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Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) for Scuba Divers: If you don't have the right one you can spend your dives constantly fighting your BCD. You want to float and it's dragging you down, you want to dive and it's keeping you up. For the most part, this is fixed by actually knowing how to use your BCD properly. But choosing the right BCD for your diving, needs and diving ability, make learning how to use it a lot easier.

Types of Scuba Diving BCD

There five basic types of Scuba Buoyancy Compensators.

  • Vest or Jacket
  • Rear or Back
  • Wing
  • Sidemount
  • Horse Collar

Only the first four of these are really used in scuba diving today.

We prefer back/rear inflation and wing style BCDs. Experienced divers have learned the rear inflation bladder BCDs are better than a wrap-around bladder jacket/vest BCDs. Rear wings offer very precise control of buoyancy and trim as well as offering a more streamlined profile. A properly fitting back/rear inflation BCD, worn with a crotch strap, will allow you to assume and hold any position under the water, or on the surface.

BCD Features

Buoyancy compensators can have a ton of features, or very few. Options are almost limitless.

The more features it has usually the more expensive it is. But what do you need, and what is just fluff is what you have to think about.

Maintenance And Care

Scuba BCDs are expensive. Practicing good post-dive care and general maintenance will give your equipment a long life and save you from having to spend money on a new one.

Putting It All Together

There is a lot to consider before buying a BCD.

On the surface a scuba BCD should fit like a snug jacket. Not too tight under the arms, or across the torso. Women should choose a model designed for them.

But like everything else when it comes to diving, it's about more than just fit and style

You need to consider what type of diving you are doing, and what gear you'll need to carry with you to do it. A BCD is not just an airbag. A good one is like Batman's utility belt.

Consider what features are essential to you, and find the one that most closely fits that profile.

Start reading reviews and manufacturers materials, read forums and ask other divers for their opinions. Or just call and ask us.

Be honest with yourself about the type of diving you'll be doing. Make a checklist of everything you need in a scuba BCD,do your homework, and you should end up with the right scuba BCD for you.

For more information about BCD features please read our advice on choosing the right BCD for you in our Trusted Advice section.

BCD Features

BCD Features from The Scuba Doctor

Commonly referred to as BC (Buoyancy Compensator) or BCD (Buoyancy Compensating Device) or Stab (Stabilising) Jacket the modern BCD allows the accurate addition and subtraction of air whilst in the water to adjust buoyancy.

A good quality BCD will improve your buoyancy control, weight distribution, and comfort in the water. Generally speaking the more you spend the more features your BCD will have.

Ladies should certainly seriously consider lady BCDs, they offer a shorter length of jacket, integrated weights (to stop the bruising to your hips) and a better fit all over.

For a large range of BCDs for all conditions visit our BCDs section in the Dive Shop.


Denier refers to the thread thickness used in the weave of the material covering your BCD. A high denier such 1200 offers excellent scratch resistance (e.g. inadvertently scraping against a sharp edge on a wreck) but low puncture resistance (e.g. accidentally pressing a pointed object against the BCD). A low denier such as 420 offers low scratch resistance but high puncture resistance. A low denier jacket will have a lighter physical weight making it more popular in travelling BCDs designs whilst a high denier makes the BCD heavy but harder wearing. Many BCDs now incorporate different denier panels in different areas of the BCD to offer the best of all thicknesses.

Integrated Weights

Weight integration built into a BCD can mean you won't need to wear a weight belt. However, most systems available today will not necessarily hold enough weight to totally remove the need for a weight belt when worn with a dry suit or thick wet suit. For warm water divers (and especially ladies who are fed up of having bruised hips after diving), weight integration should seriously be considered. The weights that usually fit on the belt are now stored in special removable pockets. These pockets can be dumped in an emergency or easily released and passed to the boat crew when exiting from deep water.

Ladies BCDs

Modern ladies BCDs offer female divers increased comfort and a much better fit. Key features are that the back length is reduced (ladies typically have shorter backs than men), which means the cylinder does not rest on the base of your spine. Integrated weights save your hips from the bruising sometimes suffered by using a conventional weight belt. Also, often the chest straps are removed on a ladies BCD to avoid constriction across the bust.

Styles: Wings vs Jackets vs Rear Inflation

The rule of thumb with selecting whether to go for a wing style BCD, a normal jacket style BCD, or a rear inflation style BCD is your experience level. A normal jacket style BCD offers good all round buoyancy when inflated. Rear inflation and wing style BCDs only hve inflation on the rear, meaning that at the surface it will have a tendency to turn the diver face down if over inflated. So don't over inflate them.

A lot of divers go for wing style BCD for the "techie" look and whilst this is fine for those techies who really know what they're doing, one must remember that safety is paramount and that performance is key rather than looks. Reasons for choosing a wing style BCD are if you want to keep your front area free from clutter, if you are an experienced traveling diver or if you need to use multiple cylinders. Travel wings are becoming more popular due the size they pack down to but remember the points listed above when deciding whether or not you should buy one.

Here at The Scuba Doctor, we prefer the improved stability and trim provided by rear inflation and wind style BCDs.

Lift Requirements

A lot is said regarding the lift capacity of a BCD. However lift of the BCD (i.e. the amount of negative weight the BCD can float) should not replace proper weighting. As with all diving you should ensure you are correctly weighted (this was one of the first lessons you should have learned when you were taught to dive).

You should always avoid being over weighted. With this in mind, all BCDs offer plenty of lift. The exceptions come when you start to carry multiple cylinders or extra tools which will increase your need for extra lift.

Travel BCDs

Travel BCDs are designed to minimise weight and bulk to make travelling with them easier. They tend to be made of lower denier materials with only basic features and are most suitable for tropical locations. Often steel D-rings will be replaced by plastic ones which are virtually as strong, but much lighter, to help reduce the weight of the BCD

BCD Inflation

BCD inflation can either come from the traditional over the left shoulder inflator/deflator hose or from "air trim" style inflators that are located lower down in a more natural hand position. Balanced Power Inflators still remain the best for performance, but in recent years "air trim" styles have been introduced.

Alternate Inflator Regulators

An alternate inflator regulator can replace the normal inflator/deflator mechanism on your BCD and still allows you to inflate and deflate in the standard way but also gives you a built in spare second stage regulator. These are usually only slightly bigger than a regulator means that you do not have to have an octopus (secondary second stage) and in an out of air situation, you give away your primary second stage and breath off the alternate inflator regulator (you can still control your buoyancy even when it is in your mouth).

These systems are often considered by travelling divers seeking to reduce the weight and bulk of equipment. However, like all new equipment we would recommend practicing using yours in a controlled environment first. These should only be fitted by a trained technician, and only to a BCD made by the same manufacturer.

Here at The Scuba Doctor, we don't recommend this type of combined BCD inflator and regulator.

Dump Valves

Generally speaking, the more dump valves on a BCD the better. Usually located on the rear right shoulder area and rear left hip area, most BCDs have two. Modern BCD sometimes have a third built into the inflator/deflator mechanism on the left shoulder. You should learn where these are by feel.

Pockets and D-rings

Make sure that your BCD has enough pockets and D-rings for the kind of diving that you are planning to do most. Often D-rings are pre-bent to flare outwards towards the bottom which makes attaching clips much easier than with flat D-rings which tend to lay flat against the BCD.

In tropical waters, only one or two small pockets will suffice useful for carrying things like your Fish ID slate. For cold water diving, you will probably want to carry more equipment such as a DSMB and reel, or spare mask.

Trouble With Your Cylinder Cam Band?
Download/view our guide on How to Thread a Soft Cam Band Tank Strap Buckle (Adobe PDF | 85.69 KB).

For a large range of BCDs for all conditions visit our BCDs section in the Dive Shop.


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