How to improve your buoyancy - finding the perfect balance
At the end of their PADI Open Water course, most people do not have full control of their buoyancy. As you dive more it tends to improve but you might still find your self wondering how that photographer manages to get within inches of his fishy subjects, stay totally motionless as he takes the picture and then back away, almost as if by magic. Or how your Divemaster can point at something and wait for you to get closer while staying perfectly still as he/she is waiting for you.
There are three main ‘magic’ keys to buoyancy control. These are your breath, your weighting and your positioning. If you get these three right, you’ll master it.
Remember your breath is your number #1 buoyancy control device. Always think breath first - BCD after if needed, which means that in most cases you do not need to use the BCD. You should only be touching it in the case of big depth changes. Your lungs are enough. Key moments to use your breath are descent (big breaths out, small breaths in) hover (equal breaths in and out), moving up and away (big breaths in, small breaths out), ascent (use breath as well as your BCD to help regulate your ascent rate- big breath out if ascent rate accelerates). If you watch experienced divers you’ll notice they only rarely touch their BCD. Do the same and you’ll see huge improvements, you’ll also be amazed by how much you control with your lungs. Each dive is an opportunity to practice so have fun and play around.
Of course, your lungs won’t work that well if you are not properly weighted. Take the time to do a proper weight check. You should be floating at eye level with an empty BCD whilst holding a normal breath at the end of the dive. When you exhale the air in your lungs you sink. I say to do this at the end of the dive because the air in the tank has a weight that you need to account for. Your tank will be lighter at the end of the dive than at the beginning and you need to be able to hold your safety stop comfortably. You can also do a weight check during your safety stop. Put your smallest weigh in a place where you can easy access it (a pocket or clipped to you) and pass it to your buddy during the safety stop, check if you can still hang there comfortable with a nearly empty tank (around 50-60 bar). Remember your wetsuit also affects your weighting and a new wetsuit is super buoyant but will become less so with time. You may want to write down your ‘perfect weight’ in your dive log and readjust it if needed as your wetsuit gets compressed. If you are not using your own gear, be sure to write down the thickness and type of wetsuit so you can estimate the needed weight more precisely on your next diving excursion.
Make sure you are in a nice horizontal position when you dive, if it feels like your bum is always lower than your torso, you may be over weighted or your weights might just be badly positioned. Look into finding a way to place them in a more comfortable position on your body. This might mean using integrated weight pockets or putting a couple of smaller weights in your BCD pockets if you are using dive centre gear. Your back will thank you for it too.
When you let air escape from your BCD, make sure you are in a completely vertical position with the valve connecting to the inflator directly under your extended arm, so the air has a nice strait passage to the surface. Some divers also press their BCD to make sure all the air is out or rock a little to help trapped air find its way out.
Fun ways to practice
Every dive should be an opportunity to play around with your buoyancy, you’ll do it anyway during the dive but why not do it consciously? For instance when you get in close to look at a little shrimp/fish/cool critter practice doing it, in as much as possible, only with your lungs ( breath out : get closer, breath in: go back up and away).
You can also take a few minutes out at the beginning of the dive (or at the end as you get more proficient) to practice and play. For example, try and stabilise at a certain depth just with your breath.
Have an additional 1 or two weights in your pockets and practice passing them to your buddy whilst hovering then regaining your stability as fast as possible.
You’ll also find that most of these skills and many more fun and challenging ones are part of the Peak Performance Buoyancy adventure dive of the PADI Advanced course. Don’t hesitate to take it, most people find it not only very entertaining but also very useful. You can also choose the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy specialty, during which you will review all these concepts and have a lot of fun playing around with your buoyancy underwater.
You’ll be chuffed when you get that feeling of perfect balance, like being suspended by invisible threads, you’ll truly feel the zen master moment as you hover perfectly still in midwater. In the meantime, have fun practicing and happy bubbles!