How to Master Neutral Buoyancy in 6 steps
1.Weight for Success - First on your list is to make sure you are properly weighted. You may or may not remember the instructions you received in your Open Water Scuba class to float at around eye level with a deflated BCD while holding your breath. Once you exhale, you should slip below the surface gracefully, fully in control of your body placement in the water. Yes this works - in theory. But it takes several other factors for you to be able to dive neutral using this weighting technique, and only 1 really concerns weighting which is your exposure gear. Depending on how new/old or how thick/thin your wetsuit or other exposure gear is you might find it extremely tricky to get down the first 15 ft or so but then find yourself perfectly weighted at 20-30ft. You will find that in conjunction with the other tips and tricks you will better be able to examine if you are over or under-weighted during the actual dive.
2.Don’t be a drag - Tuck, Clip, Zip and Snap all your gear into its proper place. Don’t be that guy who’s gauge or octopus is always hanging out flailing and getting caught in things. Not only does it look totally amateur and uncool to have all your stuff hanging out, you will notice how much more control you have over your buoyancy when you are streamlined! If you are wearing rental gear and are unsure of where something is supposed to go, make sure you ask before hopping in the water!
3. Hands to yourself - Just like your gear, keeping your hands together in front of you or at your waist, or cross your arms across your chest will keep you streamlined. Not only will you look like a pro and not touch anything by accident, but you will have an easier time adjusting and controlling your buoyancy. Many people try to use their arms or hands like fins to make minor adjustments in the water column but contrary to popular belief sculling like this actually throws you off-balance and makes it more difficult to dial in on your neutral buoyancy!
4.Kick bad habits - The way you kick has a lot to do with where you go in the water column and keeping control of your buoyancy. There are several ‘proper’ kicks to use while scuba diving the most popular being the flutter kick, your body should be horizontal position, kicking one leg up one leg down, from your hips with ‘straight’ legs and pointed toes. The Frog Kick is my personal favorite and what I tend to use when diving, it allows you to use a kick more similar to what you would do in a breast stroke (but without arm movement obviously) where your legs move horizontally from an open V to a closed leg position with heels turned in towards each other. Whatever you do - DO NOT KICK LIKE YOU ARE MARCHING or kick in a head up feet down position - you will either not move very much at all or end up at the surface rather quickly. Your body wants to go the direction your head is pointing and your legs provide that trust so make sure you are aimed like a torpedo with your head in the direction you are trying to move. If you find yourself marching, remind yourself for the flutter kick - to straighten your legs and push the water with the blade of your fin rather than the sole of your foot.
5. Just Breathe! Practicing breath control is one of the ultimate scuba challenges. Because we all know how to breath on the surface it seems silly that breathing is something we would need to practice, but under water, breathing does more than keep us alive, it also moves us in the water column. We go up when we breathe in, and we come down when we breathe out, but what happens if you are excited, nervous, a new diver, diving with new equipment, feeling cold or any other variable factor comes into play that changes how you might breathe? New divers tend to breath in the top of their chest / lungs, there is a lot of ‘excited’ breathing which can be short, packing breaths, each of these styles of breathing tend to keep our lungs partially inflated at all times adding to our bodies positive buoyancy factors. This factor decreases with more dives, and more experience in general. As we practice, calm down, dive more, we will find we are able to fully inhale then fully exhale feeling the range of negative, neutral and positive buoyancy we can achieve using our lungs alone. When in doubt about your weighting or neutral buoyancy - stop - take a moment to slowly inhale / exhale to determine, are you sinking/floating an equal distance in a breath? Are you still sinking? Are your inhales making you ascend uncontrollably? Go back to the basics and work on your neutral buoyancy skills as appropriate, there is never a bad time to do a good old fashioned fin pivot or neutral buoyancy hover to make sure you’ve mastered your own neutral buoyancy.
6. Never stop learning & adapting - Take the Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty with us and you will get down to your ideal weight, work on your breathing, positioning and kicks. You might gain or lose weight, specifically changes in muscle mass or fat, you may change gear, your wetsuit might start to lose some of its positive buoyancy factor, maybe the addition of some new accessories made you lighter or heavier, so when in doubt check it out! Do a surface and underwater weight check (if possible under the supervision of a pro or a trusted buddy) especially if you have new gear, stow all your gear properly, keep your hands tucked away, keep your fin kick efficient and of course REMEMBER TO BREATHE!
SAFE SPLASHING EVERYONE!