Your BCD is one of your primary life support systems. It’s what’s going to help you move up and down in the water column and remain naturally buoyant. In the event of an emergency, it will also help you get back to the top quickly. Thankfully, there aren’t too many different choices when it comes to BCD types. But, unfortunately, the types that do exist can get a little technical. Understanding the different types of BCDs and know which one is right for your needs can go a long way. So, we’re going to examine the different types and go over how you can find the exact BCD for your specific needs as a diver.
What are the different types of BCDs?
As noted above, there aren’t too many different types of BCDs. In fact, there are only three. You can choose between a jacket type BCD, a semi wing style BCD, and a backplate and wing-type BCD. All serve the same purpose, to help you remain neutrally buoyant during dives. But, each is set up just slightly different for different types of divers.
Jacket Style BCD
This is perhaps the most common type of BCD for recreational divers. If you’ve ever rented equipment from a dive center then this is most likely what you used. The reason for this is that the jacket style BCDs provide the most options for size and shape. So, it is usually easier to find a jacket style BCD that will fit your specific body whether you are a man or woman, large or small.
Jacket style BCDs are also preferred by divemasters and instructors for their students. This is because of how the air moves throughout the BCD allowing it to inflate. On the other two types of BCDs, the air is concentrated on the back making it easier to stay horizontal in the water. But, on a jacket style BCD, the air is more evenly distributed throughout. This makes it easier to stay vertical, which is how most new divers going through courses are going to be.
The other reason jacket style BCDs are preferred is they give you the most options in terms of features. Most jacket style BCDs have pockets allowing you to carry extra items. They also tend to have more D-rings allowing you to more easily hook items to your BCD.
Finally, most newer jacket style BCDs have integrated weight systems. This allows you to ditch the weight belt. This is a major plus as weight belts can often be difficult to access underneath a BCD. With the integrated weight system, you only need to pull out the weight pockets, drop them, and go. With a belt, you need to unhook the bottom of your BCD to access the clasp more easily so that you can drop it and go.
Who should use a jacket style BCD?
These are great options for recreational divers. Especially, newer divers who will be spending a lot of time vertical during training. They provide the most options when it comes to style. Also, they tend to be the easiest to not only put on but also to strap your tank too.
These are not great options for technical divers. They lack a lot of the versatility that technical divers need. They also tend to be quite bulky and can add a lot of unnecessary weight you do not need as a technical diver.
Cave Divers and Wreck Divers (non-technical)
These can be used for non-technical cave and wreck diving, but they are not the best option. As mentioned, the way jacket style BCDs inflate makes it easy to stay vertical. As a cave or wreck diver, you are primarily going to be spending your time in a horizontal position. You want something that inflates solely from the back.
What are some examples of jacket style BCDs?
Semi-wing Style BCD
The semi-wing style BCD is also usually referred to as a back inflate, due to the positioning of the bladder. For this type of BCD, the air bladder is usually attached to the back. This allows you to more easily remain horizontal in the water. As we mentioned, this can be helpful if you are doing a type of diving where you need to stay horizontal.
The shape is similar to a jacket style BCD in that it fits much in the same way that a vest would. The primary difference between this and a jacket style BCD is that it doesn’t have any front or side inflator pockets. Instead, the air is fully concentrated on the back. There will usually be an integrated weight system on the side pockets.
Like the jacket style BCD, there may be D-rings strategically placed to allow you to attach extra equipment such as dive knives. For recreational divers, this can be great as it allows you to easily stow away all your equipment.
These are often worn by more advanced divers. Newer recreational divers who try these often complain about issues staying vertical at the surface. This is because the back inflator is continuously trying to pitch you forward. More advanced divers will be able to easily compensate for this and adjust their positioning at the surface so that there aren’t any problems. But, new divers may find themselves trying to move around to achieve vertical stability at the surface and during other parts of the dive.
Who should use a semi-wing style BCD?
Recreational Scuba Divers
This is a great option for recreational scuba divers who have logged quite a few dives under their belt. As we mentioned, the natural tendency is for this tyle of BCD to push you forward and even you out horizontally. If you are taking an open water certification course, then you will need to be horizontal a lot to watch your instructor and practice. This may be difficult with a back inflate BCD. But, if you’ve got a bit of experience and you are looking for something that will stabilize you horizontally, this is a good option.
Technical Scuba Divers
Most technical divers prefer using a backplate and wing style BCD, which we will go over next. The semi-wing style BCD, like the jacket style BCD, lacks options that many technical divers need. Oftentimes, technical divers will be going down with different gas mixes and will need to have many different tanks for this. The backplate and wing style BCD allows you to more easily configure these different tank setups. A semi-wing style BCD is going to have the same limitations in this regard as the jacket style.
Cave Divers and Wreck Divers (non-technical)
For cave divers and wreck divers who don’t need to use a side mount setup, this type of BCD is the best choice. As we noted above, jacket style BCDs make it more difficult to remain horizontal due to the way air moves through the front and side and back of the BCD. The solution is the back inflate style BCD. You get all of the benefits of the jacket style BCD in that you have an integrated weight system and plenty of D-rings for storing extra equipment. But, you have the added benefit of the air bladder being concentrated on the back. So, you remain vertical throughout the entire dive which is handy when going through a cave or wreck site.
What are some examples of a semi-wing style BCD?
Backplate and Wing Type BCD
This is perhaps the most advanced of all three types of BCD in terms of assembly. But, for this reason, it also provides the most option for set up. This is the BCD of choice for technical divers and other high-level divers who need something stripped down and versatile.
Backplate and wing-type BCDs generally include a metal backplate and a harness. An air bladder is attached separately to the backplate. Everything with this tyle of BCD is interchangeable so that you can swap out which parts you need to fit each dive. This set up also cuts down on a lot of the bulk you get with jacket style BCDs and semi-wing style BCDs.
Like semi-wing style BCDs, the backplate and wing-type use a back inflation system. This is a better choice for cave divers and wreck divers who will be in a horizontal position for extended periods of time. With this type of BCD, you are getting the best of both worlds in terms of customizability and simple design. It’s had all of the clutter removed which could add extra weight and other hazards.
As noted above, this type of BCD allows you the most flexibility in terms of set up. You can swap out the bladder to be used with a single tank setup or a twin set for a back mount. If you plan on going wreck diving or cave diving and know you will need to remove your tanks, you can optimize the BCD for a side mount setup. With this tyle of BCD, you have complete control over your dives.
Who should use a backplate and wing-type BCD?
Recreational Scuba Divers
This is not the best option for new recreational divers. As a new scuba diver, there is so much that you are learning which you will need to keep up with. The last thing you want is a BCD you need to learn how to set up and configure.
That being said, there are many advanced divers who prefer to use this type of BCD during recreational scuba divers. Many technical divers, for example, do not like the bulkiness of a jacket style BCD. When doing a recreational dive, they will still use their backplate type BCD.
If you feel confident in your diving abilities, it may be worth checking this type of BCD out as an evolution over the traditional jacket style BCD. You can always use the semi-wing type to get a feel for the back inflating bladder. Then, when you are comfortable with that, you can switch over to using the backplate and wing-style BCD.
This is the BCD of choice for technical divers. It is lightweight when compared to its bulkier counterpart, the jacket style BCD. You also have the most leeway in terms of how you set up for each dive. You can use a twinset for deepwater technical dives and then easily switch over to a side mount for a cave diver the next day.
Everything on this BCD can be swapped out and replaced. This means you can also quickly and easily replace anything that breaks instead of having to throw out the entire BCD. What’s more, it can be used for every other type of diving you want from regular warm water recreational diving to cold water and ice diving.
Cave Divers and Wreck Divers
As with technical divers, this type of BCD is going to give you the most options in terms of customizability. You can easily swap out between twin mounts, single tank, or a side mount setup. You also don’t have to worry about all of the extra straps and dangling parts that jacket style BCDs usually have. These present hazards as they can easily become trapped between rocks or snag on the wreckage during a wreck or cave dive. Whether you are doing an easy penetration dive or an advanced cave dive involving lots of planning, this is the best choice.
What are some examples of a backplate and wing style BCD?
What’s the final verdict?
For new recreational divers, we recommend you use a jacket style BCD. This is going to be the easiest to manage as it will help you stay vertical during training sessions. You also have an easy to access integrated weight system and plenty of D-rings for attaching items.
For more advanced divers, we recommend a backplate and wing style BCD for recreational dives. This is going to be the most versatile and will allow you to set it up exactly how you want it. You will also be able to use it for further training if you decide to move past recreational dives.
Backplate and wing style BCDs are the way to go for tech divers. We do not recommend jacket style BCDs due to the added weight and the loose straps that can become tangled during wreck dives and cave dives. You could opt for a back semi-wing style BCD, but these still have the same issue as jacket style BCDs in that they are bulky with loose hanging straps.
Cave and Wreck Divers
Again, the final verdict here is that a backplate and wing style BCD is the way to go. There are many times you will need to adjust the type of setup you are using based on the specific dive. You may need a side mount for fitting through tight spaces in caves or on a wreck. You simply cannot get this from a jacket or semi-wing style BCD. The added bulkiness and extra straps from these later two BCD types also present a hazard that cannot be overlooked.
Choosing the right BCD doesn’t have to be complicated. Yes, there are a few different options to choose from but, as you can see above, they are incredibly versatile and can be used for many types of diving. The main thing you need to worry about after you’ve selected the type of BCD you are going to use is what size you need. After that, you’re all set.
Do you have any suggestions for something we didn’t list here? Maybe you have a brand of BCD you’d like to share with others? Let us know in the comments section. We are always on the lookout for tips from other divers and would love to hear from you.