The next in my series – building my own set.
A reg. For most of us, a reg means a 1st Stage (that thing that hooks to the tank), a 2nd Stage (that thing that hooks to your mouth), an alternate 2nd Stage (that thing that hooks to your buddy’s mouth when out of air), a console and a LP hose (that thing that hooks to your BCD).
When I set out to buy my reg, I wanted durability, flexibility and a good price. Durability is important to me because I dive a lot. And I dive in many environments. My time at the Shedd Aquarium demonstrated that the dive environment and underwater activities will impact the gear considerably. I’m bouncing off walls at the pool and doing exaggerated deep water entries several times a week, I will blow many bubbles in water under 70 degrees with the occasional visit to 40 something degrees. There will be sand, muddle, hair, rocks, salt and such. During rescue training, I will be beaten, yanked, pulled and nearly drowned time and again. I need durable gear.
There are a couple terms you should learn before setting out. First, balanced or unbalanced. This is antiquated – like buddy breathing and not having alternate. Balanced means your first breath will feel the same as one of the last breath of air on a tank. Unbalanced means that each breath gets more difficult until the tank is empty. I’ll take balanced and an air gauge please.
Then you have diaphragm v. piston 1st Stage. The first stage of a scuba regulator does most of the hard work by reducing air pressure from the tank, sometimes higher than 3000 PSI, to a stable intermediate pressure of around 135 PSI above ambient pressure. Piston designs are simple and durable and immersed in the same water that you are diving. They are typically less expensive, easier to maintain but can have considerable problems in cold water. Diaphragm versions are sealed off from the environment and work well in cold water and are easier to clean. The down side is that they are more costly to service and usually more expensive.
So which? You tell me, what’s better: Ford or Chevy? Budweiser or Miller? The Cubs or the White Sox? (Well, that one is easy!) The point is, both designs work extremely well. There are some inherent advantages to each design, but these are small and hotly contested among the techies. Keep in mind that the classic first stage designs have been around for several decades, almost unchanged since the days of the old double hose regulators. Jacques Cousteau used this style of regulator on thousands of very deep, very demanding dives.
I also have grown to like to customize my gear. Recently, I removed my console altogether and rely on my wireless transmitter to send my air info to my computer. That console only carries an air gauge as I use the computers for depth, temperature and direction. I keep my console handy in my reg bag. (Digression – if you buy a reg and/or computer – get them a separate specialized bag. They are fragile and expensive. Protect your valuables.) Should my transmitter fail – my spare battery prove to be dead – whatever – I can throw my console back on the reg. For now, I like one less hose, especially since I added a drysuit hose recently 😉
I have researched and read, listened and tested and decided that ScubaPro makes the best regulators in scuba. ScubaPro and Aqualung make up the top tier of scuba gear, but the ScubaPro regulators have no peers. Most manufactures offer a small discount if you buy the 1st and 2nd stage from them and I think it makes sense. This very important piece of equipment is tested and designed with other members of the same brand – I believe they are best suited to work together. Plus, ScubaPro makes the best regulator parts available. Period.
You can spend $2000 on the top of the line ScubaPro 1st and 2nd Stage, but I don’t think you need to do so. We have a guy at the shop that went that route. His thinking – “the most important part of my gear, I will spend the most and get the best…” I cannot argue with his philosophy. For me, I need a diaphragm reg and wanted a simple second stage. I knew that it would be ScubaPro. I wanted an extra high pressure port so I could run a transmitter and a console at the same time. For my purposes, I decided to go with the MK11 and S360. MK11 is the standard diaphragm 1st stage with enough ports to keep me happy. The S360 is a simple version of the S560. It simply doesn’t have the variable flow control – and I don’t need or want it. I dive enough gear to be able to manage on any resistance and maintain a low breath rate. For most of my staff, they want that added control. I rather have one less thing to break.
Generally, any console will work and gauges are personal preference. I like a simple small air gauge and bought ScubaPro to keep it all matching. If you don’t have a computer, a depth gauge is a must. In fact, not a bad idea to have one anyway in case your computer dies. I use two computers, so I feel I’m covered. And a compass – let’s just say I have mad underwater navigation skills…and a computer with a fancy compass…
Your low pressure hose typically comes with your BCD – but I like to upgrade to the nylon flex versions. They last longer and are more durable – see above. Finally, you might wonder about an alternate air source. Do I practice what I preach? I do – but mine is integrated into my BCD and I will discuss next time. My staff prefers a long hosed, high quality version for their gear since they use them all the time. Unless you see a future of Divemaster or Instructor, you can probably go cheap on the alternate as it will rarely see any use. But, if you do plan to join our ranks, then a quality alternate and a longer hose will make your life much better.
Overall, my reg allows me the flexibility to swap parts and pieces as I feel the need and arrived at a very cost effective price. That’s all I have for today. As an aside, we are moving! Watch for moving specials all month and a Grand Opening at our new location around August 1. Also, join us for our next big trip as we invade the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.
Stay safe – Bubbles up