Appeared in DIVER January 2008

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John John Bantin has been a full-time professional diving writer and underwater photographer since 1990. He makes around 300 dives each year testing diving equipment.

BC BEUCHAT MASTERLIFT AIR LIGHT

YOU KNOW HOW IT IS. Something you own is perfect in every way but one, and that single imperfection constantly reminds you that things could be better.
For example, the heated rear window on my car stopped working. No big deal, as it rarely misted up unless I had three passengers on board. But when it did mist up, it was irritating. Its probably why I bought myself a new car.
With diving equipment, however, mere annoyances can become life-threatening.
Some years ago, I tried a BC from Beuchat.
I took it to the Cayman Islands and it worked perfectly in every way but one.
If a mere butterfly angelfish flapped its pectoral fins too energetically nearby, the integrated-weight pouches would release themselves. I was forever grabbing an offending pouch as I felt it leave me, and before I was sent on an irreversible journey upwards.
Of course, I could have dispensed with the darned things and strapped on a weightbelt, but instead I soldiered on, getting crosser and crosser.
It wasnt only me. When I visited the Beuchat factory in Marseille a short time later, I noted that all its BCs with integrated-weight systems now had a modified release system. Only recently have I got hold of an example.
The weights can now be released only if the orange safety clips are released prior to pulling on the release toggle. Its something you should let a buddy know about before diving.
The pouches are now so secure that Id happily put up to 5kg of lead in each.
The Masterlift Air Light looks like a very conventional BC, but it has little wing sections that inflate either side of the divers cylinder. These also carry pockets, fitted with simple pinch-clips, for use with weights (up to 2.5kg each side) for trimming buoyant aluminium tanks.
The BC has a single camband combined with a hook to make mounting and unmounting from tank to tank very convenient. There is also a strap to discourage any tendency for the tank to twist on your back under water.
I dont know why they call it Light. Its far heavier than any of the BCs we tried in our recent test of lightweight gear. Perhaps its a tribute to the heavier-weight construction of other Beuchat BCs.

Comfort
The Air Light has a fully adjustable harness system that, once fitted to suit your needs, is very comfortable. The hard frame of the backpack is well hidden behind a slim cushion.
The anchor-points of the harness are attached well forward on the waist, which does impose a slight load onto the shoulders when standing up and before diving.
But while diving, and with 6kg of lead in the ditchable integrated-weight system, I always felt this BC to be part of me. There was none of that heavy shopping-bag effect encountered with some other integrated-weight systems.

Efficacy
Under water, the air used for buoyancy control tends to enter the little side-wings. This makes for a perfect trim for the properly weighted diver. However, the smooth contours and the way these wings are integrated into the main buoyancy cell means that air does not get trapped. It goes out as easily as it goes in.
While rotating around my own axis to look backwards, I did notice that the movement of air within the complex buoyancy cell was quite noisy, though perhaps nothing unusual for anyone who lives on a diet of baked beans and Newcastle Brown ale.
The big zipped pockets proved easy to get at while the BC was not fully inflated. A built-in elastic bungee one side and a stretchy lanyard the other ensure that you dont drop any precious item as you retrieve it.
There is also a place to stow a small knife. You can thread the bungee through its sheath on the outside of the jacket.

Control of Ascent
With three dump valves, there is never any reason to use the oral inflation valve at the end of the corrugated hose to dump air. I tucked it under the sternum strap, where it stayed tidy for emergency use only. I thought the direct-feed control was a bit over-designed for something so simple.
The bottom dump valve, with its cord threaded through a point near the bottom
seam of the bag at the back to a toggle, was easy to locate. I often used it rather than the upper valves to dump air on ascent and when lying horizontally.
For the last moments, I looked up to see what I might potentially collide with at the surface, including various RIBs under the guidance of Egyptian boy-racers from liveaboards other than our own. Then I moved to a vertical position and used either the pull-cord of the right dump or pulled on the corrugated hose to operate the valve at my left shoulder.

Surface Support
When you fully inflate the Masterlift Air Light, surface support is good. Not only is buoyancy provided by the cushion of air at your back and on either side of your tank, but also a lot of lift is towards the front, under your arms.

Ease of Removal
With two actions needed to release the weight pockets, this took a more studied approach. Also, with the BC fully inflated it was hard to pull the pouches free to pass them up to the boat.
I tended to put an extra squirt of air into the BC after I had done this.
I normally prefer to keep my regulator in my mouth until the last moment, unclipping the left shoulder buckle and swinging the whole set off my right shoulder. For some reason I found the left buckle to be very cluttered with other kit, so I unclipped the right shoulder and let my reg go a little early. With so much buoyancy available, my 15-litre steel tank floated very nicely.
The weight-pouches were reinstalled for the next dive in seconds. Taking the BC from the tank, even with regulator fitted, was a doddle thanks to the unique detachable buckle.

COMPARABLE BCS TO CONSIDER:
Camaro Atlas, £335
Mares Origin Sport AT MRS Plus, £240
Buddy Explorer, £307
Cressi AquaLight R, £257
TUSA Platina Evolution, £298



Divernet
Trim
Trim weight pocket
Integrated
Integrated wight release
Divernet Divernet
SPECS
BEUCHAT MASTERLIFT AIR LIGHT BC
PRICE £315
STYLE Conventional BC
DRY WEIGHT 4kg
POCKETS Zipped with elastic lanyards in-built
INTEGRATED WEIGHTS Yes, with trim weights.
D-RINGS 4 (aluminium)
MAX LIFT IN SIZE M 18kg
SIZES XS, S, M, L, XL
CONTACT www.alphad.co.uk
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