Car drivers do it, DIY enthusiasts do it, so why, John Liddiard wants to know, shouldn't divers service their own regulators if they want to? You answer the letters, John...
Back when I learned to dive, I attended a BSAC 3rd class lture about regulators. Our club's equipment officer brought a couple along, took them to pieces, showed us how they worked, put them together again and adjusted them to breathe nicely. Those of us who were mechanically inclined then had a go for ourselves.
If you asked at the local dive shop, it would order a service manual for you. Some regulators even came with a basic manual in the box. You could buy any spare part over the counter.
Nowadays, any such lecture would be superficial at best. Service manuals and spare parts are restricted to authorised dealers, and only manufacturer-trained service technicians are allowed to fit them.
When I pay for servicing, it's nice to know that the technician has been trained to do it properly. Both manufacturer and dealer have a duty under Health & Safety Executive rules to ensure that anyone who works on regulators in a commercial situation is competent and properly equipped to complete the work. If I want to buy spares, I am blocked at all stages:
"HSE regulations prohibit us from selling you spare parts."
"But I'm not doing it commercially."
"It's possible that you could be."
"But then it would be me breaking the rules, not you."
"You don't have the correct training."
"I'll pay for the training course." Most manufacturers' courses take a couple of days and cover the entire range, not just a single model.
"We're not in the business of selling training. Training courses are restricted to our dealers."
"Suppose I take a third-party training course?" There are commercial organ-isations that do very thorough courses covering all aspects of servicing and repair.
"We don't recognise any courses but our own."
Let's step back and take a wider view. None of the rules behind which manufacturers are hiding are specific to diving. They apply equally to cars, lawn-mowers, power tools, boats, electrical appliances, central heating - I could go on.
The rules apply equally to all work environments, but not outside them. I can go to the local DIY shop and buy all the potentially lethal electrical bits and pieces necessary to rewire my house.
If I make a mistake I can electrocute myself, electrocute someone else, or set fire to the entire street. Yet the shop doesn't refuse to sell me parts on the grounds that only the manufacturer's officially trained technician is allowed to fit them.
Cars are potentially lethal. They have thousands of moving parts, and failure or incorrect fitting of a number of them could cause a serious accident. Yet at the motor spares shop I can buy everything I need to service my car. The local main dealer will sell me an official service manual and all the thousands of parts needed to make a car from scratch. It has a counter dedicated to parts sales. The only control is that once a car is three years old it needs an annual MoT.
Scuba regulators have very few parts. Some manufacturers have been known to boast in their advertising about how few moving parts their regulators have. A restriction on the sale of spares sounds to me like an abuse of their position.
Some divers will be distressed by the direction of my argument. Perhaps they are not mechanically minded. Perhaps they have been indoctrinated by the commercial training regimes always to pay for manufacturer-approved servicing.
Most professional scuba technicians take great care and pride in their work, but we all have stories of divers who have just had their regulators serviced. Like the one who turned his bottle on and saw bits of second stage shoot across the boat because it hadn't been screwed up properly. Or the regulator that was a bit of a drag to breathe because the second-stage diaphragm was back to front. Or the regulator that breathed wet because the diaphragm was missing completely. Or the first stage that flew apart because a circlip had not been seated correctly.
Professional servicing does not guarantee good quality, any more than DIY servicing is the route to instant death some manufacturers would have us believe. If someone is sufficiently interested in doing their own servicing, they will take the time to make a good job of it. After all, their life depends on it. Shouldn't we be free to choose?
There will be letters complaining about my "irresponsible" attitude to a critical piece of equipment. Rather than wait, I'll answer them now. First: adequate testing before use. Second: there are many sit-uations outside diving where the DIY approach is perfectly acceptable. Third: I always dive with a fully redundant air supply, though I have never had to use it.
Not all manufacturers and dealers choose to interpret the rules to maximise their service trade. Some will retail parts in quantities of one or two at a time, enough to do one's own servicing and enable emergency repairs on an expedition. That's the free market.
Appeared in DIVER - July 1999