You’ve probably heard the term balanced and unbalanced, Piston and diaphragm, Pilot and down-stream, applied to regulator designs. Regardless of which type you own, an overhaul regulator service involves similar steps.
As the general service technician one of the most frequently asked questions I get is how often I need to service my gear, and when. The truth is there is no one answer to this question. There are multiple factors that need to be considered in order to give you an honest answer. These factors range from how often you dive, what type of diving (Salt or Fresh water) and how well you maintain (wash and store) your gear.
In the last 8 years (Since I started diving) I have been on multiple diving trips with multiple groups of people, and in my experience almost all the people I went diving with took pride in washing their gear. My family and I would go on 2-week long trips to Sodwana, during this time me and my siblings (aged between 10 and 13) would be forced to rinse our gear after every dive and upon return to our home it would be unpacked first and washed before anything else would be touched. At the time it was very frustrating as we would just want to go straight to the beach, however looking back, it is something I am grateful for being instilled in me. However, the first time I took my regulator in for servicing the technician looked me straight in the eye and asked if I had ever washed the regulator. At the time I took great offence to this question, now years later after being on both sides of the coin I realised it’s not that people don’t wash their gear. People are simply not taught the correct way to wash their gear. The rest of this blog will give you a better idea, however for the best results I will recommend that you sign up for the Equipment specialist specialty.
The above picture is just one example of gear that isn’t washed properly. At first glance from the outside it looked like a well maintained regulator. It had no scratches or any salt build up on the outside, however upon disassembly it became clear that it was not done properly.
If you think about it, your average dive time is probably about 45 minutes. That gives the salt water 45 minutes to seep into small gaps and crevices, rinsing it for 5-10 seconds isn’t going to get fresh water into all the places where the salt water ended up. In addition to this if the seawater already started to evaporate and leave salt behind, it needs to soak in fresh water for the salt to be absorbed so it can flow out. In order to do this, I would advise you to get a screw on dust cover that will seal of the water from entering your 1st stage and the leaving your entire regulator submerged in water for at least 20 minutes. You should do the same with the inflation systems on your BCD, in fact even more so. Most regulators have fail-safe downstream valves, (Meaning if something goes wrong the air won’t stop but rather your regulator will just free-flow) where as salt build up in the inflator button can cause the button to get stuck. Now although this seems terrifying in the Padi Open Water course you learn how to deal with this by disconnecting your low-pressure inflator hose. Nevertheless, it is something you should avoid. Which is why you should give just as much attention to your BCD as to your regulator.
The type of diving (Fresh or salt water) doesn’t change the way you wash your gear as there are still other particles and minerals that will seep into places you don’t want it to be. Even though it is not necessarily as damaging as salt, ideally your regulator and BCD should be as clean as possible. If the fresh water is extremely clean you should not have to service, your gear as often as in salt water. However, if you are planning on storing your gear away for a long period of time (3 months+) no matter what diving you did I would advise that you bring it in for a service as you can never be sure that there is no salt inside your gear without opening it up. This might seem strange as most people service their gear just before they go on a trip. There are 2 reasons why this doesn’t work as well as doing it before you store it. The first is, if there is salt inside your gear the longer it stays there the more damage it does. In addition to this if something needs to be replaced (which is more likely to happen if you stored it with the salt still in there) it gives us more time to get the parts. This means that when you go diving again you can be 100% sure everything is in working condition.
It is important to note that a regulator is full of moving parts. These include piston type shafts, springs, o-rings and seats. All of these parts move every single time that a breath is taken. You will on average take about 1500 breaths per dive. As i’m sure you can imagine all these parts does take quit some wear and tear over time. So even though washing and maintaining your gear properly will extend the lifetime of your gear but it will still need to be serviced regularly in order to keep it up to a safe standard and make sure it lasts you as long as possible.