Welcome to the first in a series of tips, from which most divers should find helpful advice to keep their SCUBA equipment in good shape between yearly services. Many divers simply have never been given any accurate advice, on how to care for their equipment which, after all, is extremely important in an underwater environment.
The first item of SCUBA equipment we will cover, is arguably the most important, the regulator system. Most standard regulator systems consist of, the first stage, the primary second stage, and the alternate air source or octopus regulator. The latter comes either attached permanently to the BCD, or separately on a longer hose. Also attached to this system is some form of gauge/computer assembly and a quick disconnect hose for the BCD.
The salt water environment can be, highly damaging and corrosive to your breathing system if not properly removed once your day of diving has finished. Not only salt and sand can be left behind, but also seaweed, tiny shells, and stones. Modern regulators are made of a wide variety of materials including brass, stainless steel, aluminium, plastic, silicone, resin, rubber, titanium etc. Some of these materials fair better than others when exposed to the underwater environment. Fresh water divers do not escape the maintenance procedure either, as calcium deposits, limestone, small stones, twigs and freshwater weed can all be left behind after your dive weekend.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to washing your set of regulators, the on air method, and the off air method. To explain, the first method of washing has the regulator set connected to a cylinder with air turned on. Fresh water is squirted or poured over the regulators, or the cylinder is picked up and the whole assembly dunked into a tub or trough filled with water. The problem with this method is that the equipment is only rinsed briefly, usually with cold water. The other problem occurs when the person rinsing does not have the strength to lift a large dive cylinder in the air and into a tub or trough, whilst swishing the regs back and forth. Cold water also does not dissolve salt deposits very well. The advantage of this method is that water can not enter the 1st stage filter area, or into the hoses through the 2nd stages.
Method two has the regulators disconnected from the cylinder valve, and placed in a tub or trough of warm water. It is very important that the cap on the 1st stage be of the variety that has an O-ring seal to stop water entering the first stage, and is done up tight. If your set does not come with a sealing type cap, an aftermarket one can be purchased for little cost. Both DIN and Yoke caps can be found for this purpose. The other thing that is important with this method is not to push either of the purge buttons on the 2nd stages, as water may enter your hoses. The advantage of this method is that warm water can be used to dissolve deposits much more effectively. Also the regulators can be left to soak for quite some time while you clean up yourself and the rest of your gear. With this method, one of a few available commercial additives can also be added to the water to help dissolve deposits even more effectively.
It is important with both methods, that the 2nd stages be swirled through the water to remove any particles that may have found their way inside. Also any external diver adjustment knobs or switches should be moved or rotated from side to side whilst under fresh water. While these devices are often set and forget, they can seize up if they are never moved throughout the year between servicing. Your gauge console should not be forgotten, as sand and salt can lodge in both the boot containing all your gauges, and behind the screen protector if fitted to your computer. The quick disconnect hose to your BCD has tiny stainless ball bearings behind the pull down collar. These can get jammed with sand and cause a loose or leaking connection, so this area needs a rinse as well.
Sometimes the only available method of washing is via a hose, such as is found at a boat ramp. Be careful when using this method not to use high water pressure on your 2nd stages, as you may flip up an exhaust valve causing the 2nd stage to wet breathe on your next dive. If this is the only method available on your dive day, when next possible, pull your regulators out and give them a more thorough wash. As always, any wash is better than none!
Once you are satisfied your regulators are thoroughly clean, they need to be dried correctly. The best method to ensure excess water drips away from all stages is to hang them in a secure method by the 1st stage with the 2nd stages and gauge assembly hanging down. Purpose made gear hangers can be purchased for Yoke or DIN 1st stages, while some divers have invented other great devices for this purpose. Which ever device you use, make sure your gear will not come loose and hit the ground, and there is nothing sharp near any of your rubber hoses. Finally keep your gear out of direct sunlight whilst it is drying, as UV rays can crack, warp, and perish some components. As soon as your regulators are dry, put them away, as long term hanging can stress the hose crimps, especially those without hose protectors.
There are a few ways to properly store your regulators between dives. A good idea is to use a padded regulator bag, this not only protects your gear whilst in your cupboard or dive tub, but also whilst in transit to the dive site. Try to lay your hoses into the bag in a neat circle, if the hoses are left twisted or knotted, and stored for a long period, they will often come out that way. Care should also be taken with mouthpieces, if left squashed; they will often come out looking deformed, and be uncomfortable in the mouth. If a bag is not for you, wrap them in something that will offer some form of padding. This could be a large towel or your rolled wetsuit on the way to the dive site. A zipped up bag will help ensure that nothing will attack your regulators while they are stored as well. I personally have plucked small spiders, earwigs, cockroaches, and other assorted critters, from 2nd stages when I have been servicing them. None of these creatures would be much fun if they hitched a ride on your next dive, and you didnt know until your first breath in!
However you store your regulators, if you use a dive tub, make sure they are on the top so as not to get squashed under heavy weight belts / weight pockets or anything else heavy for that matter.
Finally, no matter how good your level of care for your regulator system is, like anything mechanical, it needs servicing. Each manufacturer has a guideline for their brand of equipment based on how long they feel the replaceable maintenance parts should last. Even though your gear may not have done many dives, O-rings, low pressure and high pressure seats will still deteriorate over time, as they have constant pressure on them whether they are in use or not. It can also be false economy to wait until your dive gear has obvious problems, while you may save on a year or two of servicing cost, often parts will not come undone and will break during the service. Depending on the brand, some of these parts may no longer be available. Performance is the other thing that will slowly drop off on regulators that arent often serviced; you may forget how good they used to breathe! Remember, your breathing system is the primary thing that keeps you alive underwater, look after it, and it will look after you!
NB: The advice listed above is general advice only and not brand specific. If in doubt please consult your operating manual.