At DiveBuzz we are passionate about diving. We are equally passionate about making better divers. After all, better divers are more comfortable in the water, have better buoyancy control and air consumption, are more environmentally aware and more likely to dive and experience the delights of our blue planet. So, whether I am teaching a PADI dive course or guiding certified divers on dives, my passion to make better divers is obvious.
With passion, quite frequently comes frustration. I often get frustrated about divers being overweighted. Buoyancy control is the key skill to master as a SCUBA diver and is achieved via a combination of practice and experience, proper breathing and proper weighting. If a diver is over weighted, which in most instances is the case, proper buoyancy control becomes almost impossible to achieve. My frustration is not at the diver, generally they know no better, it lies in their diver training and specifically, their instructor. So I make no apologies in advance to all those Divemasters and Instructors out there who overweight their divers, it’s time to start teaching people to dive and stop making your life easy!
Just in the last few weeks I have witnessed significant issues with diver weighting. I had an Advanced Open Water student who his previous instructor had weighted him for diving with 24lbs of lead. By the end of the course he was comfortably diving with 12 lbs and looking great. More recently, I had two newly qualified divers who had learnt with 24lbs and 27lbs. Looking at their physique this was clearly too much so I told them to wear 15lbs and 18lbs each and do a buoyancy check at the start of the dive. The new weighting was perfect. Overweighting to such a degree is done to ensure students can kneel on the bottom of the pool or ocean to complete skills such as mask clearing and so on. It makes the instructors life easy if their students are anchored to the bottom. What it fails to do is teach proper buoyancy.
With proper weighting, you need to breathe out to sink, if you are overweighted you do not need to breathe properly, it’s purely gravity in action! Furthermore, diving skills are taught for real life scenarios that may happen in the future. If you ever break a mask strap or run out of air, I can guarantee it will not be when you are kneeling on the ocean floor, so getting practice at such skills whilst being neutrally buoyant is not a bad thing.
How to do a buoyancy check
It is worth checking your buoyancy to see if you can adjust your weighting on a regular basis. Rather than take the word of the Divemaster or Instructor that you may be diving with, check for yourself to avoid overweighting. To check your weight at the surface simply:
- Place your regulator in your mouth and take a normal breath in, not a large one;
- Hold your breath (you can safely do this at the surface) and at the same time dump ALL the air from your BCD;
- The idea is that if you are correctly weighted, you should float at eye level with an empty BCD whilst holding that normal breath;
- Then, breathe out slowly and you should sink slowly, not like a brick to the bottom! In order to do this you need to keep your arms and legs completely still as you’ll never sink whilst sculling and kicking.
Be warned, however, that if you are perfectly weighted at the start of your dive, chances are you’ll be a little light towards the end of your dive. Tanks become more positively buoyant as you consume the compressed air from them. Being light at the end of the dive may make completing your safety stop a challenge so worth adding a little extra weight at the start to compensate for this.
How much weight do I need when diving?
There are a few guides available that will allow you to estimate how much weight you require for diving with differing levels of thermal protection. I’d say that these are merely a guide, in practice the only way of really making sure that your weighting is correct is to do a buoyancy check. I know for a fact that if I dived with what weight these guides estimated for me, I would be completely overweighted.
The first few metres of a descent may be tricky if you are correctly weighted for diving and many divers make the mistake of over weighting themselves so that they can easily get down. Remember to descend you need to stay completely still, relax and breathe out. Think about breathing out for at least 4 times the amount of time you take to sip a breath in and don’t take a big breath in until you are a few metres down. Until your wetsuit compresses you will be more buoyant in those first few metres so keep breathing out. Some divers may find holding onto a descent line and easing themselves down the first few metres is preferable. However, this should not be necessary with practice.
Once you are down, changes to your buoyancy via your BCD should be minimal if you are correctly weighted. Diving should be easy, you should not need to constantly be adjusting the amount of air in your jacket, if you do need to do this, you are overweighted. A good test for weighting on a dive is to hover motionlessly for a moment. You can practice this whilst checking out the marine life on a wall quite easily. If you need to constantly kick to stay at the same level, again, this is a sign that you are overweighted.
If you see another diver that is at an angle in the water, with their feet lower than their head, this is another sign that diver is overweighted. A diver with good buoyancy and correct weighting will be horizontal in the water.
You now have the knowledge to get weighted properly. So next time your instructor or dive guide hands you some weight, don’t assume that they know better than you, you now have the power to check for yourself and get properly weighted. How much weight do you really need? Are you the next Biggest Loser!