As the start of the UK diving season is upon us, I thought I’d write a little article to answer a question I get asked all the time – how often does my regulator need servicing?
As your reg is a piece of life support equipment, you really need to take care of it so it can take care of you underwater!
WHY DOES MY REG NEED SERVICING?
Because it gets minging inside! When you dive, the reg is submerged in water – salt water, lake water, river water… it’s not exactly going to be filtered spring water. We dive where the fish poo.
Your regs are going to accumulate dirt and mineral build-up over time. And even with good cleaning practices after each dive, you’ll never get in all the nooks and crannies especially if you primarily dive in saltwater.
Salt is the archnemesis of dive equipment. It attacks all our shiny toys and creates deposits in the bits where we can’t so easily rinse off with the hose or a dunk tank.
On top of this, the inside of your regulator is operating at very high pressures (up to 300 bar). This causes a lot of wear and tear, especially on moving parts, and there’s a fair few of them inside your reg!
Every time you breathe, there’s a bunch of mechanisms working their magic to deliver your air. There’s levers, springs and knife edges all working together every time you inhale and exhale.
Let’s say your average dive lasts an hour and you breathe at about 20 breaths per minute. Your reg internals will move 1,200 times! After 50 dives, that’s 60,000 movements back and forth. Considering you’re meant to service your car every 12,000miles, you can get a picture of why your regs need a regular visit to your dive technician!
HOW OFTEN DOES MY REGULATOR NEED SERVICING?
Everyone talks about a yearly service for regs (*this actually applies to ALL your dive kit by the way – not just your regulators!) In actual fact, the answer to “how often does my regulator need servicing” is that it depends on the manufacturer’s guidelines. You’ll find these in the manual that came with your regs… what do you mean you never read it?!
Don’t worry if you’ve already chucked yours out or you’ve lost it – most are available to download from the manufacturer’s websites. If you’ve got an Apeks reg (or any other Apeks gear for that matter) you can find them here.
If we take Apeks as an example (purely because they’re my favourite) the servicing schedule states that they need to be inspected by a dealer every year with a full strip-down service every 2 years.
However, if your regs get a lot of use – especially if you’re doing more than 50 dives in a year, then an annual full service is a good idea. The regs in our school at The Fifth Point get a fair hammering. I actually inspect these every 6 months and put them through a full service if they need it.
If you’re in doubt, just get them checked out. I can do a free inspection for you and then let you know if they need a full service.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A SECOND STAGE INSPECTION?
During a regulator second stage inspection, I go through this process:
- Attach the regs to a cylinder and chuck em in the training tank. I’m looking for any bubbles as a telltale sign of leaks.
- Stick it on my test bench and use a little gadget to check for cracking effort (that’s how easy it is for the air to flow as you inhale). I’m making sure it’s within the acceptable range as set by the manufacturer.
- Take a look at any control knobs and venturi switched to make sure they operate smoothly.
- Look at the exhaust valve(s) to make sure they’re in good condition and that they’re sealing against a clean, undamaged surface.
- Check the mouthpiece for tears or holes and checking the general condition.
- Pull back any hose protectors to check there’s nothing dodgy going on with the hose crimps (those silver bits near the first stage)
If your regulator fails steps 1, 2, 3 or 4 you’ll be booking it in for a full service, your reg is in desperate need of some TLC! “How often does my regulator need servicing”… it doesn’t matter, it needs a service NOW!
If it fails steps 5, 6, 7 or 8 I’ll decide if it needs a full service – it could just be that by changing out a couple of parts, the problem is fixed. Either way, I’ll be in touch!
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A FIRST STAGE INSPECTION?
During a regulator first stage inspection, I go through this process:
- When it’s in the water in step one above, I’m keeping an eye out for any bubbles coming out the first stage too.
- While it’s on the test bench I use a gauge to check for a stable medium pressure. I’m also checking that it’s within the acceptable range set by the manufacturers.
- Check that all parts are tightly fastened and that nothing is loose.
- Take a look at the environmental diaphragm looking for tears or holes and checking the general condition.
- Check out the filters to see if there’s any debris or discolouration.
If your regulator fails steps 1, 2 or 3 we’ll get it booked in for a full service.
If it fails 4 or 5 I’ll let you know what I think.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A FULL REGULATOR SERVICE?
I love servicing regulators. For me my answer to “how often does my regulator need servicing” is as regularly as possible! I get the chance to bring them back to their former glory and of course, make sure they keep you safe during the dive! It’s quite an in-depth process, so let me take you through the steps for a full reg service:
- Start with a coat of looks – I check them over following the steps of the visual inspection to spot any glaringly obvious faults I need to be aware of before I begin.
- Check the purge function and the interstage pressures
- Complete strip down including all hoses. Everything is taken apart, every o-ring is removed and the parts that will be replaced with new are disposed of.
- Critical parts are inspected under a magnifying screen to spot any damage and check springs haven’t been distorted
- Everything gets soaked in a nice clean bubble bath. This removes any heavy build-up – especially from old lubricants.
- The parts are then rinsed and given a scrub for any heavier deposits before going into a second bath (talk about luxury!)
- The second bath contains a special solution that will remove anything missed and the ultrasonic polishes up your chrome so it looks like new!
- Parts are then rinsed again and dried using filtered compressed air.
- Grab the factory service kit and add the new parts ready for rebuild
- Lube everything using the recommended manufacturers lubricant
- Test the 1st stage setup is to the correct specification
- Connect up the second stages and adjust to the correct cracking settings
- Leave the regs under pressure for some time, repeat the tests to ensure everything is behaving correctly and the internal parts have bedded in.
- Put the reg back in the water to ensure there are no bubble leaks
- Disinfect the second stages
- Rinse, dry and fit some lovely new mouthpieces
- Send it back to you for some diving!
I told you there was a lot involved! I take pride in my work (plus I like collecting servicing tools.. but don’t tell Nic!) I’ve built an awesome workshop and I can O2 clean your gear if you need it too.
WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS TO LOOK OUT FOR INBETWEEN THE SERVICE INTERVALS?
You should always be keeping an eye on how our regulators are performing when we’re diving. You follow all the post-dive cleaning procedures and look after your gear like it’s your little baby. But what should we be looking out for that tell us our gear might need a little bit of extra TLC between services?
- Are there any leaks from your regulator? A simple bubble check at the start of your dive is a great way of spotting any leaky regs. If there’s anything catastrophic going on, you’ll notice that while you’re gearing up – big leaks are noisy! But your buddy might be able to spot a small trickle of bubbles coming somewhere while you’re underwater. Give your technician (or me) a shout if you’re concerned.
- Are you getting a constant freeflow? If your second stage is leaking through your mouthpiece, this is a good indicator of worn parts in both 1st and 2nd stages. It’s worth getting this checked out.
- Does your filter look dirty? Your reg might be breathing as beautifully as it did on its first dive, but keep an eye on the filter (if you can see it – look in the hole where the reg attaches to the tank). If the filter looks dirty or there’s any kind of build up on the DIN threads (the bit where the reg screws into the tank) that’s a good indication of gunk inside your reg. It would benefit from a good clean and service!
- Want to be 100% sure your reg is good? You could go a step further and use a travel interstage pressure gauge to see if there are any issues with your reg. This is a great little tool to use to spot faults early.
“How often does my regulator need servicing” maybe a little bit sooner than you expected if you notice any of the signs above.
IS YOUR REGULATOR DUE A FULL SERVICE OR VISUAL INSPECTION?
Get in touch, I’d be more than happy to check them over for you and put them through a full service if that’s what’s needed. I service Apeks, Aqualung, Cressi, Halcyon and XDEEP.
I can’t wait to have yours looking brand new again! If you’re still not 100% sure of the answer to “how often does my regulator need servicing”, maybe you do a different type of diving to what I’ve talked about in this article – give me a shout, I’m more than happy to help!