The second item of SCUBA equipment we will talk about is the buoyancy control device. Most BCDs today come in either jacket style, or a wing system. Some manufactures have even combined these two into a hybrid configuration. Whichever you have, they all come with either an inflator, or a secondary air source regulator attached. All BCDs come with at least one dump/over pressure valve, with many having up to four in total.
As mentioned on the Regulator page, salt water can be extremely damaging to SCUBA equipment if not removed after your dive. I personally have removed crystallised salt particles from the inside of BCDs, up to 2cm long, and as sharp as glass at the point. If this salt is not dissolved and removed, over time it may puncture the internal bladder, or at best block up important items such as the inflator or dump valves. Many BCDs these days are ultrasonically welded together, and do not have a replaceable bladder inside. If a puncture occurs that is too close to a seam area, usually the BCD will not be able to be repaired.
The method of properly cleaning your BCD after use is a two part process. The order in which they are done is not important but both parts should be completed to thoroughly look after your BCD. Remove any integrated weight pockets and weight if you have them, and wash these separately. The entire BCD should be immersed into a tub, or other type of container filled with fresh water and plunged up and down making sure water gets into every area of the BCD including pockets if fitted. If you have a backplate/harness/wing system, every component should be washed in this manner. If a tub is not available, and you are using a hose, spray the entire BCD thoroughly, again making sure to include pockets and other closed areas. Fresh water also needs to be flushed through the inside of the BCD, this is very important as salt can harden, and as previously mentioned, cause damage to the bladder of the BCD. The BCD should be partially inflated to allow the bladder to open up. Next, with the BCD on the ground, lift the inflator/alternate air source up above the BCD, and while depressing the deflate button, slowly pour water from a hose or jug into the mouthpiece and down the corrugated hose. The BCD should be filled to at least half the bladder capacity, but more will not matter. Once the water is inside, inflate the BCD orally or from your regulators till completely full. Next lift the BCD up and roll it in every direction until water reaches every corner of the bladder, pay particular attention to any tight corners or bends it may have. Holding the BCD upside down, press the deflate button and let some water run out through the corrugated hose and inflator/alternate air source. Save some water inside to also flush any top or bottom dump valves you may have. You will need to inflate the BCD again between each flush. Dump valves usually have a sealing rubber or silicone gasket and a stainless steel spring, and as most of you may know, there is no such thing as rust free stainless steel! If your BCD has been neglected for some time and you suspect you may have salt crystals inside, dont worry as these can be easily removed. Using the above procedure, fill the BCD until full with warm water, and leave it to sit for a while. This will dissolve any salt particles and allow them to be flushed out easily. Also available are deodorising additives you can use if you find your BCD develops a funky smell.
Once you are happy that all areas of the BCD are clean, it needs to be either hung up or placed somewhere safe to dry. Inflate the bladder to let the BCD expand to dry any hidden areas. Be sure to remove any knives, slates, torches, compass and any other collected knick knacks from the sea floor. This not only allows the BCD to dry properly, but also the other items from the pockets. Hangers are available with turned up ends to stop your BCD falling off in the breeze, or if you have a harness type system the waist belt can be looped around to secure the backplate assembly. As always dry your equipment out of the full sun if possible to stop UV rays damaging and fading your SCUBA gear.
Whilst your BCD is in storage, it is a good idea to leave a small amount of air inside as this will stop the internal bladder area sticking together. This is especially important if you have a removable PVC type bladder. When transporting your BCD to and from the dive site, if it is in a tub or bag, make sure nothing heavy such as a weight belt is on top, and nothing sharp that may puncture the bladder is underneath. Transport your heavy integrated weight pockets separately, as leaving them in the BCD all the time puts a lot of stress on stitching, especially if you have fully loaded weight pockets. Tuck the inflator or alternate air source in to the middle of the BCD to protect it from getting knocked.
Finally, it is important to have a regular service done on your BCD. Some people feel that this piece of equipment is not as important as the regulator system, but when a BCD fails it can be quite hazardous, or at the very least inconvenient. If your BCD is fitted with an alternate air source, remember that this is a regulator, and the one that YOU will be breathing on should you need to donate your primary second stage to another diver. Inflator buttons can also stick, sending the diver into an uncontrolled ascent when least expected. Also your service centre will perform a bladder integrity check to ensure your BCD has no leaks that may be hard to spot while you are diving. Looking after your investment is easy, and only requires a bit of time after your dive. By using these simple tips, you should get many years enjoyment from your BCD.
NB: The advice listed above is general advice only and not brand specific. If in doubt please consult your operating manual.