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Vintage Scuba – The “SCUBASYSTEM” Hard-Shell BCD

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Hard shell buoyancy compensator

Hi guys, Alex Peirce with Vintage Scuba! Today we’re going to talk about hard-shell buoyancy compensating systems. There were other hard-shell systems developed around the same time but they weren’t the same… relatively similar in that they had a hard shell on the back. They’re reminiscent of the Silent World if you remember Jacques Cousteau’s movie – the guys wore that slick plastic case on their back, which was a cover for three little tanks.

This system was produced and marketed by SCUBAPRO and is similar in that there’s a tank in there: you see an aluminum tank with a valve on top that fit inside the hard shell… there are the shoulder straps and waist straps. To show you the rest, I need to take the tank out.

If you look inside, you can see where the scuba tank was a minute ago. It’s held in place by three Velcro bands then a rubber tape on the back so it wouldn’t slip. You can also see that inside there’s an overpressure, a dump valve if you like, up here. If you put in too much air, or if you had air in it and you started to rise, the air would expand. You don’t want the bladder to burst so if the pressure inside builds, it releases some air. You can see the overpressure valve is mounted on a rubber or vinyl bag. This hard shell is a cover for the bag: so in all intents and purposes, divers, this is a buoyancy compensation device just as you wear.

Open hard-shell buoyancy compensator

You might ask, “Why did they do that?” They did it for a couple reasons. First of all, it looked really cool: like a jetpack on your back. It was partly marketing as well: other companies had similar hard-shell packs: there was the thought if they had them and were selling them, then we should have one to sell, too.

After just a few years, four or five maximum, it became obvious to divers and subsequently to manufacturers, that the hard-shell concept was silly. They didn’t need the hard shell – just the buoyancy compensator and bag we still wear today. This goes back to the mid-70s and 80s; and other than that, it’s a standard buoyancy compensator with two shoulder straps and a waist strap. It’s just that simple.

On the left-hand side, just as today, there’s an inflator mechanism with corrugated hose. Down on the bottom here is an oral inflator: push a button on the end and blow; shell inflates. It also has an early version of a power inflator: it’s not particularly slick but it works and the hose from your regulator fits on to this spigot: press the button and it blows up with air. These are very crude, old types. When you pressed down on this, it was pretty stiff, and your finger would get underneath this metal clip – it would hurt like the devil!



One thing about this pack that was unique (so far we haven’t seen anything that’s really unique) was their method of attaching weights. Just as today, everybody thinks it’s a great idea: “I could put weights in my BCD!” It’s not new. The weights are built in right here, underneath this plastic shell that pops out very easily, there’s a trough for your weights. At this time they didn’t have shot weights or bullet weights: they had square weights that fit into the square box. You’d put in about three or four four-pounders, close it down over the top, and put down the Velcro to hold it in. There’s a piece on the end with no Velcro on it so if you had to dump your weights, just as today, you pull hard on this and it pops open, and the weights fall out.

One thing about this pack that was unique (so far we haven’t seen anything that’s really unique) was their method of attaching weights. Just as today, everybody thinks it’s a great idea: “I could put weights in my BCD!” It’s not new. The weights are built in right here, underneath this plastic shell that pops out very easily, there’s a trough for your weights. At this time they didn’t have shot weights or bullet weights: they had square weights that fit into the square box. You’d put in about three or four four-pounders, close it down over the top, and put down the Velcro to hold it in. There’s a piece on the end with no Velcro on it so if you had to dump your weights, just as today, you pull hard on this and it pops open, and the weights fall out.

It’s pretty neat. It’s a piece of vintage scuba you don’t see any more today. Once in a while you might see one that’s restored and kicking around. This used to have a blue band and SCUBAPRO written on it when it was nice and clean and new. It’s still pretty sharp looking and it’s a piece of diving history. The hard-shell buoyancy compensating systems were pretty common in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Hope you enjoyed that. Talk to you soon.