Aside from your mask, a SCUBA regulator is one of the most personal bits of dive gear that you’re likely to want to buy! After all, it is the thing that you breathe from.
There’s a huge range of regulators on the market, with a massive amount of features and options. So, how do you choose just one?! Well, why not let us help you….
What is a regulator?
Quite simply, a regulator is the ‘breathey bit’ of your SCUBA system. It consists of two main parts, a first stage and a second stage, which are connected by a hose.
The first stage’s job is to take the very high pressure air from your cylinder and reduce it down to a more manageable ‘intermediate’ pressure, or IP. Your first stage also acts as the meeting point for all your hoses, and features both one or more high pressure ports (for your pressure gauge) and low pressure ports (for your bcd / drysuit inflator and second stages). Some first stages have a swivel turret, which allows the hoses to move a little to accommodate the movement of your head as you’re looking around at cool stuff.
The second stage is the part that, via the attached mouthpiece, you breathe directly from. The second stage takes the intermediate pressure gas from the first stage, via your regulator hose and reduces it again to ambient pressure, so that you can breathe from it easily. The second stage is where most manufacturers let loose their own design styles and flair, with many featuring intricate styling and pattening. A good second stage should have a simple and easy to get at purge button, for clearing water from the regulator if needed. Some second stages have various levers where you can adjust the cracking pressure and venturi control of your regulator, literally tuning it to exactly how you would like it to breathe. Alternatively, just as many models come pre-tuned from the factory which aims for a happy medium to suit the vast majority of people while keeping the second stage itself simple.
Balanced, un-balanced or overbalanced?!
One of the biggest choices you’ll make with your regulators is which variation of the above you want to choose. Un-balanced regulators are known for being reliable with minimal need for maintenance due to their simple design, which also makes them most affordable. However, this ‘unbalanced’ nature means that, as your cylinder pressure gets low or as you dive deeper, the air becomes ‘thicker’ and feels like it is harder to breathe from. As such, unbalanced regulators such as the Performance Diver Standard Piston are popular with hunter / gatherer divers who spend their dives shallow and want to minimise the initial outlay.
if you’re looking longer term, or are tempted by or diving at the Advanced Open Water level, then it’s worth you looking into a balanced regulator, such as the Ocean Design Predator or Scubapro MK17 S360. Balanced regulators react to the surrounding water pressure to ensure that the supply of air remains the same regardless of depth (within recreational limits) or cylinder pressure. This means that your balanced regulator will breathe the same at 30m as it would at 5m. This makes a balanced regulator the ideal choice for keen, regular divers.
Over-balanced regulators, such as the Scubapro MK25 S600 or Sherwood SR1 are the cream of the crop. An over-balanced regulator will react to the surrounding water pressure and increase the supply of gas that it’s giving you. This means that regardless of depth or cylinder pressure, your regulator will perform superbly and offer a fantastic breathing experience. Of course, this top level performance does come at a top level price.
Interestingly, while the above variations primarily relate to the first stage, second stages can also come in balanced and unbalanced versions. Again, balanced performs highest but comes at an additional expense. A combo of balanced first stage and unbalanced second stage is proving very popular these days, finding that middle ground between great performance and great price. The Performance Diver Balanced Piston is a great example of this.
Also part of a complete regulator system, is your Octopus or Alternate Source and your gauges. Click through for buying guides for both of these parts!
We hope that this helps explain the differences between some regulators on the market and you’re ready to make your choice! If not however, never fear! Just contact us with any questions you might have and we’ll do our best to help.