial cost is quite high and the knowledge required to select which components are needed can put a lot of people off. However, once mastered, it is the most versatile and effective type of BCD. You can use it for any type of diving by just switching out the wing for example. If any individual component gets damaged, one needs to only replace that part and not the entire BCD.
You can read more about how jacket BCDs compare to back-inflate BCDs in this article.
Hybrid BCDs are a mix of the jacket and back-inflate style. It aims to combine the best features of both types while trying to minimize the downsides. To that end, hybrid BCDs will mostly inflate in the back like a back-inflate BCD, but also feature some air bladders at the front.
This design addresses the common complaint that jacket BCDs are too constrictive by taking a page out of the back-inflate BCD’s book. It also tries to address the constant forward face-pushing complaint of the back-inflate style by having some air inflation at the front. You will still need trim weights to help you get the perfect balance, but hybrid BCDs should not need as many.
Intended Purpose of the BCD
Now that you know the types of BCDs there are, you also have to consider how you will be using them. We can further categorize the BCDs to help you narrow down your search.
BCDs Designed for General Use
A general purpose BCD is a great choice for recreational and cold water diving. It is for divers who dive with a moderate amount of scuba equipment as well as thick dry or wetsuits. This type of BCD provides enough lift and includes an integrated weight system so that you can dive without any issues. They may be bulky and heavy, but they are also fitted with an abundance of storage space and D-rings.
This wetsuit is also suitable for deep diving. You can wear the thickest suit possible and bring plenty of diving gear such as pressure gauges and a dive computer plus a spare, and the various pockets and D-rings can accommodate all of your diving essentials and keep them within reach.
BCDs Designed for Traveling (Frequent flying, walking with BCD in hand)
Travel BCDs are designed for divers who are frequent fliers. To this end, they are made with lightweight materials and designed with a soft backplate that can be folded up. This makes it easy for divers to pack it in their bag and carry it with them when traveling. Where BCDs are normally the biggest, heaviest piece of scuba equipment one brings, a travel BCD can make traveling a lot more convenient.
The downside of travel BCDs is their low lift capacity. You can only use them for tropical, warm water diving with minimal gear. They also don’t have as many D-rings or storage space. Professional divers that plan on doing deep dives or taking lots of pictures will find travel BCDs unsuitable for their needs.
If you have to fly to your scuba destination and anticipate doing some trekking to reach the dive site, then travel BCDs are a must. They really free up your luggage and keep travel costs low. You may even be able to fit a travel BCD into your carry-on luggage.
BCDs Designed for Technical Diving (Cave and wreck exploration, etc.)
Technical diving is where backplate and wing BCDs excel at. Due to the modular nature of a BPW buoyancy compensator, one can customize it to suit any type of diving. If they want to switch from a single cylinder setup to a twin cylinder, they can just swap out the wing for one that can accommodate that.
One can also dive using a sidemount setup, where the tanks are by the diver’s sides instead of their back. This streamlines their dive profile, reducing their drag and helps them to fit in tight spaces. Technical diving goes beyond the scope of this article, but if you want a BCD that can handle it, then look for a backplate and wing type.
What your BCD is constructed of will determine how durable it is and how much it weighs. Both of these are important considerations depending on the kind of diving you plan on doing. For recreational tropical diving, durability is less of a concern and a compact, lightweight BCD is desirable to make dive traveling easier.
On the other hand, for cold water diving and technical, durability, comfort, and lift capacity have higher priority over other considerations. There is also a matter of cost – BCDs that are both durable and lightweight will cost an arm and a leg, whereas cheaper BCDs have lower quality materials.
The majority of high-end BCDs are made using 1000-denier Cordura. This material is tear and abrasion-resistant so you can navigate rough waters without worrying about your BCD falling apart on you. It’s not invincible, but it can withstand the wear and tear of heavy use for many years.
Another commonly used material is nylon. It’s not as durable as Cordura, however it is lightweight and thus an ideal material choice for travel BCDs. You might also find BCDs that have been treated to be stain and water-resistant, helping it to repel water quickly once you surface.
The inside of a BCD will have soft and comfortable padding. This serves two purposes: to prevent chafing and irritation which is likely to happen after hours of wear, and to provide a snug fit so that the BCD does not slide around you.
Most modern BCDs have an integrated weight system, meaning that there are weight pouches built into your gear. Traditional BCDs without integrated weight systems require divers to wear a weight belt or other such external weighting system in order to make use of dive weights.
Additionally, BCD manufacturers will design additional weight pockets on the rear of the BCD, known as trim pockets, to allow you to fit smaller weights to help you manage your trim.
No matter which weight system you use, it should have a few things in common. First, it is imperative that your weight system has a quick-release mechanism to immediately unload all of the dive weights in case of an emergency.
Second, the weight pockets should be designed such that the weights do not shift around as you are swimming. Furthermore, a weight locking mechanism will prevent the weights from being unintentionally released.
Third, make sure that the weight pouches are large enough to fit the dive weights you need. For cold water diving, you need plenty of weights. Warm water diving requires less. Be careful not to overload them as that can cause a safety hazard.
A BCD’s lift capacity refers to how much weight it can displace in water when fully inflated. The question is how much weight do you need? Beginners who don’t have much equipment don’t need very much weight, maybe only 10-20 pounds (4.5-9.0 kilos) of lift.
The more complicated the diving you do, the higher the lift capacity you need. Technical divers that dive with multiple tanks, a thick dry suit, and plenty of other gear may need anywhere from 40 to 80 pounds (18.2 – 36.4 kg) of lift to prevent them from sinking.
If you are not sure where you fall within these ranges, a good rule to follow is to have more weight than you think you need. So if you are bringing 30 pounds of gear with you on a dive, play it safe and find a BCD that can provide up to 40 pounds of lift.
There is also a consideration to make regarding lift capacity, which is the size of the air bladder. Naturally, the more lift capacity you want, the larger the bladder will be when inflated. A large bladder increases drag, and in the case of a jacket BCD, can be very constricting. So you have to be careful not to get too much lift, however dealing with those downsides is much better than the downsides of not having enough lift.
Everybody is different – quite literally, in fact. Each diver’s body is unique and thus selecting a BCD that fits perfectly will require some trial and error. This is further complicated when factoring in everyone’s differing preferences; some prefer a tight fit, while others want some breathing room.
The best way to address this extreme variance is to look for a BCD with many adjustable features. You will want adjustable straps, like an adjustable crotch strap and cummberbund, which will do wonders in ensuring the BCD stays secure on your torso.
You should also look for adjustable shoulder, chest and waist straps to keep the device from sliding all over the place. One exception is in women’s BCDs, where a chest strap is sometimes intentionally left out because they tend to squeeze a woman’s bust uncomfortably.
Also consider adjustable tank straps to tightly secure your gear to your back so that you don’t find yourself without an air source hundreds of feet underwater.
When it comes to adjustability, we would be remiss not to give special mention to a particular type of back-inflate BCD known as the backplate and wing (BPW) or simply wing BCD. Wing BCDs are entirely modularly, meaning each component can be removed and replaced.
If you don’t like the air bladder, you can detach it and connect a different one. Harness is uncomfortable? Same deal. BPWs are used almost exclusively by advanced divers because the sheer amount of customization options available is paralyzing to a beginner.
However, manufacturers have lowered the barrier to entry to wing BCDs by selling entire kits as a starting point. You can further mix and max components as your skills improve and your needs become more specialized.
Consider how many accessories you need to bring with you on a dive and make sure that a BCD has enough storage space and D-rings to accommodate them. Most BCDs should have pockets and D-rings, though their quality will vary between models.
Cheaper BCDs will have Velcro pockets and plastic D-rings. As you can expect, they are not very good at keeping your items secure and there are many horror stories of divers losing all of their scuba accessories when the pocket suddenly opened up or the D-rings broke.
Ideally, you want a BCD with zippered, expandable pockets. These provide plenty of storage space and will keep your items safe inside. When not needed, you can fold them up so that they barely take up any space.
As for D-rings, you want ones made out of stainless steel or aluminum. Stainless steel is durable but heavy. Aluminum is corrosion resistant, durable, and light. You can find aluminum D-rings on higher end models.
Consider also how many D-rings and pockets a BCD has as well as their placement. You want them located in places that are easy to reach and enough of them for all your gear to attach to or stow in.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a BCD? What does it do? Do I need one?
BCD stands for buoyancy control device, sometimes referred to as “BC” or buoyancy compensator. In layman’s terms, it is a piece of scuba equipment that controls whether you go up or down in the water.
This is done using an air bladder (sometimes referred to as the air cell or “wing”) which you inflate or deflate depending on if you would like to go up or down. BCDs generally make you positively buoyant (floating upwards), and divers have to bring lead dive weights with them to counteract their positive buoyancy, making them negatively buoyant so that they can descend the depths.
Once the desired depth is reached, the air bladder is inflated such that the diver is neither ascending or descending, and at this point they have reached neutral buoyancy. Divers can then freely swim around without wasting energy fighting against their buoyancy. Once a diver wants to surface, they simply inflate their BCD until they are positively buoyant and begin their ascent.
As you can probably tell, a buoyancy compensator plays a crucial role in ensuring a diver’s safety, and it is imperative that divers have one that they can depend on. Careful consideration needs to be made so you can pick the best scuba BCD for your specific needs.
How long does a scuba BCD last?
No matter how durable a piece of equipment is, at some point it is going to break especially if you use it frequently or expose it to rough conditions. When it comes to BCDs, the best ones can last as long as 8-10 years before they need replacing. Cheaper ones may need to be replaced every couple of years.
A general rule of thumb is that you can do approximately 4,000 dives before the entire unit needs to be replaced, assuming you are properly maintaining the device. Therein lies another issue, which is that not everyone knows how to maintain their scuba BCDs.
How do I maintain a BCD?
Maintaining your BCD is not much different than the steps you would do for your other scuba equipment. After a dive, make sure to thoroughly rinse your BCD with freshwater. The purpose of this is to wash off any debris or salt deposits. If these are not removed, they can accumulate and form salt crystals that can puncture your gear.
A common cause of BCD malfunction comes from not properly cleaning the air bladder. Beginners don’t realize that they should clean the inside of the bladder as well by connecting a garden hose to the inflator hose and flushing out any debris inside the bladder. If not, then the accumulation of debris can eventually puncture the bladder.
After rinsing, leave it in a well-ventilated, shaded area to air dry. Do not leave your gear in direct sunlight because the UV rays can damage the material, making it brittle. Only stow your gear after it has completely air dried, otherwise any remaining moisture can result in mold growth.
How much does a BCD cost?
When it comes to buying a product that your life literally depends on, how much are you willing to spend? It’s better to think of it as an investment – perhaps one of the most important ones you’ll make. Like any market, there are cheap BCDs and there are expensive BCDs. The price range depends on the features it offers, the quality of the materials used, and the brand.
In the BCD market, a budget model will cost around $200 to $400. If there are any cheaper than that, I would be highly suspicious of the quality. The higher end models can cost anywhere from $1000 to $3000. These are made for technical divers and not something every diver needs. If you are an absolute beginner, there is nothing wrong with getting a budget BCD as long as you use it for shallow, warm water diving.
How do I inflate a BCD?
There are two ways to inflate your BCD. Most BCDs include a power inflator which connects to your cylinder and inflates the bladder using the inflator hose. There are some fail-safes in place like an overpressure relief valve that kicks in when you are inflating the bladder too much or too quickly with gas. This is the first and preferred method to inflate your BCD.
The second way is to inflate the bladder orally in the event the power inflator malfunctions. Oral inflation is simple but arduous, and can be done both at the surface and underwater. Just blow into the rig using the mouthpiece until it is sufficiently inflated. Of course, while underwater, you have to switch between your mouthpiece and regulator in order to do so.
Is a BCD mandatory for diving?
Yes. A BCD is not just convenience’s sake. It is a device that can help you surface quickly in the event of an emergency. As we mentioned, it is something your life literally depends on. Even an advanced diver wouldn’t dare dive without a BCD. When fully inflated, it is essentially no different than a life-saving device such as a life jacket.
Particularly if you are just starting out, you want to make sure that your BCD has sufficient lift capacity to lift you and the rest of your scuba equipment to the surface with ease. If you’re willing to roll the dice with your life, then you can dive without a BCD. But we don’t recommend it.
How should a BCD fit?
A BCD needs to strike the perfect balance where it fits snug when fully inflated, but not so much that it is constricting. When strapped in, your chest, stomach, and crotch should feel like it is securely wrapped up even when the air bladder is deflated. Adjustable straps go a long way in making sure your fit is perfect.
Unfortunately, jacket BCDs, the most popular kind, are likely to feel constricting when inflated due to the placement of the bladder. Back-inflation BCDs won’t have this issue since the wing is located in the back, away from the body.
It is also important to ensure that the backplate isn’t too long or short as this can affect the stability of your tanks. A backplate that is too short can feel uncomfortable because the cylinder can hit the diver’s tailbone as they dive.
How does BCD sizing work?
You can’t rely on regular clothing sizes when picking out a BCD. You could be someone who wears XL-sized T-shirts but only need to wear a medium-sized BCD. Look for a sizing chart and look for exact measurements so you can compare them to your own. Every brand will have slightly different sizing for each model, so always look for the sizing chart.
Also, keep in mind that the size of the BCD can have an effect on its dry weight, lift capacity, and drag, among other things. Look carefully at what features change when you switch sizes. Generally, the bigger the BCD, the more lift capacity it provides. This means it has a larger bladder which will also affect drag underwater. Some BCDs provide a uniform lift capacity across all sizes.
Best Scuba BCD Recap
BCDs are an essential part of your scuba diving kit and the best scuba BCDs come down to personal preference. There are a lot of quality brands and models on the market, so you should familiarize yourself with the anatomy of a BCD and any important features to make the most informed decision. Since BCDs can save your life in the event of an emergency, you must think of them as a necessary investment instead of a frivolous expense.
The choice of jacket, back-inflate, or hybrid BCD depends on your skill level and how you plan on using them. Jacket BCDs are the most popular and are suitable for leisurely diving in shallow, tropical waters. Back-inflate BCDs are better suited for experienced divers due to their modular design. Hybrid BCDs can be used by both beginners or experienced divers.
No matter which type of BCD you get, most of them should include an integrated weight system. This eliminates the need for divers to wear a weight belt. Regardless of the weight system, it must have a quick-release mechanism to unload the weights in one motion. The amount of weights used should not exceed the lift capacity of the BCD.
Comfort and fit is another important consideration. You will be wearing the BCD for hours at a time, so the straps, padding, and backplate needs to feel just right, whether the air bladder is fully inflated or not. Sizing should not be an issue if you are using the included sizing chart. Adjustable straps can help you get a custom fit if you are inbetween sizes or have a unique body type.
There is a large variance in BCD features regarding dump valves, weight pockets, storage pockets, D-rings, and straps. Their locations will differ as well as how many there are and the quality of each component. Again, personal preference is key here.
This was just a brief summary of what was covered in the buyer’s guide which we recommend you read in full. However, if you find a BCD that fits some or all of the important criteria, at an affordable price, then you may have found the best scuba BCD for you. Remember to properly maintain it, and it will last you for many years to come. Happy diving!