Scuba Buoyancy Masterclass Series #2
PRECISION BUOYANCY CONTROL BENEFITS
by Andy Davis, PADI TecRec, ANDI, BSAC and SSI Technical Diving Instructor
Let’s have a look at 7 specific reasons why effective scuba buoyancy control is critical to the scuba diver:
The underwater world is a fragile environment and unintended contact from a diver is going to cause some damage. This often happens on descent, where a diver fails to achieve neutral buoyancy and fails to arrest the descent before they hit the bottom.After descent, a failure to achieve proper scuba buoyancy will lead to the diver continually ‘bouncing’ off the bottom, hitting things with their fins and even having to use their hands to prevent collisions. It takes very little contact to cause decade’s worth of damage to a developing coral reef or crush that beautiful anemone covered with symbiotic shrimps.
Equipment and Personal Protection
Scuba diving gear is expensive and unintended/uncontrolled collisions and contact can rapidly lead to the damage and destruction of that gear. Likewise, the human body, especially when immersed for long periods, is very fragile and easily damaged by rough or sharp objects.
It takes only a light contact with coral to tear a hole into a wetsuit. A hose snagged on sharp metal inside a wreck can easily be severed. A hand or leg brushed against fire coral or a well disguised Scorpion Fish can result in the need for medical treatment. Proper scuba buoyancy control, coupled with good situational awareness allows divers to avoid expensive or painful mistakes.
Efficiency, Relaxation and Enjoyment
A diver with weak scuba buoyancy control tends to be very distracted and task-loaded when diving. They often have a permanent grip on their low-pressure inflator; attempting to correct every minor deviance in depth with an additional ‘squirt’ of air into or out of their BCD. They rapidly become pre-occupied with their scuba buoyancy and less situationally aware of their buddies, their dive plan and the wonderful sights to be enjoyed around them in the water.
This encourages a less tranquil state-of-mind and the resulting stress will certainly increase their air consumption and make them less able to cope or react with any unforeseen situations that may arise during the dive. When a diver develops good scuba buoyancy control, it can swiftly become an instinctive and autonomous function, leaving their minds free to deal with other issues and, of course, to enjoy the full spectacle of the underwater environment.
Safe and Controlled Ascents
Effective scuba buoyancy control is critical for safe ascents. Some novice divers misunderstand that every ascent should be conducted with virtual neutral buoyancy – using breath control and slight fining motion to achieve a controlled upwards movement.
Air expansion on ascent can easily cause uncontrolled momentum if the diver mistakenly relies upon positive buoyancy to bring them to the surface. At any time, the diver should be able to immediately cease their ascent and maintain a constant depth. This is critical attribute when the diver intends to conduct a safety stop, deploy a DSMB or deal with any other issues that may arise; such as a reverse block of the ears, a flooded mask or the need to assist their buddy.
Obviously, an uncontrolled ascent is a particular danger to the scuba diver, as the potential risk of decompression sickness increases as maximum ascent rates are exceeded and safety stops are missed. A diver with proficient scuba buoyancy skills should be able to remain relaxed throughout the ascent, deal with other tasks and be able to pause the ascent wherever and whenever they want.
Ability to Observe Details
Many of the most amazing sights you can see underwater occur at a macro level of size. Small shrimp, nudibranch, crustaceans etc are often tiny and require viewing from a very close range – without water movement and disturbed silt from sculling hands or flailing fins. For underwater photographers, videographers and keen underwater observers, effective scuba buoyancy control allows them to slowly approach and observe these creatures without scaring them away.
Diving on, or inside, wrecks often requires many changes in depth. It often also involves the need to travel around, or through, the wreck without disturbing accumulated silt, which will reduce visibility and can pose a serious risk to divers navigating out of overhead environments.
A wreck diver needs to be able to precisely control scuba buoyancy so that they can travel at a safe and constant distance above the silt, whilst maneuvering up, down and around obstacles along their route on the wreck. Wreck penetration should not be attempted by any diver who does not possess precise and reliable buoyancy control.
Buddy / Team Skills
When diving with a buddy, or with a team (for instance, on technical or wreck dives) we have a responsibility to monitor and, if necessary, assist those people. Where a problem is encountered, a quick reaction by another diver is often sufficient to prevent a small problem escalating into a more dangerous incident.
This places an importance on being able to match depths on descent, during the dive and on the ascent. Unlike horizontal distance, any vertical separation of divers is much more time consuming to travel and, thus, causes a slower reaction. For example, on descents, it is not uncommon for one diver to experience equalization problems, which temporarily halts their descent.
Good observational skills, coupled with scuba buoyancy control will mean that their buddy is able to instantly halt their own descent and provide support. In addition, the reduction in task-loading enabled by effective buoyancy control will allow the diver to develop far better situational awareness (to continually observe their buddy) and capacity to problem-solve and react to unexpected occurrences (to react and support their buddy).
Next Article: Achieving Great Buoyancy Control