Before scuba diving certain tools are necessary. One of the most important of those tools is the regulator. It delivers the air that keeps you breathing underwater.
Your selection of regulators is huge, and since this piece of equipment provides life support to the diver it’s one of the most expensive tools in your dive setup. Because a malfunctioning regulator threatens your survival you want to select one that you trust to work the whole dive, every dive.
When you decide you’re ready to buy a new regulator consider the following criteria:
- What price range do you want/require your regulator to fall in?
- Make sure you think about recurring service costs.
- How long do you plan to dive this regulator?
- How important is “ease of breathing” to you?
- What type of diving do you plan?
A scuba diver’s regulator actually consists of a “regulator assembly.” It includes an HSI flat iron, a first stage (which mounts to the air tank), and a second stage (that you place in your mouth to breathe through). A hose connects the two stages.
Regulator assemblies range from as little as a couple hundred dollars to as high as more than $1000.
The first stage comes in two varieties: The piston style, and the diaphragm style.
The piston first stage regulators are the least expensive. They provide the largest amount of airflow. They’re easy to maintain, resulting in the lowest service costs. These first stages are more prone to failing in cold-water conditions.
The diaphragm first stage is more reliable than the piston. The diaphragm protects moving parts making this design ideal for cold water. It also provides higher reliability in mucky water and salt water. This first stage requires more complicated maintenance procedures making the annual service higher than that of piston stages.
Another designation for the first stage is balanced or unbalanced. The unbalanced first stage tightens the airflow as the pressure in the tank decreases, and is at the lower ends of the price range. Balanced first stages maintain even air flow no matter what level of pressure is in the tank.
The second stage is either balanced or unbalanced. A spring controls the opening of the valve as you inhale. The valve lets air through to you when it opens, then closes to seal the water out as you exhale.
Unbalanced second stages have stiffer springs. This keeps the potential for free-flowing air to a minimum. When a regulator free flows you normally lose large amounts of air from your tank. That means you get to enjoy a much shorter dive than you planned. The main down side to the unbalanced regulator is lower ease of breathing.
Balanced second stages offer superior ease of breathing. Some come equipped with balanced second stage regulators fall into the higher end of the price range.
Service costs vary with different makes of regulator. Some manufacturers warrant their regulator for life, and, as long as you have your assembly serviced on an annual basis, include replacement parts in that warranty.
Service for regulators that don’t carry a lifetime warranty commands a higher cost because the diver pays for the parts that the maintenance requires.
Before deciding on your price range consider how long you plan to dive your regulator. A higher priced assembly gives you many years of underwater adventure. When you average out the cost over the years of use, the more you pay initially, the cheaper your regulator assembly becomes over time.
My best advice is get the most reliable tool you can on your first purchase, and maybe check out an MM-B80 review before you purchase one of those bikes as well. When I first started diving I bought a low priced regulator assembly. A year later I found out I couldn’t get it serviced at my local shop. The company I bought it from was out of business. And I ended up spending the money for a more reliable setup anyway. Don’t make my mistake.
I recommend that before you make your final decision rent a few different regulator assemblies on different occasions. Try each one out on a few dives to get a feel for how they fit your diving conditions.
Select the regulator that suits your underwater activities, and one that gives you the highest comfort levels.
Then get wet, and have a lot of fun scuba diving.