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Choosing your first BCD

All you need to know about different BCD Styles


Once you become a certified scuba diver, you will most certainly start looking into purchasing your own equipment. As a scuba diver, one of the most important pieces of equipment you will want to own is your buoyancy control device (BCD). The BCD will allow you to control your buoyancy, body streamlining and balance while maintaining the desired depth underwater, and will keep you buoyant and safe while on the surface. This piece of equipment will be worn in very close contact with your body, so the level of comfort and fit will influence your buoyancy performance and dive experience.

two scuba divers about to enter the water

If you are looking into acquiring your own BCD, this article will review all you need to know about the main types of BCDs available in the market and their features for you to make a knowledge based decision before purchasing.


There are two main styles of BCDs to choose from, jacket-style and back-wing and a third type, the hybrid. Basically, their designations come from the shape or position of the bladder they posses.

Jacket-style BCDs. The best choice for novice divers

In first place, jacket-style BCDs are probably the most popular type of BCD in the market today. They are designed to fit like a traditional jacket, with the inflation bladder located along the back and waist in a wraparound shape, and the weight pockets on either side of the waist and in some models, trim pockets on the back too. This BCD´s design provides excellent support and stability in the water, making it a great choice for novice divers.

blue scuba pro glide jacket style bcd

The Jacket-style BCD is designed to provide comfort underwater as well as on the surface. While the wraparound design helps balance buoyancy underwater, on the surface, in a vertical position, the BCD fits very similar to a life vest. This feature is the reason why most professionals and dive center choose to offer these BCDs for teaching, as during some courses students might spend long periods of time practicing skills on the surface.


One of the main benefits of a jacket-style BCD is that it is very comfortable to wear, reducing the possible stress of the adaptation period. The weight of the tank is distributed evenly across the back and waist, which helps to reduce fatigue and discomfort during dives.


There are several weight system options available for a jacket-style BCD. While more traditional models may require the use of a weight belt, newer designs include integrated weight pockets. In this case, the BCD comes with a slot on each side of the waist to load and buckle a pouch carrying the lead. On top of these two systems, some models will also come with trim pockets. These pouches located on the back of the BCD will assist on the even distribution of the weight.


Another benefit of jacket-style BCDs is their storage capacity. Most of these BCDs come with wide pockets and attachment points for your dive accessories. This means you can easily carry your gadgets and tools with you while scuba diving.


There are also a couple of down points to consider that a jacket-style BCD might present in comparison with a back-wing or a hybrid. In first place, most jacket-style BCDs do not allow a high level of customization. This is a much appreciated feature for some divers who tend to customize their gear, adapting it to their most precise needs, adding and subtracting D-rings, pads and other accessories.


Another down point you might encounter on jacket-style BCDs is that they are bulkier both underwater and on land. Underwater, the designs might provide a certain level of restriction to some arm movements, therefor, some divers might not choose them if they are planning on diving through confined passages. Besides this factor, the bulkiness of the BCD will also be noticeable during packing time for your dive trip. You might need to consider the space this piece of equipment is going to take before purchasing a dive gear bag.


Nevertheless, a jacket-style BCD will make a great choice as a first ever BCD and will give you very few adjustments to deal with underwater. It will provide a wide range of features, the necessary balance and comfort to keep you trimmed and safe both on the surface and underwater and there are various models and brands to try on.

Back wing BCD. Designed for streamlined diving

Back wing BCDs are a popular choice among divers for their compact streamlined design and excellent buoyancy control. In contrast with the jacket-style BCDs, the back wings possess an inflation system situated entirely on the back of the diver. This feature provides a better balance, trim and a hydrodynamic design, ultimately reducing drag. This is the design of choice for technical diving set-ups.


There are two main bladder designs, the horse shoe bladder and the donut bladder. The advantages and disadvantages of these two bladder shapes will be covered in a future article.

black scuba pro hydros back wing bcd

There are also two types of back plates, hard and soft ones. The hard ones are usually made of steel or aluminum and allow a high level of customization through the harness. The soft ones made of rubber or plastic, may come with a determined factory setup.

back wing zeagle bcd

The back wing BCD is entirely designed for recreational scuba diving. Underwater it allows an excellent trim position and some dive professionals choose this BCD as part of their primary dive equipment. Due to its simplistic design, most of this BCDs tend to hold to the diver´s body through an entirely customizable harness that allows for the addition of D-rings, sliders and other accessories. These harnesses, besides providing a great deal of mobility, also add a crotch strap which secures the grip to the diver´s body.


Weight systems on these kind of BCDs can be entirely integrated to the BCDs design as weight pockets or customizable too. Some harnesses require an aluminum or steel back plate that provides additional weight and the possibility of adding weight pockets along the waist or the trim through pouches or integrating lead blocks.


Back wing BCDs also present some down points to consider before purchasing. In first place, their streamline design with the bladder located entirely on the back tends to push the diver forward into trim position -which is outstanding while underwater-. While on the surface this feature is most likely going to make staying vertical a bit more challenging, especially for a teaching or learning situation.


Secondly, due to the bladders location and shape, back inflation BCDs require proficient buoyancy and body position control underwater to accurately distribute the air added. Particularly when diving with a horse shoe bladder.


These type of BCDs can become a great addition to your gear. You may need a bit of practice to master it but there is no way back.

Hybrid BCDs. A third design comes into play

These type of BCDs are becoming popular among scuba divers, offering a blend of features from both jacket-style and back wing BCDs. The back-mounted inflation bladder provides a stable and balanced buoyancy as a back wing, while the wraparound design offers more surface area for the inflation bladder, which can improve the overall lift capacity of the BCD.

black oceanic atmos hybrid bcd

A second strong point is that these type of BCDs allow for a certain level of customization. Maybe not as much as a simple harness, but for sure more than a regular jacket-style design. Some models will also allow interchanging regular jacket-style BCD straps for a harness and the addition of a crotch strap.


Some of the down points also apply in this design. In first place, hybrid BCDs can be as bulky as jacket-style, especially while packing your dive gear. In second place, although the wraparound design provides extra balance, the back wing will force the body into trim, particularly during surface time. This last feature ultimately translates in the need to have some level of proficiency in buoyancy and body position control.


Although these BCDs share some of the disadvantages of both jacket-style and back wings, the improvements they bring to the table are considerable. Overall, it may be worth trying one.


Choosing your own

Before purchasing your own BCD, the strongest recommendation is that if you have the chance, dive at least with two of the three designs to compare how you feel with each. Do not jump into conclusions through price analysis and salesman recommendations. Affordable BCDs can meet the need of a novice diver, while more expensive and complex ones might require some level of experience to control. Have your personal strengths and weaknesses in mind before deciding.


The most important feature of the BCD is that you feel safe and comfortable with it while diving. This will allow your confidence and enjoyment to grow and will lead you to more underwater adventures!

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