We all know those divers who seem to practice buoyancy control effortlessly. Do you, by contrast, feel as though you have only tenuous control of your position in the water and struggle to steady yourself? Many, if not most, divers have felt that way at some point. One of the best, and easiest ways to feel more comfortable with your buoyancy is to spend a few hours in the pool practicing the hover. You probably managed to hover a few times during your open-water course, but it’s unlikely that you mastered it. Read on for some tips on how to perform this skill perfectly every time.
Start from zero
Your open-water instructor surely emphasized this first step in their hover demonstration because it’s one you should not skip: Start by letting all the air out of your BCD. If you start from zero, then you’ll end up with a more accurate idea of how many bursts of air you need to add to make yourself neutrally buoyant. Of course this amount will change in the ocean as you go deeper and are under more pressure, but with that practice in the pool behind you, adding air to your BCD as you dive will become second nature.
Get some momentum — the right way
You started by being negatively buoyant, and then added a small burst of air into your BCD, but you’re still kneeling on pool floor. Now what? After each small burst you add to your BC, take one big inhale to get yourself off the ground. Still negative? Add one more small burst; take another big breath. The aim is to float weightlessly so you are neither touching the floor nor breaking the surface of the pool. If you can stay suspended in the middle of the water, not unlike a freeze-frame in a movie, then you have achieved neutral buoyancy.
Do not use your arms and legs to maintain this position in the water. Not only is this cheating, but it is also doing you a disservice. Sure, you might manage to be neutral for a moment, but will you be able to stay there? Also avoid holding down that inflator button. Use it sparingly; be patient; and wait a moment to see what happens after that big inhale. Otherwise you might go straight from negatively buoyant to the surface of the pool, with no hovering in between.
Get to know your breathing
Once you get neutral, the real work begins to keep yourself there. In order to do that, you must rely only on your breath. Take small breaths in, as if you are drinking from a very skinny straw. The less generous your breaths, the more steadily you will remain at the same depth. Pick a fixed point, like a pool tile, and work on your breathing until you come up with a pattern that keeps you still and staring at that same point. When I was struggling with this skill, I would take three short inhales in a row. That way, if after one or two of those inhales, I felt myself ascend too much already, I would exhale right away.
You can also ask someone experienced to hop in the pool and help coach you by signaling when to breathe in and when to breathe out. With practice, things will just click. You will start breathing this way on all of your dives without thinking about it.
Pick a position
Hover in a position comfortable enough to hold for a few minutes. Remember, just because your instructor demonstrated the hover cross-legged doesn’t mean that you’ve got to do it that way. If you are tempted to use your hands to steady yourself, wrap your arms around your knees instead. If you’re tall, make yourself as small as possible. That way, your changes in depth (if they do happen) do not feel so big. Once you find a position you like, do not move. Don’t let changes like a tilt in position distract you; just focus on remaining motionless at the same depth.
Weight yourself properly
You can avoid that distracting tilt we just talked about if you distribute your weights evenly for a nice trim. And while we’re on the subject of weights, you’ll be doing all that work perfecting your hover for nothing if you’re not wearing the correct amount. So take the time to perform a buoyancy check. After you’ve practiced your hover in a freshwater pool, and are ready to try it out in salt water, remember that you’ll need to do another buoyancy check.
After a bit of practice, and keeping these tips in mind, you’ll wonder why you ever found buoyancy control difficult in the first place. Soon you’ll be diving with those experienced divers you used to marvel at, also in complete control.