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Vintage Scuba: Evolution of BCs

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Alec Peirce - modern BC

By Alec Peirce

It took a while before we caught onto the fact that a power inflator valve (PIV) actually saved air, and after that, it became common. All BCs today have the same power inflator valve. The horse-collar style disappeared, and we took this BC and made it into a jacket, attaching a tank to it. Now you have this modern device called a buoyancy compensator. How does it compare to the new one?

Well, there’s a power inflator built in by the manufacturer. A lot them have a dump on the top that you pull on, and another on the back like the 40-year-old Sherwood. The difference is with this buoyancy compensator your tank is fastened to it and you put in on like a jacket. It’s actually comfortable and trust me these [older] ones were not comfortable and pulled where they shouldn’t have. The history covered throughout this series is how we got this fantastic new device.

While I have you on BCs for just a minute, I want to show you a couple more neat things. Because of those divers, some divers who said, “Gosh, I don’t want to have this hooked up to my tank; I don’t want it using air,” they came out with a couple of these. It looks the same, right? It’s got the add-on power inflator and buoyancy compensator. This one does not have a CO2 cartridge: it has a dump that you push or pull. It has one thing extra: a small scuba tank that comes off just like a scuba tank. You can take it off and fill it from yours like a regulator. What’s the benefit? Now your buoyancy compensator has its own air supply: there’s no hose to the tank.

This particular gentleman who owned this BC had everything going for him because he installed a power inflator with the hose to the tank and also has a built-in air supply on the BC. Open this valve, push the button, and this tank will fill up like a modern BC. These were common throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s but have disappeared now. Most divers have accepted the fact that the power inflated valve is so easy to use: a little bit of air in, a little air out, and if they’re used judiciously and properly, you in fact save air and get a longer dive.

I want to show you one more. This one looks like a jacket style: put your arms in, over it goes, there’s your jump and inflator hose, and it attaches to the tank. Everything looks the same until you go to pick it up! You think buoyancy compensators with weight integration is new, don’t you? No, no. Early ‘70s, this company and others came up with a great idea to build the weights into the buoyancy compensator. In this BC, there’s a big container filled with marbles and lead shot. The lead shot is weight and you could put as much weight as you wanted; if you needed 15 pounds of weight to dive, you’d put 15 pounds of shot in there. What’s with the marbles? It’s a practical thing. If you put in 15 pounds of lead shot into [the bottom], when you’re turned down, it would all rush to the front: it would bang and rattle around. We filled it with a mixture of lead shot and marbles, so the weight is spread over the whole backpack and doesn’t rattle around in there. A weight integrated BC from the ‘70s. How about that?

But how do you get rid of the weights? Down here at the bottom, you see this little lever here with the safety clip on it? If you yank on that, the bottom door opens and all your lead weight and marbles fall out, like dumping your weight belt. Don’t ask me to do it. Do you have any idea how long it takes to get all that lead shot and marbles back? These aren’t made anymore, but my point with this particular device is that if you think of a neat idea, it’s already been done in most cases. There’s very few things in scuba that are new: they’re better (better materials and better developed) but not always new.

There’s some information on BCs and how they came along. Maybe there’s some ideas and thoughts you didn’t know that might help you to appreciate this wonderful sport a little bit more.

I’m going to go now, and I’ll talk to you again soon.
Alec Peirce from vintage scuba. I hope you enjoyed that.

About Alec Peirce:

Alex Peirce 2018 photo

Alec Peirce has been diving for more than 60 years. He is the founder and former owner of Scuba 2000, Canada’a largest dive centre, opening in 1969. He a dive instructor, author, public speaker and former member of the PADI IRRA Advisory Council.

Sea Hunt staring Lloyd Bridges stars Lloyd Bridges as former United States Navy frogman Mike Nelson aired from 1958 – 1961

Alec is recognized as having the worlds largest collection of “Sea Hunt” memorabilia which he shares in this series. … “Sea Hunt” television show is credited with kick starting public interest in the underwater world that evolved into the great sport of scuba diving.

“Alec Peirce Scuba” is dedicated to making your scuba diving easier, safer and more enjoyable through these playlists; “Scuba Tech Tips”, “Vintage Scuba” and “Sea Hunt Remembered”.