Being neutrally buoyant is when you float at a certain depth without using your fins to kick up or down. It feels like zero gravity and is one of the coolest things about scuba diving.
It is also one of the hardest skills to master. To some people it comes easily, it is natural. To some it doesn’t, but for everyone it is true that you need practice to learn how to control your buoyancy.
In this article you will find six easy tips that help mastering this skill, and it is definitely worth to do so and to work on it. Did I mention that neutral buoyancy is one of the best things about scuba diving?
For me it often seems as if many divers do not yet understand the principle or know how they could improve.
I have seen experienced divers with their buoyancy all over the place which is too sad as it is so worth the practice to get there. I am not entirely sure why this happens but I assume it is because people aren’t aware that it is such a fantastic feeling to be in control of your body when moving around underwater.
As long as you don’t feel comfortable with your buoyancy control make sure you stay some distance away from the ground in order to avoid crushing coral or stirring up sand.
Many situations require a feeling for neutral buoyancy like the blue water dive in the picture below.
1. Use your lungs
The most important tool to control buoyancy is the lungs. For the majority of adjustments it is the only thing you need.
It is possible to vary the way you are breathing to achieve your goal. To become more buoyant, in order to go up a little bit, you need to be breathing with fuller lungs whereas to go down try to breath with emptier lungs.
This is perfectly possible as you are not using the whole capacity of your lungs for normal breathing.
It might sound a bit strange right now but try it and you will feel the difference.
This might be difficult in the beginning especially if you become nervous and start breathing heavily. It is important to breathe normal in a “normal” fashion. Take breaths a bit deeper and longer than you think you would naturally.
2. Feel it
Many divers tend to move constantly and this makes it harder to judge whether you are neutrally buoyant.
To feel it
- stop moving
- hold your position in the water (horizontal)
- look at a reference point like a coral or rock to make sure you stay in place
- for adjustments only use your lungs
At the point when you are neutrally buoyant you will remain in the exact same position in the water column, neither going up nor down.
If your lungs are not enough to hold the position
- You’re going down – add some air to your BCD (buoyancy control device)
- You’re going up – release some air from your BCD
If you had to add or release air in the exercise before this would mean that you were not neutrally buoyant when swimming previously. You were either kicking up or down.
If you start to go down as soon as you stop moving this means you were kicking up and vice versa.
It is important to get a good trim to avoid this to happen – more about this later.
3. Forget Buddha
Remember the fin pivots and hovering from your open water course? That was exactly what you were doing there – becoming neutrally buoyant and starting to get a feeling for it.
Unfortunately, the way these skills are taught in most courses is not that efficient. Students learn to lie or sit on the ground to become neutrally buoyant from that position.
It is better is to learn to hover in a horizontal position as that is the ideal position when diving and therefore you should aim to become neutrally buoyant then. Not upright holding your fins.
4. Be horizontal
I often observe divers kicking up a little bit during their dives. As soon as they stop, they have to go upright and kick up in order to stay in place. That’s quite exhausting and the diver is missing out on the fantastic feeling of just floating.
When the group stops there is no need to do anything at all. Just stay in place. No need to kick or go upright.
The risk of kicking coral or stirring up sand is way higher too in an upright position.
Try this little practice
- get into a horizontal position
- stop moving
- try to stay horizontal
- you might want to use your fins to correct your body position (this is easiest when using frog kicks), but make sure you don’t fin up or down
- only use your lungs to correct the situation if you start to go up or down
That’s all you do. You will still be able to enjoy everything going on around you while doing this.
If you struggle with this your weights might not be distributed in a good way for you or you carry too much weight.
5. Use your head
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received was that the body always follows the head.
It works so amazingly well. You need to try this during your next dive. Hover and then lean your head to one side and the other or up and down. Your body will follow. It is awesome!
I got this advice during my dive master internship as an aid to learn to hover. With this knowledge I didn’t have problems anymore holding my position.
This doesn’t only work when you hover but in any situation. If you are swimming and feeling as if your body is turning to a side you don’t want it to, just move your head towards the other side and see what happens. There is no need to use your arms or to bend your body.
6. Play around
Play around with your buoyancy too. Try to breathe differently, e.g. with empty or full lungs and see how you will move up or down in the water.
I promise it won’t feel like practising, you will be enjoying the freedom you gain by moving your body through breathing.
As soon as the hovering works nicely start to do turns, circles and rolls, whatever you can think of.
Holding your position in the water column doing that is not easy but it will improve your buoyancy control even more.
Have fun practising!
The better you get with this the closer you can get to things, the longer your air lasts and the more fun you will have.