Which Regulator is the best for you?
When divers talk about regulators they're usually talking about a complete set of regulators which is typically made up of a first stage, hoses, a second stage, a redundant second stage (normally referred to as an Octopus) and an instrument console (which can include pressure gauge, depth gauge, compass or possibly a dive computer)
All of these components can be bought individually but manufacturers match suitable elements together to create pre-assembled packs to meet a number of uses and environments that both recreational and technical divers typically find themselves in.
When it comes to choosing your regulators it's very important to bear in mind what sort of diving you intend to do and environments in which you’ll be diving. For example, if you intend to only dive to normal recreational limits whilst on holiday in tropical location your choice of regulator is not going to be any where near as demanding as a diver descending to 150ft+ in water temperatures below 50°F (below this temperature is considered to be cold-water).
With so many models, combinations, and manufacturers out there, how do you know which regulator to buy?
Well let us start by saying this: There is no such thing as a "bad" regulator. We live In a litigeous society and therefore, it's not possible for a scuba manufacturer to produce a life-support product that was faulty or didn't work as advertised. If they did produce such equipment, they'd be sued out of existance. So if you're shopping for dive gear and someone says to you, "don't buy gear, they make bad equipment", turn around and walk away. That is a sign of a dishonest person who only wants to sell you the brands that they sell.
Here are ADI's key factors to consider when buying a regulator:
- Performance: Now AND Then - Contrary to the current "throw-away" mentality with most products today, because dive gear is life-support equipment, it is designed to last a long time. The regulator you buy today could last 15 years or more, so preparing for your future diving is just as important as preparing for your current diving. Could you eventually become a professional diver (Divemaster, Instructor, Commerical)? If so, buying an "economy" regulator may not be up to performance standards for that kind of diving. Likewise, if you anticipate only diving a few times a year, do you really need the expensive, top-of-the-line regulator?
- Maintanence - Would you jump out of an airplane using a parachute that hadn't been opened, checked, or maintained in a year? Or five? I know we keep saying it, but dive gear is life-support equipment! Manufacturers generally recommend that a regulator be serviced once every 12 to 24 months. Make sure that the regulator you buy is serviceable, with readily available parts, warrenties, and nearby dealers.
- Manufacturer Longevity and Record - As we stated before, there are no "bad" manufacturers of scuba equipment out there. But there are small companies that are trying to break into the industry. While these companies make a good product, they tend to not be able to support their customer as well as the "major" manufacturers, especially over the long-life of the gear. A classic example of this is the case of Dacor. Dacor was a scuba manufacturer from the 1960's through the 1990's. While their regulators were very highly regarded throughout the industry, they were unable to compete with companies like Scubapro, Aqualung, and Mares. Dacor eventually went bankrupt and were aquired by Mares in 1999. Mares immediately stopped all production of Dacor regulators AND PARTS, took the Dacor name, and put it on their new line of Mares regulators. With no new parts being produced, dive stores blew threw their inventory of parts within a few years. Now this Dacor regulator, designed to last 15-20 years if properly maintained, became a very expensive paperweight. In an industry as small as scuba diving is, the average lifespan of a small company is approximately 8 years. They sell gear designed to last decades. You do the math!
- Manufacturer Warrenty...with PARTS?! - One of the biggest benefits of purchasing your life-support equipment from a major manufacturer is warrenties. Scubapro and Aqualung, are examples of major manufacturers that offer lifetime warrenties on their regulators. In addition, these companies also offer "Parts-for-Life". So long as you abide by their service schedule (every 12-24 months) they will include the parts for free. Generally speaking, regulator parts range from $30-80 per service. That means over the life of your regulator (15 years) you'll save $450-$1200! Without the "Parts-for-Life" programs, you are essentially paying double for your regulator.
- Availibility of Dealers and Service - For obvious reasons, the vast majority of divers and dive shops are located in coastal regions. Florida, California, and Texas have the most divers in the U.S., per capita. Likewise, they also have the most dive shops and therefore most manufacturers will have at least some representation in those states. However, most smaller scuba manufacturers are Region business and may not have representation in parts of the country furthest from them. With the rise of the internet, it is common for a consumer to purchase an item from "Brand X" online, only to find that the closest repair facility is three states away.