Buoyancy control is one of the most important skills to master in scuba diving. It means you use less air so can stay underwater for longer, it makes you more confident and stops you damaging the aquatic life or yourself. It also reduces the risk of decompression sickness and other air related traumas such as damaged ear drums and lung over expansion. Good buoyancy is also one of the fundamental methods of being a good underwater photographer.
The best way to improve your buoyancy while diving is to practice and do lots of diving. However there are some tips to help you improve your buoyancy:
1. Make sure you are properly weighted.
Many dive centres and instructors will try and over weight you, simply because they know if you have too many weights then you can get down. Not enough weights and then it means extra faffing on the surface, having to recall the dive boat, put extra weights in your pockets and grumpy customers who get fed up weighting.
Well don’t allow this to happen. Each time you visit a new location or are using new or unfamiliar kit then you should do a proper weight check. Being properly weighted means you only need to add small amounts of air in and out of your BCD and it makes it much easier to control buoyancy using your lungs. As you may recall from your open water course, the volume of air increases and decreases according to the surrounding pressure determined by your depth.
Salt water is also more buoyant then fresh water so you will need to allow for this when planning what weight to wear.
The best way to be shown how to check for proper weighting is to make yourself upright at the surface. Place your mask on your face and put the regulator in your mouth. Then empty all of the air out of your BCD and hold a normal breath. You should float at eye level, so when you breath all of the air out of your lungs then you should start to descend. Remember that your tank will lose weight during the dive as you consume air, so the best time to do the weight check is at the end of the dive. If you are doing it at the beginning of the dive just add an extra 1 or 2kgs to compensate.
If you are using steel tanks as opposed to aluminium ones then you will need to use less weight.
After each dive make a note in your log book what equipment and exposure suit you were wearing and how many kg weights you had on. This should then start to build a picture of what you need if you don’t dive for a while.
2. Use your lungs!
Our lungs can hold a huge volume of air and can act like lift bags when underwater. To go down simply breath out, to go up simply fill your lungs. But do remember the No. 1 rule of diving – NEVER HOLD YOUR BREATH!
If you are a new diver the best place to practice this is in a swimming pool or on your safety stop.
3. Make sure you are horizontal
Many new divers swim in a head up position. Sometimes this is what comes naturally to them but more often then not it is because they are over-weighted or their weights are in the wrong position.
Owning your own BCD can assist you with this. A good BCD will allow you to add trim weights. These are little weights that you can place up your back or towards your shoulders. This then helps to counter balance the larger weights in your weight pockets or on your weight belt. Again the best thing to do here is practice.
4. Relax while you dive
If you are stiff and ridged it generally means that you are breath shallower and faster. Simply fold your arms, relax and take nice slow controlled breaths. Again practice makes perfect.
5. Air adjustment to your BCD
Remember to only add small amounts of air in or out of your BCD. Newer divers in particular tend to over inflate or dump all of the air out of their BCD. Remember it normally takes a few seconds for the air adjustment to have an effect on your buoyancy and that using your lungs is a much more efficient method. If you watch an experienced diver they very rarely use their inflate or deflate button.
Most BCD’s still use a standard deflator hose above the left hand shoulder. Therefore to deflate your BCD make this the highest point of your body and make sure you are upright. Hold the deflator hose above your head to help aid the air escape. If you have an Aqua Lung i3 system such as the Axiom i3 or ladies Soul i3 or similar then these should work in any position and are much easier to use.
6. Keep diving
The best way to become a good diver and stay a good diver is to do lots of dives. You don’t just need to be a holiday diver, there are loads of fantastic dives in the UK including historical wrecks, pretty reefs, basking sharks and the ‘playful puppies of the sea’ seals. Membership of the Oyster Diving Club includes one free pool session per month
7. Do a Buoyancy Control scuba diving course
Oyster Diving offer pool workshops on buoyancy control as well as the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty course which includes 2 open water dives. If you would like to practice your buoyancy under the control and guidance of a PADI instructor then also consider the Advanced Open Water course which can include a peak performance adventure dive but also qualifies you to 30m