Do you see that tiny shrimp here? No… Come closer then! And now? Not yet, come closer, closer… Next thing you know you end up crushing the reef and the poor shrimp you were trying to look at! Why is that? Because you haven’t understood yet the most important skill as a scuba diver… Buoyancy control!
What is buoyancy control and why do we need to master it the best we can?
Buoyancy control is what enables you to hover completely motionless above the seafloor or in the water column. It is a perfect balance between the forces that pull you up and the ones that bring you down. That awesome feeling of weightlessness, like you are flying above the reef… As a diver, you need to master it properly and here are a few reasons why:
- It keeps you safe and keeps the marine critters safe from you! Poor buoyancy control often damages corals and marine life destroying the reason we dive for. It can also lead to cuts, stings or puncture wounds as you crash over corals or venomous fish.
- Good buoyancy improve your skills as a diver and a buddy! You become a safer diver as you control your movements, your ascent and your descent speed. Your air consumption improve as you stay motionless and swim less. You are more comfortable, less tired, more confident, in control and can enjoy longer dives.
- Buoyancy affects underwater visibility! You don’t believe me… Try to follow a diver with poor buoyancy control. His fins sink, his equipment drags along the bottom lifting up sediment and silt… And there you are! You just missed the shark that was in front of him!
- And finally, when your buoyancy is mastered you increase your happy diving memories. You finally see that shrimp closer. Your picture of it is not blurry or out of frame as you control your position. You can also pose with your friends and buddies underwater as you don’t sink or float too much or end up the one being in an awkward position (do you recognize yourself…?)!
All of this is achieved thanks to buoyancy control so here are a few tips for you to master it!
TIP 1: REMEMBER YOUR BASIC OPEN WATER SKILLS!
There are two major buoyancy skills that the Instructor teach you as an Open Water Diver. They are HOVER and FIN PIVOT also called NEUTRAL BUOYANCY. What do those skills teach you? They teach you that with the correct amount of air into your BCD, when you are neutrally buoyant, you should be immobile as you breathe in and out normally. You should rise gently as you deeply inhale and should sink slowly as you deeply exhale. This means that your BCD helps you to control major changes in buoyancy during the dive. It means also you can use your lungs to tune your position by modifying how deeply and much you fill them up.
So try it! While diving, take a reference on the reef, a coral or the clown anemonefish you want to take in picture. Put that reference at your eye level, cross your legs and your arms, inhale then exhale normally. You are sinking? That’s because you haven’t adjusted your buoyancy as you were going deeper! Add a bit of air in your BCD and try again…better? Now repeat that process during the dive as you change depth and your tank empty with time.
The Divemaster is showing you a cool nudibranch a meter below you…no need to deflate your BCD or kick your way down. Just try exhaling deeply for a longer time, you will just sink peacefully. When you get there, no need to move your arms too much to avoid crushing the nudibranch and lifting up all the sand around it. Just inhale slightly more deeply than usual to stabilize yourself or back off.
TIP 2: DON’T DIVE OVERWEIGHTED.
Sure there are dives where being slightly overweighted can be useful. When you bring an underwater camera, you haven’t dived for a while or there are strong currents underwater, maybe an extra half kilo can help. But as a general rule, you have to dive properly weighted. You also need to adjust your weights with the equipment you use. For this again, go back to your Open Water Diver training with a skill called buoyancy check. At the surface with a tank close to 50 bars, you should float at eye level with a fully deflated BCD while holding a normal breath. Exhale and you sink slowly.
Diving overweigthed requires you to adjust for those extra weights you are carrying by adding extra air into your BCD. This extra air keeps changing volume as you go up and down. You need therefore to adjust more often your buoyancy or compensate by holding your breath or breathing faster than you should. Each extra weight you are carrying will cost you 10 or 20 bars higher consumption during your dive.
TIP 3: RELAX AND LIMIT MOVEMENTS.
The more you move, the more you breathe, the more your buoyancy will be disturbed so try to relax!
Take normal, slow breaths, avoid sculling, kicking quickly and fidgeting. Diving is all about hydrodynamic and how we should try our best to look and move like fish. So keep those arms around your body or hands joined together in front of you. Make slow ample kicks and allow time for your body to glide through the water before kicking again. Try to get rid of all those parasitic movements beginner divers tend to have. It will greatly help your buoyancy control especially in shallow waters or at the safety stop. Realize that sometimes just shifting your shoulders forward and breathing out allow you to go from a vertical to a horizontal position. You don’t need to duck dive and heavily kick for that, it will just disrupt your buoyancy even more.
Relax and enjoy the show! You will see the slower you move, the more gentle you are, the more fish you will see! Fish feel movements and vibration underwater so the more agitated you are, the more they will run away from you…
TIP 4: CHOOSE YOUR DIVING EQUIPMENT WELL.
Everybody is different, and we notice it easily underwater…Some of us float, some of us sink! According to your gender, your age, your level of fitness or even your country of origin, your body composition, density and centre of gravity will affect your position, your trim and therefore your buoyancy while diving. Your trim is how your body is positioned underwater while you are neutral and still. To obtain efficient motion and perfect buoyancy underwater, you need to be as horizontal as possible so when you kick you move forward and not upward.
So take a minute underwater in shallow depth, while properly weighted and neutrally buoyant, to relax and see how your body reacts in the water. You may have heavy legs and notice they sink. Then try to use fins that are neutrally or positively buoyant, buy 5mm booties to compensate or move some of your weights slightly higher along your body. As you dive more and more with your own equipment, you will adjust to it eventually but there is no need to make it harder for you from the start.
So how to get your buoyancy under control?
Now we know it is not easy to put all of that together, but try to be patient and practice it. Be more aware of your body and how it reacts in the water. Even ask friends to video you while diving! It might help you to understand what needs to be improved.
Make sure you master your buoyancy before trying to bring camera during your dives. Cameras may heavily modify your buoyancy (camera housings may float or sink if you don’t adjust them). They will also surely disrupt your breathing control (yes, people do hold their breath when they take pictures!). So we strongly advise you to get your buoyancy under control before adding an extra parameter to control!
And if you are still confused about it, then think about getting the help of a PADI Instructor. Follow the PADI Advanced Open Water and choose the Peak Performance Buoyancy as an Adventure Dive. You can also sign up for the Peak Performance Buoyancy and learn new skills to help you master it.