My buddy is an air pig!

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My buddy is an air pig!

How to conserve air when scuba diving

Ever had to cut a dive short because you were running low on air? Do you always seem to have less air than your buddy? Ever missed sighting the elusive Manta Ray, Whale Shark or Mola Mola because you were back on the boat by the time they were spotted? By following a few simple tips, you will be able to get some extra mileage from your tank.

Breathe slowly

Review any training material for entry level dive courses and it will no doubt tell you that you should breath SLOWLY and DEEPLY. In many cases, I believe that  “slowly and deeply” is misinterpreted by divers. The result, countless divers attempting to mimic Darth Vader’s breathing technique. Deep breathing is a sure fire way to suck through your tank in no time and is really not required.

The amount of dead air spaces in our body and in our equipment whilst diving also makes shallow breathing a no go too. So, similar to Goldilocks and her porridge, your breaths in should be not too deep, not too shallow, but just right. I would suggest that taking a “normal” breath in would be appropriate.

Breathing out is where you will get the maximum bang for your buck when it comes to conserving air. I recommend that you should be breathing out, in terms of time, at least four times the amount of time it takes you to breathe in. I have counted my breathing whilst diving and I reckon that I breathe out for on average eight times as long. A slow trickle out of air will ensure that you can breathe out for longer. Counting your breaths in and out (in one, two, out one, two, three, four, and so on) will really help here too. The added benefit is that counting your breathing also helps you to relax, almost into a state of meditation which will also clearly have an impact on your consumption.

For some divers, imagining that every breath that you take in will cost you $10 will also help!

Perfect your buoyancy

We believe buoyancy control is the most important skill to master as a SCUBA diver. The key here is being correctly weighted. Remember to do a buoyancy check at the start of your dive if you’re unsure whether you are correctly weighted. Good buoyancy and being correctly weighted are so important, we’ll be adding separate articles on each subject in the near future.

Streamline yourself

Make sure you have all your consoles and equipment tucked away. Your body position should be horizontal in the water. Remember, no sculling with the arms. Crossing your arms in front of you may help this.

Go slow and go with the flow

Whilst diving is often marketed as an “adventure sport”, watch any experienced diver in the water and they will no doubt look more like your Granny and less like Thorpedo! What I mean here is that they hardly move at all. A simple, yet effective kick, then an effortless glide and float. Generally, the slower you go, the more you will see and the less energy and air you will use, so pace yourself. Go slow.

Don’t chase sealife, fish are after all fish and as a result, much better swimmers than man will ever be! In the words of Jacques Cousteau, “ the best way to observe a fish is to become a fish.” Fish generally don’t full throttle about our oceans and will often be seen hanging motionlessly. Mimic this behaviour and you will guaranteed some close encounters with the wildlife and better air consumption.

Observing fish in a surge translates superbly into great diving techniques. The fish will generally not move, letting the surge momentarily take them backwards before some rapid swimming on the forward surge to fully harness the power of the ocean. Copy this technique rather than constantly moving and battling against the environment and you will be very impressed with the results. Go with the flow.

Diagonal-banded Sweetlips

Watch how Sweetlips gently sway in a current - go with the flow!

Stop moving

Any good sportsman will make their chosen field look easy. Diving should not be difficult and should certainly not look difficult. You should not be constantly swimming, all you are doing is wasting energy and wasting air. Ask yourself why you need to constantly move? Often it is because you are overweighted and need to move to simply stop yourself from sinking. Diving is after all, all down to your breathing. If you breathe as I have recommended I am certain that you should be able to drop weight. I have been in circumstances where I have had to give away all of my weight to students whilst wearing a 7mm wetsuit and still managed to maintain my buoyancy with breathing out appropriately, it can be done.

One of my favourite activities whilst diving is to lie down on the ocean floor and simply observe what is going on. Perhaps a Shrimp Goby having his hole maintained by his friendly Shrimp or maybe a Stingray burrowing down into the sand, there are some wonderful moments to experience out there with nature. So become as one with nature, be still, observe, be amazed and in doing so, you will start to think less about your breathing and save air! Be warned however, if you are too still you may get other divers approaching you thinking that something is seriously wrong with you, this has happened to me on a couple of occasions!

Dive shallower

Remember, the deeper you dive, the more dense your air will be, and therefore, the quicker you will consume your air. So stay shallow for a longer dive time.

Dive more, and more and more

Consciously practice these techniques regularly and you will conserve air. Practice them enough and you will eventually start to use the techniques sub-consciously. That is when you will start to make great leaps and bounds in air consumption.

Finally, there is no compromise for experience. The more hours you spend in the water, the more comfortable you will feel. In turn, feeling comfortable translates to being relaxed and will have a direct impact on your air consumption. Take every opportunity you get to jump in the water. After all, we rarely regret the dives we do, but often regret the ones we didn’t do!

Remember: Breathe slow, go slow, stop moving, dive more! And the next time you go diving, you’ll get an even longer DiveBuzz!

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4 Comments

  1. On dive boats it is common to be rushed into; kitting up, entering the water, snorkelling to the descent point and then descending. I find that this standard routine means that you’ll suddenly find your air pressure dropping from 200 bar to 150 bar in just the first couple of minutes of your dive.

    Likewise, on a shore dive you’ll end up lugging yourself and many kilos of dive gear from the kitting up area, snorkelling to the descent point, and again find your first 50 bar of air disappearing like a morning mist on a summers day at sunrise.

    You can’t really change these circumstances, but there are two important steps to make sure you don’t waste air.

    It may sound repetitive but the first of these is that I still see many people who enter the water with their reg in place and don’t swap to their snorkel whilst they approach the descent point.

    The second is that after swimming (generally against the current or over a long distance) to the descent point, divers generally descend immediately. My advice here is that if you have a bouy, mooring line, or otherwise fixed object that won’t damage you, or be damaged by you. Then hold onto it for several minutes before descending.

    You’ve just exerted yourself by swimming against the current, over a long distance, or maybe both. Take a moment, calm down, relax, regulate your breathing, and then descend. I promise you will see the results immediately.

  2. Good advise, Matt. You should always use your snorkel on the surface where you can. And it is good practice to start a descent in a relaxed and calm manner, and not over exerted.

    However, if it is rough on the surface (a time when you can exert yourself the most) then I would always advise to descend as soon as possible, as it will invariably be alot more pleasant a few metres below the surface. Then, if necessary, you can hang onto the decent line and catch your breath for a few moments before continuing your descent.

  3. Good information. For more and detailed breathing techniques check this site: http://precisiondiving.com/2011/03/18/breathing-for-scuba/

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