All About Buoyancy Control
When you first became a certified diver, your instructor probably put a whole lot of focus on achieving neutral buoyancy during your skills practice. These are among the more difficult skills for new divers, and instructors want you to perfect them for a good reason!
Your buoyancy skills are without a doubt the most important to you as a diver. They allow you to become a part of the underwater world while also showing respect for its natural inhabitants. These skills also allow you to explore new and more adventurous environments such as caves and shipwrecks. And, they even help you improve on your air consumption!
Especially for reef divers, neutral buoyancy is mandatory during every dive. While some corals such as staghorn grow very quickly, up to 20 centimeters or 8 inches per year, others grow very slowly. Most hard coral species grow less than one inch per year. Contact with these fragile and beautiful organisms can not only destroy hundreds of years of growth, but it can also harm divers! Most species are quite sharp, and some fire corals are actually made up of colonies of stinging hydroids.
Many divers begin to take on more technical challenges as they become more experienced. A popular choice is to begin exploring "overhead environments" such as caverns, caves, ice, wrecks, and even submerged cities! Because these enclosed spaces require divers to navigate in close quarters, neutral buoyancy is critical! Also, these environments often present challenging conditions and hazards such as darkness, low visibility, and silty bottoms. Such situations demand a heightened control of your buoyancy for safety reasons.
So, how can you self-check for good buoyancy control?
There are a number of factors at play contributing to your buoyancy:
The first step, of course, is to be properly weighted!
When was the last time you did a buoyancy check on the surface? If it's been a while, try one on your next dive. You might be surprised with the results. If you don't remember how to check yourself for proper weighting, ask a professional dive leader or instructor for help.
While it is a good first step, wearing the right amount of weight is not the only thing you should check for. Be sure that your weights are appropriately located for comfort and good trim in the water. Your weights should be high enough on the body that they do not drag your legs down, and evenly distributed. You should not feel yourself rolling to one side or the other, or onto your back while diving.
If you are properly weighted and trimmed, it's time to focus on your breath control.
Many divers like to use visualization techniques to improve on this skill. For example, you can imagine that your lungs are a balloon. When you breathe, you want to slowly fill and empty that balloon. Remember, you have to find your own personal rhythm in your breathing to remain neutrally buoyant.
The most important factors are that you breathe slowly and deeply, and that you are conscious at all times of your changes in buoyancy as you continue to breathe. Safety stops are a great time to practice your "hovering" skills. You can also take a few moments to practice over any non sensitive bottom, sand for example.
Use your BCD only when you need to.
As you descend and ascend, you will need to adjust the air in your BCD, but try not to use it throughout your entire dive! Once you have found neutral buoyancy, focus on using your breath control to make minor adjustments in depth. Remember, your lungs hold a large volume of air. The BCD is intended to supplement but not replace the use of your lungs to change depth.
Now, focus on form!
While diving, you should remain in a horizontal position with your feet slightly elevated. Be sure that you are not dropping your legs or kneeling frequently, and practice some of your skills while you are neutrally buoyant and swimming in midwater.
The ability to maintain your buoyancy while performing other skills such as a mask flood or weight replacement mid water will reduce your efforts in having to stop to solve a problem. If these issues arise over a sensitive bottom, you may not have the option to touch down! It also ensures that should your buddy have any trouble, you will be able to assist while maintaining appropriate neutral buoyancy!
For a finishing touch, make sure that all of your equipment is properly streamlined, and bring your arms in!
Swimming with your hands is a bad habit, and can negatively impact your buoyancy. A good way to keep from using your hands is to hold them together out in front of you, or to keep them by your sides.
Most dive organizations offer a specialty course focused on buoyancy. This type of certification is an outstanding idea for any diver. As your skills continue to improve, your opportunities to dive in new and more challenging environments will too!
@ This article above is written by Jessica Merrill (PADI Instructor #351781), please give respect to her copyright!
This article is not allowed to be reproduced or distributed without written permission of Jessica Merrill.