No just another BC option for divers and students - Part two
The entire unit is very uncluttered and streamlined. Also of note are the D-rings that are positioned to be used to clip off accessories. The one on the left shoulder strap has a loop of bungee to secure the LP hose for the inflator. On the left hip is normally a D-ring of some type to clip the SPG to. The one I use on my left hip is a custom design I had made to accommodate stage bottles, a reel, or tools, as well as the SPG. It has two 2 inch D-rings. One facing 45 degrees to the rear and one facing 45 degrees to the front as well as a smaller one inch ring on the bottom to hang a small sledge hammer or other tool used for wreck diving and artifact retrieval.
Also of note is a D-ring on the crotch strap. This is used to tether to a scooter or to temporarily attach a reel when necessary. Another D-ring is also located on the rear of the crotch strap and used to clip a reel or surface marker buoy. A cutting tool is a required item for instructors and I normally have three. One is the knife just forward of the SPG D-ring. You can see the rivets of the handle. It is held on the belt with inner tube and protected by the excess material from the waist strap. It is compact and easily accessible with both hands. My other cutting devices are a set of EMT shears contained in one of my pockets on the leg of my wet or dry suit and a line cutter on the strap of my wrist computer on my right hand. With the BPW and the Express Tech a few items are the same.
Those are the lack of clutter in the chest area, a crotch strap, D-rings placed so that they are easily accessible, and a simple metal buckle that secures the entire rig. Releasing the buckle releases the unit and allows for quick and easy removal. It also eliminates any additional buckles and releases that may slow a rescuer should the diver need assistance. If necessary the harness could be cut with a knife or shears to free the diver without ruining the BC. All that would need to be replaced is a few dollars worth of webbing. Donning the unit is just as quick and easy since once it is set up it fits every time with no pulling and tugging of straps through buckles and plastic clips. Once adjusted it stays adjusted and reduces the need to constantly refit the BC each time it is put on. Having a unit that fits the same way every time also adds to diver comfort and safety.
Some instructors have an issue with type of unit. They see it as unusual, odd, and some even say it’s unsafe. Where that last item comes from is a mystery to me. There is a common myth that the unit will push a diver face forward in the water on the surface. And to an extent this is true. If the diver is over weighted and needs to put too much air in the wing it will have a tendency to push one forward. But this is not a problem with the BC. It is due to improper use of the unit and lack of understanding of what proper weighting is. New divers are commonly over weighted to make life easy for the instructor. That it is a great disservice to the student seems to be of secondary concern. With the BPW and similar units the instructor does not have that luxury and must teach proper weighting and distribution of that weight or the student will have numerous difficulties. At least until the student runs into an instructor or mentor who shows them the true potential and benefits of the unit and the first instructor will never see that student again.
The reason for this article is the increasing popularity of this type of BC with sport divers. The internet and various message boards that tout the benefits of the unit have added to the popularity of it. New divers researching the purchase of equipment come across these types of BC’s and see the advantages of it. Some may even buy one for use in their open water class. There is nothing wrong with this. The new diver who comes into class with their gear already purchased is much more likely to keep diving afterwards! It behooves an instructor to recognize this and allow the student to do so. But for this to happen the instructor needs to be familiar with the set up of the unit and, in some cases, put their egos aside and get some training in it themselves.
My personal belief is that if a student has already decided that they want to dive a particular configuration, I should train them in that. As long as the unit is in good shape and meets the standards for minimum student gear I have no good justification to refuse to do so. I have plans to begin side mount training so that I may offer this as an option in the future to students who may have difficulty with standard back mount set ups. Those who have knee issues but are still cleared to dive could benefit from being able to put on a harness, get in the water, clip a tank on, and dive. Then at the end of the dive come to shore or the boat, unclip the tank, hand it up with their weights, and climb the ladder with just a lightweight harness to deal with.
But back to the subject of this essay and the next item to discuss concerning it: Setting up and adjusting the unit. As with any BC fit is an individual consideration and should be. Divers should be comfortable in their gear and not have to struggle to fit into it or settle for “close enough.” The BPW allows them to insure they have a properly fitted unit that meets their individual needs. Adjusting the unit so that it rides on the diver properly is best done with the assistance of a diver familiar with it, but some general rules can be stated here. The shoulder straps should be long enough that the Plate sits between the diver’s shoulder blades and not be too low or too high. Too low will result in the harness being loose and floppy. Too high and the reg may hit the diver in the back of the head and be so tight that the diver may have difficulty getting in and out of the unit. My own personal preference is to be able to place two or three fingers under the shoulder strap before the crotch strap is tightened up.
With a t-shirt on this is about right for me in any exposure suit from a 3 mil to my bi-lam drysuit. How tight I snug up the crotch strap and waist strap will determine the exact fit. Just as a point of information, the crotch strap should be snug so that it holds the unit securely, but no so tight that it cuts off circulation to important body parts. Having this amount of play in the shoulder straps allows me doff and don the unit with ease. In the water or out, it is just as easy as any so called “conventional’ BC. In fact due to the stiffer webbing it is easier during the doff and don exercise on the bottom since I don’t have flimsy straps floating around, cummerbunds getting stuck to their own Velcro and getting twisted around, or shoulder straps getting all twisted up.
In addition to this the unit has, as was already noted, no inherent buoyancy to deal with and compensate for or fight with. The entire unit is much easier to deal with. And since I do not teach skills to students kneeling on the bottom but teach them in a horizontal and neutral position from day one, the unit allows me to demonstrate and them to do skills like this with ease since it promotes good trim. All in all the unit offers many benefits to those who take the time to set it up properly and take the time to learn it’s use. For instructors it offers many benefits. Especially to independent instructors with limited resources and no local dive shop from which to rent or borrow gear. Four of these units with harnesses that are used wisely and not excessively trimmed can literally replace 20 conventional BC’s if we were to try and have four of each of the most common sizes. An instructor versed in adjusting them can fit each one to a particular diver in just a few minutes.
He or she also needs to consider the wear factor on the units they use for teaching and rentals. When a BC wears out it is the entire unit that often needs replaced. With this totally modular system only one component may need to be replaced. The steel or aluminum plate will never wear out. The harness is perhaps $12.00 worth of webbing. Most wings have replaceable bladders that will be less than $100.00 to replace. No more expensive BC’s that need to be changed out and old ones discarded. No more trying to figure out what size to buy and how many. For this instructor the BPW type of BC offers many benefits in terms of student needs, teaching style, and cost of the unit. Some may see the lack of certain features on these units as a negative. Most often noted are the absence of pockets and some type of integrated weight system. I do not see it that way. As was noted earlier many BC pockets are poorly designed and not as accessible as they should be. For me a much better option are pockets attached to the thighs of the exposure suit itself. All of my wetsuits, and my drysuit, have these thigh pockets and I would never buy another suit that does not have them. For those that do not have that option or do not wish to add pockets to their suit there are other options.
My normal recommendation is one of three different pocket options for these types of BC’s. The larger one is a bellows type pocket that uses elastic straps to secure around the thigh and a strip of webbing with a loop that slides onto the waist strap of the BC. The other two pockets simply slide onto the waist strap and can be positioned where the diver finds them to be the most optimal for them. Again a custom option not found on more conventional type BC’s. The two larger ones have a flap that closes with Velcro and the smaller uses a small quick release. All are very functional and can be selected based on the divers' needs.
If a diver wishes for an integrated type of weight system over a belt this is also an option. Several manufacturers make different systems for use on these set ups. I do not use them for a couple reasons. One is that they add an additional level of complexity that is against my philosophy, and second is that integrated weight systems do not offer much benefit over a belt. There are numerous incidents involving integrated weights and their contribution to accidents as a result of divers not knowing how they work, uncontrolled ascents as the result of the diver dropping or losing a weight pouch and thereby half their ballast, and the number of different systems out there. There is even on system that will not release by puling on the handles provided for it, a quick release must be unbuckled before the handles for the pouches can be removed! I had to use one of these BC’s for a class and it was one of the most disconcerting feelings in the water I have ever experienced. But a new diver may not even know to do this if they need to assist someone they may come across needing assistance. The result could be a diver that ends up drowning because their weights could not be ditched.
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