Regulator Inspection vs. Overhaul: What’s the Difference?
Anyone who owns their own regulator knows that it is important to bring their gear in for regular service, but do you know what the difference is between an inspection and an overhaul or annual service? This is a question we ask when divers bring their regulators in for service at one of our three locations. Hopefully this discussion will clear up any confusion when it comes time to have your life support equipment serviced and more importantly keep your warranty in effect for the life of your regulator.
To begin, all of the top-tier manufacturers offer warranties for their regulators, and the purchaser is responsible for keeping track of when the regulator is due for service. Many manufacturers require that the regulator is brought in at least yearly for either an inspection or overhaul. Atomic regulators are the exception, they have a two year service interval. So when you bring your regulator in for service, what should you ask for….an inspection or an overhaul? Let's take a look at the difference between the two.
An inspection is just that…..when the regulator is brought in for an inspection, one of our technicians will first do a visual inspection of the general condition of the regulator. Are there any obvious problems, like a torn mouthpiece or some corrosion on the inlet filter fitting, or are there any breaks or wearing of the hoses? Once the tech is satisfied there aren't any external problems that need to be addressed, the regulator will be attached to a full tank of air to test some basic functions, like purge buttons on the second stages. Is there any sticking of the purge button? Do the second stages leak? The next check will be the intermediate pressure coming out of the first stage. This pressure is tested with a tool called an IP Gauge and can let the technician know if there are any internal problems with the first stage. When the IP Gauge is attached to either the low pressure inflator hose or inline with one of the second stages and the air supply is activated, the gauge should read somewhere between 125 and 145 psi and should be stable, and without variation. This is called IP lockup, and let's the tech know the first stage is operating correctly. If there is some creep of the IP, then the first stage needs to be overhauled and a new high pressure seat installed, among other components. Next, the tech will submerge the entire regulator system to check for any leaks or bubbling…..if there aren't any, then the regulator has passed the basic inspection.
Now let's talk about the overhaul. As mentioned previously, if either the IP is creeping, or the tech has noticed something else that needs attention outside the regular inspection, then the regulator needs to be overhauled. During the overhaul, the entire regulator is disassembled down to component level, all metal parts cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaning bath, dried and made ready for reassembly. Other plastic parts are cleaned, rinsed and dried. An important part of the overhaul process is the use of the schematic of the first or second stage being serviced. This assures the tech that the correct disassembly and process is followed, and the regulator is adjusted to factory specification.
When it comes time to reassemble the regulator the tech will use service kits with replacment parts for the regulator first and second stages along with any specialized tools necessary for correctly assembling and adjusting the regulator. Each of these service kits has all the o-rings, seats, inlet filters, star washers, and other manufacturer specified replacement parts that need to be installed when an overhaul is done.
So, when you purchase a new regulator, be sure to read not only the owners manual for information on the operation of your new regulator, but also read the warranty so you know when you need to bring your reg in for service. Even if the manufacturer requires service only once per year, you can bring in your reg more often if it is used in salt water frequently, is subjected to extreme use, or you find it isn't operating as when new. Regulators are the heart of your life support system, and they are a major investment and properly cared for, will last many years. Luckily the major manufacturers are still producing parts kits for regulators that are well over 20 years old.
If you have questions about servicing your gear, we are more that happy to advise you on the proper service requirements. Another fun option to find out more about the basics of your gear is the take the PADI Equipment Specialst course. During this course, you won't become an authorized technician, but you will learn the basics about how your gear works, and what you can do to keep it maintained between professional servicings.