You may find this useful (you may not) but this is my journey as a diver from a jacket BCD to a Backplate & Wing (BPW) setup.
First question of course is why? I was taught with a jacket BCD and been diving with a jacket BCD for the last 5 years so why change? Of course its fashion & coolness – don’t those techy diver types all use BPW? and it’s different (most everyone else uses a jacket BCD) & an excuse to buy more kit (who doesn’t like to buy more kit?) Seriously though the answer is actually very simple in my case – trim
I’m 6′ 1″ and feel I’ve always ‘suffered’ from a sea-horse profile in the water, never seeming able to get that flat profile legs up & fins out hovering above the sea-bed or worse still on safety stops where I have to fin more often than I’d like just to stop from being almost vertical.
I’d read the forums & looked at weight options – I wear a harness as I have no arse to speak of & at the start of my diving I often found the weight belt, even tightened to wasp-waist size, gradually working its way towards my knees!
The harness (from Beaver) helped with the slippy weight belt issue but still put the weight just over my hips & I needed more up top, I couldn’t slide my tank any higher so I looked at weights fixed to the shoulder straps of my BCD or my tank (and even invested in some pockets for the same) but though I admit these work for some they did make the whole setup somewhat more fiddly & complex and weighted down tank bands are no fun when changing cylinders so I was on the lookout for something simpler..
Another reason is the zip pockets on the jacket BCD, certainly of the two I’ve owned – a TUSA Liberator & a Buddy TD end up under your armpits by the time you tighten the shoulder straps & are really not easy to get into & out of, adding stress to the dive that no one wants
I’d noticed one of the other club members sporting a Halcyon wing & DiveRite backplate, actually noticing what looked to me like wing-nuts (& were) in the backplate & wondering how those felt against your back (o course they don’t touch your back) but also wondering what the difference might be.
I had a word about his experience & then launched myself into research and the results, in no particular order of importance are below
Backplate – Seems like steel is the preferred material choice for cold-water diving for the fact it packs some additional weight over aluminium (1-2kg depending on thickness) saving you having to carry it elsewhere while aluminium due again to its weight (or lack of) is ideal for travel. In the end I chose aluminium (which is also cheaper) and decided I would pack the weight elsewhere & save having to buy a steel Backplate as well. (Carbon fibre seemed a little ‘out-there’ for my first backplate, I might not even like it!). I also picked up a Single Tank Adapter (STA) to stabilise the cylinder, not essential but it also helps add ballast.
Harness – single continuous webbing or broken with clips. This was a difficult one but in the end I went with the simplicity of continuous which I would change out if it wasn’t comfortable – it’s fine & I have no plans to change. I did add an SF2 Clip from Mares which doesn’t break the integrity of the continuous length but does allow free adjustment of one of your harness straps to give you extra flexibility when donning & doffing & saves having to dislocate a shoulder 😉 Oh and make sure you get a crotch-strap or the whole harness will ride up.
Wing – Horseshoe bladders with bungees to compress them seemed all the rage a few years ago but they possess a number of disadvantages with regards to air balancing and egress while the bungees strike me as a snag hazard so my choice was a doughnut with a zipped-in bladder (there seem to be some really cheap ones on the market that are single skin which seems like a very bad idea!) Finally how much lift? 30 lbs/15 kg seemed an acceptable amount for recreational diving so that’s what I went with. Finally the most important consideration- what colour 😉 Seems like you can really ‘express your personality’ with Wings these days but I went for the traditional black.
The question of weight
With the whole idea that this solution would redistribute the air (& thus my buoyancy) to my back & allow me to put weight further up my body I now needed to determine how that would work.
An initial dive in our local pool with the BPW & my weight harness revealed I could drop at least 2 kilos from my normal freshwater weighting (14 kilos) but the harness straps interfered with the BPW harness so what to do.
Further research showed many BPW divers added pockets to their waist belt & I found many options in this area, xDeep seemed to be very popular (but expensive), likewise Halcyon & DIR Direct (we’re talking £80-£130) but I found IST Dolphin pockets that look just like the xDeep ones from The Dive Warehouse in Malta for a steal (with Brexit over that might not be so cheap but I see scubastore have them for a reasonable £187.99 each) & they fit the bill perfectly. Each one could hold 4-5 kgs which left me with 2-4 kgs to distribute elsewhere.
If I’d had the stainless backplate that would have reduced that further but I found the next best thing – a ‘P’ weight, I did know why it was called a ‘P’ weight but can’t recall now. Anyway this is screwed into the groove of the backplate with those previously mentioned wing-nuts & provides extra ballast at just the point I wanted it – further up my body.
As with all weight they’re not cheap but I found a supplier off ebay in Germany ( fiedlekorneli-6) that would make one to my specifications for a very reasonable price & thus I added a 4Kg non-ditchable weight to the backplate and popped a 4kg cast weight n each pocket – job done!
Testing this setup enabled me to achieve stable & almost perfect horizontal trip in the water 🙂
Finally what about pockets, they may have been mostly unusable on the BCD but they were used, where would that stuff go now?
My torch & backup I clipped to the shoulder D-rings and retained the ends neatly against the straps with rubber bands, my DSMB I attached to the side of the backplate with bungee (the many holes around the edge are for just this purpose). My reel I clipped to the D-ring on the back of my crotch-strap and that was it.
So what did I achieve?
- Excellent comfortable trim
- A reduction in the total weight needed to sink me
- A solution that can be adapted to be light enough for travel (remove the ‘P’ weight)
- Neat easily accessible storage locations for gear that previously was awkward to retrieve from pockets
- A setup that was easy to don & doff unaided
- A feeling of more freedom than when ‘wrapped’ in the jacket BCD
After all that what brand Backplate & Wing did I go for?
Again research indicated that though not all Backplate & Wing products are created equal you don’t have to pay the earth and there were good reports about Red Hat Diving. So I contacted them & John was very helpful in discussing the options. Good quality & good prices sealed the deal & this is what I bought & I thoroughly recommend it.