In my years as a dive instructor, I have encountered many cases of divers, both experienced ones and less experienced, whose diving technique was, to put it gently… disturbing.
I decided to share with you a few methods that I picked along the way, which might come in handy and save a Sea Horse or two from a sandy doom.
Most tips are of course related to neutral buoyancy, that elusive quality which many of us seek to achieve during the dive which will give you the most control and confidence during your underwater adventures.
1. Releasing air from your BCD – the proper way
Air wants to go up! This means that you have to change your body position when deflating your BCD. That may sound trivial to some but is often forgotten or poorly exercised by novice divers.
When I say “change body position”, I don’t mean simply raising your hand while pressing the release button. You have to lift your entire upper body, then lift your hand while pressing the release button. I have seen countless divers trying to stop an ascent by simply raising their hand, and continuing their uncontrolled ascent with a puzzled look on their face.
If you are swimming down, to try and stop your ascent, and you feel that your BCD is still pulling you up, pressing the release button just won’t work. If your rear side is up, that means your Rear Deflation Valves are also up! Reach for the dump valve and pull. That’s what it’s there for.
The rear deflation valves are very efficient in shallower depths, where changing body position might shoot you up too fast due to gas expanding quickly.
Deflating your BCD properly requires a drastic change in body postion
Dump valves are very useful when you are already ascending too fast
2. Prevent rather than cure
When you’re ascending from the deepest point of the dive, remember that air will start expanding. If you don’t prepare yourself and start deflating, you will find yourself at the surface much earlier than you planned. We all know that’s NOT a good thing.
Don’t wait until you are pulled up to deflate. Connect the deflation action to something that will help you remember, such as your ears popping. Every time your ear pops – touch the inflator hose reminding yourself to deflate.
If you deflate too late, you will probably need to deflate quickly to slow your ascent, which will then make you sink, forcing your to calibrate your buoyancy once again.
Ideally, you need to deflate earlier, maintaining neutral buoyancy throughout the whole dive.
3. Inflating at the right time is just as important as deflating
Controlling the “art of inflation” will mostly help us protect our environment, but also ourselves.
If we are negatively buoyant throughout the dive, we will probably find ourselves on the bottom, kicking up sand and hurting marine life such as corals or various critters. Corals are so gentle that only a few grains of sand might clog several polyps, virtually choking the coral, and eventually killing it.
If you find yourself waving your arms like a penguin trying to fly, to avoid contact with the bottom, you are probably too heavy. A few clicks on the inflator should solve that!
If you are swimming fast and constantly bumping into the fins of the person in front of you, because as soon as you stop you sink, it means you are too heavy, swimming slightly upwards and kicking up sand. Again, a few clicks on the inflator, and you can slow down effectively.
When you plan a deep dive, prepare yourself to add air every few feet you descend. Don’t wait until you’re on the bottom and sinking like a stone, adding too much air at once. Gradually add air on your way down.
4. The right way to inflate your BCD
Again, this may feel trivial to some, but it’s great to remind yourselves after not diving for a long time, that adding air to your BCD should be done in small amounts. Once short click or two. You need to wait a couple of seconds to feel the effect, since there is always a short delay. A good idea would be to take a nice deep breath as well, and exhale while the added air works its magic. That should stop you from sinking and take you back to neutral buoyancy.
If you are still sinking, don’t rush to add more air, use the “Two Finger Method” to push yourself gently from the bottom, and wait a couple of seconds longer. Only then if you feel you’re sinking again, add 1-2 more clicks. The delay might be longer than you think.
6. You have another BCD – Use it!
Your lungs are a natural Buoyancy Compensation Device. Before everything else, use them for adjustments. Inhaling takes us up, exhaling takes us down. Before pressing the inflator button again, take a deep breath, you will be surprised how much that can affect your buoyancy.
If you find yourselves above the group by a meter or two, but not on your way up, stop swimming for a second, exhale completely, and feel yourself sinking back in line. Only after attempting to adjust yourself with your lungs, should you use your inflator hose.
7. Stay calm!
It’s ok to feel momentarily stressed underwater, but it’s important to know how to calm yourself down. If for any reason (excluding dive emergencies) you suddenly step out of your comfort zone and find yourself nervous or panicky, stop what you’re doing and hang on to something static, such as your dive buddy or anything that stabilizes you and take a few deep breaths. If you can, sit on your knees.
Once you regain your confidence and return to normal state of mind, continue the dive. Never attempt to do anything under pressure or when panicked.
The best thing to do is pause and breath.
Finally, don’t forget to HAVE FUN! Dive safe and mind your fins 😉