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October 2005 Vol. 20, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Velcro, Water and Weights

they donít always mix

from the October, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In our review of the 1999 DEMA show, we asked the cosmic question: how did the dive industry survive all those years before Velcro? Then, the all-purpose, light weight, streamlined, and cheap fastening material was replacing zippers, buckles, buttons, anything it could.

Yet six years later, these hookand- loop fasteners are recognized by many as a dangerous substitute for mechanical fasteners. Velcro is just one brand name, and quality of the fasterners varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. What quality comes on dive gear is anyone's guess. Furthermore, hook and loop fasteners deteriorate, not only with repeated use, but also with exposure to water. In fact, just using the material in water weakens its adhesive power. Furthermore, detritus can stick to the material, affecting how it fastens.

We've heard so many problems with these types of closures, in our monthly email to subscribers we asked for their experiences. While some reported good luck with hookand- loop fasteners, many recounted frightening experiences when it didn't hold.

Undercurrent readers reported failures of tank bands, glove or watch straps, and other closures, but the major failures were in integrated weight BCD pouches. That's serious, since inadvertently losing weights can lead to a potentially dangerous loss of buoyancy control. Just ask Howard Kaiser of Liberty, MO. Last February on Grand Cayman, he was using his three-year-old SeaQuest Pro QD BCD. In a swim-through 90 feet down, he reached for his dive light and inadvertently dislodged a fourpound weight. "I found myself up against the top of the tunnel, reaching down to retrieve my weight," Kaiser recalls. The struggle silted up an already dark tunnel and Kaiser lost contact with the divemaster, who was leading the way. Fortunately, "The diver behind me realized that I couldn't reach the weight and handed it up to me."

Kaiser points out, "I'm big on inspecting equipment before we leave. The only evidence of wear on the attachments was a slight curling of the material."

Roy Baggett (Murfreesboro, TN), lost a weight preparing for a dive on Little Cayman Although he'd made sure the pockets of his 4-year-old Scubapro S-Tek were properly inserted and the hook-and-loop patches had engaged, one pouch went overboard when he stood up. "It fell into the ocean," recalls Baggett, "brushing a fellow diver as it descended 6000 ft. to the ocean's floor."

Baggett replaced it with a loaner pocket. He used a web belt to secure the weight pocket in his BCD. Since then he's added a bright yellow bungee cord to each pocket to prevent future losses. "I now have a permanent memorial to myself at the bottom of Bloody Bay Wall," he jokes. "A weight pocket with my name BAGGETT stenciled on it with 8 lbs. of lead in it."

Do Scuba Manufacturers Stand Behind their fasteners?

Divers reported varying success getting their weight systems repaired or replaced. Howard Kaiser, who lost his pouch on Cayman's East End, so he took his BCD to his dive shop. They contacted SeaQuest, which declined to replace the pouches, says Kaiser, "So I ended up buying new pouches." Kaiser thinks that manufacturers should offer to refit BCDs with backup clips to prevent recurrences, especially because his weight pouches remained unstable. One did fall out on a shallow dive two days later. As Kaiser says, and many other respondents agree, "Once they fail, the lesson is don't trust them again. SeaQuest should bear that in mind. I love my BC, but doubt I'd buy another SeaQuest."

Other divers have had better luck. When Don Gensler, (White Salmon, WA), started losing weights from his Scubapro Superhawk after 100 dives, his dealer, Adventure Sports of Gresham, Oregon, sent the pouches back to Scubapro for a "no-hassle" replacement. Nevertheless, says the once-burned Gensler, "I now carry a spare on dive trips."

Roberta and John Simonton (Denver, CO) had their hook-andloop- fastened pockets converted to a clip system by Scubapro, through their local dealer, Denver Divers. However, proprietor Drew Vasco tells Undercurrent that Scubapro's conversion program was offered only on a couple of models, which have since been discontinued.

Tim O'Connor (Orlando, FL), sent a faulty Accent BCD back to Scubapro, requesting that they retrofit it with a buckle system. (Several Scubapro jackets now feature a patented clip mechanism to hold weights in place with a one-step release). Scubapro told him the Accent BC could not be retrofitted, but they did replace the faulty hook-and-loop material at no charge, though his Accent was two and a half years old.

John Walker (Sonoma, CA) returned his US Divers BCD to Aquarius Dive Shop in Monterey after losing weights three times. He was given a $125 credit toward a Scubapro Nighthawk with the plastic clip system.

Dive operators are all too familiar with this problem, as you might imagine. Alison Dennis, who runs a dive service in Cozumel (www.scubawithalison.com), said that she finds weight pouches "all the time on the bottom. The most common ones are the SeaQuest pouches that have no clip. . . I actually carry a spare SeaQuest weight pouch to replace those that fall out. You should see the grateful looks on my divers' faces when they lose a pouch and I have a spare on board." Dennis adds that she never finds weights with clips.

Sometimes, the problem lies with dive operators themselves. C.F. Ward (San Diego, CA) points out that many dive boat crews request that integrated weights be pulled before the BCDs are swapped to fresh tanks, to make it easier on crew members. That practice can lead to mistakes when reinserting the weights, either by the staff or individual divers. Alison Dennis finds that "most pouches are lost when the diver is getting on board and removes them first to hand to my captain."

On the other hand, Steve Fish of Adventure Sports (Grand Junction, CO) reports he has "never had a weight pocket release without my direct action" while using SeaQuest Balance and Black Diamond BCDs on about 2000 dives. User error has caused every failure Fish has seen. Most commonly, divers install weight pouches backwards or fail to slide them "all the way home" in the pocket.

Aqua Lung's Northern California regional manager, Dan Rodarte, who also sells SeaQuest and Apeks BCDs, points out that some divers wait until they're fully geared up to insert integrated weights, which may lead to some problems cited by Fish. Rodarte advises patting or rubbing the Velcro flap to firmly mesh the hooks and loops together once the pouches are in place. This is important at the corners, which can snag on a wet suit and pull open.

Failures were most commonly reported during giant stride or back roll entries, depending on the orientation of the dive pocket (for instance, pockets that point down can pop open when the diver is in a headdown position).

Newer, high end jackets and wing style BCDs come with proprietary mechanical weight release systems such as the SeaQuest and Apeks Sure LockTM buckles. Old salt Sal Zammitti, of San Francisco's Bamboo Reef, says, "The SeaQuest system is the most efficient and easiest to use of any I've seen. A quick-disconnect clip snaps into place. To dump the weight you just pull hard with one hand. Other systems require two hands." But Steve Fish prefers the old hook-and-loop fasteners, which are still available on budget model vests. Fish finds Sure LockTM pockets difficult to insert, since the clip mechanism is out of sight under a protective sleeve.

Charlie Bush, Vice President of Water Sports for Cramer-Decker Industries (distributors of Sherwood and Genesis BCDs), concedes that hook and loop material deteriorates when exposed to water or fouled by sand (a reason to rinse and brush them thoroughly). But, since Sherwood and Genesis switched to a patented CQR 2 buckle system, Bush notes, "shipments of replacement pouches have dropped to negligible over the past two years."

Different manufacturers have developed a host of competing systems for managing integrated weights. When shopping, try a BCD on with your other gear --- especially gloves if you use them while diving. You should be able to easily load and secure the weights, and to dump them with a firm but not too difficult one-handed pull. Remember, you might have to perform both these functions underwater. Systems with exposed buckles can be easier to operate, but the buckles could be bumped or compromised by sand.

Be sure the fittings feel secure and durable, and that the pockets are rated for all the weight you'll need. Diana Dickinson (Sammamish, WA) lost a pouch that had been overweighted. Since then, she says, "I changed to less weight in the pockets and added a 2-to-5 pound weight belt (depending on what I'm wearing, from a skin to a 5-mil) with one weight mid-back. By carrying weight in seven different places -- two weight pockets, two ankles, two shoulder pockets, and the weight belt -- I can float perfectly motionless in any position. I can ditch one weight and barely drift to the surface, rather than shoot up. So, I need to make few adjustments to my BCD air --- I use a little air at the beginning, let out some around 1500 pounds, and lose the rest on ascent." Many newer BCDs offer multiple trim options such as pockets for nonditchable weights or heavier metal backpacks for wing style BCDs.

There's another good reason for not putting all those weighty eggs in one basket. Instructor Alan Budreau notes that if all your weight is in your vest and you need to take off your scuba rig due to an entanglement, "you now are way too buoyant and float up, while the heavy scuba gear sinks away from you."

Several respondents found innovative ways to deal with loose weights. Shelli Skeels (Hopatcong, NJ) salvaged a dive by using a "well placed rock." Others, especially those diving in nonbuoyant skins, have forcefully swum down to grab dropped weights. After losing a weight in Papua New Guinea, Don Wilson (West Caldwell, NJ) made a point of holding onto his pouches while descending. But eventually he switched to a weight belt with his wet suit and a DUI shoulder harness (with higher weight capacity) for his dry suit.

Elaine Hopkins (Bratenahl, OH) had a sail maker install large snaps on the pockets of her Genesis Athena BC. Others have had similar work done by shoemakers. Some, like Roy Baggett, have installed their own safety straps. Of course, any such homemade solutions must have quick-release capabilities.

But why should divers be forced to jury-rig their own solutions in the first place? Rob Offenhartz, Proprietor of Planet Scuba in Castle Rock, CO, maintains, "As a dive shop owner I welcome the new generation of weight pockets. However, I feel the vest manufacturers should belly up and repair vests where the weight pockets are in jeopardy. If we are committed to safety as an industry there are times we need to take the financial hit to keep our customers and ourselves safe!"

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