Buoyancy 101: Do I need some help?

By Gary Ward

After Sidemount, my favourite course to teach is related to neutral buoyancy and buoyancy control.  Why?  In my opinion and experience divers gain the most value for money from is learning better control of their buoyancy through a one day Advanced Buoyancy class than any other training, gadget or piece of equipment available on the market.  I say this because the key benefits of improved buoyancy control are better protection of the marine environment (in case I want to come back and see it again), less physically draining diving and lower ‘Surface Air Consumption (SAC) rates.  In simple terms you would probably dive easier and longer for the same money spent on air!

I am constantly reminded when diving of how other divers perceive the concept of trim and neutral buoyancy.  Experienced divers I see kicking around or (even worse) lying on the reef as they try to get their next underwater masterpiece, they have the concepts in their head but perhaps are unsure about the execution.  Only last month when I was running a small AB class (I call it the ‘Art of Buoyancy’ class), I asked the three students over coffee at the start of the day how they would rate their control underwater.  All of them believed they were above average or fairly good.  The woman who needed to dive with gloves knew that it was “important to keep off the reef” as she pushes the Gorgonian out of the way with a neoprene covered paw.  The gentleman who was completing the course with his daughter claimed he was “very comfortable with keeping off the bottom” as he created a silt storm behind him.  The good thing is that these three individuals recognized improving their buoyancy control would improve their diving experience.

The vast majority of divers, like my three students, understand the importance of buoyancy control.  Many have not developed the appreciation or have had the opportunity to see or experience buoyancy control concepts in the real world and have not been able to adapt these into their own diving style.  So how do you know if you need some help on buoyancy?  I’ve listed below a few typical symptoms an signs that your control underwater may not be where you want it and that you may want to think about contacting your local PADI dive center for a AB course:

  1. Scuffed Fins:  Check out the end of your fins.  Do they look like they’ve been chewed by the cat for a month?  Fins can take a small amount of abuse getting onto or off of the dive boats, but on the whole the fin tips should be fairly even and a recognisable shape.  If yours are battered and worn, they have probably come in contact with the reef on a number of occasions.
  2. High SAC rate: If you had a SAC rate of more than 1 bar per minute (15 psi per minute) and you are usually the first to call ‘low air’ on a dive, and have maybe been referred to as an ‘air hog’ (see link here to calculate your SAC rate: http://divenerd.com/sac-rmv/metric.html).
  3. Single Kick Style: What is you kick style? Do you only use a flutter kick (up and down movement) and do you struggle with any other style of kick
  4. Hips Down: In candid pictures of your diving from your buddies, do you have are your hips predominately lower than your torso?  Get the friends to take some video too and see how you look.  Is this how you think you look in the water?
  5. Handy Man: Do you have a tendency to use your hands for either propulsion or control in the water? We call it sculling, and apart from turning in really tight spaces (usually created by students wanting to see what I am looking at and giving me no room to get out of their way!) it is a really ineffective way of moving in the water – measure your hand size against a fin and take a guess which would give you better propulsion if you could control it?

Anyone of these symptoms could suggest that you need to be more aware of your position in the water and your diving style.  If your head is bouncing like a nodding dog, then you should come and check me out.  Through your Open Water course you’re taught the basic principles of buoyancy control, and many instructors have a different view of the ‘mastery’ requirement.  With something like the ‘Art of Buoyancy’ course we’re going to give you the skills to become a master.  If you were to take a class like this, your diving would improve.  The degree of improvement would depend on how much effort you put in and how much practice you put into each skill, but generally students see marked improvements in their air consumption and are able to enjoy longer dives.  They expend less energy on the dive and therefore are less tired during the ‘Après Dive’ sessions.

When I am looking to teach this course, the principal is to use a lot of the skills that you would have learnt in Open Water and try to conduct them in mid-water.  This is a principal I was taught when I learned how to dive Sidemount with Fernando Cañada.  We would be looking at things like:  In confined water conditions can you complete the following skills and still maintain your position?

  1. Blind hover – Get yourself into a hover in about 2m of water.  Close your eyes and hold your position for 20, 30 and 60 seconds.
  2. Mask remove and replace – Get yourself into a hover in about 2m of water.  Remove your mask and hold it off for about 5 breaths before replacing it
  3. BCD remove and replace – Get yourself into a hover in about 2m of water.  Remove your BCD fully and put it back on again.

If you would like to find out more about improving your buoyancy or completing the ‘Art of Buoyancy’ program or learning to dive in the amazing Caribbean Sea off Carriacou, check out www.deeferdiving.com for details