The best way to improve your buoyancy is doubtlessly to dive more. But sometimes during dives we further emphasize poor habits, such as using propulsion for buoyancy and inflating the BCD more than necessary to compensate for too much weight, which keeps us from developing top-level buoyancy skills. If you want to top-tune your buoyancy, the following exercises can be good supplements to your day-to-day diving activities, and can be used by instructors conducting buoyancy-course dives. Adding a bit of fun and games can be very motivational for divers practicing buoyancy.
The Buoyancy Check
First and foremost, the classic buoyancy check should be the first step in optimizing your buoyancy. In water deep enough for you to hover upright, with a few feet below your fins, first remove all weight from your BCD or weight belt. Then deflate your BCD completely and add weight until you are able to float at the surface with the water at eye level, still with your BCD deflated and breathing normally through your regulator. When you exhale, you should be able to start your descent. With this amount of weight, you’ll be very close to an optimal starting point for perfecting your buoyancy, and for the other exercises on this list as well.
Pass The Block
One drill I often utilize when I work on buoyancy with divers is one I call “Pass The Block.” I bring a small 2- or 4-pound weight block (the type you put on a weight belt), and, with all divers hovering a few feet off the bottom, we pass the block from diver to diver. This sudden shift in weight trains divers to maintain their position by using their breath to increase and decrease their buoyancy, as well as to maintain their balance and trim. For more advanced variations you can use two blocks, one 2-pound and one 4-pound, or you can do a little sleight-of-hand and switch a 2-pound block for a 4-pound block (or vice versa) without anyone noticing. You can also do a little feign, and hand the block towards the next diver in line, only to pull it back just before he or she takes it. At this point, they’ve already started making the adjustment for the added weight of the block, and will need to adjust back quickly.
On descents, I often challenge my dive course trainees to do a smooth descent and come as close to the bottom as possible, in horizontal trim, without touching the bottom. The person who comes closest without hitting the bottom wins a symbolic prize, or simply the praise of the group.
A variation of the exercise above is to challenge divers to come extremely close to the bottom, spread-eagle, like Tom Cruise hovering over the floor in Langley in the first Mission Impossible film, but again without touching the bottom. The diver who manages to hover in this awkward position the longest wins.
Jumping Through Hoops
Tying an old-fashioned hula-hoop to a 2-pound weight gives you a great tool for practicing swimming in control. The challenge is to swim through these without touching them with hands, fins, tank, or any other part of your body or gear.
A great, and very simple, exercise is to ask a diver to hover close to the bottom. Then, once they have control of the hover, ask them to close their eyes. Loss of visual cues makes balancing much harder (try standing on one leg with your eyes closed and you’ll know what I mean), and trains us to use our own body sensations as cues instead.
Safety Stop Hover
The final exercise, or check, is to remind divers that they should be able to complete the safety stop at 15 feet with 50 bars (or 800 psi) of pressure in their tank, without any air in their BCD, maintaining their position in the water simply by using their breath. This can act as an extra check in addition to the initial buoyancy check.