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January 2010    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 36, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Rebuttals About Regulator Servicing

from the January, 2010 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

After reading my “Servicing Your Regulator” article last month, some dive industry folks wrote in with their take on regulator repair and replacement.

Nick Bailey, a dive-incident investigator in England, says the cost of servicing a regulator and the cost of replacing one are approaching each other, and the latter may soon be more economical. “When I started diving 20 years ago, my first regulator cost $190, fairly expensive at the time. To get it serviced, parts and labor were around $50. To buy basically that same model today is $230. But over the intervening years, the price of spare parts has risen far more and that is probably where manufacturers have kept profits coming in.”

Ken Kurtis, owner of Reef Seekers Dive Co. in Beverly Hills, CA, thought my article made it seem like dive shops invented a myth of annual service as a way to generate profits. “We just follow the manufacturer guidelines. If those guidelines say ‘annual service,’ that’s the standard to which we must adhere. If they say ‘inspection only,’ then we can follow that. Our hands are somewhat tied. One thing that’s been drilled into our heads is that once a regulator has been physically opened up, you have an obligation not to put the old parts back in. All the o-rings need to be replaced, sometimes a few other things, and then the reg is adjusted to fall back within the manufacturer’s specs. If we don’t do that and there’s an accident subsequent to service, we’ve opened ourselves up to a legal challenge about the competency of our repair work.”

Kurtis also takes umbrage to our take on how divers could skip an annual servicing. “I’m a forensic consultant for the Los Angeles County corner with regard to scuba fatalities. While I have yet to see a case where regulator failure has caused someone’s death, I’ve seen cases where the victim’s regulator performed far outside of the manufacturer’s specs and where we couldn’t ascertain when it had last been serviced. Would the accident have not happened if the regulator had worked better? We can’t say for sure. But we can say that a poorly performing regulator, had it been properly serviced in a timely manner, would have been one less thing for a diver to deal with in an emergency, and that that possibly could have affected the outcome. The bottom line is this all relates to life support. If $100 is too much for you to spend annually to get a regulator to perform as it should, then maybe you should re-think your priorities. If things go wrong, I’m sure you’d prefer to deal with the emergency knowing that your regulator is functioning correctly, rather than have your last thought be, ‘Maybe I should have gotten that thing serviced after all.’”

Regardless of how you service your regulator, more important is how you take care of it in between dive shop visits, especially after you’re done using it on a dive trip. If you don’t rinse it thoroughly, the remaining saltwater evaporates but leaves behind salt, forming crystals that can cause valves to seat improperly. This leads to problems like free-flow, costly repairs or, even more expensive, having to buy a new regulator. While it’s important to keep your gear freshwater-rinsed, don’t panic if the day boat lacks a rinse tank. You have a day or two before crystals begin to form, so it’s safe to wait till you’re onshore.

When you’re done with a dive trip, thoroughly clean your regulator and BCD. Jack Kuhn, owner of Harbor Dive Shop in Sausalito, CA, follows this checklist: Take the inflator off the BCD, drain saltwater out, rinse the BCD interior with fresh water, then drain again. Submerge the BCD in fresh water, like in a bathtub overnight, to get the salt off. Thoroughly soak the inflator and its mechanism. Soak the second stage and rinse the first stage, both in fresh water. Then thoroughly dry everything before storing it. “I hang my BCD and regulator together on a sturdy hanger and store it in a room that is not hot, dry or damp,” he says. “For me, that’s the room with the water heater in it.”

A regulator bag, duffel bag or a padded case is ideal for storing the regulator. Don’t store it in sunlight, and definitely not in the garage, where mice and rats may find the rubber hoses tasty.

Reader Rob Courter (Raleigh, NC) recommends taking an equipment maintenance class at your dealer. “I took one at my local dive shop and while it didn’t teach people how to do their own service, it did let us tear apart regulator stages, BCDs, tanks and other gear to see how they really tick. Learning about my gear from the inside out helped me become a better diver.”

If you’re in the market for a new regulator, know that the price can determine how much you’ll pay for servicing and parts. On its customer-service phone line, says it divides its regulators into two categories: “balanced-adjustable,” the more expensive ones that feature more bells and whistles, and the “reliable- economical,” simple piston types that are easier to service because the second stages don’t have swivels. “For those who aren’t diving too deep or that often, and if you have a budget in mind, the reliable types may work best.”

Kay Wilson, owner of Grand Cayman’s Indigo Divers, agrees. “If you’re a once-a-year vacation diver, select a regulator based on its ease of servicing as much as on its ease of breathing. Ask yourself, do you really need the additional bells and whistles? The ideal regulator for you is not necessarily the most expensive or the best looking one.”

- - Ben Davison

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