WAITING TO BE PICKED UP at the surface in a rather turbulent sea, courtesy of the wet monsoon in the Maldives, I noted that my buddy’s head was occasionally in danger of being submerged by breaking waves.
I, in contrast, sat in armchair comfort with my head well above the water. I felt as if I was in one of those inflatable armchairs that the rich and idle are portrayed as using in their Californian swimming pools. All I needed was a Piña Colada to complete the deal.
I should add, at this point, that I was using a ginormous 15-litre steel tank, which meant that I had needed very little lead to keep me neutrally buoyant while under water.
Later I went to photograph the BC on the seashore, and then loaded with a standard 12-litre aluminium tank. My model diver asked, as we strolled towards the beach from the dive centre, if there was indeed a tank attached.
That question indicates a degree of comfort rarely encountered with BCs and tanks. The BC was the new Mares Hybrid MRS.

Buoyancy Control
The folk at Mares have always sought to be technologically ahead of rival manufacturers. This can make some of their products unnecessarily complicated, when for diving the philosophy of KISS usually rules the roost.
This Hybrid BC is no exception. Why is it called the Hybrid Because it’s neither fish nor fowl Don’t kid yourself that this is a wing-style BC – it isn’t.
The Hybrid looks like a standard inverted-T shape BC, except for the little winglets that rise either side of the tank. This is where all the compensating air tends to lodge when swimming horizontally, unless the diver is massively over-weighted.
I anticipated the air getting permanently lodged there, but pulling the corrugated hose to open the left shoulder dump, or the toggle on the right shoulder dump, always appeared to do the trick during any ascent.
The right-side bottom dump is on the outer side of the buoyancy cell. I mention this because so often I see this important feature installed on the underside (when horizontal) of a BC.
When it came to quick head-down descents from the boat, of which I am the master, I was never left with fins flailing in the air (with consequent embarrassment later) through inability to dump air from my BC while in that position.
I tucked the corrugated hose away neatly under the sternum-strap. There is never any need to raise it and open the oral inflation valve with this BC. A sharp tug is enough.

The Harness
Lovers of the uncluttered front, stop reading now. There is nothing for you here. Move along!
The harness of the Hybrid looks very intricate, and leaves you very cluttered indeed.
It even has horizontal adjustment straps that are linked to the vertical straps of the rucksack-style harness arrangement. It’s as if the original design intention didn’t work out, and this feature was added as an afterthought.
There is the usual cummerbund with adjustable strap joined using a pinch-clip over it, and the sternum-strap to stop the harness slipping off the shoulders.
All this is attached to a novel folding plastic backpack. The idea is that this allows you to fold the Hybrid into a tight bundle for easy packing when travelling.
A single camband holds the tank, aided by a tank-neck strap to keep everything stable.

Integrated Weights
The Hybrid uses the tried-and-tested MRS integrated-weight system. Up to 8kg (4kg each side) can be inserted into the pouches, which in turn are held secure for a quick-release buckle system.
I was bemused to find no trim-weight pockets, but encountered no problems while using a standard 12-litre aluminium tank.
These lightweight tanks, commonly used at dive centres abroad, often need trim-weights to stop them becoming buoyant and consequently wayward when completely drained of gas.
I drained mine on the first dive, which is why I swapped to the much heavier 15-litre steel tank. Even with all the weight of that high up on my back, I found no tendency to pitch or yaw while swimming horizontally.
I’m always intrigued to see diehard Internet divers rubbishing BCs with integrated-weight systems. They still hark back to the early days when manufacturers used Velcro to keep the weights secure.
Inevitably, under the influence of seawater and sun, the Velcro would lose its magic, which was when many divers found themselves on an unscheduled quick return to the surface, after dropping a weight-pouch on the heads of their unsuspecting companions.
All I can suggest to these Internet warriors is that you don’t criticise something you patently haven’t tried. I would never go back to a separate weightbelt given the choice.

Pockets
Another reason for the apparently bulky look of this BC is that two capacious zipped pockets are included, and these are still possible to use once the integrated-weight system is loaded.
I find it very convenient to stow an underwater lamp in one while having another place to put the cover of the dome port of my camera.
The Hybrid would carry a delayed surface-marker-buoy and spool, although you would have to dangle your winder-reel from one of the anodised aluminium D-rings.
Goodness! You could even stow a bit of extra lead in these pockets if you needed to, with no danger of it falling out. Admittedly, all this does make the BC bulk out, and might slow you down under water, but as sprint swimming on scuba has yet to become an Olympic sport, I doubt if it makes much difference.
The main problem with the integrated-weight system and the pockets is that, although the BC folds up for packing, they still contrive to make the BC a little bulky in the bag.

Advantages
So what are the advantages of the Hybrid MRS Pockets, integrated weights and, most of all, superb comfort, both when walking and when floating at the surface. Piña Coladas all round!

COMPARABLE BCS TO CONSIDER:
Aqua Lung Dimension i3, £430
Oceanic Probe HLC, £460
Scubapro X-Force, £369

SPECS
PRICE £450
SIZES XS-S, M-L, XL
MAX LIFT IN SIZE M 19kg
DRY WEIGHT 3.8kg
INTEGRATED WEIGHTS Yes (but no trim-weight pockets)
POCKETS Yes
CONTACT www.mares.com
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