A diving regulator is subjected to a wide variety of corrosive contaminants because of the harsh environment in which it must function. Salt air and saltwater moisture from ocean trips can collect inside and freeze working parts. Carbon dust, chlorinated water, ozone and hard water mineral deposits can also do damage. The accumulation of these harmful deposits is usually not noticeable because the process is so slow, so gradual.
Even though you have stored it in a cool, dry place, those deadly corrosive contaminants have had their chance to form hard, crusty deposits in the regulator and do more harm than actual use in open water. Much of this damage goes unnoticed because it is happening inside, hidden from the eyes of the owner.
Several leading regulator repair technicians have revealed seven deadly sins against regulator performance:
1) Hard Breathing is most commonly caused by saltwater corrosion. Internal moving parts become encrusted with salt crystals and a scale, which causes them to stick or operate sluggishly. Inhalation resistance is often tripled or quadrupled, thus making it extremely difficult or impossible to obtain sufficient airflow at depth during heavy breathing.
2) Rust Clogging the sintered filter of the first stage can be caused by the rust or corrosion dust which accumulates inside a scuba tank. Fine rust particles clog the pores of the filter screen and often coat the internal moving parts, causing sluggish or sticky operation.
3) Carbon Dust Clogging sometimes results from ultra-fine carbon dust, the by-product of a poorly-operating air compressor. The carbon dust comes from the charcoal filter on the air compressor. This condition may go unnoticed for quite some time because the buildup is so slow and the dust almost invisible.
4) Water Leakage in the regulator mouthpiece is commonly caused by the deterioration of the second stage exhalation valve. The super-thin rubber disc becomes gummed-up from the effects of chlorinated pool water, ozone in the atmosphere or normal aging. Stickiness of operation can cause increased exhalation resistance, intermittent water leakage and finally complete flooding of the second stage.
5) Free Flowing can be caused by dirt or dust particles which mar or dent the high pressure valve seat in the first stage. The smallest speak of dirt or rust on this finely-machined surface can cause a steady seepage of high pressure air into the low pressure hose and second stage. The damage is irreversible and the leak tends to get worse with additional use, until air is flowing out of the regulator mouthpiece in a steady, uncontrolled stream.
6) O-ring Leaks can result from the buildup of salt corrosion inside the regulator of from a general drying out of the silicone lubricant needed to keep these seals healthy. The slightest crack, tear, nick or split on the surface of an O-ring will break the seal and cause either an intermittent or steady leak of air. Continued use of a faulty O-ring can result in a complete break of that seal and the rapid flow of large amounts of air.
7) Erratic Flow of air can be caused by a second stage which is not properly tuned or has parts that are sticking. The intermediate stage pressure may be wrong, or the second stage lever improperly set, or perhaps the breathing diaphragm is brittle. Internal parts and settings go out of whack as a result of aging, hard use or saltwater exposure.
No amount of washing or careful use can completely prevent your regulator from getting out of tune. Routine maintenance can prolong its good performance, but eventually your regulator will need service and tuning. The job should be done every six months or once a year, depending on the amount of usage and the kind of exposure your particular unit receives. Generally speaking, a good internal cleaning (ultrasonic or acid dip) by an experienced regulator repair technician will take care of 90 percent of the performance problems. Parts replacement is generally minimal, amounting to a few O-rings, and perhaps a valve seat and more flexible breathing diaphragm.
Considering the vital importance of good regulator function, the cost of cleaning and tuning is surprisingly reasonable, most of which is for technician labor. When you divide this repair charge by the number of months of trouble-free performance you receive, it amounts to a small maintenance charge of three to four dollars per month. It is a small price to pay for the care of a life support device.
Where should you take your regulator for repair? You have several options available. The most obvious is your local professional dive store where you may have originally purchased your regulator or where you regularly obtain air fills. Many pro dive stores maintain a well-stocked service center for the equipment they sell and their technicians are sent to dealer repair workshops conducted by the factory. Another option is to send your regulator to one of the large regulator service centers that specialize in the repair of regulators, hydrostatic testing of tanks and servicing of other scuba accessories. Your regulator can be mailed in, serviced and returned in less than two weeks. Still a third option is to send your regulator back to the factory where it can be overhauled by personnel who generally have every conceivable replacement part at their disposal.
The most important thing to remember about getting your regulator repaired, cleaned or tuned is that it should be done early in the season. Don’t go in the water if your breathing machine isn’t performing perfectly.