Every regulator needs servicing. How often depends on the manufacturer's recommendations, mostly once a year. So, you go to your dive shop, handover the regulator and probably a few days or week later you are back to pick it up. It looks cleaner, there is a small bag with parts and that is about it. You use the regulator again and chances are you don’t really notice the difference (except if you brought in your regulator with some issues). So what’s the point?
Well over time the parts in your regulator can start wearing out resulting in malfunctioning of your regulator. To make sure this does not happen, parts are replaced and lubricated before they wear out. So you can be sure your regulator works every time.
Most brands offer service kits, with standard parts that have to be replaced every service. Next to this, other parts might have to be changed simply because they start to wear out. This is the reason, that quite often you see the price of servicing only includes the standard parts, the technician cannot know what else has to be replaced until he or she is doing the service.
Think about hoses that are worn out, or quick connectors.
So what is involved in your regulator service? I will write about the service from beginning to end. You will still not be able to service your own, you need specialized tools and training to do that, but hopefully you will get an appreciation for the skills of the technician.
The first stage
The first step of the service is to see if the regulator is working well, or if it has any problems, so the technician knows if he/she can expect any issues. To do this, the intermediate pressure is first checked, with an intermediate pressure tool, to see if the pressure is within the specified range of the specific model. You check for stability and fluctuations which may indicate there are internal problems. Since more and more people have their own specific configuration of hoses, a drawing will be made of the specific configuration of the regulator, to ensure that when everything is being put back together the hoses are in the preferred place of the customer.
The hoses are removed and replaced by plugs, so he can remove certain parts by air pressure without damaging the regulator body. The yoke screw is removed, and now you are ready to start taking the body apart.
In our example, we will take apart a balanced diaphragm regulator. You begin by removing retainer nuts, springs and the diaphragm itself, and several pieces belonging to the poppet assembly.
Vice, various sizes of wrenches and specialized tools are used to do this. Often these tools are specially made by the manufacture. On piston regulators, the parts are different, the process very similar.
Once the regulator has been taken apart, depending on the model this can be up to 30 different parts.
All parts are checked and replaced if necessary, most brands of regulators will have special service kits for the regulators which will come with all parts that have to be replaced during a standard service. Other parts might have to be replaced.
Next step: cleaning of the parts. All metal parts are cleaned with a weak acid solution and most of the time a ultrasonic cleaner is used to ensure all dirt is gone. After cleaning and rinsing of all the parts they are dried with compressed air.
Plastic parts are cleaned in a lukewarm soapy solution, by hand.
O-rings are replaced at every service.
For the reassembly all parts are laid out in order. Even though the technician might have serviced hundreds of regulators it is good practice to have a exploded drawing of the regulator next to it. All parts are lubricated and placed back according to specifications.
The second stage
Done with the first stage, it is time to turn our attention to the hoses and the second stages. The hoses are detached and inspected to ensure there are no cracks, bulges or rips. O-rings are replaced.
On the second stages (process is very similar for the primary and the octopus) the mouthpiece and exhaust valve are removed. The case opened, diaphragm removed. Next is the lever and downstream valve assembly, followed by the crown. Again, there might be 30 parts or more at this stage.
Metal and plastic parts are cleaned accordingly, O-rings and valve seats replaced, for some brands the crown is also replaced. All parts are inspected and replaced if necessary. The reassembly is straight forward, a rough adjustment is set on the controls that control the inhalation effort. And adjusted later.
Final assembly and adjustment.
Time to reattach all hoses and stages. Before we do a final inspection, air pressure and inhalation effort needs to be checked and adjusted. The first stage is attached to a flow and pressure analyzer, or a scuba tank with an intermediate pressure checking tool. It depends on the model how they need to be adjusted, but normally the intermediate pressure can be adjusted with one nut.
Second stages are checked for inhalation effort and free flow. The valves are adjusted accordingly with a specialized tool.
When everything is done, it's time for the final inspection. Everything is checked and double checked to ensure it is working according to specifications.
The old replaced parts are put into a bag, and everything is recorded in a service report.
You are now ready to go diving with your fully serviced regulator knowing it will work and perform as meant to be.
One serious remark, do not try this at home without the proper training. One error can have serious consequences. For most brands, technicians are trained and retrained every year or two years.
Only have your regulator serviced by a technician who has been trained in that brand and model.
Regulator Maintenance Tips
To make sure your regulator is working well in between services, just follow these easy steps.
Replace your dust cap, be sure it is dry before you do this. Rinse your regulator in clean fresh water, with the dust cap in place.
Let water run through the mouthpiece and exhaust tees, but avoid depressing the purge button, as this could allow water to travel up the hose and into the first stage.
After a dive trip, soak your regulator overnight, rinse it dry it in the air and store it in a dry cool place.
It will serve you for years.