Making a Proper Scuba Descent

When it comes to safety, starting your dive properly sets the tone for the entire experience.

Making a proper ascent gets much of the attention when it comes to safety and scuba diving. From safety stops, to ascent rate, to avoiding traffic on the surface, a lot of training involves rising from the bottom. But descending for your dive is equally important, although course work does not emphasize it as much. Read on for tips on the best procedure for making a proper scuba descent.

Preparation for a proper scuba descent

Before you even start your descent, complete a few steps to ensure that you’re ready to descend at all. Preparing at the outset of a dive means that you won’t waste time remedying a situation once you’ve already begun.

1.     Check your gear.

Before getting in the water, make sure you have everything you need for the dive. Make sure that everything is in its place and secured. There’s nothing worse than trying to descend, only to find that you’ve forgotten your weights.

2.     Check the current.

Again before jumping into the water, check the current, both direction and strength. Knowing which way the water is moving will help you decide where to descend, or even if you should consider pushing the dive to a later time or date.

3.     Check that you’re at the right location.

Once you’re in the water and just before you’re ready to descend, look down to make sure you’re above your intended start point. Confirm the direction you’ll be heading in once you’re at depth.

4.     Check your brain.

You should already have checked in with yourself to make sure that you’re physically and mentally ready to dive, and that you simply feel good about the dive. But just as you’re about to descend, take a few seconds and a few deep, calm breaths to center yourself. Become present for the dive. Focus your mind on the activity at hand.

5.     Make eye contact.

Finally, find your buddy and make sure you’re both ready to dive, and are within a reasonable distance of each other before you begin your descent.

The descent

Now that you’re prepared, you can begin your actual descent.

1.     Let air out of your BCD and start the descent.

Start by letting all the air out of your BCD. You’ll float at about eye level in the water if you’re properly weighted. Exhale, pushing a bit more air out than you would during a normal exhalation, and feel yourself starting to sink. Once you’re a few feet below the surface, begin breathing normally again, but don’t take overly deep breaths, as these will make you buoyant enough to bring you back to the surface. This is probably the most common reason that new divers struggle to descend, a problem they often address with additional, and unnecessary, weight.

2.     Equalize your ears.

As the saying goes, equalize your ears “early and often.” Start your equalization as soon as your head goes below the surface, and continue to do so in frequent intervals as you descend. The more often you equalize, the less force you need to apply, and you may find you need only to wiggle your jaw a bit if you get it right.

3.     Keep an eye on the dive site and your buddy.

As you start to sink, keep an eye on your dive site, make adjustments for any current, and stay in touch with your buddy. Depending on the current or how far you are from your dive location, you can start slowly finning in the appropriate direction once you’re about 10 feet below the surface. Until then, you should be vertical in the water. This will not only help with your descent, but will also keep your sinuses above your lungs, which helps with equalization.

4.     Add air to your BCD.

As you descend, the inherent buoyancy from your exposure suit, the air in your tank, and whatever else is giving you buoyancy decreases, so you’ll start sinking faster and faster. To avoid descending too fast, add small amounts of air to your BCD to slow your descent. While we always talk about safe ascension rates, we should also make sure we don’t descend too fast. The deeper you go; the more air you’ll need to add.

5.     Come to a hover.

As you reach the bottom or your intended depth, add a bit more air to your BCD to achieve a complete hover. Stop here for a breath or two to ensure that you’re actually correctly buoyant. You should neither sink nor float up, and only change depth minimally when you inhale or exhale. Movement, such as finning, creates buoyancy, so taking a moment to hover without movement helps ensure that you are neutrally buoyant before venturing off.

6.     Make like Tom Cruise.

Whenever I have new divers on a course, I challenge them to do a Mission Impossible dive. I ask them to descend vertically until they’re almost at the bottom, and then assume a horizontal position. Whoever can come closest to the bottom without touching it wins. My students practice this challenge on every descent as long as the bottom surface is suitable, i.e., a sandy bottom without any coral or anything else that can be damaged.

With just a bit of forethought, training, and a few good procedures, a proper descent can help kick your dive off right.