You are fairly new to scuba diving? First of, congratulations! And welcome to the big scuba diving family!
If you enjoy diving, but you are still struggling to keep calm, and you tend to empty your tank under 30 minutes, fear not: you will improve with experience, but here are 3 basic tips to speed up that process.
1. Breathe Slowly
Breathing is the key. If you’re as excited about diving as I am, your heart rate may be slightly higher than usual when you’re about to go in the water. How would you expect me to stay calm when I’m about to dive?! I KNOW, RIGHT!!!
But you’re the boss of your lungs, so even if you’re excited beyond measures, it’s still up to you to slow down your breathing.
The key is to exhale 3 times longer than you inhale.
Taking long, slow exhalations will help you in many ways: your air reserve will last longer, you will be more stable underwater, and you won’t risk overexerting yourself.
Here’s how you can manage a slower breathing pattern:
— Right after your entry in the water, there’s usually a moment spent at the surface, making sure everyone is OK and ready to descent. Use that moment to calm down. Inflate your BCD to be positively buoyant, well above sea level. If there are no waves and no danger of inhaling water, take out your regulator and take long, deep breaths (Do NOT take out your reg if your BCD is not inflated!). This will help you calm down, and it will also facilitate your descent.
— Breathe with your stomach: whether at the surface or during the dive, I find it easier to breathe using the full capacity of my lungs, not just the chest. Fill up that lower part too, and use your diaphragm to push it out. It will implement a slower, deeper breathing pattern than just using your chest.
— Make your exhalations last longer: slow down your exhalation and make it last longer. At first, you will have to focus actively on this process to make it happen, but it will become automatic.
All of your movements are slower under water (because of the resistance of the water you’re displacing when you move), so your breathing should be slower as well. There are no need for excessive, rapid movements, just like there is no need for rapid, shallow breaths.
2. Cross Your Arms
The key to avoid parasitic movements under water is to neutralise the source. Your arms are absolutely useless there. Have you ever seen a fish with arms? No. They have fins, tails, and long, sleek bodies to move through the water.
With your fins on, you can act like a fish, if you keep your arms crossed against your chest. If you want to move left or right, you should turn your head and shoulders in that direction, wait for your body to follow that impulse, then use your fins to kick.
Need to stabilise? Spread your legs and use the surface of your fins (spread horizontally) to take your balance against the water.
Believe me, using your arms will not achieve what you’re trying to do. You’ll likely consume more air (because those movements are very energy-consuming), and if you find that it helps turning one way or staying still, it really doesn’t: it’s just that you’re using your fins the right way, and adding parasitic hand gestures.
So #ProTip here my friends: cross your left arm so your left hand rests near the rapid purge of your right shoulder, then cross your right arm above, so your right hand holds your BCD’s inflator.
This is what I would recommend for beginners. You don’t have a need for a diving computer yet, you are not stable enough to be taking good underwater pictures or movies, so you might as well use these dives to improve your technique by keeping both your arms against your chest.
It might feel like this posture is impeding your freedom of movement, but it’s because your earth-born reflexes are kicking in. Don’t yield to them, you’re underwater, those reflexes are useless, even counterproductive. Spread out your legs if you feel that you’re leaning on one side, do not spread out your arm!
Just check your air supply now and then, other than that, keep both arms to your chest, ready to inflate or deflate your BCD. Buoyancy is the only preoccupation you should focus on at this stage. There will be time to become a skilled underwater photographer when you’ve mastered balance.
3. Stabilise Yourself At All Times
You’ve steadied your breathing pattern, and eliminated all arms’ parasitic gestures. Congrats! Now you can focus and the most important skill a diver needs to master: buoyancy.
The inflatable jacket you are wearing is designed to help you compensate the forces in action against your body. Basically, it’s gravity versus Archimede. At the surface, gravity pulls you down and Archimede’s principle pushes you up.
As you descent under water, the pressure rises, your volume diminishes, and though gravity is always the same, the push up decreases (because your volume is diminishing) and you also have a body of water above you, pushing you down as well (but we can neglect that one compared to gravity).
It’s important to keep in mind that neutral buoyancy is a balance point, and every time you move, you disturb that balance. Every time your volume changes at the same depth, you’re thrown off that balance.
This is why you need constant adjustments throughout your dive to achieve neutral buoyancy! Especially if you are moving at different depths. You may have found balance at the beginning of the dive, but don’t expect that to last! You will be thrown off that balance every time you move up or down!
This is also why it’s important to master a slow, steady breathing pattern, and avoid parasitic gestures: it will help you steady yourself more easily.
How to achieve neutral buoyancy?
— Get a feeling of your current state: are you sinking, or floating up? You need to either add more air to your BCD, or remove some. Adding air will lift you up, removing air will make you sink.
— Removing air: use the right purge! If you’re facing down, feeling that your butt is above your head, use the lower rapid purge, probably located on your right side. If your head and right shoulder are definitely the highest points of your body, use the rapid purge of your right shoulder.
— Adding air: wait for it! There’s a slight delay between your action and its result. So be gentle when adding air to your BCD: a 2-seconds push should be plenty enough, then wait 5 seconds, breath in, then add more if you still aren’t satisfied.
— Don’t hold your breath! Breathing can upset your balance, so there’s no point trying to stabilise yourself while holding your breath: you will need to breathe at some point anyway! By the way, you should never hold your breath while scuba diving. It’s the best way to risk a serious lung injury, so for the record: don’t.
Instead, if you feel that you’re sinking, take a long, deep inhalation. Are you moving up? No? Add a 2-seconds push of air into your BCD, then exhale (long, nice and slow). Where are you now? Still going up? Remove a few bubbles until you are stable… Not going up? Add another 2 seconds push of the inflator.
Satisfied yet? If yes, congrats: you’ve achieved neutral buoyancy at that particular depth where you are right now.
Remember: if you go up, you will need to remove some air (you’ll feel yourself being carried up). If you go down, you will likely need to add more air (you’ll feel yourself fall down too quickly).
Wrap it up
There you are! If you have less than 10-20 dives logged, you might want to focus some of your attention on these 3 skills. Practicing these will quickly help you gain more ease under water, and you’ll end up enjoying scuba diving even more than you currently do!
I should know: been there, done that!
Shoutout to all the experienced divers who are reading this: please give me your feedback in the comment section below! Help me spread the good advices!