Thursday, April 21, 2011

It’s important your regulator receives an annual checkup

By Don Gardner
If you’re a seasonal diver, like me, now is the time to start thinking about having your regulator system checked out and/or serviced before setting out this spring.

Rick Davies from Bruno's Dive Shop

According to Rick Davies, instructor and trainer for Bruno’s Dive Shop, located on 21655 Vermander, Clinton Township, (586) 792-2040) the checkup is more important for seasonal divers than those who use their gear all the time. The dormant gear has a tendency to have its parts stick after months of inactivity.
“Particularly on an unbalanced second stage (the vast majority of regs), leaving it unused over the winter results in the rubber low pressure seat becoming stuck to the orifice it sits on,” Davies said. “A common symptom is that when you turn the reg on it is fine, but as soon as you take your first breath -- and the seat pulls away from the orifice, leaving bits of rubber
stuck to it -- you get a slight freeflow.”
Before we go any further, a quick pause to explain some of the terms used here. In general, the diving regulator is the piece of equipment that is attached to the air tank or cylinder that delivers gas (usually pressurized air) to the diver. The part attached to the tank, the first stage, is the first step in reducing the pressure of the gas in the tank on its way to the diver. The second stage further reduces the gas to ambient pressure and delivers it to the diver via the mouthpiece, or the power inflator for the BC (buoyancy compensator) or drysuit.
Freeflow, a situation in which the second stage is stuck open, causes the gas to flow out of the tank in a rapid fashion. Freeflow can be dealt with underwater if the diver has the proper training and a cool head, but at the very least it makes for a nervous situation and quickly ends a dive.
I was a little surprised to learn from Rick that it doesn’t matter where or how you store your dive gear, a stuck regulator can happen to anyone. A reg stored in cold weather is just as likely to have problems as a reg stored in warm weather. Regs used most often in saltwater are even more likely to develop problems.

An exploded view of the first stage of the regulator

In fact, brand-new regs can have freeflow problems because they can sit on the shelf for months prior to being sold. Reputable dive shops will service the brand-new regs before selling them to make sure they are working properly.
According to Davies, to service the reg, it is first dismantled and plastic parts are washed in soapy water. The metal components are soaked in an ultrasonic cleaner, once with an acidic solution, once with a base.
All parts are then rinsed and dried, o-rings, seats and seals are replaced and the entire unit is reassumbled.
Tests are then conducted on the first and second stages to make sure everything is working properly.
Do-it-yourselfers may be tempted to service their own equipment, but to me, that is taking a big risk. It’s only your life we are talking about. Davies agrees.
“I would not recommend anyone try this themselves,” Davies said. “Special tools and equipment is required. Procedures in many cases are very specific and must be followed to avoid damage.”
One final thought. The jury is still out in the dive community whether or not the reg needs to be serviced annually. All divers want their regulators to perform flawlessly, but because each diver treats his or her equipment differently, there is no set calendar. And as I said earlier, a reg that is used often will be less likely to stick and the diver who uses it will have a good feel for how the reg is performing.
But if the equipment is used only seasonally, the start of your diving season is always a good time to think about getting your regulator serviced.

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