Regulator Rubbish

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Bob HalsteadYears ago a New Zealand dive instructor working as an electronics technician in Port Moresby asked me to teach his wife how to dive. A wise man, I thought, destined for marital bliss.

She joined one of the courses I was running at the time, did very well and became a certified Scuba Diver. On her very first dive after completing the course she was diving with her husband. They had just reached the bottom when the husband swam up close, and signalled that he had no air and wished to buddy breathe (yes, really that long ago – before octopus/alternate air). The wife was a bit peeved thinking that he was testing her new skills and gave him the finger. However a more frantic set of signals, and a distinct lack of bubbles from her buddy, made her realise that her husband actually could not breathe and needed to share her regulator.

She assumed the position I had taught her, and flawlessly shared her regulator. The husband soon settled down and they made a safe ascent together. At the surface the husband explained that his regulator had suddenly failed, and he could not get any air. He thanked me later for doing a good job teaching his wife, and asked me to look at his regulator to find out the problem.

I stripped the regulator, an original US Divers Conshelf  XIV – but I already had a good idea what had gone wrong. The first stage of these regulators has an upstream valve opened by a thin stainless steel pin with a cylindrical knob at one end. If the knob sheered off, the pin could not open the valve and, suddenly, it could not supply air to the second stage. Mostly the problem with these first stages was that the high pressure seat would fail – but if this happened the regulator would provide too much pressure and the second stage would free flow – not nearly as serious a problem.

I did not care for regulators that were not “fail safe”, that is, no matter how they failed you should still be able to breathe. In my dive shop, the Diver’s Den in Port Moresby, I did not sell “diaphragm” first stages as they all in theory (and some in practice) could fail catastrophically. Over the years the pin design has been changed and I have not heard of any diaphragm first stage failing due to a failed pin in many years (let me know if you have).

But I championed the flow-through piston design, which I believe was invented by Scubapro and which is regarded as failsafe and foolproof. They would occasionally whistle, but that was easily fixed with a nylon washer each end of the main spring. I sold Scubapro, Sherwood, Dacor, and Oceanic brand regulators, qualified as a service technician for these brands and guaranteed them personally. Apart from minor adjustments I never had any problems, and lots of satisfied, live, customers.

One of my ex-students asked for an appointment with me in the Diver’s Den to discuss his purchase of a set of Scuba gear. I went through the various brands and their various pros and cons. It took about two hours. At the end of this he thanked me profusely then explained he was off to Singapore next weekend and would be buying his gear there. I informed him that he would not get a better bargain than at the Divers Den, and that I personally guaranteed everything, but gave me that ignorant know-all smile that these kind of idiots have, and left the shop.

A couple of weeks later I was amazed to see his brazen hide back in my shop. He was having trouble putting all his new gear together. I took a look at it and burst into laughter. A scoundrel in Singapore had sold him an old style regulator first stage (old stock) with the small high-pressure connection rather than the latest wide thread (universal now) that was on his pressure gauge. “What should I do Bob?” he whined. Now I am a sweet, kind, forgiving sort of guy – but only after I have had revenge – so I told him – you guess -

(a)    Why don’t you go back to Singapore and ask them to exchange it?

(b)    Get out of my shop you Dickhead.

(c)    Seeing as how you are such a good customer, I have an adaptor here I will give you.

Alas, no prize for the right answer(s).

Believe it or not I still have not got to the point of this month’s Adult Section. Here we go.

Diving the Reef of DeathI have been diving a lot recently, my very latest expeditions with the self proclaimed World’s Greatest One-eyed, Jewish Underwater Photographer, no less than the esteemed Irvin Rockman. Irvin started diving before it was even invented and is the President for life, infinity and beyond of Underwasser Yidden, a group of profane reprobates who travel to PNG to un-civilise the Natives and promote the traditions of Melbourne Business Society.

Irvin emailed me a couple of months before the trip to seek advice on the purchase of a new regulator. As long as he could get it cheaper than anyone else, money was no object. I no longer have a dive shop, thank Neptune, and provided a short list of two, the most expensive (and very expensive it is in Australia, think Rolls Royce) being the one Irvin Picked. I also advised him to get it from his local dive shop – but alas he had discovered a website that sells them at a huge discount so ordered it from overseas.

We joined the FeBrina for a double cruise of diving for adults, exploring Milne Bay and ending in Rabaul.  Just about every dive was completed with exuberant praise for the breathing qualities of the new regulator. Then, half way through the trip, it failed. Irvin turned his tank on to be greeted by loud hissing as Nitrox blasted from the water pressure balance vents in the first stage. The regulator had not failed catastrophically; it could still be breathed from had the failure occurred underwater, but was impossible to dive with. The crew fixed him a spare.

At this time I got a bit excited. I had recommended the regulator; I expected great performance and a long service life for my friend. I did not expect it to fail within 20 dives. I was embarrassed and angry. Someone in the dive industry is losing sight of primary objectives. Diving gear is life support equipment. Regulators have to breathe well and be reliable. What is happening instead is that gear is becoming more complicated, more expensive, technically brilliant (or just plain weird, check out fins.) and totally unreliable.

Toyota just managed to do exactly that with its cars – wonderful performance as long as you do not mind accelerators sticking and brakes failing.

Irvin now has to send his regulator away to USA to get fixed. It would have been easier for him if he had purchased it from his local store, perhaps even less expensive in the long run, and of course it is much more fun to abuse someone in person.

A couple of years ago my trusty old fins cracked so I bought a new pair made by the same manufacturer. They had fancy quick release straps and were a bit stiffer than my previous pair. Within 6 months the fancy clips had broken, the foot pockets were splitting and my legs were tired. I took them back to my local store, Tusa Dive in Cairns where the professional and very knowledgeable manager Dave acknowledged the problem, and replaced them with a pair of my original fins brand new that he had managed to find in a forgotten corner of the store – relegated to that position as the clips and straps had been removed. I had plenty of fin clips and straps, my problem was over – what’s more they are gorgeous yum-yum yellow, perfect for attracting sharks and they match my buddy Irvin Rockman’s. We are the boys in yellow fins.

Another thing, if you work on dive boats you are setting yourself up for workers comp with weight integrated BCs. I hate them. They make tanks too heavy for the crew to lift. I also hate those stupid harnesses where the strap breaks free from its Velcro fastening and flaps around behind the diver. Amateur hour. Not long ago my 15 year-old snorkel disintegrated, but my new snorkel nearly drowned me with a faulty valve. I sucked more water than air and that was in flat calm conditions. Something is wrong with the world.

Here is my message is to the dive manufacturers. Cut the Crap. Go back to the basics, make us gear that works and is reliable. You make it; why not try using it sometime?

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20 comments for “Regulator Rubbish

  1. John Bantin
    May 24, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Bob,
    Let’s be more magnanimous! It was surviving a failing upstream regulator at depth that made me write my first piece for Diver Magazine and eventually transformed my career from a highly paid Advertising Creative to an impoverished diving hack. (..but I’m so much happier…sob!)

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  2. Ann Keller
    May 24, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Bob,
    Now I understand why I miss the “old day’s” of diving so much. (I’ve been diving for 30 yrs). It was simpler! I got to admit, the wetsuits are sure a lot better now.

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  3. Richard Jacoby
    May 24, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Bob,

    Seems that manufacturers that I used to know and “love” have changed. Is it true that Scubapro no longer manufactures sturdy, dependable equipment? How about Atomic (they’re “new” in my experience)? Having turned 80, I own equally ancient equipment, including a Dacor regulator whose second stage fell apart in my mouth during my last Raj Ampat trip and my BC is threadbare. Of course I’ll check my local shop but I’m a bit out of the loop, so am looking for the most reputable brands.

    As a card carrying curmudgeon, I miss the training days when students learned to face controlled problems and become comfortable. Local courses at the Y are half their former length. This worries me.

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  4. Bret Gilliam
    May 24, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    Bob Halstead, as usual, pulls no punches. And he is spot-on about his criticisms. Boiled down to its essence, the era of diving manufacturers being run by actual divers is virtually gone. Of the majors, only Oceanic (Bob Hollis) and Atomic (Doug & Dean) are companies that I know of where design, ergonomics, function, and reliability are tested and dictated by the owner(s). The rest of the major manufacturers are run by accountants and other constipated tight-assed “businessmen” who think they know how to run a diving company… but only get their hair wet in the shower.

    Dick Bonin (Scubapro founder) was forced out by the morons at Johnson Outdoors in 1991. When they bought UWATEC (I was the Vice President and CEO) in 1997 for over $40 million, they alienated my entire senior management, engineering, design, and sales force by their idiotic attempts to administrate a technical manufacturing company when they had no earthly idea of diving, procedures, decompression models, and how our computers and instrumentation worked. Almost all key staff around the world left… and went to work for competitors. Johnson then took two of the best lines in diving history and ran them into the toilet. Customer service, warranties, innovative design, etc. all went out the window. I was glad to get my contract bought out and rid of them after three more years. Did their starched shirt “businessmen” effect a big profit-making turnaround? No! A quick review of their Johnson stock performance (it’s a public company) will show that their management has been a disaster. With Bonin at Scubapro and my team at UWATEC we always made profits and led the industry in innovation and customer satisfaction. Sure, we all got a huge payday when we were bought out (thank you very much!), but we also lamented the erosion of two great brands under the “leadership” of our successors and their revolving door of inept yo-yos… who wouldn’t know a BC from their pee-pee.

    Diving needs actual divers to lead all elements of the industry. Most of them are gone and I don’t see anyone stepping up to the task with the current players. So do your homework before buying and caveat emptor.

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  5. R. Nankee
    July 4, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    Your description of a regulator failure reminded me of a new out of the box US Divers Aquamatic regulator. As a Navy diver we used at that time only double hose regs and the Aquamatic was one of the first single hose regs availiable. Our submarine the SS525 was in Gitmo Cuba for routine operations and doing a Rusky watch.
    Went to the exchange and they had a Aquamatic for sale, which I purchased. Went back to the boat, took it out of the box hooked it up to my single 72. Took the gear and went to the pier side for a test dive of the Aquamatic. A fellow sailor and friend pushed me to let him try the reg first. So I let him, he jumped into the water and immediately came up, saying it doesn’t work! Checked out the system all hooked up and on! Took the reg apart and the nut on the second stage that adjusted the travel of the operating shaft between the two flappers and the diphram had backed off. This nulled the movement of the shaft so the diaphram movement didn’t allow for any air flow.
    The nut had not been fixed in place after factory adjustment. I assume the preliminary surface breathing test allowed it to back off. I put the reg in it’s box abd never used it or repaired it. Still have it, probably good for parts.

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  6. DeepSeaDan
    August 23, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Hmmmm…I think I’m going to buck the trend here & state that my 10 year-old Apeks TX50 certainly outperforms my near forty year-old Calypso IV; in fact, after a 10-year hiatus from scuba ( I became a professional oilfield diver via hardhat & umbilical ), the improvements in scuba gear upon my return were nothing less than remarkable! I’m a cold-water diver mostly, thus my first experience with dry gloves was near orgiastic! And what’s this…pee valves! Awesome! Dry suits that would easily accomodate my tux underneath, allowing for “Bond-like” transitions to dockside casinos. There may indeed be a managerial disconnect at some manufacturers, but this cat is happy in his current fur…it’s near purrrrrrrfect!

    Best Fishes,
    DSD

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  7. apple blossom
    August 30, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    May we all have a long life and wish Irvin’s family all the best following his passing today. A character, a friend indeed…and may he enjoy all the seas and adventures beyond.

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  8. November 2, 2010 at 2:27 am

    Hi, just stopped by doing some research for my Dacor site. Can’t believe the amount of information out there. Not quite what i was looking for, but good site. Have a good day.

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  9. December 14, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Many thanks for the information, now I will not commit such error.

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  10. March 21, 2011 at 1:50 am

    I dive with my wife, she had been diving for years, we practice taking our masks off and out of air practices when we do our saftey stops just in case these things happend on a dive, I guess I am lucky as I have the same dive partner all the time.

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  11. July 19, 2011 at 10:51 am

    Hello, what lure you to post Cheap Abercrombie On Sale a piece of writing. This article was very interesting, especially since I was looking for ideas on this subject last Thursday.

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  12. John C. Ratliff
    April 4, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    I’ve been diving since 1959, and have owned many, many different regulators. I have found design defects all along the way in the development of regulators, from the too-small mouthpiece diameter of the Healthways second and third generation double hose regulators to the single hose regulators with too-small diameter exhalation valves. So design problems is not a modern problem. However, some of the best designs were discontinued, such as the Scubapro A.I.R. I second stage which had performance characteristics which would be difficult to attain today. But many of today’s designs are really nice. My newest regulator is a U.S. Divers Company SEA3, which I found to have really good breathing characteristics even if it is the upstream diaphragm design detailed above.

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  13. Tim
    June 20, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    There are a couple of comments here that I would like to address. Someone wrote that only oceanic was run by diving owners? Que? Tropo forte, – Cressi Sub is a family run business and to say that nobody in the whole Cressi family dives is, well, hysterical. Second, I have 5, 000 hours underwater on one Cressi F1, and it is an underwater VW that makes bubbles. Step off of your porch and see the world a little. T

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  14. Ian
    July 15, 2014 at 1:57 am

    Yes, I remember my Aqualung Conshelf 20 jamming open at 65ft. The aforementioned first stage problem was the culprit. I was a seasoned diver at that time, so it didn’t bother me too much because I knew how to breath from a free flowing regulator. However,I saw this happen to a guy in 110 ft of water, same model. That said, it was the only problem I ever had wth the Conshelf after 100s of dives between 1984-91

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  15. Tim
    July 16, 2014 at 1:07 am

    Bob -

    What’s the deal with all these new BCD, with all those wonderful, “integrated” weight systems? All the high end BCD’s have these “rip-cord” things, like that is the normal way to dive a BCD? Take that BCD-thing off underwater, and you now have two completely different boiyancy profiles – you and your suit and the BCD and its voonderveits.

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  16. Mike Bowman
    September 7, 2014 at 4:22 am

    Bob, I’m in total agreement with you. I’m retired now, but was in charge of my fire department dive rescue team. I had the job of specifying each and every piece of dive gear for a newly founded team of six men. Of course, I went to several dive shops for input regarding what they recommended. Imagine my surprise when I asked to look at some U.S. Divers catalogs. They were all about colors and fancy trim with not a speck of specifications! That’s no way to try to buy regulators, for one’s self or for a team of professionals. As it turned out, we went with all environment Dacor regulators, but your article brought back to my mind the very thing you mentioned about getting back to basics….a good functional regulator. Thanks for a great article.

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  17. James Chatellier
    February 28, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    When I got certified in 1970 i used Dacor equipment . I lived in Kentucky and since we had no dive shop close by at that time it was nice to order gear from a company that wasn’t on the west coast. I used Dacor gear and later USDivers. Equipment, back then it was simple and dependable . Sadly both these companies are no longer around. I truly believe that back in the day scuba equipment was built to last . I feel that most of today’s gear is built like televisions of today …you don’t get it fixed it you throw it away and buy a new one.I have no problem with the advancement of equipment but not at the cost of dependability .

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  18. Escobar
    April 4, 2015 at 2:15 am

    You are wrong about the Conshelf series being up stream first stages.
    I can only think you are pissed at the rough treatment you got so you want to spread nonsense. As for the balanced piston. USD was still producing the Royal Aquamaster two hose two stage reg when they came out with the Calypso balanced piston, a flow through design. It has to flow through to balance. I bought one in 1972. I agree that is a good design. Not the best for ice or muck but still fine since water enters the housing. I never had a problem with them and my 1972 one still works. I have serviced and owned both Conshelf and the old Calypso. You claim to have been in business etc. so you should know about the valve designs. It is a sin to bear false witness too. Not that it matters, except it is disquieting for the unaware to ponder especially if renting stuff on a trip. Few upstream regs were ever made and that was way onthe other side of 1970. In that era I tried to see if there were any on the market but no, they went away fast.So in giving lectures about how the things worked in 1975 there was nothing on the market to finger. Your narratives demonstrate obvious you have a desire to get even when slighted. I have never heard of a catastrophic failure of a diaphragm, Ever. The US Navy used the Conshelf successfully for decades for it’s rugged simple design.
    I must agree though a lot of stuff today is all plastic nonsense and hype. The internal workings of many popular regs have not changed in decades though, as evidenced by the listings on rebuild kits.
    Conshelf series never had an upstream valve…look at the diagrams on the internet for proof. The two hose Royal Aquamaster was not upstream even. Do yourself a favor be angry with someone who screws or insults you but stick to fact.

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  19. george Austin
    April 12, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Umm . . . The Conshelf 14 is a downstream, balanced diaphragm regulator -

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  20. BigJRM
    August 9, 2016 at 7:07 am

    As a former cold water diver (1969-1985) and instructor (1973-1983), I have a Conshelf Supreme. I can definitely say it’s 1st stage is UP STREAM, the valve opens against the tank pressure. Check out Figure 7 at http://www.amronintl.com/downloads/dl/file/id/275/conshelf_xiv_maintenance_manual.pdf.
    I tried to paste the JPG file but could not to this reply.
    I just gave it to my daughter who is now into diving. She was talking about trading it in for a new regulator. I shudder at all that plastic and the price, compared to chrome plated brass that stands the test of time.
    Good blog, it too will stand the test of time!

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