Have you considered when you last had your equipment serviced?
Most regulators require a service every 12 months but how many of you actually consider this every year?
If you don’t service your car regularly it can become a real inconvenience, stuck on the side of a rainy, windy road waiting for a mechanic or tow truck to come and rescue you. What a pain! However, as you all know, there is no ‘hard shoulder’ at 20m below the surface and there sure is no tow truck that is going to come and rescue you.
In fact if you have suffered equipment failure at depth at any time it is not the most pleasant of experiences and not only that can become VERY dangerous.
Maintaining your Scuba equipment is vital and even forms part of your Open Water course when you are told how to look after it. Looking at your regulators, in particular, they are designed to be ‘fail safe’ but there is no guarantee if they haven’t been maintained properly.
Different brands offer different regulator servicing intervals for their regulators. While this is a good guideline for current regulators double check your regulator’s manual and these are all based on normal use.
Many infrequent divers will point out they haven’t used their kit much so it can’t possibly need a service. I would suggest that regulators that are not used regularly are possibly more in need of a service, as they will have possibly dried out and O-Rings hardened. All seals in a regulator are under pressure even while in storage as springs will be pushing sealing surfaces against them which will bed in over time so it’s best to go diving more often to be honest…
The flip side of infrequent use is heavy usage, if you put many miles on your car, parts wear more quickly and dive gear is the same. Lots of dives equals lots of wear. Whilst the saying “if ain’t broke don’t fix it” may be some peoples’ mantra we are talking about life support kit and it’s most likely to fail during use while you’re in the water.
Modern dive gear is super reliable so the need for regular servicing could be seen by some as a money making scheme. However, the longer you leave it the bigger your chances of having a problem will be.
What Happens During a Service?
The regulator is stripped down, cleaned and worn or required parts are replaced (normally dynamic parts such as o-rings that create the seal between moving parts), then reassembly, resetting the intermediate pressure and finally testing. The process on average takes a few hours from start to finish but requires special tools and training.
Try to avoid a service immediately prior to an important dive trip and always allow extra time in case of complications. Try to have at least one or two dives after a service to allow for parts to bed in. If dives are not practical prior to any trip at least get a pool session in. Over the years we have seen people complain that their regulators needed an adjustment after servicing. This is not unusual nor a sign of a bad service just that regulators are finely balanced for optimal airflow so any bumps or knocks can move parts slightly allowing a change in the dynamics of the regulator. However, nine out of ten times a quick adjustment will remedy the situation.
Basic Checks you can do
Inspect for any external corrosion, discolouration or unusual ear or tear. If you spot discoloration or corrosion on the first stage inlet near the filter, it is a strong hint that water has breached this area. In this case, you must have your first stage serviced.
In a piston first stage, the ambient pressure chamber is more prone to water damage because water naturally comes into contact with the moving parts (the bias spring and O-rings). Since you cannot see the inside of the ambient pressure chamber, yearly maintenance is necessary.
The technician services this part with a weak acid bath and ultrasound to get rid of particles that can disturb the movement of the valves, but will also replace the moving parts when the damage is too severe.
However, a diaphragm first stage tends to have a lower maintenance frequency because the water only comes into contact with the bias spring. This is a better option for serious deep divers.
Don’t forget to check the hoses for any obvious wear and tear or rotted rubber.
A regulator consists of several components (hoses, stages, octopus and pressure gauge) that are screwed together at each connective ends. Use a fixed wrench to check for tightness on every connection (a variable wrench easily slips or moves too much when used for regulator connections).
The connections must be at least hand tight to prevent accidental loosening of already loose connections. Remember: any bit of water that enters any part where it doesn’t belong is not safe!
Once your regulator is connected to a cylinder, open the valve and let the air pressurize the entire system of your gear. Then close the valve after about 10 seconds, and take note of the pressure needle (or digits) on the gauge (or dive computer).
Leave the regulator alone for at least 20 minutes. If there is a pressure drop of more than 10 psi (almost 1 bar), then there is a leak. Alternatively, take the entire system underwater and look for bubbles. Even if it is just a tiny amount of bubbles, the system has a leak – and any leak can potentially lead to complications.
This test is used to check whether your second stage is working properly. Open and close the valve in a similar fashion with Step 3 above. Then breathe normally through the mouthpiece until a perfect vacuum is created in the system (in which the gauge reads 0 bar).
If the second stage is working properly, it should be impossible to inhale after a perfect vacuum is created. If you are still able to take in a small amount of air, then there must be a leak on either the exhaust valve or the mouthpiece itself.
If you have a downstream second stage and feel saltwater in your mouth as you inhale, then there must be a leak on either the diaphragm or exhaust valve.
Perform these four simple checks after each maintenance and before every diving session. Preventing problems is just as important as solving problems during an emergency situation.