After using a hybrid BCD for years, I decided to give a back inflate a try and opted for the new technology in Aqualung’s Lotus i3.

The “deflate in any position” notion really interested me since I find it annoying to have to either stand on my head or drop my legs in order to adjust my buoyancy if I need to let air out of my BCD.

I’ve been using the BCD for months now and thought I’d give a review of it from both a recreational diver perspective and that of an instructor.

The short of it is this: For a recreational diver – go buy this BCD now. No really, like right now. For an instructor – not the best BCD to teach Open Water in. But let’s get into more detail.

First, the technical specs:
● Back inflate
● 35-40 lbs of lift
● Weighs 7 lbs
● Integrated weights
● Holds 20 lbs ditchable weight
● Holds 10 lbs non-ditchable weight
● 1 adjustable tank strap
● 1 zipper pocket – small
● 1 velcro pocket
● Octo holder
● Tank valve strap
● Console sleeve
● Adjustable chest harness

i3 Inflator

Okay, now let’s get into the nitty gritty by first diving into the big selling point of this BCD. The i3 inflator/deflator. From the get-go, I was sold in this new design. I liked the idea, which is why I bought it, but in practice it was even better. I did have to break the habit of reaching up for the deflator, but the location of the i3 is so natural it was easy to break that habit.

lotus1

The hand comfortably rests on the i3 and the inflator/deflator switch is extremely simple to operate. When the deflator is activated, it opens all of the low profile exhaust valves on the jacket so air can escape no matter what position you are in. This works most of, but not 100% of the time. I have found occasions where I needed to adjust my profile in the water a little before air would escape, but for the most part it works as expected. Micro adjustments are also easy enough to perform. Another upside is that the exhaust valves are one way, which means less water gets into the bladder.

Reaching down and to the side is so much easier than fumbling for the hose coming over the shoulder, and you don’t have to worry about grabbing the bottom of your snorkel and wondering why you can’t find the darn button. It feels like it’s more streamlined and trimmed, and there’s no hose to hold up over your head. The latter is a frequent issue with newer divers. When teaching, I find it difficult to get students to remember that they must hold the hose up. The i3 technology eliminates that learning curve.

For an instructor, however, the i3 technology is what makes this BCD a poor choice for teaching Open Water classes. It’s very difficult to show students how to use a standard low pressure inflator when you don’t have one. I have tried using the oral inflator as a substitute, but it is not meant for regular usage and because of that it’s clumsy and difficult to use on a regular basis.

Speaking of the oral inflator, while it is clumsy to use regularly (long hose that floats when left out, and takes some time to fold up and secure it), it’s still much easier to use than standard oral inflators when you need it. The upside to the Lotus’ oral inflator is that there is no button you have to push. Just pressing your mouth onto the inflator activates it and its shape and size make it a cinch to seal your mouth on. You can also release air with it just by pressing the mouthpiece down with a finger.

The rubber mouthpiece comes off very easily, though, and is a little difficult to get back on properly. I think this would only be an issue if you were pulling the oral inflator in and out of its secure location multiple times during a dive (as I do when teaching in it). For recreational diving, one wouldn’t be using the oral inflator repetitively and thus not experiencing that issue.

Storage and Trim

For pocket storage, this BCD is lacking a bit. There are two pockets and they’re on top of one another on the same side due to the i3 inflator being on the opposite side. The smaller zippered pocket really isn’t going to hold much at all. I keep my SMB and whistle in there since there’s not much else that could fit. The zippered pocket is actually on the top flap of the larger velcro pocket underneath.

The velcro pocket folds up when not in use to trim down even more. When opened, it’s large enough to put a couple useful things in, such as extra weight. Downside, though, is that since there are pockets only on one side, if you do put extra weight in either of them it’s going to make you roll to the side like a fish with a missing fin. This is another issue that’s more specific to teaching in the BCD. When I’m teaching Open Water classes, I generally keep some extra weight in my pockets in case I need to give it to an overly buoyant student. In this BCD, that habit causes me to list to the right.

If you need additional pockets though, the BCD is certainly not lacking in D-rings (4) to attach things to, including external pockets should you want them. And, since the Lotus itself is so trim in the front, it makes it that much easier and comfortable to attach a few things to without feeling overloaded and front-heavy.

The octo-pocket is simple and straightforward and I’ve had no issues with the octo coming loose once tucked inside. On the opposite side of the BCD, the console sleeve is equally as straightforward and keeps your gauges tight to the jacket. The low pressure and console hoses can also tuck in around the bladder and under the left arm for additional streamlining.

If you like to be streamlined and trim, this is definitely a BCD for you.

Comfort

I think this is where the Lotus definitely excels. I can’t explain exactly how it does it, but the tank feels extremely close to the body and I experience zero tank wobble while swimming. It took me a little time to get the jacket adjusted correctly for my body, but once I did the fit was amazing. The waist strap is adjustable and the chest strap is on a rail system so you can slide it up and down as you need.

Chest strap rail system

The tank strap sits much lower on the tank than other BCDs I’ve used. That little tidbit caused me some grief when I first started wearing the BCD. I kept putting the strap too high on the tank, then attached the tank valve strap and this caused the BCD to bunch up in the middle and not fit correctly. When I first started wearing it, I thought it fit horribly and that I wasn’t going to be able to use it at all. Once I realized my folly, the BCD fit so wellI couldn’t believe the difference. Little touches like a neoprene neck roll and padded lumbar only add to the comfort factor and helps to make the weight of the tank almost disappear.

The shoulder straps have a swivel on them that helps to direct the strap under the arm. This helps with stability as well as comfort. The tank valve strap that doubles as a carry handle keeps the top of the tank tight to the back of the jacket, helping with some of the weight and making it less necessary to lean forward to counter it. See the video below from Aqualung about the Wrapture harness system and the tank valve strap.

Aqualung video on Wrapture Harness system

Now, because this is a back inflate BCD it does take some getting used to in the water. I absolutely love it underwater but on the surface it leaves a lot to be desired. If you don’t spend too much time on the surface chatting, the back inflate won’t be an issue. But if you do, such as is the case when one is teaching, the back inflate will push your body forward in the water forcing you to fight to keep yourself upright. I’ve found that when teaching an Open Water class, that issue alone wears me out. Recreationally, though, it’s not a concern.

All in all, this is a great BCD for many reasons. It’s not perfect, but its pros greatly outweigh the cons for recreational diving. I still wouldn’t recommend it for teaching Open Water.

Pros:
● New i3 inflator/deflator
● Streamlined and trim
● Console sleeve
● Easier-to-use oral inflator
● Tank close to body
● Very comfortable
● Octo pocket
● No tank wobble

Cons:
● Back inflate pushes you forward on the surface
● Small pockets
● Oral inflator mouthpiece comes off easily
● Lack of standard low pressure inflator makes it hard to teach in

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