EDITORS NOTE: This is the first in our “Know your regulator series.” Along with other experts, Master regulator tech, Don Peterson of Octopus Gardens Diving in Port Townsend, WA. will help readers learn valuable information about your life saving dive gear.
A simple to use and inexpensive gauge can help you save a dive or save your life. An IP (intermediate pressure) gauge can:
- Tell you immediately if the problem is with a first stage or second stage of your regulator. Then can help you make a go – no decision if it’s safe to dive.
- It may be the only way to tell if you have even a small leak in your system. You SPG or Computer pressure only measures the first stage/tank pressure and cannot tell you anything about the your system beyond the first stage.
- Track the health of your regulator and know if it needs servicing before the recommended service cycle (usually annual or number of dives).
- Can help you determine if you have blockage in your regulator
Many of those savvy about regulators are surprised that more divers don’t carry an IP (Intermediate Pressure) gauge in their save-a-dive kit. But don’t feel ashamed if you haven’t a clue why. It is likely that no one, in your training or at your local dive shop, ever explained why this inexpensive tool is so valuable when you know how to use it.
On the other hand, we have to say that we found some regulator service professionals who were worried that suggesting to divers that they carry an IP gauge will make it more likely that untrained divers will try to adjust or service their own regulators and contribute to their own deaths (please see the note below)*. All information can be a double edged sword and we hope that you will “read responsibly.”
Intermediate Pressure or IP is that air pressure found in the hoses that are between your first stage (on your tank) and your second stage (in your mouth) or your octo (aka safe- second), BCD and or drysuit. The only hose that does not carry IP air is the one going to you submersible pressure gauge (SPG) or air-integrated dive computer. The actual pressure is determined by the design of your regulator and is set by the manufacture. If it is not with in a specific range, you either are not getting a proper breath of air or your regulator is going to be uncontrollably free flowing. The IP can be out or range for a variety of reasons even in a brand new regulator you just purchased. For that reason, Don advises that you only purchase a regulator from a dive shop that can and does test every regulator they sell. Even so, without an IP gauge you could be diving an unsafe regulator now.
The IP gauge for regular every day testing is a simple 0-300 psi gauge with a fitting that will allow it to snap into your BCD hose. While we see many as low as $16 on the web, Don recommends paying a bit more and getting one like the XS Scuba AC380 Intermediate Pressure Checker which features 2” diameter dial, stainless steel case, an overpressure relief valve to prevent gauge damage, protective rubber boot, push button bleeder, o-ring seal and options for different hose adaptors. Besides having better readability and durability, the AC380 gauges bleeder valve and overpressure relief allows you the flexibility to use the gauge directly connected to a first stage LP port or to connect to non-standard BCD hoses. Please note that you should never connect the cheaper gauges or any gauge without an over pressure relief unless you have a second stage also connected. Even many service technicians have made been injured by making this mistake.
WHAT CAN IT TELL?
You can plug in the gauge when you have a problem or anytime before a dive just to check the health of your regulator. If you see that the IP is out of the specified range or is not “locking up” (i.e. the needle is not stopping, but is drifting higher), you know that this regulator is not safe to dive, the problem is in the first stage, and you need to get is serviced before diving again.
If you have a problem with your regulator and your IP gauge needle stops and stays within the specified range you know the first stage is fine. Depending on your skill level, your MAY be able to fix the problem or change the second stage and continue diving.
If you observe that the gauge needle holds fine within the specified range, but drops after you turn off the tank, this will mean that you have a leak somewhere in one of the second stages, hoses or devices connected to the first stage.
If your IP gauge drops way down when you take a breath on your regulator it would likely indicate a blockage somewhere in the regulator.
BENCHMARK: All portable gauges tend to read differently. You should have your repair shop test your regulator on a professional repair bench, then note the reading when you test it with your personal IP gauge. You can now use your gauge to the tell when your system is changing and needs to be serviced by a professional.
*IMPORTANT: Your regulator is life support equipment. The IP qauge can help you asses the health of your regulator. But, all regulator adjustments and service should be performed only by certified and qualified regulator technician.
Don Peterson has spent over 20 years developing his craft as a master technician. His diving career has followed the development of the industry’s gear. He started diving in the early 70’s on a double hose reg. He turned professional in the 80’s as the dive industry started to serve the needs of a more diverse population. Don is backed by multiple manufacturer certifications and tens of thousands of hours of experience. He serves divers and dive stores through out the United States.
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