Practicing and mastering neutral buoyancy is a key component of dive competency. Occasionally, we may need to perform entry-level dive skills in this neutrally buoyant position. Whether you’re considering an entry-level dive training course, are a dive professional who instructs beginners, or simply a diver who needs a skills refresh, teaching or learning these dive skills while neutrally buoyant offers excellent real-world practice for these situations.
Why should we learn dive skills while neutrally buoyant?
Entry-level students traditionally perform dive skills in a kneeling position. In my early days as a scuba instructor, I too thought this was the best approach to teaching initial skills. Recently, though, a movement within the dive industry has promoted teaching entry-level motor skills while neutrally buoyant — or nearly so — during the open-water course. This way, by the time a student certifies, he or she has far better buoyancy control. The student is also better prepared for real-world situations, such as a mid-water mask clear.
Pros and cons
Although it’s easier to learn new skills without the distraction of task loading (hence the kneeling position in the pool), those who teach dive skills while neutrally buoyant place students in a more horizontal position during the early stages of dive training. Even if a student’s fin tips slightly touch the bottom, he or she is working more with neutral buoyancy and in a position far more like reality. When swimming over a reef or wreck, divers don’t search for a sandy patch to clear their mask or a place to kneel and remove their regulator for a smiling photo. Instead, they simply conduct these tasks in a diving position.
It’s actually better to teach skills such as these in a horizontal position, as we perform them differently when vertical. A mask-clearing exercise requires a more pronounced head tilt and look to the surface when swimming horizontally than when kneeling vertically, so it’s better to teach in this position. It’s still valuable to teach and learn skills in many different positions to reflect our position at certain dive sites, such as ascending or descending in wrecks or on walls.
Making the change
While many instructors may prefer to keep students kneeling in the very first confined-water or pool-training session, students should execute subsequent confined-water skills and exercises in mid-water while neutrally buoyant. Ideally, students will practice all new skills on open-water dives in mid-water unless platforms, surge, or other environmental factors dictate otherwise. When I began teaching this way not only did I train more comfortable and competent scuba divers, but they also had more fun on their dives. They also had a greater desire to continue their dive education.
Will teaching dive skills while neutrally buoyant become standard?
A community of dive professionals discussing this approach online was instrumental in recent revisions to PADI’s Open Water Diver course. The new PADI course specifically has more emphasis on in-water skills and training dives. Educational materials, diagrams, photos, and video on conducting dive skills while neutrally buoyant all support the course.
So, as an already qualified diver, next time you need to refresh your skills, try to do so while neutrally buoyant. If you’re a dive professional or instructor, check out our skills video, highlighting entry-level skills conducted in this manner. You’ll train more competent students, and dare we say, have more fun doing so.