Appeared in DIVER May 2007

BC Buddy Commando
ONE OF THE FIRST BSAC DIVERS I ever met would always allude to being in Special Operations. I knew he was in fact a small-time car-dealer, but he was well ard.
That was the ethos of club diving in those days. If you had not recently been in the military, it was best to pretend to have been. The Buddy Commando was the standard-issue BC among military divers who expected to start a dive by being dropped into the sea from an SAR helicopter. It was designed to be as indestructible as possible. No wonder it was hugely popular among the wannabes.
In my early days as a reviewer of dive-gear, I encountered a certain amount of flak when I suggested that, for leisure diving, a BC did not require the resilience and consequent strength of construction of a military mail-sack.
My words fell on stony ground. Those few club-members who arrived on pool night with a lightweight alternative BC were doomed to be regarded as lightweight divers too.
There might still be a few divers who wear faded 25-year-old Commandos with pride, but there are more who feel they didnt miss out when National Service was discontinued, and have no desire to be instructed by a club diving officer (usually an NCO) about which kit to buy.
Today, when even women without moustaches are allowed into the water, divers have the confidence to make their own decisions - and have dozens of BCs from which to choose.
Which is why manufacturer AP Valves finally has a redesigned and consolidated range of Buddy BCs. Its three all-new models retain familiar names: the Explorer, Tek Wing - and Commando.

DONT THINK THAT THE BUDDY COMMANDO is intended to be any less robust than its predecessor. It still has a tough double-bag construction with 1000 denier outer layer, but its that bit sleeker-fitting than before.
The old Day-Glo colours might have added safety, but this Commando is available in a smart black and grey colour scheme. Gone too are the shoulder-strap buckles that were unique to Buddy, but needed training to use properly. Anyone can fathom todays over-sized pinch-clips.
All the options often thought to be singularly British, such as the auxiliary inflation cylinder and Auto-Air alternative air-source and inflator, are still available.
The Commando still gives masses of lift low down, so that the diver is propped up out of the water when the BC is fully inflated at the surface. It has 19kg of lift in size M.
There are just enough stainless-steel D-rings without it getting silly, and the Commandos five sizes should suit divers ranging from jockey to clinically obese.
The indestructible Buddy backplate has been replaced by a modern hard backpack with a wide, long cushion that still allows the option of mounting Buddy Twinning Bands.
The harness is separate from the air cell, and even removable. You can easily tailor it to suit your body shape, and the two-part backplate can be adjusted for length.
To ensure a secure fit, there are waist, chest and sternum straps. The Commando still has capacious pockets with zips that open in such a way that they are easy to find.

PULLING ON THE CORRUGATED HOSE operates the dump-valve at the top left shoulder, and a weighted toggle opens a valve at the right shoulder.
A toggle operates a similar valve at the lower back, and an over-pressure valve is mounted opposite.
New for the Commando is an integrated-weights system, using pouches claimed to accept up to 12kg of lead. These are retained by unique Buddy quick-release buckles and over-sized toggles. Before old Commando diehards faint in horror, I should point out that these are optional. You can use the system for stowing a yellow and an orange Buddy DSMB, with the same quick-release buckles allowing quick and easy access.

NEVER AFRAID TO DO THINGS THE EASY WAY, I used the integrated weight-system rather than suffer the irresistible force of my BCs buoyancy fighting the immovable weight around my waist, and enjoyed superbly comfortable diving.
If you dont know what a DSMB is, stick with the integrated weights!
The DSMBs stow just as easily in the zipped pockets. You can also use the cargo-clip-fastened weight-pockets provided - I can only guess at the numerous uses to which these may be put.
There are also small self-draining pockets closed by Velcro, ideal for stowing a knife. A line-cutter is already stowed, readily accessed via its own lanyard and toggle.
It was only when I cam to pack the BC for a trip abroad that I realised it had similar bulk and weight penalties to previously. It represents old Commando values with some innovation and just a little more style. I set off without the auxiliary cylinder.
Under water, the dump-valves worked like precision machinery. The mechanisms seemed very strong, and nothing felt or looked as if it would let me down.
With 4kg in each pocket, and lots of buckles to do up, I felt as if I was wearing a bulletproof vest.
The bulk necessitated for extra lead and, wearing a 7mm suit. I ended up with another 6kg on a weightbelt, because I felt that the weight-pouches were as full at 8kg as it was sensible to expect.
It was easy to find and drag out the pouches when I needed to do so, but reinstallation has to be precise. I suffered a bruised toe when an imperfectly installed pouch fell out as I was leaning forward to tighten the waist-strap.
At the surface the BCs buoyancy was 100% effective, because it is positioned low-down.

UNFORTUNATELY, THE IMPRESSION of Buddy Commando indestructibility didnt last long.
By day three, diving from Hurricane in the Red Sea, the lower half of the new lightweight backplate had split cleanly in two.
I guess it wasnt man enough to handle a 15-litre steel cylinder and 8kg of lead with the waist-strap done up tightly.
AP Valves tells me that it has now redesigned it with something more suitable for the job.
The Buddy Commando costs from £365 and is available in sizes S to XXL.
  • AP Valves,

  • Divernet
    Shoulder dump toggle and pinch-clip on the right shoulder
    operating the integrated-weight release
    self-draining pocket, line-cutter toggle and oversize toggle for the weights system
    + A complete rethink of a tough old favourite

    - Still big and bulky
    - Let down on test by the backplate