THE CHINESE SEEM TO MAKE EVERYTHING, from our computers to our socks. Nearly every item of dive gear you have bought in the past 10 years will have some connection with the Far East. I suppose it should be no surprise that the Chinese make regulators, too.
With the advent of CE-marking and the ANSTI tests that go with that, I thought I’d be out of a job when it came to writing about regulators. After all, a machine is always going to be more discerning than any human, even me!
Under CE-testing regulations you shouldn’t be able to buy a regulator in Europe that doesn’t meet European standards for breathing. So a Chinese-made regulator sold in the UK should, in theory, perform as well as any other.
The ANSTI machine offers what should be a level playing field for comparing regulator performances. At a tidal volume of 25 litres/ minute and regular controlled breaths at an effective pressure of depth of 50m, a regulator has to provide an overall work of breathing including inhalation and exhalation of less than 3 joules/litre. So the IST Proline R860 regulator can obviously achieve that.
IST comes from the initials of the very English names (Irene, Stanley and Tony) of three members of a family based in Taiwan. The company makes a lot of the equipment we buy that bears other brands as well as IST.
The Proline R860 regulator looked rather familiar at first glance.

First Stage
The first stage is an environmentally dry-sealed diaphragm design with four medium-pressure ports mounted around a revolving turret, and two high-pressure ports fixed either side of the barrel. Apart from looking familiar, the unit felt extraordinarily heavy. The whole thing weighed 1.2kg.
When it came to fitting hoses, I was surprised that my set of metric hexagonal wrenches proved unsuitable for removing the blanking plugs, but luckily I had an old set of Imperial-size ones. So far, so good.

Second Stage
The second stage is fairly bulky by today’s standards. It has a breathing resistance adjustment (BRA) knob that can turn up the initial inhalation pressure needed to pull open the valve, and a venturi plus/minus switch that can be brought into play to prevent exponential freeflows at or near the surface.
The purge button is rather small, positioned in the middle of what looks like a soft front but isn’t. The whole thing is surrounded by a heavy ring in dark metal that resisted my attempts to unscrew for a look inside.

In the Water
I first reassured myself that the Proline R860 would supply me with all the air I needed at any depth, which of course it did. The ANSTI tests would have ensured that – however, machines are not men.
I was photographing a big group of batfish that had clustered round a part of a little wrecked freighter in the Philippines. A gentle current was running, and to avoid spooking my subjects I cruised past them, firing off my camera as I went before turning and cruising back the other way. I made several passes.
During this process, I noticed that I was imbibing a little water. This may have been because my head was on one side looking through the camera’s viewfinder, or perhaps the mouthpiece had a small leak.
Back on land, I changed the mouthpiece for a spare I carry with me. To test it, I inhaled as hard as I could from it with my tank turned off, and confirmed that there was no leak whatsoever. It pulled as tight as it should.
Our next dive was at a headland where it was deep and the current ripped. This time, I wasn’t getting a damp breathe – it was more that I needed gills. I swallowed so much sea water that I began to retch. After about 30 minutes I had to call off the dive, feeling nauseous.
What was happening was that as the water flowed through the exhaust-T of the regulator, the mushroom valve was lifting and letting water into the second stage. It was not pleasant.
If you dive only in static water, such as lakes and quarries, and don’t rush about, you might never discover this problem. At least, in clean fresh water you could consider it to be continuous rehydration during the dive. This is not a regulator for me, however!
I don’t know how long ANSTI tests are run for, but I am sure this is not something that the small immersion chamber used could replicate.
Neither, I imagine, could even the combined ingenuity of Stan Ellis and Ian Himmens devise a machine that would throw up its lunch should this happen on an ANSTI test. Go for it, boys!

Scubapro MK17 R395, £249
Aqua Lung Titan LX Supreme, £261
Cressi MC9-SC Ellipse Black Balanced, £299

PRICE £225
FIRST STAGE Diaphragm-type, environmentally dry-sealed.
FITTING DIN or international A-clamp
SECOND STAGE With BRA and Venturi plus/minus.
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