hspace=5 I BOUGHT A NEW CAR RECENTLY. There was nothing wrong with the old one – it had a wheel on each corner, an engine, steering wheel and brakes, with all the standard fittings needed to get me from A to B reliably and safely.
The fact that it had done in excess of 100,000 miles, was looking a little tired and was behaving in a way to match influenced my decision.
The new car has all the standard stuff but is loaded with extras I thought I’d never need: heated leather seats, remote MP3 and Bluetooth phone controls, folding door mirrors and headlamp-washers to name a few.
Having them has changed my driving experience. The car still gets me from A to B, but it does it better, a little more safely and far more comfortably.
My buoyancy compensator is a bit like the old car. It’s been under water thousands of times and has proved very reliable, getting me from the boat to the dive-site and back without any fuss or problems. It’s got a couple of pockets, a few D-rings and, er, that’s about it.
When I bought it all those years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever need anything else. Perhaps I still don’t, but there are some extras that I’m starting to wish it had.
Integrated weights would be nice, taking the strain off my back when moving around on the shore or boat.
Some padding around the shoulder straps, and definitely around the backplate, would make my diving experience a little more comfortable, and perhaps even more enjoyable.
I’d like some zips on my pockets, and they would need to be easy to access when I have a bulky drysuit on. I’d love to be able to balance those lightweight aluminium tanks with some strategically positioned weights around the back.
I’d also like to dive without feeling that I was fighting to stop my face from being forced into the seabed. Perhaps a wing-style bladder would resolve that little dilemma.
A well-placed, robust carrying handle would remove the temptation to lift the whole thing by my first stage, and a really secure mount that didn’t let the tank slip out when I least expected it would be a beneficial. I’d also like to fully inflate the BC without feeling as if I’m in a vice.
I’d love a BC that looks the part too, with some subtle but stylish colouring and sleek lines.
And then there’s the most important thing of all, that the whole package should be built to last.
I have been toying with the idea of replacing my old BC, so when the Editor asked me to carry out this comparison test I jumped at the chance to see what was currently available on the market, at what cost, and just what I would get for my money.
We contacted various distributors and asked them to send an example from their range that was “high-end” fully loaded and of the BC jacket variety for a side-by-side comparison.
The tests, which are presented here in ascending price order, were carried out with the help of Divemaster and Fire Brigade Station Commander Chris Sirett (left), with guidance from DIVER’s gear guru John Bantin.

TEST METHOD
BCs were requested as size L, and weighed dry. Lift capacities were measured with the BC fully inflated without cylinder or weights.
All the BCs had integrated-weight systems, so time was spent on each one assessing security, ease of release and replacement, with three single 1kg weights fitted to each pouch.
The cylinder-attachment systems and security were tested along with ease of adjustment with the straps wet.
Harness straps and attachment points were tested, along with ease of adjustment.
Comfort was assessed while wearing the BC with a single steel cylinder, regulators and 6kg of integrated weight.
Attachment points for gauge and octopus were assessed along with hose routeing.
Power inflators were tested along with oral inflation and dump-valve location, operation and ease of use.
The BC was fully inflated while being worn to assess squeeze.
Each BC was taken for a short dive and then inflated on the surface to assess the position in which it placed the diver.



IST Alpha £350
THIS NO-NONSENSE BC is IST’s top-of-the-line model, so is feature-rich. The integrated weights incorporate a unique locking system that was found to be the most secure of all the models on test.
The fluorescent coloured catch makes it very easy to see if it’s in the unlocked position, and a firm one-handed pull was all that was needed.
The parachute-type harness is mounted independently of the bladder, giving a feeling of security and stability. Padding on the backplate and shoulder straps add to the comfort.
The standard camband is fitted to an anti-roll tank-mounting plate with trim weight pockets located either side at kidney level. The two main pockets are zipped and at an angle that makes access easy.
Dedicated attachment points for gauge and octopus allow for easy hose-routeing, while a further seven D-rings are available for accessories.
In the water, the BC held Chris in a stable position with his head inclined. At the surface the lack of buoyant lift was evident, because it only just held his head out of the water.

BEST INTEGRATED-WEIGHT LOCKING SYSTEM

width=100%width=100%width=100%
width=100%


DRY WEIGHT: 4.32kg
LIFT CAPACITY: 15kg
D-RINGS: 7 stainless steel
TRIM-WEIGHTS: Yes.
CARRY-HANDLE: Yes.
KNIFE-MOUNT: No
www.sea-sea.com
Cressi S300 £366
THIS LITTLE ITALIAN number oozes understated style but is feature-rich. The huge integrated-weight pockets will hold up to 7kg each and felt secure. They require a firm pull to release but are easy to replace.
The harness includes a cummerbund and elasticated sternum-strap. The shoulder straps have little padding, but the backplate is well-padded and incorporates a lifting handle.
The capacious trim-weight pockets are fitted to the rear of the adjustable gusseted bladder, which Cressi has aptly named the 3D Blade. The front-operated kidney dump-valve toggle is very easy to access. The attachment points for gauge and octopus are perfectly positioned.
The pockets are zipped, but we found them a little fiddly to access.
This BC performed well under water, holding Chris in a slightly inclined position, and was stable at the surface. Again, his head was only just lifted above the surface.
The yellow and white embroidered livery is edged with reflective piping and is easy on the eye.


width=100%width=100%width=100%
width=100%
DRY WEIGHT: 4.03kg
LIFT CAPACITY: 19kg
D-RINGS: 4 stainless steel, 2 plastic.
TRIM-WEIGHTS: Yes.
CARRY-HANDLE: Yes.
KNIFE-MOUNT: No
www.cressi.it
Sherwood Avid £399
THE SHERWOOD RANGE is distributed in the UK by Typhoon, and the Avid is its top-end jacket-style BC.
The integrated-weight system is easy to use, and a locking trident clip activated only when the toggle is pulled adds to the security, although the stiff backing is designed to be on the outside of the weights.
This meant that we felt the lumps of lead against our hips during the test, causing a little discomfort.
The harness has little padding, unlike the backplate, although it’s not uncomfortable to wear. The tank is held in place with twin conventional cambands, giving extra security against a slip.
The pockets were difficult to access, as the zip opens from the rear. A small pouch on the right side would be an ideal place to keep my EPIRB.
Under water, the Avid held Chris in a good position and, at the surface, did not force him forward. The subtle red-and-white livery looks good too.

width=100%width=100%width=100%
width=100%
DRY WEIGHT: 3.85kg
LIFT CAPACITY: 14kg
D-RINGS: 6 stainless steel
TRIM-WEIGHTS: Yes
CARRY-HANDLE: No
KNIFE-MOUNT: No
www.sherwoodscuba.com
Beuchat Masterlift Pro £400
MANUFACTURED IN FRANCE using top-end materials and distributed in the UK by Midland Diving Equipment, this BC was one of the more stylish on test, its sleek red-and-white livery and subtle features making it stand out from the crowd.
The integrated weights are secure but easy to release with one hand, and have netting to allow for drainage.
The tank is held securely with a conventional cam-action band fitted with trim-weight pockets, and incorporates a buckle that allows the whole system to be opened and placed on the tank without sliding it down from the top.
Swivel connections on the shoulder-straps add to comfort along with adequate padding on the backplate and shoulders, easy-to-access double-zipped pockets and a rear-gusseted 1000-denier nylon bladder.
Purpose-made hose-holders and a knife-mount complete the package. Under water and at the surface, the Masterlift Pro held Chris in an ideal position.

width=100%width=100%width=100%
width=100%
DRY WEIGHT: 3.78kg
LIFT CAPACITY: 19kg
D-RINGS: 5 plastic
TRIM-WEIGHTS: Yes
CARRY-HANDLE: Yes
KNIFE-MOUNT: Yes
www.midlanddiving.com
Mares Hybrid £430
THIS IS THE MARES FLAGSHIP MODEL, and as such it carries some innovative features. The integrated weight-release system is secure and easy to operate with one hand; it will hold up to 6kg a side.
The harness and bladder are separate and detachable from the backplate, which hinges in the middle, allowing the BC to be folded into a compact package for transporting.
The bladder is cut away around the tank to ensure a low profile, but gives a huge amount of lift at the surface.
The padding on the backplate is in two sections, with the lower portion suspended on wings, making this BC the most comfortable on test.
John Bantin didn’t mention in his DIVER Test of this BC the trim-weight pockets, which is understandable, as they’re tucked away between the bladder and backplate.
The materials used and colour co-ordinated embroidered livery and D-rings make this BC eye-candy and popular with the test team. And in-water performance was impeccable, as might be expected from a product of the Mares stable.

MOST INNOVATIVE

width=100%width=100%width=100%
width=100%
DRY WEIGHT: 4.03kg
LIFT CAPACITY: 21kg
D-RINGS: 7 alloy
TRIM-WEIGHTS: Yes
CARRY-HANDLE: Yes
KNIFE-MOUNT: Yes
www.mares.com
Tigullio T52 Hover ADV £435
THE HOVER ADV IS A TWIN-BLADDER design combining an elasticated wing with a conventional jacket-style BC that provides a massive amount of lift. The integrated weights are held securely in place with a clip and Velcro system, which is a little awkward to release.
The harness and backplate are padded, and we found this BC very comfortable to wear. The conventional camband can be repositioned or another fitted for extra security.
The twin bladder requires four dump valves: two at shoulder height, one on the wing portion and a kidney dump on the inside of the jacket.
There are four zipped pockets, which are all easy to access, and a zipped key pocket on the cummerbund. A small knife was supplied already mounted.
Under water, the wing section held Chris in the perfect position. Migrating air was surprisingly easy to dump, and on the surface fully inflated the BC held him very high without forcing him forward, causing him to comment: “I felt as if I had a RIB on my back!” A thoroughly well thought-out BC.

MOST VERSATILE

width=100%width=100%width=100%
width=100%
DRY WEIGHT: 4.44kg
LIFT CAPACITY: 28kg
D-RINGS: 6 alloy
TRIM-WEIGHTS: Yes
CARRY-HANDLE: Yes
KNIFE-MOUNT: Yes
www.tigulliodive.co.uk
Seac 3D £445
TYPICALLY ITALIAN IN DESIGN, this BC from Seac is both stylish and functional. The integrated weight system is not lockable but felt secure; a one-handed operation releases the pouch, which takes a maximum of just 4kg, and it’s easy to replace too.
The harness is extremely well-padded, as is the back-plate with its airnet panels to aid drainage and drying.
The sternum-strap is height-adjustable, with three positions available. We found the Seac 3D to be one of the most comfortable BCs on this test.
The bladder is cut away around the backplate, allowing it to billow out and give a huge amount of lift. The tank is secured with a standard camband, and sits nicely nestled in the bladder.
The capacious pockets were the best of the bunch for ease of access. There are no trim-weight pockets.
In the water, the 3D held Chris in a perfect position but at the surface tended to push him slightly forward.

width=100%width=100%width=100%
width=100%
DRY WEIGHT: 3.74kg
LIFT CAPACITY: 19kg
D-RINGS: 6 stainless steel
TRIM-WEIGHTS: No
CARRY-HANDLE: Yes
KNIFE-MOUNT: No
www.seacsub.com
Oceanic Probe HLC £460
THIS FEATURE-RICH BC from Oceanic is beautifully crafted, using top-quality materials that impart a really solid feel. Understated, embroidered livery along with pastel colours add to its classy looks.
The integrated weight system is locked until the release is pulled, and we found the force needed to be perfect for one-handed operation.
The harness is well-padded, as is the backplate, and an elasticated cummerbund helps to avoid that loose feeling we normally get when everything is compressed at depth.
The standard camband is made from some seriously thick webbing, making it behave like sprung steel, so we found adjustment to be quite a task. Trim-weight pockets are located on the camband.
The bladder is gusseted at the rear and held Chris in a perfect position under water. Fully inflated at the surface, he reported: “It’s just like sitting in my old armchair!”

width=100%width=100%width=100%
width=100%
DRY WEIGHT: 4.17kg
LIFT CAPACITY: 21kg
D-RINGS: 6 stainless steel
TRIM-WEIGHTS: Yes
CARRY-HANDLE: Yes
KNIFE-MOUNT: Yes
www.oceanicuk.com
Aqua Lung Axiom i3 £465
THE AXIOM IS AQUA LUNG’S TOP-END BC, and we chose the i3 model for this test. The integrated weight pouches are held captive with a clip system that remains locked in place until the release toggle is pulled. They’re easy to release and re-stow.
The griplock camband system is a cinch-and-buckle arrangement that proved very easy to operate, with a recess in the closure preventing fingers from getting trapped.
The cylinder-mount is low on this BC. A valve-retention strap stops it flapping about; once everything is in place, it feels really secure.
Trim-weight pockets are mounted either side of the camband. This BC proved to be one of the most comfortable to use and the harness system a joy to wear, with swivel buckleson the shoulder-straps, and substantial padding on a short backplate mounted low around the lumbar region.
The waist-strap has a neat adjustment system by which the webbing doubles back through buckles. The seven D-rings secure just about anything including gauge and octopus, or you can use the pouch either side to stow these items.
The zipped pockets are a little small, but the huge dropdown pocket on the left is much easier to access and takes larger items. There is also a small knife attachment point on the right.
The i3 Control System provides single-touch control for inflation and deflation and works like a dream, with a graduated lever allowing air to be injected as needed.
The same applies to deflation, which opens all the dump valves together. These are extremely low profile and can also be operated manually.
If you need to inflate the bladder orally, a silicon hose neatly stowed on the left shoulder serves this purpose.
Fully inflated, we could feel no squeeze. Under water, the Axiom i3 held Chris in a good position with his head slightly inclined, and sat him upright at the surface without tending to push him forward.
When all the tests were completed, we chose a BC with which to have some extra in-water time. The fact that we fought over this model speaks bundles.

TESTERS’ FAVOURITE

width=100%width=100%width=100%
width=100%
DRY WEIGHT: 4.08kg
LIFT CAPACITY: 21kg
D-RINGS: 5 stainless steel, 2 plastic
TRIM-WEIGHTS: Yes
CARRY-HANDLE: No
KNIFE-MOUNT: Yes
www.aqualung.co.uk
Scubapro T-Black £479
THIS BC HAS BEEN AROUND FOR A WHILE but still rates highly in its class. The integrated weight system is very secure, though it requires a two-handed operation to release. The tank is secured with the standard Scubapro cinch-clip, which enables the BC to be attached without needing to slide it over the top.
Trim-weight pockets are fitted to the rear of the bladder. There are three zipped pockets – two are large but difficult to access, while the third is perfectly situated and ideal for a rolled-up marker buoy.
The harness and backplate are well-padded, making this a very comfortable BC to wear.
The bladder is a hybrid between a wing and a jacket; the large wing portion is compressed with bungee cord, and when it’s fully inflated it provides a huge amount of lift.
The all-black livery and reflective trim make this a very attractive-looking bit of kit.
In the water the BC behaved very well, with the trim proving to be smack-on. At the surface it lifted Chris’s head well out of harm’s way.

width=100%width=100%width=100%
width=100%
DRY WEIGHT: 4.41kg
LIFT CAPACITY: 22kg
D-RINGS: 7 stainless steel
TRIM-WEIGHTS: Yes
CARRY-HANDLE: Yes
KNIFE-MOUNT: No
www.scubapro.com
Buddy Commando £504
THIS WAS THE MOST ROBUSTLY BUILT BC on test, constructed with a changeable PU inner bladder with a lifetime guarantee inside a 1000-denier Enduro outer shell.
The pull-away integrated weight pockets are secure and easy to remove but a little fiddly to replace. The camband system can be customised to take a twin-tank set-up. The padding on the backplate and harness is substantial.
A sternum-strap is placed quite low to allow for drysuit inflation valves, but can cause a little squeezing when the BC is fully inflated.
The guys down in Cornwall have added a pouch to house their standard surface marker buoys, some fold-away hose-runners, six well-positioned D-rings, huge zipped easy-to-access pockets and an optional aluminium 232bar mini-cylinder.
The rear kidney air dump has a floating toggle to aid location. The one at shoulder height sinks. This BC represents a long-term investment, as it could last a life-time. The build quality is excellent, along with its overall design.
As with all Buddy BCs, the trim under water was superb and the lift at the surface more than we required.

MOST R0BUST

width=100%width=100%width=100%
width=100%
DRY WEIGHT: 5.04kg (without 232bar mini-cylinder)
LIFT CAPACITY: 21kg
D-RINGS: 6 stainless steel
TRIM-WEIGHTS: No
CARRY-HANDLE: Yes
KNIFE-MOUNT: No
www.apvalves.com