Home Tech Tips Tech Tips: When to Buy a New Regulator

Tech Tips: When to Buy a New Regulator

Alec Peirce gives advice about when to buy a new regulator
Alec Peirce gives advice on when to buy a new regulator

Divers love buying shiny new gear but a few delay replacing an old favourite regulator too long.  Alec shows key wear points to inspect in older regulators before they become a safety risk and the cost to replace it.

With proper considerations of safety and environmental concerns and so on, and well serviced equipment, you can dive with almost any piece of scuba equipment.

The particular topic I want to discuss today is: how do you know when it is time to sell, change, exchange, buy a new regulator. How do you know when your regulator is done and it is time to get rid of it? There are a lot of little things that you can look at that will help you make that decision – and it is not a light decision.  Scuba diving is still very inexpensive and I know some of you are going to give me comments about that but compared to almost any modern sport today, scuba diving is still the best value for your money. You have to realize that you can scuba dive virtually at no cost – it is inexpensive to scuba dive anywhere, anytime, day or night, all year. There is no sport that gives you that return on your leisure dollar. Golfing – my brother just bought a new set of golf clubs. He spent $4,500 for a standard set of golf clubs, and as you know you see the signs at the golf courses “pay as you play”. It is crazy really. Snowmobiling, motorcycling, and all those sports that are exciting – well maybe not as exciting as scuba diving, are expensive – maintenance, insurance, and so much more. 

Changing your regulator is not a small decision. Regulators range in price, from a really good brand name for about $300, to $800, $900 depending on what you want to pay. I just completed a Scuba Tech Tip recently addressing what to pay for a regulator. The point is that you can get a brand new, full warranty, brand name, ready to rock n’ roll regulator for about  $300. This is still $300 and if you don’t need to spend it – then why would you. 

Let’s take a look at options besides buying a new regulator. We will start by looking at some old regulators – older doesn’t mean they are not good. I want to point out some of the things that you should be aware of when looking at servicing your older regulator. 

First thing to look at is the yoke knob. If you can grab the knob and shake it side to side – not roughly – but move it around and you hear it rattling then it may be a sign that your regulator has had its best days diving behind it. Let me explain why – the knob has threads and of course the yoke has threads. The threads can become crusty and worn after significant use. The threads here used to be chrome and now they are turning a brassy colour with a green look due to the salt water. The reason it looks brassy is that marine grade regulators are made entirely of marine brass and then chromed – partially for looks and also to harden it. Due to wear, in this instance, the knob and yoke lost a lot of the chrome which is a big deal. 

[Alec shows a diagram] The threads of the yoke and the yoke knob are represented in this diagram. When the knob and yoke are new the threads meet equally – almost completely meshed. This is vital to keep the assembly snug and safe. As you use the regulator the tops get worn off and eventually the regulator will change ever so slightly. [another diagram of threads] As the threads wear down the contact between the two threads are compromised. They do not form a snug seal – the overlap or friction area is much smaller. What does this mean? It means the yoke will start to get loose and the knob will rattle. Secondly and more importantly, eventually when you put your regulator on your tank and you are going to turn the valve (air) on and all of a sudden there is a great deal of pressure on that yoke knob. Eventually the tanks air pressure will push the yoke knob. I had that happen once during a training session. 

Another thing you can do to determine if a regulator is serviceable is to look at the entire regulator. Here is a comparison between a shiny new regulator vs an older one. First look at the face of the old regulator – many older ones where made with brass covered entirely of chrome. This particular old one is very scratched and you can see the brass wearing through. This may be cosmetic but remember that is an indication of how the insides may look. Every time we use or service a regulator the parts wear down. While the brass is not dangerous in itself – when the chrome is worn down it indicates the part is undersized and again parts may not seal properly when they wear down or lose that outer layer of chrome. 

Another example to look at – this old U.S. Divers Aqua-lung Aquarius regulator produced sometime in the 1970s. Let’s think for a moment – when I say 1970s please realize that was 45 years ago – can you think of other sports equipment you have that old? Particularly extreme sports equipment – equipment for which your life may depend on. Most folks wouldn’t use equipment that old – but it is possible to service a regulator that old – it may still work. Of course, one of the biggest areas of concern are the hoses. These hoses are made of rubber and as we know rubber deteriorates. Many factors contribute to the breakdown of the rubber – heat, moisture, sun, salt water. A close-up look at where the rubber hose comes out of the 1ststage metal fitting shows hose cracking.  Eventually the rubber will pull away from that fitting. While the rubber is really on there for cosmetic reasons, the strength of the hose is in the threading underneath – it is still a very good indication that hose and probably the regulator to which it is attached has seen its best days.  Maybe time to trade in or upgrade to a new model. 

Another quick example of brass worn down. This is not part of a regulator but rather a quick detach for a computer or a gauge. This is attached to a high pressure hose. At one point this whole thing was beautifully chromed brass and you can see that just from use it has worn significantly. 

I believe the best way to know when it is time to trade in or get a new regulator, and some of you may not feel comfortable with this, is to speak to your local dive store. I am not sure about your particular relationship with the dive store and while I am the first to admit that some dive stores are less helpful and less approachable, many dive stores have very helpful staff. If you feel uncomfortable with your local store or feel they are only interested in the bottom line – go get a new dive store. 

On a side note – I just retired from a successful 47 years as a dive shop owner. The reason dive shops do well is when they keep in mind the diver first. If the diver is happy, has good equipment, and is enjoying himself – he will keep coming back. You don’t need a dive shop that tries to oversell you. Some dive shops will actually take an old regulators for a trade in credit.

I am not suggesting you throw out your old regulators or keep what you have just to save a few dollars. Keep your safety in mind.