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10 Tips for better buoyancy while scuba diving

Improve your buoyancy control underwater with these 10 tips.

By 11 Min Read
Scuba diver hovering face to sand

Whether you are a freshly certified scuba diver or a dive instructor with thousands of dives, there is one thing we all strive for: Better buoyancy control while scuba diving.

The benefits of achieving better buoyancy control speak for themselves: More relaxed diving, less air consumption and it just looks cool.

Perfecting your buoyancy is one of the hottest topics for every scuba diver and this guide with 7 tips for better buoyancy while scuba diving will help you with it.

A few questions we will answer in this guide are:

  • How to achieve better buoyancy?
  • What are the foundations of good buoyancy control?
  • Why is buoyancy control important?

1 Control your breathing

Control your buoyancy underwater mainly through breathing and use the BCD only when necessary.

The first step to better buoyancy control while scuba diving is to control your breathing underwater. While easier said than done this is really the best way to achieve results fast.

As you learned in your Open Water Diver course, the BCD is used for general buoyancy at depth and to keep you floating. On the other hand, your lungs control your depth underwater and are used to fine-tune your buoyancy.

Scuba diver hovering on back
Most of your buoyancy control should come through your breathing

How to fix it

On your next dive, inflate the BCD underwater until you are neutrally buoyant, and then use your breathing exclusively to keep a steady depth.

You should not need to press the inflator button to ascend or deflate the BCD in order to descend, either. Instead, this should all be possible by taking a bigger breath in or out.

If you notice you’re sinking too much, first inhale more to stabilize yourself before inflating your BCD more. The opposite is true when you notice you’re ascending too fast.

While controlling your buoyancy this way is what we want to achieve, it’s important to keep up a steady breathing rhythm:

2 Have a steady breathing rhythm

A regular, steady breathing rhythm while scuba diving conserves air and leads to better buoyancy control.

The best way to breathe while scuba diving is to have a steady, slow to normal breathing rhythm just like on land.

Try to apply a slow, steady breathing rythm underwater.

Most beginner divers dive in a so-called “inhaled state”: They take a big breath in and slowly keep exhaling until they take the next big breath.

Such constant deep breaths may also lead to hyperventilation and higher air consumption.

In scuba diving, we prefer the “exhaled state”: Take a normal breath in, exhale normally, pause for a moment, and then breathe in again.

This is also roughly the natural breathing pattern of humans.

Sounds complicated? Here is the “optimal” breathing rhythm for different durations.

Breathe inBreathe outPauseTotal Time
1.5-2 s*1.5-2.5 s*2 s*5-6.5 s*
1.5 s1.5-2.5 s1.5-2 s4.5-6 s
2 s2-3.5 s2-2.5 s6-8 s
3 s3-4.5 s2.5-3.5 s8.5-11 s
Example breathing rhythms in the exhaled state with the *normal pattern as a reference.

This is by no means an exact science but you can see how exhaling and pausing take about twice the amount of time as inhaling.

How to fix it

I find the best way to achieve such a regular breathing rhythm is by just not concentrating on it when I dive.

Pay attention to your surroundings, look at the fish and enjoy the dive and your breathing rhythm will become steady almost on its own.

3 Properly inflate your BCD

Inflate the BCD to be neutrally buoyant at all times.

Although the BCD should not be used exclusively to achieve buoyancy underwater, it is important to put enough air in it to be neutrally buoyant.

Especially beginner divers don’t inflate their BCD enough out of fear of ascending uncontrollably.

Subsequently, they waste valuable air because they need to make up for it by breathing in more.

Knowing Boyle-Mariotte’s Law helps in understanding how pressure (from diving at depth) and volume (in your BCD & lungs) are connected:

The higher the pressure underwater, the smaller the volume.

Law of Boyle-Mariotte.

Therefore, you need to remember to constantly inflate your BCD the deeper you dive. Subsequently, let out air when coming back up to prevent uncontrolled ascents and risk of getting Decompression Sickness.

Check out the most important diving gas laws to learn more about Boyle-Mariotte.

If you want to review the scuba ascent rates and diving phases, check out the 3 phases of a dive.

Additionally, inflate the BCD using only small amounts of air at a time. If you push in too much air at once, you run the risk of rising to the surface too quickly.

Scuba divers equalizing ears while descending
Knowing when to inflate and deflate your BCD is really important.

How to fix it

Dive down and fill your BCD until you are neutrally buoyant. Verify this by inhaling normally before exhaling the same way.

When breathing steadily you should neither move up nor down underwater.

Unless you are changing depths underwater, you should not need to touch your BCD.

If you do need to make adjustments to the amount of air in the BCD, do so in small quantities.

Last but not least, remember the inertia of air which means any adjustments need around a second to come into effect.

4 Use proper fin kicks

Using frog kicks in most situations leads to better buoyancy while scuba diving.

Certain fin kicks like flutter kicks lead to poor buoyancy and should be replaced by frog kicking in most cases.

Flutter kicks are an asymmetric motion, meaning that each kick creates an imbalance in your buoyancy underwater.

Frog kicks, on the other hand, are symmetric and will therefore lead to better buoyancy.

Coldwater diver in lake
Frog kicks are the best fin kicks in most situations.

In addition, they stir up less sediment on the bottom, reduce air consumption and allow for more control underwater.

How to fix it

Read my scuba fin kicks guide to start using the frog kick underwater and check out a demonstration here:

Combine this with good trim and you will see instant improvements in your buoyancy control.

Getting good scuba fins can help make this easier, as well.

5 Optimize your weights

Use as few weight pieces as possible during every dive to reduce drag and improve buoyancy.

Optimizing your weights is crucial for achieving better buoyancy while scuba diving.

Extra weight will increase the drag underwater, require you to inflate your BCD more, and take deeper breaths while diving.

Less is more in this case, and the fewer weight pieces you put on, the better your buoyancy will be.

Scuba diver hovering face to sand
Sometimes, not using any extra weights can be the answer.

How to fix it

Start by using my FREE scuba diving weight calculator to determine your scuba weight for different configurations and diving conditions.

Before diving at a new dive spot, do a proper weight check to check the results.

Add or drop weights as needed until you have the perfect amount.

6 Don’t use your hands for buoyancy control

Your hands should not be used for buoyancy control or moving underwater during a dive.

Three of the most common buoyancy errors of divers are

  1. Using your arms to swim
  2. Waving your hands to prevent touching the bottom
  3. Turning underwater by using your hands

Each of these hand movements leads to poor buoyancy and is super inefficient.

Scuba diver with orange snorkel at wreck
Don’t use your hands underwater to adjust your buoyancy.

Swimming with your hands while scuba diving is much less efficient than using proper fin kicks and won’t get you far.

Each time you move your hand underwater, you change the buoyancy of your body and need to adjust for it. In the worst case, you need to inflate or deflate your BCD, thereby also wasting precious air.

Preventing that you touch something underwater might be a valid reason to use your hands, however, can be prevented by learning to back swim or turn using just your fins.

How to fix it

Lock your hands or put them behind your back while diving and only use your fins for any movement.

Read up on the best scuba fin kicks to get more tips on how to do this efficiently.

Master Diver swimming through reef
Putting your hands behind your back can be a great way to prevent yourself from using them too much while diving.

7 Improve your trim underwater

Trim is the optimal positioning underwater to streamline your movements and achieve better buoyancy.

Buoyancy is not just the act of floating and being neutrally buoyant, but also achieving a flat, steady position underwater.

This is called trim and is often neglected by both beginner and experienced divers.

There are several parts to better trim while scuba diving, such as weight placement, body position, fin kicking, and arm placement.

Optimal trim will lead to better buoyancy, less drag in the water, and lower air consumption.

Scuba diving in Cenotes
Good trim makes every dive more fun.

How to fix it

Start by positioning your body flat in the water, with your knees bent at 90 degrees, and your fin tips pointed backward. This is sometimes referred to as the prone position.

If you notice your upper or lower body dragging your down, try adjusting the position of your weight belt. weight pockets or trim weights can aid you in this.

Scuba diver practicing genie seat hovering underwater
The Genie Seat drill looks cool underwater, but is not optimal for your trim.

Start using frog kicks to move around and keep your hands locked in front of you.

Once you achieve this trimmed position in the water, you will have the least surface area, reduce your drag, and each fin kick will propel you at maximum power.

Not only will you significantly improve your buoyancy, but also feel much more under control in general, as you are now perfectly positioned for any movement underwater.

8 Use a Wing BCD

Use a back-inflate Backplate/Wing BCD to achieve the best possible buoyancy control.

Most scuba divers still use ADV-style BCDs that feature air bladders on the side. For obvious reasons, this is not an optimal location to achieve neutral buoyancy.

Back-inflate (“Wing”) BCDs put the air bladder on the back, thereby improving buoyancy and trim.

Cave diver wearing shorty and wing BCD holding lamp underwater
Backplate/Wing combos are the BCDs of choice in cave diving.

Most commonly this is found in Backplate/Wing BCD combos but there are several hybrid ones out there for those who prefer more features.

Moreover, the inertia of air is “faster” in back-inflate air bladders. This means, the air needs less time to expand in the air bladder and any effects take place faster.

How to fix it

Check out the best BCDs in 2022 and pick one that features a wing configuration.

9 Take a buoyancy specialty course

Taking a Peak Performance Buoyancy specialty course under professional supervision can significantly improve your buoyancy.

Taking a diving course is always a great way to improve your skills as a diver.

Diving with an instructor is also a perfect opportunity to learn from someone who has already mastered buoyancy.

Therefore, taking a buoyancy specialty course can improve your general buoyancy and give you more diving practice.

Scuba diving instructor surfing his fins underwater
Practicing your buoyancy in a specialty course is always fun.

Extra tips

Before taking a diving course, make sure to choose a good dive school that is reputable and offers quality training.

10 Get more diving experience

The more you dive, the better your buoyancy will become over time.

Practice makes perfect and buoyancy is a perfect example for this.

Just like with conserving air, don’t stress and remember to enjoy your dives, even if your buoyancy is slightly off.

Keep diving as much as you can and over time you will see improvements.

Scuba diver with fish underwater
The more you dive, the better your buoyancy will become.

Bonus Tip: Log your dives

Log your dives and include information such as the number of weights or which equipment and tank size you used to remember it for future dives.

Logging your dives is important for several reasons.

One of them is that you can note down the number of weights you used, which wetsuit you wore, and which tank size and material worked best.

While this won’t directly improve your buoyancy, it will give you a reference for the future.

Combine this with my scuba weight calculator and you will be perfectly prepared for your next dive.

Bonus Tip: Diving with drysuits

When diving with a drysuit you should use the drysuit inflator to optimize trim and buoyancy in the water without forgetting about your BCD.

Drysuits are filled with air and therefore act as a second buoyancy compensator underwater.

They allow for better buoyancy than wetsuits because you can push air into every part of the suit and thereby even out imbalances.

Drysuit diver in lake
Drysuits act as an additional buoyancy compensator.

For example, you can push air into both your arms and feet to achieve even trim in the water.

While it is good practice to use it as such, don’t rely on it exclusively and use your BCD as the primary buoyancy compensator.

Why is buoyancy control important?

Achieving good buoyancy control is important for scuba divers because it reduces air consumption, leads to better control underwater, protects the marine environment, and increases confidence in your skills.

Buoyancy is important for all divers and no matter how many dives you have done, you never stop improving it.

Even after hundreds of dives, or thousands in my case, there are still things to optimize every time.

Old scuba diver hovering underwater.
You never stop improving your buoyancy.

Here are some reasons to care about better buoyancy control while scuba diving:

  1. It reduces air consumption.
    Better buoyancy leads to less drag, fewer BCD adjustments, regular breathing, and less air consumption in the end.
  2. It allows for better control underwater.
    Neutral buoyancy and trim allow you to move in a controlled, careful way without the need for sudden movements or changes.
  3. It protects your environment.
    As divers, we never touch the bottom, animals, or the reef. Perfect buoyancy protects the marine environment because you never accidentally break off corals or bump into plants.
  4. It makes diving safer.
    Controlling your ascents and descents means decreased risk of getting decompression sickness, experiencing ear pain, or getting out of breath on a dive.
  5. It increases your confidence.
    Being able to control your every movement underwater will give your confidence a boost and make you feel safer and more relaxed as a diver.

Conclusion

Every diver should try to improve their buoyancy on every dive. Never stop learning and trying new things to get better!

The four pillars of buoyancy are:

  • Steady Breathing
  • Flat Trim
  • Using the BCD properly
  • Optimal Weights

This guide on better buoyancy gave you a number of useful tips to improve each of these aspects on your next dive.

I suggest you practice in shallow water first, to get a better feel for each measure.

What improved your buoyancy the most?

Let me know in the comments below.

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Always dive with friends and happy bubbles. 😃

Cheers

Julius

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