How to Choose the Best BCD
Whether you’re wondering “what does BCD stand for?” or you’re already deeply immersed in the scuba diving world, selecting the best BCD can be overwhelming.
From travel BCDs to weight integrated BCDs, there are many options for this important piece of scuba diving equipment. Choosing the best BCD is important for both safety and your enjoyment while diving.
1. The Basics: What is a BCD in scuba diving?
BCD stands for buoyancy compensator device. A BCD is something you wear while scuba diving to help you maintain positive buoyancy on the surface of the water, allowing you to float, and neutral buoyacny when under water.
Wetsuits are buoyant, but their buoyancy decreases as you descend deeper into the water, due to the compression of air bubbles. Adding air to your BCD as you descend allows you to compensate for this change in buoyancy.
2. Different Types of BCDs
Choosing the best BCD for your needs is more complicated than just selecting the top rated BCD on the market. You should consider these different types to determine which is right for you:
● Jacket Style BCD: Also known as a wraparound style BCD, this common option is a vest that looks similar to a life jacket. It has an air bladder that wraps around your body and inflates in the front, sides, and back.
Jacket style BCDs often have storage pockets for gear and provide great stability when you’re on the surface, allowing you to stay upright. Some people find them comfortable while others find them constricting, so it’s beneficial to try one out and make sure you get the right size before purchasing if you can.
One downside to this type of BCD is that it can be bulky and cause drag, which slows you down when you’re swimming under water.
Jacket style BCDs are perhaps the easiest type to learn how to use and are great for beginner divers, though many experienced divers use them as well.
This can feel less constricting and is great for divers wishing to carry a large camera in the front.
Back Inflation BCDs have less drag when you’re swimming under water, but do make it more difficult to stay upright when at the surface. They can also have a higher lift capacity and are often used by technical divers.
● Hybrid: Hybrid BCDs wrap around your torso, but carry most of the air in the back, combining the advantages of wraparounds and back inflation BCDs.
● Backplate and Wing BCD: Really a subset of back inflation BCDs, the backplate and wing option is much more streamlined and provides you with the greatest mobility and stability. This is a great choice if you plan to dive in narrow areas like caves or hate feeling constricted.
Many beginner and recreational divers, however, do not prefer this type of BCD as it has no storage pockets for gear and no weight integration pockets. You would need to use a separate weight belt.
Backplate and wing BCDs are a great option in terms of buoyancy, but are better for advanced divers.
● Sidemount BCD: Designed for technical and cave diving, sidemount BCDs let you carry dive tanks under your arms instead of on your back to get into narrow spots.
Lift capacity refers to how much weight a BCD can keep afloat.
The amount of lift you need depends in large part on how deep you’re diving, the type of wet suit you wear, and how much weight you’re carrying. Wearing a full wetsuit in colder water will provide more buoyancy, thus requiring greater lift capacity in cold climate dives.
Your body composition also impacts the lift capacity you need in a BCD.
4. Basic Features of your BCD
These are key features to understand about your BCD:
- Air Bladder – This is what holds the air to make you buoyant.
- Valves – The dump valve lets you release the air from the air bladder, while the pressure release valve prevents the air bladder from bursting if overfilled; these two valves are sometimes combined.
- Cylinder Mount – Included in many BCDs, this is where you secure your tank.
- Weights – Wearing weights helps you to descend, reach greater depths, and stay under water. Wet suits increase your buoyancy and weights counteract that phenomenon.
Some BCDs have integrated weight pockets while others require you to wear a separate weight belt.
Many people find integrated weight pockets to be more comfortable and convenient. Whichever type you use, make sure you know how to quickly release the weights to maintain safety.
- Inflator: Oral inflators allow you to inflate your BCD through blowing in air while power inflators allow you to inflate through pressing a button. Oral inflators serve primarily as a backup for the power inflator.
5. Bonus BCD Features
The following features are available in some models, so think about which are most important to you when choosing the best BCD for your needs.
● Storage Pockets – These allow you to conveniently bring gear; storage pockets will not be found in backplate and wing BCDs. Some BCDs also have D-rings where you can clip on additional gear.
● Hose Retainers: Some BCDs have clips or tabs to help you secure your hoses into place.
● Padding: The level and placement of padding will vary by BCD, so make sure to consider this for comfort.
● Quick Release Straps: These make it easier to remove your BCD.
● Color: This may seem trivial, but a BCD with some sort of bright color is safer than an all-black BCD, as it will increase your visibility on the surface.
6. Top Rated BCDs
While the best BCD for you will depend in part on personal preference these top rated BCDs will not steer you wrong:
● Cressi Start BCD: This jacket style BCD is a great value. It is stable, durable, and has 2 storage pockets, in addition to D-rings to attach gear.
The Cressi Start does not have integrated weight pockets, so you will need a weight belt.
● Mares Hybrid Pro: This back inflation BCD costs just over $400 and includes an integrated weight system. Users were pleased with both the quality and the comfort of this model.
● Aqualung Pro HD BCD i300 Dive Computer Titan: At over $900, the Auqalung Pro is more of an investment, but it comes with a dive computer as well. This is a wraparound jacket BCD and includes weight integration pockets.
Users were highly satisfied with the comfort and functionality, but did note that the sizing runs a little large.
7. Best Travel BCDs
Do you plan to dive near home or bring your gear on tropical vacations? If you want gear that will travel the globe with you, make sure to consider the best travel BCDs when making your choice.
Travel BCDs are more compact, making them easier to pack, but this can sacrifice some functionality. Travel BCDs are also lightweight so they don’t weigh down your luggage.
Through our BCD reviews, we identified some of the best travel BCDs to meet your globetrotting needs:
● The Scubapro Litehawk, a back inflation BCD weighing only 5.2 pounds, has removable weight pockets available, and four D-rings. Costing $560, users found this travel BCD to be comfortable and not at all bulky.
● The less expensive Cressi Travelite BCD is a jacket style BCD weighing just slightly more, at 5.5 pounds. It has weight pockets as well as accessory pockets and is designed to fold up very quickly and fit into a carry bag.
Users found the Travelite to be lightweight and easy to fold, but some had issues with weight pockets detaching and seams ripping.
8. BCD Safety
Choosing the best BCD for you, and more importantly, learning how to use it, is integral to your safety when diving. One study in Australia found that over 10% of the diving incidents studied were linked to BCDs, many due to diver error.
Some things you can do to protect your safety include:
- Choose a high quality BCD that fits you well.
- Invest in a comprehensive diving course and make sure you ask your instructor about proper weighting and buoyancy control until you have a thorough understanding.
- Special courses just on buoyancy are also offered.
- Practice! This article outlines some helpful drills you can do to practice using your BCD and this article provides safety tips and videos related to buoyancy, including breath control.
What to Remember
This is no place to skimp; choose a top rated BCD and make sure it’s the best BCD to meet your individual needs – whether that’s diving in the cold waters of Fjord Norway or Thailand’s tropical Similan Islands.
Product images sourced from Amazon.com