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Welcome to Dive Gear Reviews, a comprehensive guide to scuba diving equipment. Scuba diving is an expensive pursuit, so looking up reviews for a particular article of equipment is a wise precaution before investing any hard-earned money in it. However, consumer reviews may or may not be written by an experienced diver, and magazine reviews could be suspect due to the advertising ties of the publication in question. Dive Gear Reviews provides cross-referenced reviews assembled by an expert, making it possible to see at a glance what multiple sources said about a particular piece of scuba equipment. If one magazine loved a scuba regulator or a dive computer, but the consumers hated it, that information will be found here.

Integrated Weights, BCDs and Safety

Written by Dive Gear Reviews Editor. Comments Off on Integrated Weights, BCDs and Safety Posted in: BCDs, Dive Gear Tips
Rescue diver

(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The tragic death of police diver Timothy Schock at Greenbrier Lake points directly towards BCD maintenance issues and the safety of integrated weight systems, two often neglected subjects in the scuba community. There is only so much that can be gleaned from even a detailed news article, but some lessons are very easily drawn from the information available.

If Your BCD Fails, Abort the Dive
First and foremost, Office Schock and his partner continued their first dive and went onto the second fatal dive with Schock wearing a defective BCD. A button fell off his inflator during the first dive. While Schock had manual inflation capability initially, the inflator mechanism was clearly broken and it was only a matter of time before the entire system began leaking air and compromised the BCD.

Schock had no way of knowing his BCD would fail completely during his second dive, but he was only on a training exercise and should have aborted the first dive as soon as the inflator button fell off. From the moment that button fell off, he was taking a substantial risk.

Take Care of Your BCD
Most divers adhere to the dictum that a regulator should be taken in for annual servicing, but BCDs rarely receive the same attention. Many divers fail to give their BCDs even a cursory, regular inspection. Divers should make a habit of at least inspecting their gear whenever it goes into or out of storage, and a diver who is unfamiliar with how a BCD works should probably have a technician look their BCD at the same time their regulator goes in for servicing.

In the wake of Schock’s death, his department announced they would send all their dive gear to a technician for servicing. Prior to the accident, each diver was responsible for his own gear, and the police department admitted that their divers had no specialized training for servicing their own gear. The department also indicated that buddy checks were not part of their Standard Operating Procedure, a very basic safety and inspection violation. A combination of self-inspection, expert inspection and buddy inspection might have identified Schock’s problem before he even got into the water.

Integrated Weights Failure
After Schock’s BCD failed, his integrated weight system reportedly failed as well. This failure was critical in the fatal accident that ensued. Schock and his partner were diving in a mountain lake in February, so they were wearing cold water exposure gear and the extra-heavy weights that go with that. If you can’t adjust your buoyancy and you can’t drop your weights, getting to the surface and staying there becomes problematic in the extreme. That they were in freshwater, which is less buoyant than saltwater, only made matters worse.

The report does not identify the BCD model in question, but it specifies that the BCD used the ripcord system. What is worse, all of the department’s BCDs failed a test of their ripcord-dumped integrated weight system after the accident. Consumers complain that ripcord systems are complicated to load, but whether this across the board failure was due to improper loading of the weight system, the aforementioned poor maintenance issues,  or a faulty design is not known. What is known is that once Schock’s ripcord system failed, he was unable to easily dump his weights.

Simplicity is sometimes an underrated virtue. Let’s say a diver wearing a Scubapro Knighthawk was unable to dump his weights because the snap buckles on his BCD were stuck. Assuming the diver didn’t panic, he could still loosen the buckle strap, pull out the weight pockets, unzip them and dump the weights. Being able to dump your weights is critical to safety in an emergency, so you should look at your system and ask the question “what will I do if that doesn’t work and I can’t dump my weights?” The last resort in a situation like that is to dump the entire BCD and buddy-breathe to the surface, but try to be familiar enough with your gear to cope with a weight-dumping snag.