Selecting Your Regulator

Selecting Your Regulator

Your regulator is probably the most important piece of kit you will buy and if properly maintained, will give you many, many years of service. It is also one of the most expensive pieces of kit you will buy, so it is worth having a think about what you want to achieve with your diving and what sort of things you want to do in the future; so that your regulator will expand with you as your diving progresses. It will work out cheaper in the long run to spend a bit more initially on the correct regulator, rather than buy a cheap set and then try to sell it in the future, to buy a more suitable regulator to meet your needs.

                This is a huge subject and one we could discuss for hours but basically your regulator is split up into 2 stages; the first stage and the 2nd stage. The first stage reduces the tank pressure from say 200 bar down to an intermediate pressure of around 8-10 bar depending on the brand. The second stage then reduces the intermediate pressure to ambient pressure so the diver can safely breathe from the regulators. There are 3 different models; Un-balanced, Balanced and Over balanced and there are 2 styles of first stages; Piston and Diaphragm

Piston 1st Stage

                Piston 1st stages are the simplest form of valves with only one moving part. The robust un-balanced 1st stages are all basic inline Piston valves with the only moving part being the piston which moves backwards and forwards opening and closing the valve.

                Balanced piston first stages utilise the flow through piston design which allows constant, effortless airflow un-effected by depth, tank pressure or breathing rate due to the high airflow they produce. Due to the high airflow the balanced piston first stage is a great all round choice for any diver whether you’re diving shallow or deep. Some of the newer models on the market are now coming with protective coatings on the exposed parts which help resist freezing meaning they can be used in colder waters too.


Diaphragm 1st Stage

                Diaphragm 1st stages get their name from the heavy duty diaphragm that separates all the moving parts from the water. As the moving parts aren’t exposed to the water they don’t suffer from corrosion build up avoiding any corrosion related issues you may encounter with poorly maintained regulators. Another advantage of the diaphragm 1st stage is with the simple addition of an outer or secondary diaphragm you can create what we call an environmentally sealed 1st stage which can withstand the coldest of water conditions and put up with dirty polluted waters. The environmental seal basically seals off the top chamber of the first stage preventing water entering. The external water pressure is then passed through to the internal diaphragm with the use of a piston or filling the entire chamber with silicone oil.


Un-Balanced – Piston 1st stages

                Un-balanced regulators are basic entry level Piston 1st stages and about as simple as they come. They are basically the AK47’s of the diving world, you can beat the hell out of them all day long and they will keep on going. However a down side to them is that their performance drops as your tank pressure drops. The reason for this is the tank pressure is used in the opening and closing of the valve. So as the tank pressure drops the intermediate pressure coming from the first stage drops too.

  They are usually the regulator of choice for dive schools around the world because of their simplicity and durability. They are in general, reasonably small compact regulators that fall into the lighter weight group of regulators. However due to their drop in breathing performance over the duration of a dive we generally recommend you look towards the balanced or over balanced regulators for your personal regulators. However if you’re on a very tight budget or only dive a few times a year on holiday to 25/30m max then these regulators would work great for you.

These regulators are also a great choice for deco cylinders. Basically any gas mixture from 50% or higher where you can only start using them for deco 21m or shallower. They will save you a lot of money when setting up your first tech set and their ruggedness and durability mean you can always depend on them to perform no matter how much they get knocked around on the boat or during the dive. 


Balanced – Piston and Diaphragm 1st stages

                Balanced regulators main advantage over un-balanced regulators is they maintain the same breathing performance no matter what the tank pressure is. This means the breathing performance will remain constant throughout your entire dive. This significant increase in performance is why we recommend buying at least a balanced regulator for your own personal primary regulator.

                If your main reason for getting into diving is to see animal life and the occasional wreck then the balanced regulator is the perfect choice for you. The constant breathing performance will allow you to relax more during your diving and over time allow your air consumption to come down (other factors obviously will effect this too). For the average diver diving within recreational limits (40m) a balanced set of regulators will serve you well for years.


Over Balanced – Diaphragm 1st stages

                Over balanced regulators are the next step up and their superior performance at depth makes them a popular choice for divers wanting to push the depth limits or explore deeper wrecks and caves. As your depth increases the intermediate pressure coming from the first stage increases accordingly. However with an over balanced regulator this gradual increase with depth is higher than with a standard balanced regulator. This means the deeper you get the higher the flow from the first stage allowing the breathing performance to remain fairly constant at extreme depth.

                If you love your history and your reason for diving is to see some of the best wrecks the world has to offer or you love to explore and are biting at the bit to get deeper into the cave systems, your diving will gradually get deeper and deeper as your experience grows. With this in mind we would recommend one of the over balanced regulators. It may be a bit over kill to start with but will keep up with you as your diving grows and will save you money in the long run as you will have to buy less regulators as you move into twinsets or sidemount diving etc.

                This is just a very basic introduction to regulators and doesn’t touch on the different features from different manufacturers but hopefully gives you a better basic understanding of the differences between the different base models out there.

For more details on specific regulators you can contact the shop on 01924 444888 and ask to speak to one of our diving staff or email [email protected] or [email protected] with any questions you may have.   

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