Using Your Hands Whilst Scuba Diving
by Andy Davis
Many novice divers wish to improve their air consumption during dives and increase their relaxation and fluidity underwater. A major obstacle to these goals is using your hands for control and/or propulsion
I think that most novice divers have an instinctive tendency to try and ‘swim’ underwater. Who can blame them? They spend years swimming with both their hands and feet, but have to re-learn an appropriate propulsion technique when they transition to scuba diving using fins.
Added to that are the natural tendencies for novice divers to feel ‘unstable’ in the water. Use of the hands often represents an attempt to ‘balance’ in the water column. Obviously, there is no actual ‘need’ to balance underwater… and as experience develops (plus better trim of their equipment), the diver graduates out of this tendency. It comes with relaxation.
There are a number of reasons why over-use of the hands for propulsion and control can be negative for a diver. The primary one is that it is an inefficient physiological method, that ultimately requires more O2 metabolization in the body and, hence, more air consumption. It also decreases streamlining and increases water turbulence, slowing the diver.
In addition, the use of hands can lead to silting/bottom disturbance. When diving inside wrecks or caves, this can present an actual danger to the diver. In other situations, it will simply lead to a deterioration of the quality of the dive, as visibility is lowered. For underwater photographers, it can lead to filling photos with backscatter/particles and also scare away the target of their photo.
There are also many activities underwater that require the use of the hands for other purposes. Cave/Wreck divers will be using torches and lines. The hands won’t be available for sculling. Photographers and videographers will also have their hands full. So will divers who conduct search and recovery activities, where they have to control a lift bag. The list goes on.
It is absolutely fair to view the limitation of the use of hands for propulsion/control as a ‘best practice’ mentality in scuba diving. A responsible instructor will communicate the reasons for this to their students and help them, through drills and practice, to develop appropriate scuba techniques that do not utilise the hands.
A diver can fully control and propel themselves underwater using fin techniques such as; the helicopter turn and back-kicking. These techniques are typically the preserve of advanced technical, wreck and cave divers, but there is no reason why novice recreational divers should not aim to add them to their capabilities.
The simple fact is: you don’t need to use your hands for control or propulsion underwater. There are drawbacks to doing so…and techniques that exist which allow better function using the fins alone.
Eliminating a reliance on your hands for sculling requires some dedication to perfecting proper techniques
About the Author
Andy Davis is a RAID, PADI TecRec, ANDI, BSAC and SSI qualified independent technical diving instructor who specializes in teaching advanced sidemount, trimix and wreck exploration diving courses across South East Asia. Currently residing in ‘wreck diving heaven’ at Subic Bay, Philippines, he has amassed more than 9000 open circuit and CCR dives over 27 years of diving across the globe.
Andy has published many magazine articles on technical diving, has written course materials for dive training agency syllabus, tests and reviews diving gear for major manufacturers and consults with the Philippines Underwater Archaeology Society.
He is currently writing a series of books to be published on advanced diving topics. Prior to becoming a professional technical diving educator in 2006, Andy was a commissioned officer in the Royal Air Force and has served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Belize and Cyprus.