Scuba Diving BCD Review 2018Simon Vetterli
ScubaLab Tests 7 of 14 New Buoyancy Compensators
ScubaLab tested and reviewed the best new BCs, or BCDs.
We tested 14 jacket, back-inflation and women’s BCs here are the first 7. Here is how we test:
ScubaLab test divers equipped with underwater slates and waterproof test sheets recorded their observations about each BC’s performance and assigned scores and notes in each of the following categories:
- Assembly: Ease and security of making tank and hose attachments
- Loading Weights: Ease of loading and security of integrated-weight system
- Comfort: Overall comfort, both in and out of the water
- Adjustability: Ease of adjusting and range of adjustment
ATTITUDE AND STABILITY
In swim and vertical (head-up and head-down) positions; overall sense of control of attitude
Usefulness and accessibility of cargo pockets, D-rings, loops, etc., for securing accessories
Ability to control when inflating/deflating by power inflator and manually; ergonomics of the controls
Ability to maintain desired ascent rate and attitude
SURFACE FLOATING POSITION
Comfort and stability while inflated at the surface
DITCHING WEIGHT SYSTEM
Ability to drop weights quickly; weights secure from accidental ditching
We conducted three in-water tests (in fresh water) on each BC to measure criteria important to performance and safety.
FLOW RATE TEST
We tested the ability of each BC’s exhaust system to prevent uncontrolled ascent in the event of a stuck power inflator. Each BC, at 10 feet and loaded with 20 percent of the manufacturer’s claimed buoyant lift, was held upright while the power inflator and upper exhaust were simultaneously activated for 20 seconds. Industry standards require that, at the conclusion, a BC has not become positively buoyant.
Each BC (in size medium unless otherwise noted) was fully inflated with the power inflator while mounted upright to a neutrally buoyant bucket, which was then progressively weighted until the BC would not support another pound without sinking.
To determine how weighting would be affected by built-in buoyancy, each BC (in size medium unless otherwise noted) was submerged and air was removed from bladder, pockets, padding, etc. Weights were then added in half-pound increments until the BC would support no further weight without sinking.
For the complete results of the 2018 ScubaLab BC test, click here.
HOW WE SCORE
Test divers assigned scores to BCs in each evaluation category as follows:
What’s most important in selecting the winning BCs?
While test divers rated each BC on nearly a dozen separate factors, as always two were key: comfort and stability. Other factors are important (sufficient lift, weight-system operation, valve and exhaust controls, storage), but if a BC doesn’t fit well and provide stability and control, the rest doesn’t matter.
With almost no inherent buoyancy, the Carbon manages to be comfortable and supportive without being bulky. It can easily be fine-tuned for a snug fit, and took the high score for stability. One diver noted that it “lets you float in most orientations with little effort.” The weight pockets slide right in, and took top scores for loading and ditching. Eight metal D-rings, an octo pocket and two zippered cargo pockets leave plenty of room for accessories, although the pockets zip toward the back, making them tougher to access.
The Carbon features a number of extras, but that’s not why divers overwhelmingly chose it as their favorite. Like an alchemist turning lead into gold, the Carbon takes all of the basic elements of a good BC and makes them shine. The Carbon is our Testers Choice for jacket BCs.
Beuchat Masterlift X-Air Comfort
With its rigid back pad wrapped in plush foam and huge air cell that hugs your body snugly without being too tight, it’s no wonder test divers found the Masterlift to be what one described as “extremely comfy and secure.” Testers had initial hesitation with the BC’s quick-release tank band but felt it was very secure once they figured out how to adjust it. The weight pockets slide in easily, and the design allows you to actually see the buckles. There’s also a Velcro flap that cinches after the buckles are in; some divers found the extra belt-and-suspenders security a bit of overkill.
The Masterlift took the highest score for stowage thanks to its roomy pockets. They feature internal D-rings and bungee cords, and remain easily accessible, even when this beast of a BC is fully inflated. Multiple divers picked the Masterlift as one of their favorites of the test.
Most divers liked the Prestige’s Slide & Lock weight pockets, which display a green indicator when locked and require a two-step process to secure. However, a few divers tended to hit the lock button on the handles while trying to shove them in, activating the lock early. The BC’s low-cut air cell took top score for surface floating position. Underwater, the BC fit nicely and kept the tank “rock solid,” as one tester said, with no rolling or pitching. “Goes horizontal to vertical and back without thought” is how the diver described its stable attitude control.
The cargo pockets are a bit tight, but the octo pocket, D-rings and grommets are well-placed. The easy-to-find dump valves operated flawlessly, and the ergonomic inflator won praise for its textured buttons and precise buoyancy control, earning the best score in the category for ascent control.
This budget-friendly starter BC lets you add optional integrated-weight pockets. We tested it with integrated weights, which have a pinch-to-release system that worked well. Divers found the Prime easy to set up and adjust, and stable underwater, with what one diver called “really good attitude control.” Divers noted a bit of squeeze on the surface but also a nice heads-up position. Its plastic D-rings are sparse, but it has useful octo and gauge pockets.
There are large cargo pockets, but testers really didn’t care for the hook-and-loop flaps that secure them, which close tightly but are tough to open and interfere with accessing contents. The Prime doesn’t skimp on lift — we measured 50 pounds in size large. The Prime has the same inflator as the Prestige, and took similarly high scores for ascent control and valve operation.
Seac Pro 2000
The ruggedly built Pro 2000 combines a thick, cushioned back pad with an air cell that provides 41 pounds of lift in size medium to create a beefy BC that is comfortable and capable. The tank-band-mounted trim pockets made securing the tank more difficult. The integrated weights, on the other hand, couldn’t have been simpler to load — the visible externally mounted buckles were easy to line up and popped right into place. The BC’s attitude and stability were rated very good, although some divers noted it favored a slightly vertical orientation.
Its floaty disposition and stiff inflator buttons — which were a little too eager to add and dump air — made it difficult for some to maintain neutral buoyancy. Testers found the cargo pockets tough to reach, but the large number of D-rings and drop-down pocket leave plenty of storage options.
There’s nothing fancy about the Liberator, but divers found much more than meets the eye. It took top score for assembly thanks to its simple, effective tank strap and tank-buckle cam. “Wow” was how one tester described the BC’s comfortable, supportive fit. Although it has a fair amount of padding, it was almost dead neutral in the water. One diver noted that it was “so lightweight, I don’t even feel like I’m wearing a BC.” Divers found the Liberator stable and flexible, and able to easily switch between vertical and horizontal attitudes.
Its inflator is ergonomic (except for the oddly shaped mouthpiece) and provides precise flow control. The zippered cargo pockets are big and easy to access. Providing performance well beyond what you might expect from such a budget-friendly BC, the Liberator is our Best Buy.
The Bravo earned the second-highest score for assembly — no small feat considering the hassle that can come with some double tank bands. The Bravo uses an adjustable quick-release valve strap to hold things in place, and divers appreciated the assist. Weights load easily, with plastic D-rings attached to the outside of the pockets, giving additional leverage. It scored second place for ditching; one diver commented, “Sure thing — one pull.” The Bravo earned very good scores for stowage thanks to its cargo pockets, six stainless D-rings and two sets of grommets.
The BC was very comfortable, but some found the sizes a little large — including medium-size divers in small BCs. It was stable but tended to pitch slightly on the surface and underwater. Its exhaust valves and inflator were very good for maintaining buoyancy and controlled ascent.