One of the major tricks to being a calm and effortless diver is to master your buoyancy. Get this key skill right and even if you’re not the most experienced diver, you’ll certainly look the part and will find yourself enjoying your dives much more. If you don’t have a good handle on your buoyancy your entire experience can be ruined – even the simplest of things can be made more difficult, you may find that you’re tiring yourself out much more than is necessary and some of the things that you might want to do underwater will be completely impossible.
Sure, we all had buoyancy training as part of our scuba course – there were hover drills and fin pivots to try – but truly mastering your buoyancy takes hours and hours of practice which, luckily for us keen underwater dwellers, means lots and lots of diving. It’s extremely rare to completely master this skill in a short diving course, so don’t lose hope if you haven’t got it all quite figured out just yet.
Practice Makes Perfect
There are two ways in which you can dramatically improve your buoyancy: deliberate practice and immersion.
Buoyancy Training: Immersion
Immersion is similar to moving to a foreign country to pick up the language – you put yourself in a situation when you have no choice but to make attempts at improving. Immersion in scuba diving means, quite literally, to jump in and learn it by doing it. Putting yourself in a diving situation that demands good buoyancy control (wall dives or underwater photography sites, for example) helps your skills to develop at a rapid rate. Although usually quite effective, the immersion technique holds the risk of you picking up some unwanted bad habits while attempting to just get on with it. In these cases divers might unwittingly use the easy way out such as making use of propulsion instead of buoyancy control to maintain a consistent depth. Divers might also carry more weights on them than is necessary in order to weigh them down. You might not completely perfect your buoyancy using this immersion technique, but it’s certainly the quickest way to improve all-round. The more you immerse yourself in these situations, the better you’ll become.
Buoyancy Training: Practice
The other way to improve your buoyancy is to deliberately practice until you get it right. Starting off with the most basic of skills which you are likely to have been introduced to on your initial diving course, it’s unlikely that you’ll pick up bad habits when you’re using these as your base for further improvement. It’s important that you (or your dive instructor if you’re having them help you) constantly monitor your movements and correct yourself to obtain the perfect buoyancy. There are buoyancy specialty courses available which focus on increasing your skill knowledge and although there won’t be too much time for practicing on these courses, you can take the ideas away with you and continue to practice on your own.
Putting it all Together
Many divers will think of their BCD as the only element to their buoyancy control, after all it is known as a Buoyancy Control Device, however there is far more to it than that. Controlling your buoyancy means controlling a number of elements which we call our buoyancy system. This includes not only your BCD but your lungs, weights, exposure protection, tank and of course any other items you may be carrying that will impact your weight. If you add a second layer of protection, you’re positively adding to your buoyancy and likewise if you’re carrying a very heavy piece of equipment such as an underwater camera with external flash or even a heavy flashlight, you’ll need to take this into account. Even a very deep breath in will have an impact on your buoyancy which is why getting a grip on this skill can be difficult – there are a variety of elements to consider.
Stop Moving and Take Notice
The best way to take notice of your buoyancy control is to stop swimming and to try and keep the same depth and position in the water. As simple as it may sound, many people make use of propulsion to remain at the same depth and so when the propulsion ends, divers tend to sink lower or float upwards. You might also find that once you stop swimming your body tends to pitch backwards, forwards or even roll to the side. Trying to stop in a number of different positions can also help you to adjust quickly – try stopping vertically, horizontally, in a seated position and any others you can think of.
Make Adjustments Where Necessary
As with the above, there are ways to combat these involuntary movements such as floating upwards, sinking downwards or rolling onto your side. If you immediately sink when you stop swimming, it might mean that you need to increase the air in your BCD, or that you need to carry fewer weights the next time you dive. If you find yourself floating upwards, consider increasing your weight. Rolling and pitching in particular can be combatted using trim, which will be covered in another article.
One of the best and most time-effective places to practice is when you’re on your safety stop. Adding this habit to your every dive means that you’re guaranteed to get 3 minutes of buoyancy practice that will go a long way to improving your overall skills. Practicing your hover techniques on a safety stop is a very handy skill and allows you to focus on remaining at one depth for the entire safety stop period. When it is time to resurface, don’t inflate your BCD as you usually would or kick your fins, rather see if you can ascend by simply taking larger than normal breaths. Remember not to hold your breath! This practice will allow you to see just how much impact your breath has on your buoyancy. Remember not to add or remove huge amounts of air at any one time from your BCD – small adjustments are key as buoyancy is all about striking the ideal balance between using your BCD and using your buoyancy skills to make diving an effortless affair. Good luck and happy practicing!