How to be a buoyancy master using 4 simple methods
One of the most important and most useful skills in SCUBA diving is neutral buoyancy. It can also be the most difficult to overcome, and often takes dives and dives of practice. However, once you get the hang of it, diving becomes so much more enjoyable.
Mastering neutral buoyancy also comes with a few extra bonuses!
- Air consumpotion goes down
- You can get closer to wildlife
- Focus on what you love about scuba diving
- You can minimize your impact on the marine environment
Oh, the struggle
When becoming neutrally buoyant is a fight the whole dive becomes a challenge. Not only that, but it can become stressful and even cause anxiety. You start to worry about what other divers think of you, you can’t enjoy the little stuff because you’re rolling all over the bottom. People are giving you exasperated looks because you are harming the environment they are trying to enjoy. Nobody wants to feel like this. That’s why it’s important to practice, because no matter how horrible your buoyancy is, you can get better!
The mind is powerful
Very powerful. Studies show that in many sports, visualization techniques aid in improving skills. Whether you want to watch videos of people practicing buoyancy or visualize yourself being a neutral buoyancy master, both can help you achieve your goals.
As you visualize pay attention to things like breathing techniques (watch those bubbles!), body position, and swimming techniques. Each of these will help guide you to improvement and eventually mastery.
Take a minute for yourself
Having patience with yourself and staying calm are the most important steps while tackling neutral buoyancy. So take a long, slow, deep breath and try to relax, especially if you are starting to get frustrated. If you take your time and think critically to figure out what’s going on you can typically sort yourself out. This is especially important as you begin the dive and are setting up your buoyancy.
One if the biggest mistakes I see in scuba is breathing techniques. People just forget to breathe out, or try to take in less air to reduce air consumption. When you took your open water or scuba diver course your instructor should have taught you to just breathe normally. This is true, however there is a breathing method that can help your buoyancy, air consumption, and how relaxed you are in the water.
I like to refer to this method as the zen method (check out the link for other methods to practice breath control). It is quite simple, just breath in slowly and count as you do; I like to count to five. Once you have a nice comfortable breath start to exhale. The key to this technique is in the release if breath, try to let the air out nice and slow. You can count as do so, try to aim for twice as long as your breath in (i.e. breath in for 5 and out for 10). If you can breath out longer that you breathed in that’s even better. These long slow easy breaths should help so stay calm and in control, which will aid you buoyancy tremendously.
Where are your weights?
Have you ever had a dive where you kept rolling to one side, or you just couldn’t get into a horizontal position? Then before you know it you are fighting and you loose control of your buoyancy or are simply just uncomfortable the while dive? Well luckily there’s an easy answer for the problem. Lead distribution. When you are checking over your gear take a look at your weight belt/pockets. Try to make sure that your weights are symmetrical in both amount and positioning. This should stop any tilting or leaning to one side. If you still lean try adding one or two pounds the opposite side. This leaning can be caused by many things including dive accessories or even increased muscle mass on one side of the body.
Next take a look at your trim weights. If you find it difficult to hold a horizontal position try moving about 1/4 of your total weight into the trim pockets on your tank. If you find you are top heavy, and your fins are always to high and you get stuck in a head down position reduce tank trim or add ankle weights. By evening yourself out like this you will find it easier to swim and maintain a steady depth while diving.
Once you have the positioning and balancing of your lead under control try to do buoyancy checks before and after the dive. Diving over weighted can be beneficial until you get better at buoyancy, however being too overweighted can be problematic, tiring, and makes you more prone to floating up and away.
Don’t forget to check
To do a buoyancy check hold a normal breath at the surface with an empty BCD. Remember no cheating! This means no kicking or sculling. You should float just below the surface and sink slowly as you let out air. Staying above the surface means you need more weight and sinking like a rock means you have way too much.
Position, position, position
While in the water you should try your best to stay in a horizontal swimming position. This makes swimming and observing easier and more relaxed. Its also a good idea to keep your arms tucked in. People often don’t realize how much their arms weigh. They can actually throw you off balance just as much as lead will. Try playing with it a bit next time you dive. If for any reason you want or need to be in a vertical position remember to stop kicking! Otherwise you will find yourself swimming for the surface, or if overweighted, kicking up sand and damaging the bottom. In terms of position in the water these are the most important when it comes to buoyancy.
It may seem like a lot…
but it is really just 4 things:
- Body position
It may seem like lots at first but try focusing on one or two things at a time. Once you master one portion add in another. Eventually all of these things will come easily and naturally, you just need to practice!
If you feel as though you would like to improve but want a personal training session ask your local shop about the Peak Performance Buoyancy Course. This course is two dives and generally costs around 160$, not much more than a typical day of diving depending on where you are. As an instructor it is one of my favourite courses to teach as it includes lots of fun and interesting underwater exercises!
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