• SCUBA: Regulator and Dive Computer

    Until now, I've had at least nine different regulators in my mouth since I began SCUBA diving. Some have been incredibly uncomfortable, some were unwieldy making me reposition it or bite down harder, one was a bit cantankerous but not one left with without air. Reading a lot on this subject and keeping my eyes open to all the choices on the market, it really didn't take me long to decide upon the one that would make me happy and fit my budget. That being said, how do you know which one to buy? A friend of mine went on a dive with a brand new Mares regulator and it failed, canceling his dive. Seriously?! It was new!

    Before I took my first class, I felt every diver should own their own regulator since it is how you breathe. Can you trust rental gear? How often is it serviced? When was the last time? How was it treated previously by everybody? Regulators vary in price and in quality. It allows you to suck in a breath of air from a storage tank strapped to your back, and exhale air out the vented port off to the side. The internal diaphragm keeps the flap open or closed as you breathe in and out. It shouldn't let in any water, and the front of all the ones I've used is soft allowing me to depress it to force out any water before an inhalation if it was knocked out of my mouth. The hose that runs to this piece of gear is rigid - I had one of my instructors actually grab hold of it and tug me the direction he wanted me to head once. That hose can affect how the regulator feels in your mouth throughout the entire dive.

    Like anything you use, it needs to be maintained. After being told I'd have to give it to the local dive shop for annual servicing, I asked why we aren't trained to do this ourselves to make sure it is working correctly. If you own a gun, you are trained how to take it completely apart, clean it and reassemble it properly. Logically, if this is the one thing I have to rely upon to feed me every breath at 50' below, I'm going to want to know it's in tip top shape. Dive shops do all kinds of maintenance and make sure all the air tanks are up to code. I was given a brief tour of their work area, and they showed me the specialized tools that were designed specifically to make sure each piece of gear is reliable. If anything is amiss, they will repair or replace those parts as needed. Fair enough; they literally do this for a living, so some degree of trust should be extended. Still, I've heard and read so many stories of things going wrong that I'm cautious in this area.

    One feature I knew I wanted was a swivel connection, as this relieves some of the tugging pressure you otherwise encounter with a regulator in your mouth. Reading Atomic's website to learn the difference between every model they built, it explained why some were made of titanium, stainless steel, brass or monel, or combinations of these metals. The internal design includes a feature that reduces wearing out the seat within, unlike other regulators. Their site explained what "natural breathing" was, and I just came away from it very very impressed. I saved up my money, and then ordered the Atomic B2 regulator along with an Oceanic Dive computer. My "Adorama Photography" box arrived a few days later.

    If you are shopping or even researching online, it can be very frustrating at the lack of pictures provided by the various manufacturers and e-tailers. They list features and specific functions, but it's very difficult to know if it includes all the parts you need to assemble your gear completely. "Does the hose come with it" was one of the questions I kept wondering, for example. I'm not the only person with this complaint, as I've been talking about this a lot lately with other divers.

    Atomic B2-swivel Regulator

    As soon as I opened up the box, I saw T2 on the included manual and was worried I got the wrong (more expensive) regulator. They do look very similar, but the one I ordered was correct as you can see below. The warranty card was also labeled with the B2 model.

    The hose is included. hehe

    First Stage

    The first stage is the part that you clamp to the air tank. I purchased the Yoke connection as that is the more popular one used. This same product can be purchased with a DIN connection instead if you wish. And if you need even more flexibility, I saw that you can purchase an add-on to adapt the Yoke to DIN if required.

    After loosening the knob to remove the dust cover, I spotted a screen within.

    There are two high pressure ports on the First Stage, and five Low Pressure ports. These are easily unscrewed with an allen wrench (not included).

    Since it came out of the box like this, initially I was a little confused how to connect the hoses so their orientation would work well with my BCD.

    Second Stage (Primary air)

    This is the part I'm probably the most excited about. Imagine that, the part that goes in my mouth! It's very light since it is made of titanium, and everything I've heard is that it'll be amazingly comfortable underwater. The swivel connection moves easily. The mouthpiece feels good, and breathing is touted to be very natural. I'll find out in tomorrow when I test it out in a pool. The Atomic Safety Second uses the same mechanism and it flows beautifully.

    The exhaust vents are on both sides of the regulator, and by tilting my head slightly to the right or to the left, exhaled bubbles will pass next to my mask instead of obscuring my view. The tension knob allows fine tuning how it feels to draw a breath, if necessary. The B2 is designed to feel natural when breathing at any depth.

    You can see the exhaust ports below, jutting out to the left and right beneath the bite tabs.

    This regulator needs to be serviced every two years, or every 300 dives.

    Oceanic Integrated Dive Computer
    Oceanic Pro Plus 2.1 Integrated Air/Nitrox with Compass

    Dive computers come in wrist watch-style as well as the larger type. Prices vary greatly in this area. My experience with dive computers is limited, but I watched others dealing with theirs during my previous dives, and saw some outright fail. During my open water check out dive, my rented computer broke, giving me incorrect depth information during my dive. I opted to get a computer that was connected to my air tank because it will accurately measure what is left and compare what I'm doing to give me the best results per dive. It measures the air every second. Integrated means that it has a hose connected to the First Stage. (Wrist Watch computers don't normally track the air in the tank, but there is an RF emitter you can affix to the First Stage to add that feature, which runs on batteries to communicate with the watch strapped to your arm. I can always add a wrist watch computer later as a back up.)

    Computers are so widely accepted that PADI incorporated dive computers into their course plan instead of learning how to read dive tables. Dive tables use a specific algorithm to determine how long you can dive, and how long you must off-gas after your dive(s), but it doesn't take into account that your depth varies throughout your dive as you explore. You don't dive to 60' and stay at 60' the entire time; you may ascend 15' and descend 7' to hover around 52' for a while. The dive table would figure you were at 60' the entire dive. A dive computer measures what you are doing at all times, and gives you credit for those small ascents maximizing how long you can stay under safely. It provides visual and audible alarms, graphs, and can be programmed for specific dive expectations. It retains your data which can be downloaded to your PC later via USB.

    I read the manual from cover to cover, and the amount of acronyms used is somewhat overwhelming. Included with this purchase is an online dive computer class to help me learn all the features, which I'll do shortly. This computer needs to be serviced annually.

    The compass is very obvious. The rotating bezel can be used to get your bearings, and there is a small window beneath to read the degrees as well.

    While this computer also comes with a quick disconnect option, it would have driven up the price $125 more so I opted not to get that feature. The computer turns easily on the hose, there's no limit whatsoever.

    By pressing a button, it turns on. The two buttons are used to navigate through all the menus and allows preprogramming dive plans. The screen will stay on after the completion of my dives, counting down until it is safe to fly home again.

    It is back-lit as well, which no doubt will be handy.

    The screen is large and easy to read.

    The end of the hose came with a dust cap.

    It's amazing how tiny that hole is that the computer uses to measure air volume. A needle might fit in there, maybe.

    I called a dive buddy to come over to help me make sure I was connecting the hoses correctly to the First Stage, and after some time we landed on this configuration. It's important that all your gear be arranged so there's no undo tension on the hoses. The way this is pictured, the tank would be behind this assembly, and the back of my neck will face this. The upper hose is the high pressure hose for the computer. The lower hose is low pressure supply for the BCD inflator. The lower hose on the left runs to the Atomic B2 regulator. The first stage has multiple unused ports remaining, and various sections swivel to adjust the gear into the best desired orientation. It needs to be comfortable so it doesn't become a distraction.

    Two small plugs were unscrewed to install two hoses, and those plugs and o-rings were saved for future needs. Having extra o-rings in your gear will salvage an otherwise aborted dive. If something has to be altered on site, having a few basic tools, o-rings, zip ties, etc is best. Always think ahead of what you might need, what might go wrong. Be prepared.

    Retractor cable quick connect

    Here's a piece of gear that isn't included with anything, but definitely comes in handy. Using this, you can clip your computer to your person. When you need to read the computer, you can pull it into view. The cable will extend more than two feet, and then retract its cord putting the computer back where it should be within easy reach. Nothing should be dangling or floating loosely off your person as it could snag on something during a dive or on the boat.

    Once the computer was connected via the tethering ring, I clipped the other half to an unused D-ring. I'll have to see how I like where it is positioned during my next dive, and if need be clip it elsewhere.

    Here's the final assembly with my BCD.

    The Yoke connection will be screwed tightly to the air tank, providing air to the octopus of hoses for breathing and BCD inflation, as well as the dive computer.

    Tomorrow, I'll suit up and plunge into a saltwater pool to make sure everything works properly. Getting familiar with the gear prior to my dives in August will allow me to be more comfortable, knowing where each piece of gear is and how it operates.

    I hope this article helps you if you are on the cusp of getting into SCUBA diving. There are many components to learn, and I hope this (as well as our other SCUBA articles) takes away some of the puzzling unanswered questions encountered during the research phase. You will discover there is so much more to learn if you choose to dive in as well.

    UPDATE 7/14/13:
    On Saturday, I stopped by my local dive shop to pick up a tank full of air. I asked for confirmation it was for a yoke connection as there are DIN tanks as well. Since I was doing a saltwater-pool dive with no wetsuit, I wasn't sure how much weight I'd need. I picked out two 2lb weights and four 3lb weights - more weight than I needed - just in case. I paid the rental fee and made a beeline to my friend's pool.

    Conveniently it was only fifteen minutes away.

    I put two 2-lb weights in the BC's back pockets, and two 3-lb weights in the front integrated weight pockets. 10 lbs did the trick, but I probably could have done it with 8 lbs. Here's the entire set up affixed to my air tank. Normally, you never leave a tank standing vertically, especially with a weighted BCD -- always lay it down to avoid damage to your gear or someone else. I did this briefly only for a very fast picture.

    I got my gear on and was in the pool to give everything a test run. The water was a very comfortable 86F, and all my gear felt perfectly sized for me.

    While underwater, I watched the dive computer's display, I removed and replaced my weight pockets, switched from the B2 to the SS1 (primary regulator to the safety second air source), flooded my mask, shared air with my buddy, and hung around at the bottom for a while. This pool is 8' deep. Using my underwater LED flashlight, I checked the pool's drains for any obstructions.

    Using the power inflator to get my buoyancy perfect, I was able to assume the yoga-like position where you cross your legs while holding the tips of your fins to hover in place. All my gear was perfectly balanced, which made this so much easier than when I attempted this skill during my dive classes last year. (I'd sprained my ankle right around that time, so I'm sure that added some difficulty.)

    The power inflator doubles as my second air source if the primary regulator fails, and while using it I wondered if I'd be able to simultaneously inflate the BCD. Not knowing what to expect, I braced my mouth for a big blast of air and pressed the button to inflate the vest, and it did so perfectly without any effect toward the mouthpiece. Great! If I have to use this as my air for a duration, I can still inflate or deflate the vest without concern.

    My time in the pool was fantastic. Visibility was perfect! hehe I love my prescription mask. I drove back to the dive shop to return the weights and air tank.

    When I got home, all the gear was soaked in the bathtub full of water, and then each piece was rinsed off and hung to dry. The BCD was quite heavy, so I pressed together some PVC to make a drying stand. I'll make a better one for future use; not as tall, with extra hangers for the various pieces of gear. The B2 and SS1 were rinsed out well, and the BCD was filled up with water and drained. The octopus was hung on the rail, and you'll notice I wrapped the computer hose and the regulator hose in opposite directions around the upper rail so the entire thing wouldn't slide off due to gravity and hit the floor.

    I completed my online dive computer class that was included with the Pro Plus 2.1.

    I'll need to get checked out by an instructor to make it official, but the class portion is complete.

    Everything worked flawlessly, and I'm ready for my next Open Water dive in two weeks.
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. thearchitekt's Avatar
      thearchitekt -
      Good write up and wonderful pictures Marc. I learned a lot!
    1. melev's Avatar
      melev -
      Thank you. I called my local dive shop and to rent an air tank for my test dive is $15, plus whatever the weights run me. Not bad at all.
    1. Paul B's Avatar
      Paul B -
      I have 7 or 8 regulators and I always service them myself. Some of them are 35 years old and work perfectly. I never trust the people in the dive shop to service it as it is my life. I do however dive with an inflator that is also a back up regulator as diving with just one is stupid. I used to get my regulator serviced and once the shop gave it back to me and charged me to service it and it was still filled with sand so I know they didn't even open it up. There is just about nothing to go bad with a regulator as long as you rinse it in fresh water and use silicone. The second stage is easy to open up to clean and silicone and that is the part that gets the most abuse.
      If you lived near me you could use my tanks or weights. My regulator I am sure you would not trust which is fine. What I use to keep me alive, I like to maintain myself. But always take a back up. I see you also have a back up but when I started diving, that was not the case.
      I have been diving since 1970 and some years I dove every week for lobsters or urchins from my boat. Be safe.
    1. melev's Avatar
      melev -
      Thanks Paul, I tend to agree with you. I think I'd like to be there when they service it to see what they do and why.