Choosing The Right Scuba Regulator
Choosing a scuba regulator is the most important decision you can make as a scuba diver and in most cases the most expensive too.
It is your lifeline underwater, therefore it is in your best interest to choose the right one for your diving environment and condition.
But, because there are so many different types, brands, and features available in the modern-day regulator, it’s really difficult to know which one will work best for the type of diving you will be doing.
Therefore, I created this scuba regulator buying guide to help you make an informed decision before you buy your next regulator. At the end of the guide you should have a decent knowledge of the different types, and style of regular and their applications, as well as how to properly maintain it.
4 Reasons Why You Need Your Own Scuba Regulator
Owning scuba diving equipment is a major factor in the enjoyment of the sport. And, one of the first pieces of equipment I would recommend buying is your scuba regulator.
Sure, you can rent gear from your local dive center or at many dive destinations. But, are you going to put your complete trust in the availability of an under-maintained, over-worked rental regulator.
I remember when I was just starting diving. I was on diving with a rental regulator, it worked fine for the beginning of the dive. However, a few minutes in the octopus begun to free flow a little and there was a terrible honking sound coming from the first stage with every breath I took.
I could still breathe from the regulator pretty good, but I was more concerned about the sound coming from it than anything else.
After the dive trip, I decided that I was going to invest in a regulator of my own. Below are the 4 major reasons why I believe you should buy your regulator.
Maintenance and Safety
By owning, you will know the condition of your gear, where it has been, who has been using it, and when it was last serviced. That familiarity contributes to the highest level of safety and security, which in turn gives you peace of mind and an overall more enjoyable dive.
Having your regulator allows you to personalize it to your liking. Something you simply cannot do with a rental. Also, most rentals are entry-level regulators that often lack all the features and performance that you would expect from a personal reg. You can buy a scuba regulator with all the features that suit your driving style, conditions, and environment that you will be diving in.
In the short-term renting a regulator might seem like the best option cost-wise. However, if you’re a frequent diver you will soon find out that the cost of constantly renting a regulator will turn out more expensive than having your regulator in the long run.
What if you go to your local dive center to rent a regular and they’re out, then what? When you own a regulator you don’t need to worry about availability, it is yours so it will always be there. No need to worry about making reservations to rent a regulator in the hope that they might not have any.
Don’t take the chance with a rental or a loaner. Your dive regulator is your lifeline underwater and is the most important piece of scuba diving equipment you can buy. The bottom line is owning your equipment allows you to maximize your enjoyment as well as your safety.
Still Looking For The Right Scuba Regulator?
Check out our list of the top 10 Scuba Regulators available on the market today.
Choosing a Scuba Regulator: The Right Style And Features
Choosing a scuba regulator is not as easy as picking the first regulator you find online for the best deal. You need to understand that all regulator does not perform the same, many perform better than others, and your choice will mainly be determined by the environment and conditions that you will be diving in.
For instance, If you are just a recreational diver, only diving in the tropic while on vacation, your choice in scuba regulator is going to be completely different than if you were going to be diving in 40 degrees water at 130 feet.
But, before you start looking for a regulator, you need to know how a scuba regulator works and what feature is available on the modern-day scuba regulator for you to make a more informed decision.
How Does a Scuba Regulator Works?
All scuba regulator has one basic function and that is to decrease the high air pressure in the scuba tank to ambient pressure (surrounding pressure) so that we can breathe comfortably underwater.
The regulator achieves this through two stages, the first stage and the second stage.
The first stage is the part of the regulator that attached to the dive cylinder. It breaks down the high pressure of the air in the cylinder to intermediate pressure (120 – 150 psi). It then delivers the intermediate pressure to the second stage via hoses.
The second stage is the part of the regulator that you breathe from, it converts the intermediate pressure to ambient pressure (surrounding pressure), which make it easy for you to breathe comfortably underwater.
The First Stage
When choosing a scuba regulator first stage there are a few things that you need to consider.
- Whether you need a piston or a diaphragm regulator
- Whether you want a balanced or unbalanced system
- What type of fitting will you need to attach the regulator to the dive tank (DIN or Yoke),
- The number of ports that you will require
- Whether or not we need a seal first stage
Piston VS Diaphragm
Your first stage comes in two basic styles, either Piston or Diaphragm. Both of them pretty much do the same thing, which is to break down the high pressures in the tank to intermediate pressure
Piston First Stages
Piston first stages generally have the best flow rate and is the simplest design with only one moving part (The Piston).
Many dive manufactures uses piston first stage as their entry-level regulator, because they are less expensive to make (fewer parts to manufacture), and also as their flagship regulators because of the high flow rate a piston regulator can provide..
Because most piston first stages allow water to come in direct contact with some internal parts, they are not generally consider for cold water diving.
However, advancement in insulation technologies and environmental sealing (more on this below) they are becoming more popular in lower temperature diving.
Another, draw back to this type of fist stage is that they generally cannot be adjusted externally in the field, you will need to take it to a certified service technician to get it adjusted.
Diaphragm First Stage
Diaphragm First Stages has many moving parts, and in the past has been known for delivering lower performance.
However, many advancement in manufacturing technology have made the performance virtually inseparable from those of piston regulators.
One of the main advantage of this type of fist stage is that the internal parts are generally not in contact with water. This reduces corrosion of internal parts as well as reduce free flow in cold water conditions. This makes it the ideal regulator for cold water dividing.
Another great advantage of this type of first stage is It can also be easily adjusted in the field using simple dive tools.
Unbalanced Vs Balanced
Unbalanced First stages were the first kind of regulator systems ever developed. They gradually lose performance at greater depths and lower tank pressures. However, due to advancement in technology these changes are hardly noticeable at recreational dive limits.
Unbalanced first stage are used by many manufactures are their entry, this is because they are cheaper to manufacture.
I would only recommend using this system if you have a very small budget, and will only be diving in warm waters, at very shallow depth. (To learn more about how an unbalanced regulator works go here)
Personally, I prefer a balanced system because the movement of the piston does not directly rely on the air pressure in the dive tank, you get consistent performance at any depth and at any tank pressure through out the dive. (To learn more about how Balanced regulators work go here).
There are Over Balanced or Hyper- Balanced system, these normally fund on diaphragm regulators. Manufactures claim that they deliver better performance the deeper you dive. However many divers report that the second stage tends to free flow on really deep dives, if they don’t make adjustments to the second stage.
DIN Vs Yoke Fitting
The next thing that you will need to consider is, how you’re going to connect the regulator to the dive tank.
They are two basic fitting for you to choose from, either Yoke or DIN. Most popular regulator are available in both fittings.
The yoke fitting is the most common of the two fittings and is mostly used for recreational diving. This type of fitting use a yoke clamp that goes over the tank valve, the regulator is then tighten to an O-ring on the tank valve with a yoke screw to form a seal and present leaking.
DIN is the newer of the two fitting and is generally used in Europe. However, the last few year it has gotten more popular for technical diving, and are becoming more readily available at many dive destinations because convertible valves.
DIN fittings is the safer of the two, because the regulator is screwed into the DIN Valve, and the O-ring is on the regulator which makes the seal inside the valve, as opposed to outside like the yoke.
din-to-yoke-converterTo permanently convert your regulator from yoke to DIN you will need to take it to a certificated technician, but one of the major advantage of a DIN fitting is that you an easy by a screw on adapter to change it to Yoke if you are diving where no DIN tanks are available.
Number of Ports
Another thing that you must consider as well is the number of ports that you will be need. This is normally determined by the type of diving and dive environment that you will be diving in.
Most regulator comes with 2 high pressure ports (HP), and 4 Low pressure ports (LP).
If you will be doing recreational diving in warm water, you will basically only need 3 LP ports and 1 HP port.
- 2nd Stage Primary (LP)
- 2nd Stage Secondary (LP)
- BCD inflation hose (LP)
- Pressure Gauge (HP)
However, if you will be diving in cold water, and require a dry suit, the extra LP port will come in handy because they require its own inflation hose.
On most regulator these ports are stationary however, some regulators have swiveling turrets that allows you to somewhat customize how you can set up your regulator, to make hose routing more ergonomic and comfortable to dive with.
This feature is most found on first stage that are rated for cold water diving. Basically, it prevents the surrounding water and its contaminants that might wear internal parts, affecting the performance of the regulator, from entering the first stage.
It also prevent the freezing cold water from entering the first stage, which turns reduces icing and free flows during cold water dives.
The Second Stage
The second stage uses a demand valve to convert the intermediate pressure from the first stage to ambient pressure letting you breathe safely and comfortably underwater.
The demand valve does exactly as the name implies, it delivers air only when you need it.
As you inhale a diaphragm in the second stage puts pressure on the demand lever opening the valve, allowing air to enter the second stage allowing you to breathe.
The second stage is a lot simpler in design to the first stage. However, there are a few things you must consider when choosing a scuba regulator second stage.
- Unbalanced Vs Balanced
- Venturi Vacuum Assist
- Adjustable Inhalation Efforts
Venturi Inhalation Assist
The Venturi system controls the air flow inside the second stage to form a vacuum behind the second stage diaphragm that further opens the valve without any additional inhalation effort by you.
In some regulator this feature can be fixed, however most second stages allow you to adjust the Venturi setting using a knob.
In the Min. or Pre-dive setting the Venturi system directs airflow towards the diaphragm, which helps to keep the valve closed. In this position, it helps prevent unwanted free-flow on the surface and from your secondary 2nd stage (octopus) on your dive.
Whereas, If the Venturi knob in the Max. or Dive position it will deliver the best performance during your dive.
Adjustable Inhalation Effort
This feature is normally found on balanced second stages and allows you to to adjust the inhalation efforts required to open the valve by turning a knob, which increase or decrease the tension on the demand lever spring.
Turned to the Min position, more tension is put on the spring, this in turn results in a lower air flow rate, which is great for diving in would water environment, and helps prevent free flow while swimming against heavy currents.
When Turned to the Max. position, less tension is put on the spring, delivering higher air flow rates, which great from demanding dive conditions, or when you’re tired.
A major advantage to having this system on your regulator is that it allows you to adjust the regulator in the middle of your diving, which can fix simple problems, like a minor free flow or a regulator that is providing too little or too much air at depth.
Secondary 2nd Stage (Octopus)
When buying a new regulator a secondary 2nd stage is not normally included in the package (Only First Stage and Primary Second Stage), however, it is a vital piece of equipment when assembling a proper scuba regulator system.
Generally known as an alternate air source, it is a backup in case your primary fail, or if you need to assist your buddy with air on a dive.
They have the same features of the primary first stage listed above but are generally fitted with a highly visible yellow front piece and/or yellow hose which is longer than the primary.
The general rule of thumb when choosing a scuba regulator Octopus is to get the same model as your primary second stage. However, having a lower performing model is just as good.
There are also Alternative Air Sources that combine your BCD Inflator and Octopus into one unit. The advantage of using this system is that it is very easy to find in the event of an emergency, and it frees up an extra low-pressure port for other uses.
However, a major disadvantage to this system is that you will have to give your buddy your primary, and you swap with the alternative air source. Also, because of the shorter hose, movement can be somewhat restricted when sharing an alternate air source.
Not all scuba regulators are Nitrox compatible, however most regulators these days are manufactured to be compatible up to 40%. But, it is also good to check you regulators owners manual before attempting to use your regulator with Nitrox.
Most manufactures also offers Nitorx versions of their best selling scuba regulators that are compatible up to 100% oxygen right out of the box. These are normally denoted by bright green on the first and second stage. However, you can take your existing regulator to service centre to have it Oxygen Cleaned.
It is also important to not that all regulator cannot be used with enriched air. Some materials like titanium cannot be use with enriched air over a certain percent due to its heavy carbon content.
How To Properly Maintain Your Scuba Regulator?
You Scuba Regulator is the most important piece of dive equipment, it is literally your like line underwater.
A major malfunction in any other scuba diving equipment can simply mean that you had a bad dive. But, a failure with your scuba regulator can be every serious, and even result in injury.
Seeing how important this piece of dive equipment is, it is in our best interest to look after it properly. Fortunately, properly caring for you scuba regulator is not difficult at all.
Just flow the simple scuba regulator maintenance tips below and you breathe comfortably and safely for longtime to come.
Replace The Dust Cap and Seal It Properly
If you’re going to rinse your scuba regulator when it is off the scuba tank, you want to make sure that no water nor other contaminants gets into the first stage.
To do this, you will need to place the dust-cap back onto the first stage and seal it properly. But, first we must make sure that the dust cap is dry and free of water.
To do this you can blast it with the remaining air you have in your dive tank, or wipe it with a clean dry towel. Then, firmly place the dust-cap over the regulator opening, you don’t water to get in the first stage for the next step.
Soak The Regulator in Clean Fresh Water
If you do only one thing, make it be this step.
This step will remove any deposits or sediments that might be on your regulator after the dive.
While soaking your regulator you will need to move it around a little bit to ensure that you remove any lose particle that might be stuck on.
You also want to work any buttons or levers backwards and forward to remove anything that might have been stuck on your reg, do this when the regulator is submerged.
However, there is one thing that you must not do while your regulator is soaking, and that is to never press the purge button on the second stage. This can let water enter the first stage via the second stage.
Continue With A Stream Of Fresh Water
If there is a hose available, you want to continue rinsing it with a stream of fresh water. By now you should have gotten most of the particles off the regulator but a stream of fresh water on the first and second stage will ensure that you remove them.
While doing this you want to be sure that the dust-cap is firmly in place, and not to push the purge button.
Dry Properly Before Putting It Away
Let the regulator try for a few minutes or until is is completely free of water. But, it is important not to let it dry in direct sunlight or somewhere hot, as excessive heat can affect the rubber part in side there regulator not allowing to work properly on you nest dive.
Store it Away Properly
Store your regulator in a cool, dry, sport away from direct sunlight a and fumes. Position a regulator in a way that will not kinked the hoses. A scuba regulator bag is the perfect place to store you new regulator.
Annual Scuba Regulator Tune-up
Most scuba regulator manufacture recommend that you get your regulator service annually at a certified service technician. Many regulator manufacture replacement parts under warranty, so you basically only pay for the labor to get ti serviced.
That’s it, where you expecting more steps? Just follow this simple steps and you will have many years enjoyable safe diving with your regulator.
The Bottom Line
Many dive manufacturer develop their own specific technology and features into there line of regulators to give them a competitive advance over the others, but the above are some most important feature to look for when buying a new scuba regulator.
It is also good to remember that the regulator that you buy does not necessarily have to have all the features listed above.
For instance, if you are only going to be diving in the shallow warm tropical waters of the Caribbean, then an entry level regulator with out all the bells and whistles should be sufficient.
However, if you can afford a few more feature to make you dive a little bit easier, then by all means go ahead.