Scuba Diving Buoyancy Control Tips

Why is buoyancy important in scuba diving?

Breathing underwater and buoyancy control – both essential for scuba diving. Buoyancy in scuba diving is important as it keeps the diver and the surrounding environment safe. Neutral buoyancy provides control, protecting delicate corals, enabling scuba divers to hover and observe the beautiful seascapes that surround them. Longer bottom times and better air consumption are benefits of buoyancy control. This scuba woman loves being neutrally buoyant. As a female diving neutral buoyancy feels good, as if I am flying, weightless and free. Improving your buoyancy control helps you expend less energy, meaning longer dives. Women divers are able to relax into their dives without continually adjusting their buoyancy compensators. Buoyancy control is important in scuba diving as it creates a better diving experience. Dive gear, weights, breath, finning style, trim, even the underwater environment, ocean, sea, river or lake all affect your buoyancy. I know many divers having buoyancy issues, myself included. See my seven quick tips at the end of the post to improve your buoyancy control.

A scuba diver hovers over a ray, demosnstrating neutral buoyancy 
Perfect buoyancy allows you to hover and take photos

What is buoyancy control in scuba diving?

Simply put buoyancy is the way an object immersed in water floats, (in our case scuba divers). There are three stages of buoyancy – positive, negative and neutral. When we begin our dive generally divers are positively buoyant as we have inflated our BCD’s (buoyancy compensator devices) and we are floating upward on the surface. When we are ready to descend a volume of water is displaced as we become negatively buoyant. Venting air from our BCD’s and exhaling scuba divers begin to sink. As we reach the correct depth, the density of the water creates pressure on us. Divers need to adjust to the force and become neutrally buoyant. It is a state where we divers are weightless and can hover in one spot, relishing the glorious feeling of zero gravity – Picture an astronaut in space wearing a wetsuit. So why is buoyancy important in scuba diving? Correct buoyancy enables the diver to control their dive.

Buoyancy in diving

I absolutely recognize the importance of buoyancy control in scuba diving and to my dive skills. The water force exerted can affect our apparent weight. I am still improving my buoyancy, despite logging a lot of dives. Having spent too much time positively buoyant I appreciate when I get it right. Maybe because I have had some real issues with my descent, I now love the sensation of exhaling and becoming negatively buoyant (sinking), stopping in the water column, adjusting to different forces and becoming neutrally buoyant. Throughout the dive I use my lung volume to adjust my buoyancy. .

Buoyancy Control

I have my ups and downs with buoyancy. I would love to say I have buoyancy under control, some dives I do, some dives I don’t. I have a genuine phobia about floating away, harking back to a couple of childhood experiences.  What parent puts their child in a floaty and lets them drift out to sea?  As a scuba woman I have had some trouble releasing the past and my fears have followed me into scuba diving. A quick snapshot of my more memorable buoyancy issues.

A pile of floats for children
Positive Buoyancy

Positive Buoyancy – panic at 5 metres

The closest I have ever been to a panic attack. I lost buoyancy on a 5metre jetty dive, in icy water wearing hire gear and a 7ml wetsuit. It was a shallow dive, always the hardest on your buoyancy. As a scuba woman I was heavily weighted, inflating my rented buoyancy compensator to achieve neutral buoyancy I trapped air. I began to fight to stay down, I absolutely felt like I was floating away. My bottom was in the air, the blood was rushing to my head, and I was getting dizzy, it was a dreadful feeling. Thankfully I was able to get to the surface safely despite my panicked state. I cut the dive short and missed seeing a weedy sea dragon – the reason for the dive and the 2000km flight. Why is buoyancy important in scuba diving? Correct buoyancy is important so you can see the weedy sea dragon!

Buoyancy Control – my confidence floating away

Getting back into the ocean as soon as possible to rebuild my confidence and improve my buoyancy, I was in a situation where I had to hire gear again. I was enjoying the dive and then wham I was positively buoyant. The alarming feeling of floating away saw me finish the dive. Really annoying because I still had 120bar left in my tank and plenty of reef to see. I am sure it was trapped air again, but at the time I couldn’t correct it. These two dives, one after another unsettled me for a long time. Why is buoyancy important in scuba diving? Buoyancy is important so divers can have longer dive times and see as much underwater as possible.

Neutrally buoyant divers
Neutrally Buoyant

Positively Buoyant – wreck dive

Diving a wreck for my big birthday weekend I was underweighted and lost a weight pocket, leaving me spinning around lopsided and unable to descend. It was exhausting and harrowing in tough conditions. I ended the dive. Why is buoyancy important in scuba diving? Correct buoyancy is important in scuba diving so I never have to go through that experience again!

Buoyancy Contol – floating out to sea

Underweighted again, hire gear again, I could not get down and the current took me away from the dive site before I knew it. My son, Joshua, had to rescue me. With an extra weight I descended easily, the extra three pounds making all the difference. Why is buoyancy important in scuba diving? Buoyancy is important in scuba diving so I never have to listen to Josh regale the tale of my rescue again!

We did a liveaboard in Cairns, diving in stinger suits only. I underestimated my weight, didn’t do a buoyancy check and spent the first dive with my bottom in the air, trying to stay down. Correctly weighted the following dives were much more enjoyable.

Lead dive weights
Get your weights right

Buoyancy Hindsight

As a scuba woman, afraid of floating away I am fed up with trapped air making me positively buoyant. The anxiety that results causes me to over correct. I add an extra weight and then to be on the safe side, I add another weight. I am trying to break the habit and improve my buoyancy control. Some dives I sink like a rock and look like a puffer fish I have so much air in my BCD.  I start to get my buoyancy back on track and I have another issue which affects my confidence, I add an extra weight, it is a vicious cycle.

My sister has been diving for years, and is what I would term a natural in the water. She could never understand my issues and feelings about buoyancy control. After doing a dry suit course where she experienced major buoyancy issues, exhausting and panicking her, she now understands. Buoyancy is important -something you need to get right!

Puffer fish
Positively buoyant

Looking for guidance

I have talked about my buoyancy control issues extensively with anyone and everyone. It took some time before I got advice that made sense to me.  The weights we are normally given are 3lbs. I now think in pounds rather than the number of weights. I am diving with 15lbs not 5 weights.

I have bought some 2lb weights and 1lb weights and I am literally dropping weight 1lb at a time to prevent anxiety.

Three divers one kneeling on ocean floor, two hovering. 
Where do I find buoyancy guidance?

Buoyancy check

In the water it is best practice to perform a buoyancy check, before you dive. For a surface buoyancy check put the regulator in your mouth, inhale and hold your breath whilst deflating your BCD.  Sinking to eye level means you’re neutrally buoyant, which is where you want to be. I can’t do it that way, for some reason it confuses me and I start to breathe and have no idea where I’m sitting in the water or what my buoyancy is.

Buoyancy check Tanya style

I let my buddy know before I deflate my BCD, keeping my regulator in my mouth, I exhale, effectively starting a controlled descent. If I begin to sink in a controlled manner, my buoyancy is ok.  If I am having trouble, I ensure I haven’t got any trapped air, using my dump valve and hugging my BCD.  Another little trick is to pull open the neck of your wetsuit, letting water in, which dispels any trapped air, though it can be a bit cold.  If I am having trouble I will get an extra weight. If I sink really quickly I know I am too heavy.

If I am diving heavy, I get myself neutrally buoyant as early as possible and then try not to fiddle with my BCD, using only my breath and lung volume to control my buoyancy. It is gratifying to exhale and sink to see something and then rise with your inhale.  

Diver doing a buoyancy check
Surface buoyancy check

The Dump Valve – My new best friend

The dump valve releases any trapped air more effectively than the inflator hose. I also wriggle and squeeze my BCD to release any trapped air if I feel I am becoming positively buoyant.

Why is buoyancy important in scuba diving?

Diving heavy affects a diver’s air consumption as they are putting more air into their BCD, creating more water resistance, and expending more energy. Weights are heavy, as a woman scuba diver I find extra weights make it hard to move around in my scuba gear. Correct weighting improves your diving experience. Neutral buoyancy allows the diver to become part of the marine environment.

Safety stop

The safety stop can be an issue because our tanks are lighter towards the end of a dive. If scuba divers are comfortable on the safety stop their buoyancy is good. I am using the safety stop to correct my overweighting. I completely deflate my BCD and if I sink, I know I am diving too heavy and I can afford to take 1lb off next dive, and still be safe. Doing it this way has removed the anxiety for me and I am getting my weights back to where they should be.

Neutral buoyancy enables divers to control buoyancy through their lung volume. As a scuba diver increases their lung volume by inhaling they rise in the water column. Exhaling and decreasing their lung volume scuba divers sink in the water column. I do think the big test is floating peacefully at the safety stop – my goal.

A SCUBA WOMAN practicing buoyancy in the pool EMPTY NEST DIVER
Mmmm – maybe there’s a reason I’m having buoyancy issues (Never drink alcohol when you’re diving)

7 Tips for Buoyancy Control

1/ Be correctly weighted

Doing a buoyancy check in the water indicates to a scuba diver if they are correctly weighted. Put the regulator in your mouth, inhale and hold your breath whilst deflating your BCD.  Sinking to eye level means you are neutrally buoyant.

2/ Breathe

Scuba divers control buoyancy through lung volume and breath. Large inhalations cause divers to rise in the water column. Exhalations the opposite affect, scuba divers sink. It is important divers never over expand their lungs or hold their breath.

3/ Trim

Women scuba divers must remember their trim, keeping their legs horizontal when kicking . The kicking motion will propel you forward not up or down. Leave any unnecessary gear behind, be as streamlined as possible.

4/ Adjust as needed

As divers descend and go deeper the air compresses and you tend to sink more.  Add air to your BCD quick short bursts and give it a moment to work. Too much air will have you positively buoyant and floating.

5/ Leave the camera behind

We are all keen for great photos of our dives. Get your buoyancy right first, concentrating on taking a photo can result in lost buoyancy very quickly.

6/ Finning styles

Your finning style will affect your buoyancy. Using the frog kick will help keep you horizontal and more balanced.

7/ Practice

Use your safety stop. Stay horizontal, watch your depth gauge and practice staying in the water column. Practice in a pool.

It’s never too late – TAKE THE DIVE WITH TANYA

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Published by emptynestdiver

Learning to dive in my fifties has been a great adventure, I am a senior scuba diver but young at heart.

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