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When William Hogarth Main, Bill to friends, chose a scuba backplate and wing as the basis for his minimalist configuration, he knew that to solve the problems they faced in cave diving, they had to make the most of what they had and invent what did not yet exist.
That was no easy feat, considering from where they were coming.
Bi-bottles strapped to the body with harnesses, just one regulator, no buoyancy system at all, they used inflated empty bleach bottles to control it…
At that time, scuba divers had to kick without stopping and do it as fast as possible, or they went straight to the bottom.
It got worse when they went into caves because touching the silty bottom meant no visibility. Therefore, they took an empty Clorox bottle, tied it to their gear, filled it with air, and it acted as a BCD.
Incredible, isn’t it? But sometimes the stars come together and something incredible emerges from what seems a total disaster.
In this context, the scuba backplate and wind were born. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s first take a look at this article’s content.
1. Brief history of the Scuba backplate and wing
We left the backplates and wing story after mentioning the infamous floating bleach bottles. With them, they dived until 1961, when the French company, Fenzy, launched the first BCD. It was an inflatable rubberized fabric collar.
On the other hand, harnesses attached the cylinders to divers’ bodies, so there was a risk of annoying movements and rolling until the back plate solved this problem.
The evolution of the buoyancy system became the jacket form for BCDs. But for technical divers, this was not adequate. With so much volume in the front and to the sides, where would they put the additional rescue and decompression cylinders?
All in all, there was a bladder, harness, and a plate. The “Back Plate Wing” (BPW) system was about to be born.
2. What Is a Backplate?
With the scuba backplate and wing system, everything is modular. It has the following parts:
Back plate. A sheet made of aluminum, stainless steel, or polyurethane to which the main tanks are attached. It is attached to the diver’s back.
Harness, rings, and buckles. They attach the plate to the diver.
Bands for linking tanks to the backplate.
The wing. An inflatable buoyancy bladder between the scuba backplate and the cylinders. The larger wing BCDs are intended for use with two tanks, while the smaller ones are for single tanks.
3. Scuba Backplate and Wing Setup
In the early scuba diving days, everyone did what they could with the stuff they had. Thus, different configurations appeared. However, diving accidents were too frequent.
Bill H. Main, and his colleagues of the Wakulla Karst Plains Project (WKPP), a cave exploration group, began to study those configurations. They were looking for the ideal equipment, the most refined, logical, and standardized possible, and when they considered something was not good enough, they designed it themselves. For this, they followed 3 parameters:
– minimalism and simplicity to increase safety;
– search for the best equipment available;
– the diver himself.
They analyzed quality, necessity, location, capacity, and efficiency of each piece of equipment, integrating the diver into the array.
Their research led to what is known today as the Hogarthian configuration. The name began as a joke since Hogarth is Bill Main’s middle name.
It has two regulators added to the back plate and the diving wing. The main one has a long hose, and the secondary one is attached to the neck with a rubber band. This is the most common BPW configuration used currently by scuba divers. Small changes have been introduced to improve it, but the base remains unchanged.
4. How Do You Fit a Backplate and Wing?
When you open your package with your scuba backplate and wing, you still have to assemble the system before jumping into the sea. What does not happen with standard BCD diving jackets?
The proper backplate and wing configuration will need a lot of adjustments. Since everything is modular, we have the advantage that each part is interchangeable with another piece of a different brand, other than in exceptional cases.
The disadvantage is that assembling the configuration has a significant learning curve.
Everything has to fit you like a glove. Which can take many minimal adjustments, but your comfort will depend on them.
5. Backplate BCD vs Other: Advantages and Disadvantages
Scuba backplate and wing configuration advantages
- Aluminum or steel plates allows saving ballast.
- The weight is distributed along the diver’s center of buoyancy. It avoids diver vertical position and can add removable weight pockets.
- A jacket BCD’s life span is three years. After this time, you will have to buy another one. However, your grandchildren will inherit your metal scuba backplate. The wing does suffer wear and tear, but it is repairable, a BCD jacket isn’t. All other parts can last up to 20 years in good condition.
- The valves and parts are usually standardized, and you can replace them with another brand. With the back plate and the diving wing there are very few incompatibilities.
- The BCD cannot be modified. However, in the BPW configuration, you only have to change the wing to dive with 1 or 2 cylinders, and the rest of the configuration remains the same.
- The system is comfortable for the user because the diving wing is not inflated around the body but around the tank.
- It is a fully customized configuration.
- The scuba backplate and scuba wing system have no pockets. This is a problem for the recreational diver who adds more and more rings to the set.
- The system needs some time to correctly assemble the configuration and adapt it to the diver.
- It is more difficult to stay upright on the surface.
6. How Do I Choose a Scuba Backplate and Wing?
The wing BCD depends on the type of diving you do.
For recreational scuba diving, 22-28lbs / 11-14kg positive buoyancy wings are used.
Medium wings 30-32lb – 15-16kg are used with large single tanks or light twin tanks.
Lastly, for double-cylinder diving, wings of between 40 and 50lb/20-25kg are used to allow greater positive buoyancy.
On the other hand, a diving wing made with a higher grammage will last longer. The thicker the denier, the more abrasion resistant the fabric and the less fading the brim will experience.
Regarding scuba backplates, they have the same size, except for some tiny ones for kids and small adults.
Now is your turn. Have you ever dived with a scuba backplate and wing configuration? Share your experience with us on Facebook.