BCs and SASYs Reviewed in This Article
| Aqua Lung Wave Junior
Aqua Lung SASY
Oceanic Surface Scuba Scout
| Scubapro SASY
Zeagle Concept II Express
From comfortable, affordable equipment for the masses, to family-friendly resorts, our snow-bound brethren have always done it before us.
To that list add: children.
The scuba equivalent of skis and bindings for kids have finally arrived, and along with it a flood tide of changes that allow children as young as five to experience scuba, and children as young as 10 to get certified. Why this sea change?
The first reason is a true no-brainer: the value of bringing younger children into scuba diving, developing in them a lifelong love of the sport and the oceans. Credit is also due the certifying agencies, who have developed effective, safe programs specifically for children. And dive resorts all over the world have learned to embrace baby boomers and their offspring.
Most of all, however, key manufacturers are doing an outstanding job of designing, fabricating and promoting scuba equipment for children and small adults. Some of the fruits of that work can be seen in today's excellent masks for small faces and in the buoyancy control devices reviewed here.
Test Team and Dive Support
|Katie Cranton, age 8|
As our youngest ever Scuba Lab test divers, Katie Cranton and Aaron Troy, both second graders, tested the SASY units in Lover's Cove near Avalon on Catalina Island, Calif.
Emily Foss, who is a Junior Open Water Diver, helped evaluate the fit, function and features of the kids' BCs. She was certified as a diver last year because "Dad needed a scuba diving buddy."
Dave Lieberman of Catalina Snorkeling Adventures (www.catalinasnorkeling.com or 877-SNORKEL) owns the facility at Lover's Cove that supports snorkeling. He supplied the small masks, fins and wetsuits to make the tests possible.
The authors, Vicki Durst and Jon Hardy, served as instructor guides, while regular test team member Jason Manix covered videography and logistics.
Divers in Diapers? How Young Is Too Young?
The minimum age for Junior Scuba Certification is now set by the individual instructor associations and may be 12, 10 or at the instructor's discretion. Also, special non-certification programs, such as SASY for five-year-olds and scuba for eight-year-olds, start in very shallow, confined water.
Isn't that too young?
We believe chronological age is not the only consideration when it comes to determining the appropriate time for a child to begin experiencing the underwater world. Other factors include:
- Desire. Regardless of the child's age, the parent, instructor and child all should agree that the child, not the parent, actually wants to take the course or try the activity.
Oceans for Youth
Oceans for Youth is a non-profit foundation created to provide aquatic information and resources to schools and teachers. Funding helps provide speakers and materials for presentations to children, showing how they can be a part of the underwater world and how they can protect it.
The patent for SASY was assigned to Oceans for Youth and all profits from sales and licensing will be used to fund the efforts of the foundation. As one of the dive industry members supporting Oceans for Youth stated:
"There is a shared belief that the health of the world's oceans will soon be in the hands of today's children, and we all very clearly saw this product (SASY) as a way to encourage many more kids to interact with, and hopefully better understand, both the beauty and the importance of the marine environment."
|Aqua Lung Wave Junior||2 w/ Velcro||1||1||13 lbs.||$310.00|
|Oceanic Scout||2 w/ zippers||1||2||14 lbs.||$299.95|
|Zeagle Concept II Express||2 w/ zippers||5||2||17 lbs.||$516.50|
|Zeagle Zipper||None||5||1||15 lbs.||$294.50|
BCs in Review
Buoyancy control devices made for the youthful bodies of children are such a new innovation that they are still works in progress. Yet because of the years of significant accomplishment in BC design by the manufacturers reviewed here, these kids' BCs performed well. Moreover, we expect them to improve as feedback is received by the manufacturers.
Aqua Lung Wave Junior
|Aqua Lung Wave Junior|
Strengths - Stable hard pack with excellent padding; Excellent hard handle for lifting and carrying; Free-floating overstrap and design of air cell eliminate squeeze; High-flow remote exhaust on top of right shoulder; Easily adjustable shoulder straps with excellent D-rings; Durable Armorshield Cordura material
Weaknesses - Weight and pocket system
The Wave Junior is an excellent jacket-style BC. It draws upon Aqua Lung's experience with the adult version of the Wave BC, but is resized for a child's body. In addition to the strengths listed above, the Wave Junior also has a tank positioning band, tank traction pad to keep the tank from slipping, two stainless-steel D-rings, and conventional camlock tank band in a standard size or sized down for smaller tanks.
The airway, including the inflate and deflate valves, is standard Aqua Lung, with good flow rates and grip. Air trapping is minimal on all valves. The flow rate on the second remote exhaust (located on the right shoulder) is outstanding, although it would be more useful if the pull device used to activate it were easier to find.
The rated 13 pounds of buoyant lift is reasonable and appropriate for this BC, but the rated integrated weight capacity of only six pounds may not be enough for a child with a wetsuit and an aluminum tank. Five-pound weights will fit in the pouches, but they make the already awkward use of the pouches even more difficult.
Important usage note: If a separate weight belt is necessary, it must be put on after the BC because the Wave Junior comes with a crotch strap that would prevent weight ditching if secured after the weight belt is in place.
Strengths - Stable hard pack with excellent padding; Hard handle for lifting and carrying; Excellent airway and valves with shorter hoses; High-flow remote exhaust on top right shoulder; Adjustable shoulder straps with excellent large D-rings; No squeeze
The Scout is unique: It can be used as a BC or converted to a surface scuba unit. The Scout weight system is rated at 10 pounds (two pouches of five pounds each), but it can take six pounds each and remains easy to load and ditch.
The smaller sized Scout is intended for eight- to 12-year-olds, with 15 to 16 pounds of buoyant lift, and the larger size for 10 to 14 year olds with 18 to 20 pounds of lift. These lift capacities are appropriate for kids' BCs.
Important usage note: If the child needs more weight than the pouches will hold and a weight belt is used, the weight belt must go on after the BC or the crotch strap will prevent the weight from being ditched.
All valve flow rates were good to excellent, and the second remote exhaust on the right shoulder was outstanding, with no air trapping. The Scout also has two stainless-steel D-rings and a depth-compensating waist band. Most of the Scout's buoyant lift is in the back, although it looks like a jacket BC.
Zeagle Concept II Express
|Zeagle Concept II Express|
Strengths - Adjustable to grow with child into adulthood; Highly adjustable shoulder straps; Stable soft-pack BC with two vertically adjustable tank bands; No body squeeze due to back buoyancy; Wide, easy-to-adjust waist overstrap; Well padded
Weaknesses - Weight system
Zeagle continues to be a leader in back buoyancy and weight integration, producing BCs that can be highly customized by mixing and matching modular parts. Zeagle calls this customizable system the Personal Fit System, and this is what makes this BC not only flexible, but also capable of growing with the child. A Zeagle dealer can easily interchange every part on a Zeagle BC. For children, we tested the smallest version of the Concept II. It is rated at 24 pounds of lift and 20 pounds of weight capacity, both appropriate for a BC of this type.
The wings of the back buoyancy air cell are restrained by a bungee cord so they don't flop around. A chest strap, extra D-rings and a whistle are all included. The Express's soft lifting handle is hard to grip.
The ditchable weights are in the trim weight position and, therefore, require an awkward reach to the rear, with the weights often falling on the diver's hands. Once the scuba unit is on, the diver must have someone else install the weights.
Although the Concept is intended to be used with larger tanks (50 cubic feet and larger), with the Zeagle modular design, you can have a Zeagle dealer change the tank bands for use with smaller tanks.
The Zeagle Scout, evaluated in the July 2000 issue of RSD, will also adjust to fit children and comes in suitable configurations at $299 to $329.
Strengths - Highly adjustable waist straps with large pull tabs; No body squeeze due to back buoyancy; Two simplified and vertically adjustable tank bands; Stable soft pack BC using two tank bands; Very streamlined; Excellent, unique front zipper BC closure
Weaknesses - Weight system
With highly adjustable side waist straps and the unique front zipper closure, married to both back buoyancy and weight integration, the Zipper fits small people very well. The buoyant lift and weight capacity are both rated at an appropriate 20 pounds.
The wings of the back buoyancy air cell have small straps to keep them from flopping about, but these are not flexible. There is a traction pad to keep the tank from slipping. The Zipper would benefit from the addition of a lifting handle and a crotch strap.
The Zipper has the same difficulties as the Express with the rear mounted ditchable trim weights. They require an awkward reach to ditch.
What the Heck is SASY?
Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth (SASY) is the newest way for kids to enjoy the underwater world. SASY enables kids to breathe on scuba while on the surface, wearing a mini-tank and a buoyant foam-filled vest that will not allow them to go under water.
It took the insistence of Wayne Hasson's young children for him to develop SASY while in the Cayman Islands, where Wayne is a partner and managing director for Aggressor Fleet operations. Since his kids were too young for junior scuba programs, Wayne rigged a life jacket with a pony bottle and a regulator. His kids much preferred using scuba gear on the surface rather than snorkeling, when they sometimes got water in their snorkels and choked. An idea was born, and after a year of development and testing with John Modugno at Custom Buoyancy, SASY became a reality.
SASYs In Review
SASY units by Aqua Lung and Scubapro, and the Surface Scuba unit by Oceanic have a lot in common:
- Use of smaller tanks of 13 to 19 cubic feet
Aqua Lung SASY
Aqua Lung was the first major manufacturer to produce a SASY unit, under the patent and licensing agreement from Oceans for Youth. For the immediate future, this is the unit that will define what SASY looks like and how it is used.
Aqua Lung's SASY comes complete with flotation vest, tank, regulator and pressure gauge at a suggested retail price of $699. On deck, the SASY weighs about 15 pounds and has approximately 12 pounds of buoyancy in salt water. The regulator is a small, lightweight Micra second stage with a small Comfo-Bite mouthpiece. The first stage is a simple Calypso in-line piston with a Data Pro submersible pressure gauge that includes a thermometer.
A special feature of Aqua Lung's SASY units is that both the regulator and SPG hoses are routed under the arm and secured so they must be disassembled with a wrench. This ensures that the flotation vest and regulator stay together as a unit and that both the second stage and SPG stay in front of the child. The second stage has a multi-directional swivel, which makes for a better fit in the child's mouth.
The Aqua Lung SASY comes with an excellent set of instructions printed right on the padding for the pack. The unit is highly and easily adjusted at the shoulders, waist and crotch, and includes an adjustable nylon cummerbund. The backpack's padding is also removable. There is a small soft handle to lift or carry the SASY, but it is hard to grip.
The tank holster is attached with fabric and secured with a zipper and Velcro. The smaller tanks can be vertically adjusted to find the best position on each user. This SASY uses bright color and reflective tape for high visibility.
Aqua Lung commissioned PADI to produce a videotape to support the use of SASY. This eight-minute tape with a child narrator speaking to both kids and adults is extremely well done. At this time, the information in the tape is the best and most up-to-date information available.
Oceanic Surface Scuba Scout
Oceanic has taken a completely different approach to the SASY concept, first designing an excellent youth BC, then providing for the addition of sealed foam material to create a surface scuba unit. The unit has approximately 15 pounds of buoyancy and weighs about the same out of the water. The removable foam comes in one piece and is secured to the BC, before the tank, with easy-to-use straps at the top and bottom of the pack, and then clipping into the pockets of the BC.
When used in this surface configuration, the BC airway can be left unused, turned to the rear to be out of the way, or removed at the elbow on the top of the left shoulder. Oceanic supplies caps with the BC for this purpose.
Because the Surface Scuba Scout is actually a Scout BC, the information in the section on BCs in Review also applies here. The regulator, instruments and tank would simply come from Oceanic's line of smaller children's equipment.
Scubapro has also utilized the SASY concept under agreement with Oceans for Youth, but has developed a more elaborate design that comes in two sizes. Out-of-water weight is about 17 pounds, with in-water buoyancy of approximately 19 pounds. There are narrow adjustable shoulder straps that are used underneath an overhead donning tunic. This overhead section is secured by Velcro to the side panels. There is also an adjustable waist strap and an adjustable crotch strap.
This SASY is generously padded, and its backpack padding is removable. The smaller tanks are vertically adjustable and held in a holster/pouch arrangement with zipper and Velcro closures. Scubapro uses an unbalanced piston Mark II first stage with a Mini Submersible Pressure Gauge. This Mini gauge is of a small, clean and easy-to-read configuration. Both the SPG hose and regulator hose to the second stage are secured under the arm and would require tools to remove. The second stage is an R380 with two swivels joined by an elbow to allow for the underarm routing. A smaller mouthpiece is used on the R380.
For a SASY Near You
SASY is now endorsed by the major diving certification agencies and is used by dive operators in the Cayman Islands, Bonaire, Aruba, Curaçao, the Bahamas and across the United States. Children who are having a hard time learning to swim or snorkel are finding that SASY reassures them, because it enables them to float and breathe easily on the surface. Children can now experience what their diving parents are enjoying while learning to appreciate the marine environment.
Should You Rent or Buy?
Renting a SASY unit is the better option for most people. Instructors, dive stores, dive resorts and other dive operators own SASY units and rent them to children and their parents for use under supervision. These units are expensive when you consider how much use any one child will be able to make of them (especially as they grow), and they can be used only in limited conditions.