Want to master your buoyancy?
Then look beyond your inflator and deflator button!
Buoyancy is in many ways the essential skill of scuba diving!
Important, and yet very tricky to master, it has become the hallmark of a truly great diver.
The reason it is so difficult to get right, is that good buoyancy control goes beyond just using your BCD correctly. While it is called a Buoyancy Control Device, it is not the only thing determining your buoyancy.
The Three BCD’s
I often talk to my dive students about what I call “The Three BCD’s”; the outer one (the actual, physical BCD that you wear on your torso), the inner one (your lungs), and the mental one.
The first is the easiest to master, but it only allows for fairly rudimentary buoyancy control, and relying solely on that isn’t quite enough.
The first you’ll learn
Take a course in buoyancy control, and you’ll be taught about the importance of fine-tuning your buoyancy using your breathing.
In fact, this is introduced on most entry level dive courses as well, with exercises such as the fin pivot. Where the breath is used to initiate and control the pivot.
And we instructors constantly urge our dive students to use breathing to maneuver over or under obstacles. By taking a slight bigger breath than usual if they need to go over an obstacle, or exhale a bit more than usual to go beneath one.
In time, many divers learn the skill of adjusting the timing and depth of their breathing, and use it to perfect their hover and trim during a dive.
The Mental state of a diver
The mental BCD is a bit trickier, and harder to explain. But I’ve seen it many times over in divers, and in myself, that the mental state of the diver plays a huge role in buoyancy.
Part of it has to do with simply believing that you can master your buoyancy.
Another matter is stress or anxiety. The more stressed or anxious a diver is during a dive, the more they tend to have an erratic breathing pattern. Which messes with buoyancy, or they tend to have not-quite-so-delicate a touch when it comes to inflating or deflating their BCD.
The mental aspect comes into play right from the start of the dive; a stressed or anxious diver will often need more weight to descend. This will then lead them to be too heavy for the rest of the dive, making optimal buoyancy control difficult.
How to change your Mental State
The fact that the mental aspect plays a big part is something I’ve experienced firsthand many times.
When I first started diving, I was convinced I couldn’t possibly sink, or stay down, without large amounts of weight (think 20 lbs in a standard wetsuit). Luckily, a good, and very experienced, diver took it upon himself to show me that I really didn’t.
At one point, he asked me to do a mask clearing as I descended with several pounds less weight than usual, and it worked! Not because the air in my mask kept me afloat, but simply because I occupied my mind with something else.
I also noticed that after a good dive, I was able to maintain good buoyancy even very shallow water (which is much harder), and was even able to strip some weight without zooming to the surface.
Relaxing is the key
Over time, I’ve learnt to relax in the water and not let my mind get in the way of my buoyancy, to “think heavy” as my instructor called it.
But to this day, if I’m going diving after a stressful day, or in less than optimal conditions, I can still find that I need to take a few breaths to clear my mind before being able to descend.
Clear your stress of the day
Often, it is a matter of becoming aware of any lingering uncertainty or anxiousness we may be carrying with us. Even advanced and experienced divers can have this, and there’s absolutely no shame in it.
Once we are aware of it, often times it goes away by itself. Otherwise, there may be something we need to address, by talking our concerns over with an experienced diver or instructor, or by looking to our lives outside of diving, if that’s where the source of our troubles lies.
It is also important to clear your mind of any stressors at work or at home before taking to the water.
The ocean confronts us with ourselves, for better or worse, so whatever we take with us, is what we’ll have to face (the underwater world is very much like the cave on Dagobah that Yoda sends Luke into).
A final buoyancy Touch
So for optimal buoyancy, master you BCD, master using your lungs to fine-tune your buoyancy, and learn to master your mind and relax. You’ll find yourself shedding weight (from your belt or weight system only, though) in no time!