What I think
(for what its worth)!
Updated Sept '12
This is my view and my view only on the pro's and con's of different units and as such I expect to be "flamed" from all directions. I have noticed that as a retailer I have seen far to many customers buy gear which is either total rubbish and/or inappropriate for the type of diving they intend to do. My aim with this piece is to try and stop that happening to potential CCR divers.
Before we go any further I would strongly advise that anyone thinking about buying a CCR should purchase Mel Clarke's book.
CCR Simplified Manual (MOD 1) by Mel Clarke
Please hit the link above for more details.
Let's now set up a framework for us to work within and, again I expect to be flamed over what I consider as basic concepts that in my view need to be understood and worked over before purchasing a unit.
Why do you want a CCR ??? Some people just want the latest and greatest which is fine but others want a unit to fulfil certain diving tasks, like longer bottom time, access to deeper wrecks or reefs etc. Each unit should be individually assessed for all of the tasks you require of it. Every unit you look at will have good and bad features, very rarely will one unit cover all your needs. You must make sure you have defined what it is you want to achieve, then look at each unit with these requirements very much in mind.
Last of all please be aware that if you won't be diving the unit at least several times a month then just maybe this is not the area for you to be looking at, you must keep diving these things, if only to keep your skill levels up to scratch.
Can you cost justify a CCR ??? The old saying is if you have to ask the price then you can't afford it. Some people think this is correct with CCR units and to a certain extent I agree. It is not an area that you go into on a small budget, though having said that I have seen some very good bargains and some very good home made versions walk through the shop doors over the years. Generally speaking though owners fall into two types of people, the guys that tinker and the guys that like to turn the key and go, this will have a huge bearing on just what unit you you select..
You can cost justify a unit but, only in a limited fashion, I like to tell my customers that when starting out you can roughly say that if a dive on OC gear costs you $10 then the same dive on CCR will cost you $20. This covers the consumables and the servicing of the unit. Now once you bring Helium into the equation then we have a whole new ball game to consider and several 10 day trips away diving the unit on Helium will more than give you a great return on your investment. BUT is that the type of diving for you ????
What type of CCR design is for you ??? Now we get into the old water and electronics argument, as you know water and electric just don't mix ..... or do they? We also now touch on the concept of control over the unit, do you want the unit to "fly" itself or do you want manual control? These are serious questions that sometimes also get mixed up with the cost of a unit when making a choice. I am a "trust the electronics" type of bloke, you don't see me wearing a parachute on a plane. I also think that one must further realise that you only get what you pay for in life, so cheapness can have a price attached to it in the long run, payment just might not be in dollars.
What should you pay for a unit ??? Once you have worked out what type of diving you are doing and what level of trust you place in technology then you are a long way down the path of selecting a unit for yourself. The final hurdle to jump is cost, what are you going to fork out to achieve your diving ambitions.
Cost has a huge bearing on the type of unit you select, and the first question is do you go second hand or brand new. There is nothing wrong with second hand units and for many of us it is an excellent way to get into CCR diving BUT .... always that but, you must ensure that the unit is functional and safe. I strongly advise that you have someone inspect the unit prior to the purchase. Now should that person be someone like us (SXD), that will inspect and then service the unit or someone like an experienced CCR diving friend ... your choice but please inspect the unit fully first.
Now we get into another interesting area, cost is reflected in how modern or current your unit is. I look at units like the APD Vision units and see a second generation CCR with all the bells and whistles factored into the cost of the unit. It comes with everything you need to go diving already factory fitted, like harness, cylinders, wing etc. but it also comes with a fully functioning dive computer. We offer units only as full package deals, which include the training, some manufactures/retailers don't. You need to workout the real landed and fully trained cost of your potential unit. Some units come with just the bare bones and once you start adding things like harness, wing, cylinders, dive computer, freight, customs fees and taxes then a cheap unit can be very expensive. .... Do your sums first!
First, second or even third generation (?) units ??? A first generation unit is a unit without any "smarts" attached. Examples would be the Meg, the Inspo Classic, the Kiss, the rEvo and the Paliegan. These units come as base models without any thing other than PPO2 monitoring and maybe some form of PPO2 control provided. They were the "first cab off the rank" units that have been left somewhat behind in their original format. Now to be fair, all these units can now be purchased with third party control systems and dive computers either factory fitted or added later on. The Meg has the Shearwater control system that can be added, so does the rEvo and the KISS can be fitted with VR Technology control systems, so they have the potential to be a second generation unit of sorts. I tend to look at these units as 1.5 gen units, given that true 2nd gen units have been designed from the floor up with such control systems already in place.
The one exception to this would be the Optima, this unit was first released as a hotch pot of bits and pieces cobbled together to resemble a CCR ..... I didn't like it one bit. The unit had and still does have Hammerhead electronics, which makes this a 3rd party add on in some ways. After saying that I feel that slowly as newer models are released the unit is becoming better and better and is now a true 2nd gen unit.
True 2nd gen units would be the Vision units from APD, the Sentinel and Ouroboros from VR Technology, the Hammerhead from Juergensen Marine and the JJ-CCR from JJ CCR.
The Poseidon MkVI discovery is what I would like to term a 2.5 gen unit, it has fully embraced the concept of full electronic control like no other unit, though having said that I really don't like the early releases of this unit steer clear of them.
"I recently completed a training course for a student on a current model of this unit ... I stand corrected, the unit worked just as the manual said it would. In fact all but the problem that you still can't see the HUD has been addressed."
Please note though I still have seen no evidence that the support will be any better and I find the company to date without doubt the worst manufacture I have ever had to deal with.
Currently we are seeing two new units emerge from Hollis (Oceanic). The Prism 2 and the Explorer have been released but, availability is still "flaky". The Prism 2 is just a revamped Steam Machine Topaz Prism 1 unit. This unit was a leader 15 years or more ago but fell by the wayside due to very poor manufacturing, the unit was just not well made. The new Hollis unit seems to have addressed these problems but it still is a tarted up Prism. Too little done to late to make this a serious unit. Not to say that in the future, with Hollis getting into bed with VR Technologies that the Prism 3 - if it appears will not be a unit to be reckoned with but for now nice try but why would you ??
Now the Hollis Explorer is something new and would be well on its way to being classed as a gen 3 unit. As Hollis states
"The unit is neither a fully closed circuit Rebreather nor a pure semi-closed system, but an intelligent hybrid that utilizes the best of both worlds. Its compact, lightweight and extremely easy to use."
Its basically a nitrox ( >40%) single gas unit aimed at the recreational market. It fits into the PADI "rec" specifications and will appeal to the basic recreational diver. The main downfall with this unit is the cost and the limitations it brings to progressing your diving beyond the recreational level - to put it simply you can't ! So I have to ask the question why would you pay an awful lot of money for a unit that will not grow with you.
What units would I buy or recommend ??? Without question I would recommend the APD Evolution Plus to anyone that wants a middle to top of the range unit. This unit will do whatever you want it to do right up to 150m plus dives. APD is the market leader by far and as such you should have no real problems getting service / spares / training world wide.
The other unit I would highly recommend is without question the JJ-CCR, these are very good units that are suited to the more advanced type of diving. In my view this manufacturer's units are well worth a long serious look at.
The JJ-CCR comes as a 2nd gen unit factory fitted with Shearwater controls. The JJ-CCR is without doubt the best unit I have dived to date and is presently my own diving unit of choice. Bang for your Buck the JJ-CCR is superb value and comes fully fitted out ready to dive straight from the box. This unit is far outselling all other units we retail.
The Hammerhead, I have no serious direct experience with but again it looks a very good unit and would be worth a serious consideration. Support in Australia will be a major issue. SXD provide training on this unit and will support it in a limited manner.
The Paliegan is the odd one in my current list of units I would consider owning and to be honest I have very little real knowledge of the units functionality. I spoke with them at Oztek11 and may well undertake some training on the unit but until then I can't really give any serious comment. Being based in Thailand does not give me a warm feeling about support etc.
The Optima is, as I said looking better and better but I would not recommend this unit based on the local support available in Oz. To be honest this is a shame as I feel that this unit has potential and is being held back by poor service locally.
Sept '12 update: I now cannot in all honesty recommend this unit based on support and training in Oz.
The Poseidon is now another unit I would recommend in its present new and improved form. Though the local support is still woeful (was the same company providing support for the Optima but now has been changed) and in my view the Swedish head office support is even worst. ..... One to watch though.
Sept '12 update: The distributor for this system has now changed for the better one hopes but the price is way too high for such a limited unit.
The Jetsam units are solid and as their name (KISS) suggests are basic and simple. Good all round units that will suit the manual/non-electronic person very well. Watch the new Gem .. a SCR unit from Jetsam, could be interesting and ready for modification to a bail out or side mount unit. ...... I have completed a training programme on this unit and would not recommend it for recreational diving ... wait a year or so for this one to develop.
Sept '12 update: These units have now dropped into the "why would you bother" category the support in Oz is non-existent and the Kiss units just have not progressed. In regard to the Gem, after the course I cancelled my order.
In the case of the rEvo family of units they are a 1st gen unit in their base configuration but can be upgraded to a 2nd gen units very easily by adding Shearwater controls BUT this bumps the price way up and subsequently does not make it a good "bang for your buck" option. The unit has quite a few inherent problems that are not being resolve and is passed its prime as a cut edge unit. In short needs a revamp to be serious.
Sept '12 update: The distributor for this system has now also changed and is located in Melbourne. The main issue I have with these units is the lack of any means to recover from a flood and the price. They have though updated the scrubber monitoring systems and are now worth watching if only for developments in this area. To configure the unit as a full 2nd gen unit is very expensive compared to say a JJ. I would not recommend this unit over an Inspo or a JJ.
The Hollis Prism II ... as of Sept '12 this unit is the new kid on the block ??? Not really, this unit is just a revamped Prism Topaz. A lot of the Prism's problems have been resolved but it is still basically the same old technology, nothing new. Would not recommend this unit at this stage. Hollis and VR Technologies have sort of jumped into bed together and one can expect changes to emerge from this union. Watch out for the Prism III ... I think that will be very interesting.
The Hollis Explorer ... if you plan to just poodle around in shallow water and have no aspirations to advance you diving then this is the unit for you. Simple but very expensive for what it is and can offer. Depth limited with no "tec" progression.
The final family of units are the VR Technology units. Not really getting good feed back on these units, the Sentinel and the Ouroboros have not made the impact I first expected. Both are very large and tend to have a "Nanny" approach to you diving them. Again units I need to know a lot more about to be fair. This company is without doubt pushing the technology and have introduced some very innovative features but still need to get over the over bearing safety feature they use.
VR Technology went bad and have been bought by Avon for their technology .... be careful when looking at these units until the dust has settled.