in the late Sixties by David Parker, AP Valves is a British success
story. The company's first product was the auto mouthpiece. This
was designed to permit an out-of-air diver to draw air from his
BCD automatically using the small air cylinder commonly fitted to
the jackets of that era as the emergency supply. In 1978 AP launched
the 'Buddy' front-mounted BCD into a market dominated by the French
Fenzy. This was its first and only single-bag jacket. Though it
made some inroads, the turning point came in the Eighties as divers
turned away from front-mounted BCDs towards stabiliser jackets.
AP provided jackets that combined the benefits of the emerging,
mostly US-driven stab jacket, with the traditional features beloved
of British divers - mini air cylinders and, of course, the auto
mouthpiece. Imported jackets rarely offered these features, which
were of limited appeal in their home countries. AP's product line,
tuned as it was to the unique demands of the Brits, found a willing
market and fast became the best-selling BC range in the UK.
The Profile has been around since 1991. AP has made minor modifications
to the jacket over time, with a 'bum dump', improved pockets and,
this year, the addition of a dump valve incorporated into the oral
inflator hose plus two stainless steel D-rings on the front.
Our testing was split between members of our Coral Queen Red Sea
Test Team and the Gibraltar Sub Aqua Club, with one Profile even
making it to Sipadan in Malaysia. This gave us our most widespread
test base to date, because it allowed us to incorporate the opinions
of divers with three or more years' experience of using the Profile
with our normal 25-dive test programme results.
The Profile is an advanced design vest, meaning that it breaks
at the shoulders. It has an inner urethane bag and an outer bag
of 1,100-denier nylon. This is probably the heaviest weave of any
recreational jacket. It has been standard construction on Buddys
for more than a decade. Two unusual features are the mini air cylinder
and automatic mouthpiece, of which more later (see over page).
The Profile is straightforward to assemble. A single 50mm nylon
cam band secures the jacket to your cylinder. If you ever make the
mistake of unthreading it completely, a route guide is printed on
the strap to aid refastening. There is a non-slip pad and a substantial
centre buckle, together with a loop to keep excess strap tidied
away. Our testers awarded it 90 per cent for assembly.
The Profile uses a blow-moulded, hard back-pack that can accept
twin cylinders using a simple but effective optional twinning kit.
A top handle is built in. AP Valves offer a soft comfort pad as
an accessory, which we did not use. A 50mm waist strap passes through
this and holds the pack securely against the diver's body. A chest
strap and the two fully adjustable shoulder straps are sewn directly
to the outer bag.
Because divers often have to stand around at the dive site or walk
to and from the water, we include a five-minute stand test and a
100m walk to assess BCD comfort out of the water when the equipment
is obviously at its heaviest.
Our two test team divers from the Red Sea expedition aboard the
Coral Queen didn't really need to walk anywhere with their Profiles.
They used single 11-litre cylinders. They did complete the stand
test and, instead of the walk test, evaluated the jacket during
rides on the RIB through an occasional chop. Our Gibraltar team
use heavy alloy single tanks with ponys and always have to walk
at least 100m to the water, either down steps or a soul-destroying
slope. In total the Profile scored 80 per cent for comfort.
The Profile is available in four sizes, from small through to XL,
with rated buoyancy from 11.75kg to 18kg. Our divers used medium
and large models. As with other BCDs that we have tested, the Profile,
if fully inflated, does constrict slightly and so would probably
not normally be fully blown up. Therefore, in practice, lift would
be marginally lower than quoted.
At the surface, where a diver will often have to wait several minutes
to be picked up, it is important that the diver is comfortably clear
of the water. A diver out of air and without a snorkel is vulnerable
to inhaling water, especially in rough conditions. So, we measure
the clearance between the diver's lower lip and the water as a guide
to how well supported the diver will be. The average was about 13cm/5inches
with a single cylinder.
We asked our testers to score the Profile according to whether
the BCD supported them adequately clear of the water and whether
it held them at a comfortable attitude, without tipping them excessively
forwards, backwards or sideways.The lowest score came from a diver
using a pony. Perhaps he hadn't compensated for this by taking enough
lead off his weightbelt.
We also need to access the Profile's buoyancy characteristics underwater.
To test the BCDs for stability we put the team throught the Diamond
Reef Precision Buoyancy Program. This underwater assault course
is used by US government bodies and is the best benchmark we have
found for testing the buoyancy skills of our volunteers and the
BCDs. By having the divers manoeuvre through the diamond-shaped
hoops suspended in the water, it was possible to discover any tendency
for the BCD to roll or pitch them off balance. As supervisors, we
could observe the divers to look for uneven weighting, or a cylinder
mounted too high or low in the pack, that might unfairly mark down
We checked for stability (the ability of the BCD to keep the diver
in a prone position without tipping the diver sideways and exaggerating
the natural rolling action finning causes); barrel rolls, where
air migration can jerk the diver uncomfortably; head-down attitude,
adopted when looking under overhangs, and a head-up hover often
used on walls or while decompressing.
The jacket scored an extremely respectable 80 per cent, which indicates
that the Profile performs its primary task of properly supporting
a diver underwater very well indeed.