The Art of Diving – Buoyancy Control

by David Miner

Diving is as much a sport as skiing, golf, or running. It’s not routinely considered an “athletic” sport, but it is a sport nonetheless. Participating in any type of sporting event is not automatic; it’s not as easy as just purchasing the equipment you need, paying some participation fees, and off you go. Playing and participating in sports requires training, learning, and practicing. Scuba diving is no exception.

Swimming in a horizontal position just above the reef requires good buoyancy control

Before you can go diving, you must take a basic open water certification course, which teaches you the basic things you need to know and do to safely dive to the limitations of the course. During the course, you learn and practice skills over and over and then are tested to make sure you know what you’re doing. Once you successfully pass the course, you get your certification card and off you go. At that point, you’re a certified diver, but are you a skilled and learned diver…probably not very likely. To be good at diving, just like any other sport, requires practice and more practice. A certification card does not mean you’re a pro, it just means that you’ve adequately passed the required skills to be a beginning diver. Think of it this way, would you consider yourself a great golfer after only taking lessons for a couple of weeks…probably not.

One of the skills you learn in basic training is buoyancy control throughout the dive. You also learn how pressure affects your buoyancy control. But, you probably only “practiced” good buoyancy control in a pool session or two and in your checkout dives, which only amounted to a few times. How can you really be good at something you’ve only practiced a few times?

Good buoyancy control is “the art of diving.” Being able to move up and down in the water column, being able to glide inches over a reef without touching, kicking, or crashing into it, and being able to use your BC and inhalations and exhalations to control your buoyancy is something that requires practice…sometimes lots of it. If you want to move through the water comfortably, stay relaxed and calm, and be in control of your dive, throughout the dive, good buoyancy control is essential. And the only way to be good at it is to practice it over and over..

Good buoyancy Control

Coming to a stop to look at something on a
reef requires good buoyancy control. You don’t
want to sink to the bottom or float towards the
surface when you stop swimming. You also don’t
want to have to hold onto the reef.

Good buoyancy control in a diver is evident and easily recognizable. Divers who are in control of their buoyancy can easily peer under a ledge without touching or grabbing the reef, can easily float at their safety stop (not drifting up and down) without having to hold onto the anchor or down line, and can swim comfortably along the bottom, stopping to look at things without fighting to stay down or sinking to the bottom. Good buoyancy control keeps “you” in control of your dive, improves your breathing rate (your tank lasts longer) because you’re not fighting to stay down or off the bottom, and allows you to relax and enjoy your dive safely and effectively. If you want to be a good diver and be recognized as a good diver, you have to be in control of your buoyancy throughout all aspects of your dive.

If you’re a new diver or are struggling with your buoyancy, take time to practice it. Go to a controlled environment, use your standard dive gear, and work on the control of your buoyancy. Observe how your inhalations and exhalations control your buoyancy at different depths. Practice adding and removing air form your BC at different depths to maintain your buoyancy at those depths. Don’t hold down the inflator adding a ton of air to your BC; add air with short bursts on the inflator and see how just a small amount of air can change your buoyancy. Over a sandy bottom, dump all of the air in your BC so that you’re kneeling on the bottom, then slowly add air to your BC until you drift slightly off the bottom. Then, swim in a horizontal position across the bottom trying to stay at the same depth…observe and feel how your breathing affects your position in the water while swimming. Practice doing your safety stops at 15 feet, while “staying” at 15 feet with kicking or fighting to stay there. Add or remove air from your BC so that you can comfortably float and do your safety stop without holding onto anything.

Observing how your buoyancy control is affected by breathing, depth, adding or removing air from your BC, the amount of air you add or remove from your BC, the type of exposure suit you’re wearing, and how much weight is on your weight belt is the key to knowing “how” to control your buoyancy throughout a dive. Once you know how many different things can affect your buoyancy, you can then learn how to control it effectively.

One of the big things with divers is how much weight they wear on their weight belt. Most divers are over weighted and must fight to compensate the extra weight. Many times they don’t use their BCs correctly to compensate for the weight and then must fight to stay off the bottom or to keep from sinking when they stop to look at something. Play around with your weighting. Try using less and then add in small amounts until you get it right. You’ll probably be surprised just how much less weight you really need for a dive.

The key to having excellent buoyancy control no matter where you’re diving or what you’re diving is practice and more practice. The more you dive, the better you’re going to get at it. If you want to look like a pro diver, then learn and be able to effectively control your buoyancy throughout an entire dive. Mastering your buoyancy control will make you a much better diver, safer diver, and allow you to enjoy your diving in new ways, so get out there and practice and master the art of diving.