Mastering Buoyancy Control: Tips and Techniques for Effortless Diving
Buoyancy control is the most important skill to master as a scuba diver. It can be difficult to get it right when you are new to diving, but practice makes progress. Once you nailed it, your dives will be longer, more enjoyable and more efficient.
When we go scuba diving, one of the best things is feeling weightless. As soon as we climb back on the boat or walk back onshore, the reality of our heavy equipment soon hits us, so why does this happen?
At first, we often jump straight to gravity. Well, it’s not completely wrong…
Underwater, we experience less force of gravity, depending on what body of water you are diving in (freshwater vs. salt water) and the location. For example, diving in the Red Sea would not be the same as diving in Iceland due to gravity.
However, the feeling of weightlessness, in fact, comes down to buoyancy, not lack of gravity, which is why it is the most important skill to master in scuba diving!
Why is Buoyancy Control Important to Master in Scuba Diving?
Having great buoyancy control as a scuba diver means your dives will be longer, you’ll expend less energy, and you’ll be a better guardian of the marine environment.
Buoyancy is how we, as divers, can move effortlessly underwater. The better our buoyancy, the better our air consumption is, and the less energy we use; therefore, the longer and more enjoyable the dive will be!
With breath control and excellent buoyancy, your air consumption will be better. This means longer bottom times and as already mentioned, longer dives, YAY!
A rule of thumb is to always breathe slowly and evenly to prolong your dive. There is nothing worse than being the first person to run out of air while your dive buddy or group still have half a tank of air left.
If this is something that happens to you, you can always grab a tank and go back into the pool to practice your buoyancy and breathwork skills. Do not feel embarrassed; I even know some experienced divers (including me!) who still like to do this.
As you will obviously be diving in the ocean, mastering your buoyancy is important for marine life. You wouldn’t want anyone kicking you underwater, and sure enough, fish also do not like to be kicked in the face.
Maintaining excellent buoyancy avoids damaging corals and other marine habitats, clumsiness or dragging (& damaging) your scuba equipment on the seafloor.
Buoyancy is important not only for marine life but also for our personal safety as scuba divers. Statistics have found that up to 50% of all scuba diving accidents are from carrying too many weights.
This is usually from poor training in breathing techniques in newly certified divers who have less control over their buoyancy.
This leads me to my next question.
What is a Buoyancy Check?
A buoyancy check involves floating vertically at eye level in the water before descending. If your weight is correct, you should maintain this position with no air in your BCD (buoyancy control device).
Have you ever heard of the “buoyancy check”?
Hopefully, it is something you remember from your open-water training. This is, if you recall, where you had to try to float at eye level before descending into the pool. Often, this skill is rushed and not done correctly, and the importance of it is often underplayed to students.
A buoyancy check should be done to ensure you are correctly weighted for your dive so your buoyancy will be under control. There is nothing more tiring than being overweighted underwater or underweighted that you are constantly duck-diving to stay down…
You should always do a buoyancy check when:
- Diving with new equipment
- Diving with a different wetsuit thickness or a drysuit
- Diving in a different location (different ocean, lake, etc.)
- Different cylinder sizes/types
What is Buoyancy
Buoyancy affects every scuba diver. Often challenging to master at the beginning, it is the most important skill when scuba diving. It requires you to be calm, have a focused mind, and be steady in action underwater.
Luckily for us divers, we have a BCD (buoyancy control device) to help us out a little!
Now, I don’t want to get too technical here, but to understand buoyancy, we do have to talk a bit about density…
Density is “the quantity of mass per unit volume of a substance”, and we calculate it by dividing the mass of the substance by the volume.
There are three types of buoyancy in scuba diving you need to understand:
- Positive buoyancy
- Negative buoyancy
- Neutral buoyancy
Positive buoyancy is when something floats in water, like a piece of wood.
When we are at the surface, we fully inflate our BCD to maintain positive buoyancy so we do not sink with our weights attached to our weight belt or in our integrated weight system. When we add the air into our BCD, we become less dense than the water.
Negative buoyancy is when something sinks in water, much like a stone.
Once we are loaded up with weights, we will sink unless we add air into our BCDs to maintain positive buoyancy. When we remove air from our BCD, we become denser than the water, so we sink.
Neutral buoyancy is when something is equal to the surrounding environment and is what every diver’s aim is during their dive.
We can stabilise neutral buoyancy by adding and removing air in the BCD via the inflator hose. However, as you become more experienced, you will first establish your neutral buoyancy at the depth you start your dive and control most of your upward and downward movement by breath control.
5 Techniques to Control Your Buoyancy
- Correct Weighting
- Trim control
- Breathing control
- Correct BCD use
- Continued Education
Mastering buoyancy can be challenging and often frustrating at times. But with these five techniques, you will master this important skill in no time!
The amount of weighting is one thing that doesn’t change during your dive, but it can often become the biggest problem. Some divers often dive overweighted, making buoyancy more difficult to maintain.
To balance out the weight we carry, as mentioned, we have to add air into our BCD.
As a rule of thumb, when trying to work out how much weight you should carry, start with 10% of your body weight.
If you are worried about being underweight, you can ask the dive guide or instructor to carry extra weight (they usually do anyway). That way, if you do need it, you can grab it, and if you do not, you have the perfect amount of weight for your dive.
As you become more experienced, you will have a rough idea of the amount of weight you will need. If not, remember to do your buoyancy check before you head out – no one wants to miss out on a dive for being underprepared!
Trim is what body position you maintain underwater. You should aim to be horizontal. If you are at a slight upward angle with fins down and kicking, it will make you naturally start to ascend.
You may find you will need to adjust your trim once underwater. Sometimes, your weight belt can twist after entering the water or become loose as it becomes wet.
Maintaining a good trim protects the marine environment and will prevent you from kicking up the sediment, which your buddy will also not appreciate.
The biggest rule in scuba diving is “ALWAYS breathe.“
Lungs are a natural way to control our buoyancy. For example, if there is a coral bommie up ahead, you can deeply inhale and exhale to get over it without reaching for your inflator hose.
If you can’t do it the first time don’t worry, this takes time to master.
You should make your breathing underwater efficient. On land, we breathe like this: inhale, exhale, pause, exhale, exhale, pause. But underwater, try to breathe with this pattern: inhale, pause, exhale, exhale, pause, exhale, and so on.
A BCD allows you to make adjustments to the amount of air inside your jacket. This is how you will maintain neutral buoyancy once you reach your desired diving depth.
A common mistake is adding or removing too much air into the BCD when establishing your buoyancy. Always remember that there is a small delay after adding or releasing air. Wait for a few breaths before adjusting again.
They say practice makes perfect, and they are not wrong when it comes to mastering buoyancy. Every diver is different; some may grasp it straight away (annoying, I know!), while others may take a little longer to master this skill.
PADI offers the “Peak Performance Buoyancy Adventure” dive in the Advanced Open Water course, with most PADI instructors making it a compulsory adventure dive. However, if you are already an advanced scuba diver and did not do it, you can complete the “PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty”.
Over time, as you log more dives, you will understand what adjustments need to be made to maintain perfect buoyancy.
Other Essential Skills You Should Master as a Scuba Diver
Buoyancy is not the only skill every diver should master to become a better diver. Here are some additional skills you should also be able to master in scuba diving!
- Controlled descends
- Hand signals/communication
- Emergency ascents (hopefully, you won’t need to use this one often!)
Don’t Forget Your Dive Insurance!
Before you go out on any dive trip or holiday, it is essential to make sure you have insurance that covers you if something goes wrong. Check out our dive insurance article for more information.
Or go straight to these dive insurance company websites:
Exploring the underwater world is breathtaking, and we should respect it.
Whether you are a beginner or an experienced scuba diver, buoyancy is the most important skill to master in scuba diving, which is why it is taught early on in diving training.
It can be challenging, but trust me, we have all been there, getting frustrated in the pool and ocean while other divers move flawlessly, and we look like we are on a seesaw…
But by now, you should understand the basics of density, how it affects buoyancy, what buoyancy is, and why it is important to master this skill underwater.
By mastering excellent buoyancy, you will be a safer and better scuba diver.
Thanks for reading; we hope to see you again soon!
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Buoyancy Control FAQs
What is neutral buoyancy?
Neutral buoyancy is achieved when an object (or diver) neither sinks (negative buoyancy) or floats on the surface (positive buoyancy) but hangs effortlessly in the water column as if in zero gravity.
What skills help divers improve their buoyancy control?
Correct BCD use