Most of us start our diving careers wearing way too much weight because we’re not yet comfortable enough underwater to relax. The more nervous we are, the harder it is to descend, so we add more weight. As we become more experienced, we can shed more lead and still successfully descend. Because it takes time and particular practice to shed these pounds, many divers stick with what they started out with, but being over-weighted carries with it some issues. Read on to find out how to reduce weight when you dive and eliminate some of those problems.
What’s wrong with being over-weighted?
Several issues can arise if you’re wearing too much weight, including:
- You use too much air. Being heavy means you must use more energy for propulsion, which in turn will cost you in terms of air consumption.
- You may struggle to do an emergency ascent. If you must make a swimming emergency ascent, you may find this difficult, or even impossible, if you’re severely over-weighted. I’ve seen this happen to numerous dive students during the emergency swimming ascent drill. You could drop your weights if this happens, but that leads to another problem…
- You risk an uncontrolled ascent. If you do drop your weights, or they fall off by mistake, you may shoot toward the surface much faster than you should, and you may struggle to regain control of your ascent before it’s too late.
How do you shed weight?
The first thing to realize is that unless you’ve specifically worked on dropping weight, you’re probably diving heavy. The best way to reduce weight when you dive is through buoyancy checks. For a number of consecutive dives, do a check before diving. Enter the water with all your gear on and deflate your BCD. Breathing normally, you should now float with the waterline at about eye level. When you deeply exhale, you should descend. If you’re sinking before you exhale, you’re too heavy.
You can also do a reverse buoyancy check, wherein you start with all your gear on, but no weights. Then deflate your BCD and try to sink by exhaling. If you can’t, add a single pound of weight and try again. Keep repeating until you’re just able to descend. And remember — the purpose of adding weight is to allow you to descend, not cause you to do so.
Do a safety-stop buoyancy check
During your safety stop, you should be able to hover at 15 feet (5 m) with no air in your BCD at all, maintaining depth simply through your breathing. If you need air in your BCD to maintain your depth, you’re too heavy and should start your next dive with a little less weight.
Ideally, you should do a buoyancy check every time your dive conditions change — if you get new gear, dive in a new dive location, or after a prolonged break from scuba diving. Even if you always dive in the same location with the same gear, you should still perform regular buoyancy checks to see if you can reduce weight when you dive. Dial it in further by doing a safety-stop buoyancy check every time you dive. Practice these methods and you’ll reduce your weight needs over time. This will make your dives all the easier and more enjoyable — and potentially safer, too.