Title:
Connector having a mechanical lock and a one-step release
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A quick release connector is provided for underwater diving equipment such as a weighting system for buoyancy control. The quick release connector includes a first connector portion which may be mounted to the apparel unit and a second connector portion which may be mounted to one or more weights. The second connector portion interfaces with the first connector portion includes a pivotable lock that can be actuated against a spring to decouple the two connector portions and allow for manual release of the weights.



Inventors:
Angelini, Sergio A. (Tennwil, CH)
Miklos, Bela (San Diego, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/185139
Publication Date:
01/26/2006
Filing Date:
07/20/2005
Assignee:
Johnson Outdoors Inc. (Racine, WI, US)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
405/185
International Classes:
B63C11/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
SINGH, SUNIL
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
REINHART BOERNER VAN DEUREN P.C. (ROCKFORD, IL, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A connector providing a mechanical lock and simplifying the manipulation required for disengagement by a user, the connector comprising: a first connector portion; a second connector portion detachably engaged with the first connector portion, the second connector portion having a base member and a locking member pivotally coupled to the base member, the locking member and the base member both having a handle portion and an engagement portion; a biasing member disposed between the handle portions urging at least one of the engagement portions towards a locked position; wherein the second connector portion is disengaged from the first connector portion by a squeezing and pulling motion of the handle portions by the user.

2. The connector of claim 1, wherein the first connector portion includes a first surface for engaging the engagement portion of one of the base member and the locking member and a second surface for engaging the engagement portion of the other of the base member and the locking member comprising a mating interface between the first and second connector portions, the mating interface including at least one channel and at least on rail slidably received in the channel.

3. The connector of claim 2, wherein the first connector portion includes a slot receiving a locking member in the locked position.

4. The connector of claim 2, wherein the engagement portion of the base member includes said at least one rail, and wherein said first connector portion defines said at least one channel.

5. The connector of claim 1, wherein the engagement portion of the locking member includes a detent projection configured to be inserted into a slot defined by the first connector portion.

6. The connector of claim 5, wherein the detent includes a inclined surface providing means for camming the detent into the slot.

7. The connector of claim 6, wherein the biasing member biases the detent projection towards the locked position.

8. The connector of claim 1, wherein a user receives the second connector portion in the palm of a user's hand with a user's fingers wrapped around the handle portions.

9. The connector of claim 8, wherein the handle portions include a profile corresponding to the hand of a user.

10. The connector of claim 1, wherein a pivot pin pivotally couples the locking member to the base member.

11. The connector of claim 1, wherein the first connector portion includes a buckle portion for receiving a strap to couple the first connector portion to an article.

12. The connector of claim 1, wherein the second connector portion includes a buckle portion for receiving a strap to couple the first connector portion to an article.

13. The connector of claim 12, wherein the buckle portion is formed in the locking member.

14. The connector of claim 1, wherein the connector is coupled with a weight release system for a buoyancy control device.

15. The connector of claim 14, wherein the buoyancy control device includes an apparel unit having a weight system integrated into the apparel unit.

16. The connector of claim 15, wherein the apparel unit is vest-like harness worn by the user.

17. The connector of claim 15, wherein the apparel unit is a belt worn by the user.

18. A buoyancy control device comprising: an apparel unit; a weight system integrated into the apparel unit; and a retaining system coupled to the apparel unit for releasably retaining the weight system to the apparel unit; the retaining system includes a connector, the connector comprising: a first connector; portion; a second connector portion detachably engaged with the first connector portion, the second connector portion having a base member and a locking member pivotally coupled to the base member, the locking member and the base member both having a handle portion and an engagement portion; a biasing member urging at least one of the engagement portions towards a locked position; wherein the relative pivoting movement between the locking member and the base member decouples the first and second connector portions.

19. The buoyancy control device of claim 18, wherein the apparel unit is a vest-like harness that is worn around the torso of a diver.

20. The buoyancy control device of claim 19, wherein the apparel unit is pulled over the head of a diver.

21. The buoyancy control device of claim 18, wherein the apparel unit is a belt that is worn by a diver.

22. The buoyancy control device of claim 18, wherein the weight system includes a pocket, a weight pouch.

23. The buoyancy control device of claim 22, wherein the first connector portion is coupled the pocket and the second connector portion is coupled to the weight pouch.

24. The connector of claim 18 wherein the first connector portion includes a first surface for engaging the engagement portion of one of the base member and the locking member and a second surface for engaging the engagement portion of the other of the base member and the locking member comprising a mating interface between the first and second connector portions, the mating interface including at least one channel and at least on rail slidably received in the channel.

25. A method of disconnecting a weight from a buoyancy control device, the method comprising: coupling a connector to the buoyancy control device that releasably retains the weight to the buoyancy control device, the connector includes first and second connector portions, the second connector detachably engages the first connector portion and includes a locking member and a base member, the locking member and the base member both include handle portions and engagement portions; coupling one of the first connector portion and the second connector portion to the buoyancy control device and the other of the first connector portion and the second connector portion to the weight; squeezing together the handle portions of the base member and the locking member to disengage at least one of the engagement portions; and pulling the second connector away from the first connector to release the weight from the buoyancy control device; wherein the steps of squeezing and pulling are performed in a single manipulation step by a user.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED PATENT APPLICATIONS

This patent application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/590,109, filed Jul. 22, 2004.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates generally to the field of connectors. More particularly, the present invention relates to a category of connectors commonly referred to as quick-release connectors. The present invention further relates to connectors particularly applicable with underwater diving equipment such as weight systems for buoyancy control devices that allow for the selective release of weight to adjust buoyancy.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

It is generally known to provide a connector for releasably coupling the ends of two or more bands, straps, belts, webbing, and the like together. It is also generally known to provide a connector having features such as quick-release, quick-connect, mechanical locking, etc. Connectors having one or more of these features are commonly used with luggage, backpacking equipment, and the like. Such connectors may also be suitable for use with weighting systems used on buoyancy control devices for underwater diving. Connectors used with underwater weighting systems should provide a positive lock that is easy to disengage, but configured to protect against accidental disengagement.

A buoyancy control device, more commonly known as a buoyancy compensator, is a standard piece of equipment used by SCUBA divers to help offset changes in buoyancy during the course of a dive. The buoyancy of a scuba diver during a dive can depend on a number of factors, such as the weight of the diver, the weight of the equipment carried by the diver, the depth of the dive, the temperature of the water, and numerous other factors. Consequently, the buoyancy of the diver can vary significantly during the course of a dive or between dives. A buoyancy compensator helps to offset these changes in buoyancy, thereby making it easier for the diver to maintain or achieve a desired depth.

A buoyancy compensator is typically a vest-like harness that is worn around the diver's torso. It generally includes four major elements: a weighting or weight system, an adjustable gas cell, a means of securing a gas tank, and storage pockets. The weighting system is typically made up of lead weights that are attached about the waist of the diver on a weight belt or contained within pockets mounted at the side panels of the buoyancy control device. The weighting system is used to overcome the buoyancy force exerted on the diver by the water, which then allows the diver to sink. In emergency situations, the weights of the weighting system are removed and dropped such that the diver quickly ascends.

Weighting systems may be coupled directly to the diver (e.g., weight belts, weight harnesses, etc.) or alternatively may be coupled to or integrated with other underwater diving equipment (e.g., a buoyancy compensator, etc.). As can be appreciated, weighting systems need to remain in a securely locked position but also must be selectively releasable by the diver to release weight when desired and/or necessary. Further, accidental release of weight during a dive could result in an undesired and uncontrolled ascent, which could result in substantial injury to a diver.

The most common type of connector used to with underwater weighting systems are hook and loop fasteners. Hook and loop fasteners are popular because of the relative ease that weights can be inserted and fastened to the weight system. Unfortunately, a hook and loop fasteners are not a mechanical lock, have limited strength, and the interfaces tend to wear out over time. Also, the interfaces may become contaminated to degree that the hook and loop is no longer functional.

Another type of connector that is commonly used with underwater diving equipment are referred to as rip-cord type releases, wherein a user pulls a cord to release all of the weight in the case of an emergency. Rip-cord systems are often difficult to thread and re-thread into the weighting system. In addition, with rip-cord releases, the emergency release is often different than the release at the end of dive and the diver may become confused.

Another known weight release system uses a connector that disengages by a pull on a handle which “automatically” releases the weight system. A problem with such known weight release systems is that they can be released accidentally by the diver or by getting caught on an underwater obstruction (e.g., coral reef, shipwreck, rocks, etc.).

Connectors having mechanical locks are also generally known. However, such connectors often require a user to make more than one manipulation in order to disengage the connector. In other connectors having mechanical locks, the connectors are susceptible to accidental disengagement.

Thus, there is a continuing need for a connector that is particularly suitable for use with a buoyancy control device and a weighting system for a buoyancy control device that: (1) provides a positive mechanical lock, (2) that is designed to minimize the likelihood of accidental disengagement, and (3) that enables the user to quickly and easily release the weight pouch from the weight pocket in a single manipulation.

Accordingly, to provide a connector having any one of the above mentioned features would represent a significant advance in the art.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

According to one embodiment, a connector providing a mechanical lock and simplifying the manipulation required for disengagement by a user is provided. The connector includes a first connector portion and a second connector portion detachably engaged with the first connector portion. The second connector portion has a base member and a locking member pivotally coupled to the base member. The locking member and the base member both having a handle portion and an engagement portion. The connector further includes a biasing member disposed between the handle portions urging at least one of the engagement portions towards a locked position. The second connector portion is disengaged from the first connector portion by a squeezing and pulling motion of the handle portions by the user.

According to another embodiment, a buoyancy control device is provided. The buoyancy control device includes an apparel unit, a weight system integrated into the apparel unit, and a retaining system coupled to the apparel unit for releasably retaining the weight system to the apparel unit. The retaining system includes a connector. The connector includes a first connector portion and a second connector portion detachably engaged with the first connector portion. The second connector portion has a base member and a locking member pivotally coupled to the base member. The locking member and the base member both having a handle portion and an engagement portion. The connector further includes a biasing member disposed between the handle portions urging at least one of the engagement portions towards a locked position. The second connector portion is disengaged from the first connector portion by a squeezing and pulling motion of the handle portions by the user.

According to yet another embodiment, a method of disconnecting a weight from a buoyancy control device is provided. The method includes the step of coupling a connector to the buoyancy control device that releasably retains the weight to the buoyancy control device. The connector includes first and second connector portions. The second connector detachably engages the first connector portion and includes a locking member and a base member. The locking member and the base member both include handle portions and engagement portions. The method further includes the step of coupling one of the first connector portion and the second connector portion to the buoyancy control device and the other of the first connector portion and the second connector portion to the weight. The method further includes the steps of squeezing together the handle portions of the base member and the locking member to disengage at least one of the engagement portions and pulling the second connector away from the first connector to release the weight from the buoyancy control device. The steps of squeezing and pulling are performed in a single manipulation step by a user.

The present invention further relates to various features and combinations of features shown and described in the disclosed embodiments.

Other aspects, objectives and advantages of the invention will become more apparent from the following detailed description when taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The accompanying drawings incorporated in and forming a part of the specification illustrate several aspects of the present invention and, together with the description, serve to explain the principles of the invention. In the drawings:

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a connector according to an exemplary first embodiment illustrated in a locked position.

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of a connector according to an exemplary second embodiment.

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of a connector according to the first embodiment illustrating the connector being disengaged.

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a connector according to the first embodiment illustrating the connector being disengaged.

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of a connector according to the second embodiment illustrated in a disengaged position.

FIG. 6 is a perspective view of a buoyancy control device including a weighting system and a retaining system that includes a connector of the first embodiment for securing the weighting system to the buoyancy control device.

FIG. 7 is an enlarged fragmentary view of the buoyancy control device of FIG. 6 illustrating a weight pouch and a weight being removed from a weight pocket of the buoyancy control device utilizing the connector of the first embodiment.

FIG. 8 is a perspective view of a connector according to the second embodiment as shown in FIG. 2.

FIG. 9 is a side view of the connector of FIG. 8 illustrated in a locked position.

FIG. 10 is a side view of the connector of FIG. 8 illustrated in a disengaged position.

FIG. 11 is a perspective view of the connector of FIG. 8 illustrated in a disengaged position.

FIG. 12 is top perspective view of a connector according a third exemplary embodiment.

FIG. 13 is a top perspective view of the connector of FIG. 12 illustrated in a disengaged position.

FIG. 14 is an exploded view of the connector of FIG. 12 according to the third embodiment.

While the invention will be described in connection with certain preferred embodiments, there is no intent to limit it to those embodiments. On the contrary, the intent is to cover all alternatives, modifications and equivalents as included within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Before proceeding with the description of the preferred and other exemplary embodiments, several general comments can be made about the applicability and the scope thereof.

First, one particular connector is illustrated in the FIGS., namely one having a first connector portion and a second connector portion that are configured to be releasably coupled. In addition, one suitable application for the connector is shown, particularly, the connector is illustrated in the FIGS. as a connector suitable for use with a weighting system of a buoyancy compensator device used for underwater diving. It should be understood at the outset that the present invention has particular applicability to diving applications but may have other potential applicability beyond weighting systems, such as luggage, backpacking equipment, tie-down devices, and any other application where a connector may be used to releasably secure together the ends of straps, belts, bands, webbing, etc.

In addition, the materials used for the construction of the connector, both the connector portions and the biasing member, can be selected from any of those currently in use for connectors of this type or any other appropriate material.

Proceeding now to the description of the preferred and other exemplary embodiments, the FIGS. illustrate a connector 10 of the type that is suitable for use with underwater diving equipment such as weight systems for buoyancy compensators or the like. As mentioned above, connector 10 is not limited to applications involving underwater diving equipment and could be configured and dimensioned to be used in any of a variety of applications wherein it would be desirable to hold straps, cords, bands, etc. together.

As shown FIG. 5, connector 10 includes a first connector portion 20 and a corresponding second connector portion 40. According to a preferred embodiment, first connector portion 20 is a female connector and second connector portion 40 is a male connector. According to an alternative embodiment, the first connector portion 20 may be the male connector and the second connector portion 40 may be the female connector. According to another embodiment the first connector portion 20 and the second connector portion 40 may both include first portions that may be commonly referred to as a male connector portions and second portions that may be commonly referred to as female connector portions. In each embodiment, the first connector portion 20 and the second connector portion 40 of the connector 10 cooperate to provide a quick-release connector having a mechanical positive lock that is actuatable from a connected state to a disconnected state by means of a single manipulation step. The first connector portion 20 and the second connector portion 40 further cooperate to provide a connector that is configured to minimize the likelihood of an accidental disengagement.

According to a preferred embodiment, as illustrated in FIG. 5, first connector portion 20 includes a first surface 22 and a second surface 24 for receiving second connector portion 40. First surface 22 is positioned generally in a front portion 26 of first connector portion 20 and is substantially perpendicular to second surface 24. According to a particularly preferred embodiment, first surface 22 is a front surface from which a guide (e.g., rail, slot, notch, etc.), shown as a pair of channels 28, 30 located on sidewalls 32, 34 of first connector portion 20, is recessed. Channels 28, 30 extend longitudinally along an axis x-x and are designed to receive second connector portion 40 in a slidable manner.

Second surface 24 is a bottom surface that includes an aperture (e.g., recess, opening, etc.) shown as slot 36 for receiving second connector portion 40. According to a preferred embodiment, slot 36 is a transverse slot configured to receive a locking portion of the second connector portion 40. According to a particularly preferred embodiment, slot 36 extends from one side wall of first connector portion 20 to the opposite side wall. In an alternative embodiment, first connector portion 20 includes a pair of transverse slots 36 along the second surface 24. While second surface 24 is illustrated as a being a relatively flat surface, in alternatively embodiments, second surface 24 may have a geometry enabling the connector 10 to better conform to the contours of an article to which the connector 10 is mounted (e.g., curved, arcuate, linear, etc.). According to an alternative embodiment, second surface 24 may be configured as a top surface of first connector portion 20.

First connector portion 20 is intended to be coupled to an article and to receive second connector portion 40. Preferably, first connector portion 10 includes a buckle 37 that is configured to receive a band (i.e. webbing, strap, string, cord, wire, etc.) used to couple first connector portion 20 to the article. According to a preferred embodiment, buckle 37 is positioned generally in a back portion of first connector portion 20 and includes a slot 38. Preferably, slot 38 is an elongated transverse slot that is dimensioned to receive and retain a band coupling first connector portion 20 to an article. As can be appreciated, buckle 37 may include a plurality slots 38 for securing the band to the connector or for receiving multiple bands. In addition, slot 38 is not limited to an opening extending transversely. Depending on the application, slot 38 may be any of a variety of shapes and may be aligned in any orientation relative to first connector portion 20. Techniques for coupling a connector to an article are generally known. Accordingly, first connector portion 20 may be coupled to an article in any of a variety of known techniques.

Referring to FIGS. 1 and 3, the second connector portion 40 is configured to engage the first connector portion 20 along a mating interface and retain connector 10 in a locked position until a user selectively disengages the connector. According to a preferred embodiment, second connector portion 40 includes a base member 42 and a locking member 44. Base member 42 and locking member 44 both include handle portions 46, 48 and engaging portions 50, 52 respectively. According to a particularly preferred embodiment, base member 42 and locking member 44 are two separate members rotatably coupled to each other at a pivot 54. Pivot 54 may be positioned substantially equidistant from the handle portions 46, 48 and the engaging portions 50, 52. Preferably pivot 54 is maintained by a pivot pin 55 extending transversely through the side walls of at least one of the base member 42 and locking member 44 and at least partially engaging the side walls of the other of the base member 42 or the locking member 44 base member 32. The present invention is not limited to the use of a pivot pin to movably couple the locking member to the base member. According to an alternative embodiment, base member 42 and locking member 44 may be integrally form as single unitary body. For such an embodiment, pivot 54 may be maintained by a living hinge existing between base member 42 and locking member 44.

According to a preferred embodiment, engaging portion 50 of base member 42 is a male connector that is received by first surface 22 of first connector 20 in a slidable manner. Engaging portion 50 includes a structure complimentary to the guide disposed in first surface 24 and according to a particularly preferred embodiment, the complimentary structure includes a pair protrusions (i.e., edges, projections, etc.) shown as rails 56 that slidably engage channels 28, 30 of first connector 20. The engagement of base member 42 and first connector portion 20 preferably limits rotational movement of base member 42 relative to first connector portion 20. According to an alterative embodiment, engaging portion 50 of base member 42 is a female connector that receives a corresponding male connector that defines the first surface 22 of first connector 20. For such an embodiment, rails 56 may be provided on first connector portion 20 and corresponding channels 28, 30 may be provided on second connector portion 40.

Locking member 44 is designed to detachably secure base member 42 to first connector portion 20 thereby retaining second connector portion 40 to first connector portion 20 by creating a mechanical lock. According to a preferred embodiment, the engaging portion 52 of locking member 44 includes a detent 58 that is adapted to engage slot 36 disposed in the second surface 24 of first connector portion 20. According to a particularly preferred embodiment detent 58 includes an inclined surface 60 to assist in camming detent 58 into a locked position when second connector portion 40 is being inserted into first connector portion 20. Inclined surface 60 may be a substantially flat surface, or alternatively may be a curved surface as shown in FIG. 3.

Referring to FIG. 1, engaging portion 52 of locking member 44 is urged into the locked position by a biasing element 62. According to a preferred embodiment, biasing element 62 is a spring disposed between handle portions 46, 48 that urges engaging portion 52 towards engaging member 50. Biasing element 62 is intended to maintain engaging portion 52 in the locked position until disengagement is desired by the user. In alternative embodiments, biasing element 62 may be integrally formed with second connector portion 40.

Handle portions 46,48 enable a user to selectively disengage second connector portion 40 from first connector portion 20 thereby unlocking the connector 10. Handle portions 46, 48 are designed to allow a user to disengage the connector in a one step manipulation of handle portions 46, 48. Disengagement of the second connector portion 40 from the first connector portion 20 is actuated by squeezing the handle portions 46, 48 together with sufficient force to overcome biasing element 62. Such a configuration is intended to prevent accidental and unintentional disengagement of connector 10. Squeezing the handle portions together disengages detent 58 from slot 36. Removing detent 58 from slot 36 enables engaging portion 50 to slidably disengage from first surface 22.

According to a preferred embodiment, as shown in FIGS. 1 and 3-5, base member 42 defines the top surface of second connector portion 40. In such an embodiment, handle portion 46 preferably has a geometry that generally conforms to inner portion of a user's hand. Preferably a user's fingers wrap around the end of handle portion 46 to reach handle portion 48 of the locking member 44. Such a configuration advantageously provides for quick-release of connector 10 when disengagement is desired. When a user squeezes the handle portions 46, 48 together, the user's hand is already in a position to pull the second connector portion 40 out of the first connector portion 20. Accordingly, connector 10 is actuatable from a connected state to a disconnected state by means of a single manipulation step. According to an alternative embodiment, locking member 44 defines the top surface of second connector portion 40. In such an embodiment, handle portion 48 preferably has a geometry that generally conforms to the inner portion of a user's hand.

According to a preferred embodiment, engagement of connector 10 is accomplished by slidably inserting the engaging member 50 of second connector portion 40 into the guide mechanism recessed in the first surface 22 of first connector portion 20. As engagement portion 50 is being inserted into first surface 22, the inclined surface 60 of detent 58 contacts first connector portion 20 and is cammed into engagement with slot 36. Biasing element 62 retains the engaging portion 52 in the locked position until a sufficient force is applied to the handle portions 46, 48.

Similar to first connector portion 20, second connector 40 is intended to be coupled to an article. Preferably, second connector portion 40 includes a buckle 41 that is configured to receive a band (i.e., webbing, strap, string, cord, wire, etc.) used to couple second connector portion 40 to the article. According to a preferred embodiment, buckle 41 is formed in locking member 44 and positioned between handle portion 48 and engaging portion 52. In alternative embodiments, buckle 41 may be formed in base member 42. Preferably, buckle 41 includes a slot 43 that is an elongated transverse slot dimensioned to receive and retain a band coupling second connector portion 40 to an article. As can be appreciated, buckle 41 may include a plurality slots 43 for securing the band to the connector or for receiving multiple bands. In addition, slot 43 is not limited to an opening extending transversely. Depending on the application, slot 43 may be any of a variety of shapes and may be aligned in any orientation relative to second connector portion 40. Techniques for coupling a connector to an article are generally known. Accordingly, second connector portion 40 may be coupled to an article in any of a variety of known techniques.

First connector portion 20 and second connector portion 40 are preferably made of plastic. In various alternative embodiments, first connector portion 20 and second connector portion 40 may be made from a variety of conventionally known or otherwise appropriate materials.

As previously mentioned, connector 10 is particularly suitable for use with a buoyancy control device used for underwater diving having a weight release system. An exemplary embodiment of a such a buoyancy control device and weight release system is illustrated in FIGS. 6 and 7.

Referring to FIG. 6, a buoyancy control device 100 generally includes apparel unit 120 and weighting systems 140. Apparel unit 120 is configured to be worn by the diver and provides an adjustable gas cell (not shown) which may be selectively inflated or deflated to adjust a buoyancy of the user during a dive. To allow for such adjustment, apparel unit 120 generally includes the means for inflating and deflating the gas cell. Such means preferably include elbow tube 180, inflator hose 200 and mouth piece 220. Elbow tube 180 is in communication with the gas cell and is connected to inflator hose 200. Inflator hose 200 is connected to mouth piece 220. Mouth piece 220 enables the user to inflate the gas cell orally by channeling air blown into the mouth piece into the gas cell. Mouth piece 220 includes a valve mechanism which allows the user to release gas from the cell by pushing a button. Various other conventionally known means for selectively inflating and deflating the gas cell may be provided in apparel unit 120.

Although not shown, apparel unit 100 additionally includes a tank mounting mechanism such as that described in copending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/629,604, entitled Buoyancy Control Device Storage Pockets, filed on Jul. 31, 2000 by Sergio A. Angelini, the full disclosure which, in its entirety, is hereby incorporated by reference.

In an exemplary embodiment, apparel unit 120 is in form of a vest including a back panel 260, a right shoulder strap 280, a left shoulder strap 300, a right front panel 320 and a left front panel 340. Back panel 260 is a panel that covers the diver's back when buoyancy control device 100 is worn by the diver. Back panel 260 is connected to right and left shoulder straps 280 and 300 and right and left from panels 320, 340.

In alternative embodiments, buoyancy control for apparel unit 120 may be in the form of a belt or a pull-over rather than a vest. Instead of having a right and left panel, apparel unit 120 may have one front panel that is attached to each side of back panel 260 and covers the area of the divers body that both right front panel 320 and left panel 340 are shown covering in FIG. 6. In such a one front panel configuration, apparel unit 100 is pulled down over the diver's head. In another embodiment, apparel unit 120 includes only a single right or left panel. In such an embodiment, rather than having a front panel extend from each side of the back panel 260 and terminate near the center of the divers torso, and show in FIG. 6, the single right or left panel extends from one side of back panel 260 and terminates on the other side of back panel 260. In yet another alternative embodiment, apparel unit 120 includes a right and left front panel, but the right and left front panel do not necessarily terminate near the center or midsagital plane of the body of the diver. As will now be appreciated, apparel unit 100 may have a variety of different configurations enabling buoyancy control of device 120 to be worn by the diver.

Weighting systems 140 are integrated into apparel unit 120 and enable the user or diver to compensate for excess positive buoyancy (given by wetsuit/drysuit and/or natural body composition) prior to a dive by adding a proper amount of weights. They also allow quick release in case of an emergency. Weighting systems 140 are disposed on each of right panel 320 and left front panel 340 and are substantially identical to one another. For ease of discussion, weighting system 140 on front panel 320 is discussed. Weighting system 140 generally includes pocket 380, weight pouch 400 and retaining system 420. Pocket 380 extends along front panel 320 and defines an interior 440 sized to receive weight pouch 400 and an opening 460 through which weight pouch 400 is inserted into interior 440. In the exemplary embodiment, interior 440 and opening 460 are oriented in a downward direction when device 100 is being worn by the diver. As a result, weight pouch 400 and weight 540 within weight pouch 400 can be removed from interior 440 and released.

As shown by FIG. 7, pocket 380 is preferably formed by panels 480 and 500 which are sewn together to define interior 440 and opening 460.

Weight pouch 400 contains a removable weight 540 and is sized to be removably positioned within interior 440 of pocket 380. In the exemplary embodiment, weight pouch 400 includes a pair of flaps 580, 600 which are releasably secured to one another to close an opening (not shown) through which weights are positioned in weight pouch 400. As will be appreciated, weight pouch may have any of a variety of alternative size, shapes and configurations, as well as closing mechanisms, so long as weight pouch 400 is removably positioned within interior 440 of pocket 380.

Retaining system 420 releasably retains weight pouch 400 and its weight 540 within interior 440 of pocket 380. Retaining system 420 generally includes connector 10, a strap 68, and a strap 70. As described above, connector 10 includes first connector portion 20 and second connector portion 40. According to an exemplary embodiment, strap 68 is coupled to first connector portion 20 and strap 70 is coupled to second connector portion 40. According to a preferred embodiment, strap 68 couples first connector portion 20 to apparel unit 120 while strap 70 couples second connector portion 40 to weight pouch 400. Connector portions 20 and 40 are configured to be releasably connected to one another so as to releasably secure weight pouch 40 to apparel unit 12. As mentioned above, the engagement of connector portions 20 and 40 form a mechanical lock which is actuatable between a connected state and a disconnected state by a single manipulation step whereby connector portions 20 and 40 may be disconnected without requiring that the hand of the user be repositioned multiple times to perform multiple manipulations.

Because connector portions 20 and 40 form a mechanical lock releasable securing weight pouch 400 to apparel unit 120, weight pouch 400 is better retained within pocket 380 since the mechanical lock provided by connector portions 20 and 40 is more durable and wear resistant than conventionally used hook and loop fastener arrangements. At the same time, because connector portions 20 and 40 provide a mechanical lock that is actuatable from the connected state to the disconnected state through a single manipulation step (described above), weight pouch 400 and its weight 540 may be more easily uncoupled or disconnected from apparel unit 120 and released to adjust the buoyancy of the diver. This is especially important in emergency situations.

FIGS. 2 and 8-11 illustrate another embodiment of a connector 210 including a first connector portion 212 and a second connector portion 214. In this embodiment, the biasing member 216 is better illustrated for example in FIG. 2 where it shows a bent and loaded piece of spring sheet steel 218 arranged between handle portions 222, 224 of the second connector portion 214. As also illustrated in FIG. 2, straps 226 and 228 can be operatively connected to the first and second connector portions 212, 214 respectively. In this embodiment, the handle portions 222, 228 may be pushed together simply by one's fingers as shown for example in FIG. 9-11 illustrating how the respective first and second connector portions 212, 214 are unlocked and decoupled. Similar to the first embodiment, this embodiment also allows the second connector portion to be disengaged from the first connector portion by a squeezing and pulling motion of the handle portions by a user.

FIGS. 12-14 illustrates yet a third embodiment of the present invention similar in operation to the first and second embodiments. FIGS. 12-14 depict a connector 252 which includes first and second connector portions 254, 256. This connector 252 may be incorporated into a weighting and jacketing system similar to the previous embodiments or otherwise used in association with a weight-release system with diving apparel such as vest, belts and the like in a number of different manners using buckles. In this embodiment, the second connector portion 252 provides for a female connector while the first connector portion 254 provides for a male connector. This is seen for example in FIGS. 13 and 14, thus illustrating that the invention is broad enough and encompasses different mating interfaces and that the male and female portions can be arranged on either the first or second connector portion.

In this embodiment, the second connector portion 252 includes a base member and 262 and a locking member 264 which are pivotably connected by way of pivot pin 266. The locking member 264 and the base member 262 each define handle portions 272 and 274, respectively. Similar to previous embodiments, the locking member 264 is pivoted relative to the base member 262 to release detents 276 (see FIG. 14) from slots 278 formed into the projecting insert 282 from the first connector portion 254. The projecting insert 282 is adapted to be received within a formed recess 284 which is defined by the base member 262. In this embodiment, the base member defines one or more channels 286 which slidably receive one or more corresponding flanges or guide rails 288. Also shown in this embodiment is a spring 292 which is adapted to have one end retained on the inside surface of the base member 262 and another end which engages the concave underside surface of the handle 272 of the locking member 264.

It is also important to note that the construction and arrangement of the elements of the connector 10 as shown in the preferred and other exemplary embodiments are illustrative only. Although only a few embodiments of the present invention have been described in detail in this disclosure, those skilled in the art who review this disclosure will readily appreciate that many modifications are possible (e.g., variations in sizes, dimensions, structures, shapes and proportions of the various elements, values of parameters, mounting arrangements, materials, colors, orientations, etc.) without materially departing from the novel teachings and advantages of the subject matter recited in the claims. Accordingly, all such modifications are intended to be included within the scope of the present invention as defined in the appended claims. The order or sequence of any process or method steps may be varied or re-sequenced according to alternative embodiments. In the claims, any means-plus-function clause is intended to cover the structures described herein as performing the recited function and not only structural equivalents but also equivalent structures. Other substitutions, modifications, changes and/or omissions may be made in the design, operating conditions and arrangement of the preferred and other exemplary embodiments without departing from the spirit of the present invention as expressed in the appended claims.

All references, including publications, patent applications, and patents cited herein are hereby incorporated by reference to the same extent as if each reference were individually and specifically indicated to be incorporated by reference and were set forth in its entirely herein.

The use of the terms “a” and “an” and “the” and similar referents in the context of describing the invention (especially in the context of the following claims) is to be construed to cover both the singular and the plural, unless otherwise indicated herein or clearly contradicted by context. The terms “comprising,” “having,” “including,” and “containing” are to be construed as open-ended terms (i.e., meaning “including, but not limited to,”) unless otherwise noted. Recitation of ranges of values herein are merely intended to serve as a shorthand method of referring individually to each separate value falling within the range, unless otherwise indicated herein, and each separate value is incorporated into the specification as if it were individually recited herein. All methods described herein can be performed in any suitable order unless otherwise indicated herein or otherwise clearly contradicted by context. The use of any and all examples, or exemplary language (e.g., “such as”) provided herein, is intended merely to better illuminate the invention and does not pose a limitation on the scope of the invention unless otherwise claimed. No language in the specification should be construed as indicating any non-claimed element as essential to the practice of the invention.

Preferred embodiments of this invention are described herein, including the best mode known to the inventors for carrying out the invention. Variations of those preferred embodiments may become apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art upon reading the foregoing description. The inventors expect skilled artisans to employ such variations as appropriate, and the inventors intend for the invention to be practiced otherwise than as specifically described herein. Accordingly, this invention includes all modifications and equivalents of the subject matter recited in the claims appended hereto as permitted by applicable law. Moreover, any combination of the above-described elements in all possible variations thereof is encompassed by the invention unless otherwise indicated herein or otherwise clearly contradicted by context.