Why the Most Important Skill for Scuba Divers Is Neutral Buoyancy and How to Perfect It

neutral buoyancy
18 Sep 2016

Why the Most Important Skill for Scuba Divers Is Neutral Buoyancy and How to Perfect It

When you’re first learning to scuba dive, you’ll have many concerns. First and foremost, you need to learn how to use all of your equipment, how to operate in a safe and responsible manner, and of course, what to do should an emergency arise.

Once you have the basics down, it’s just a matter of practicing until you feel comfortable with the gear and the experience of frolicking beneath the waves, so to speak. Believe it or not, though, even with several successful dives under your belt, you still have a lot to learn.

For example, you’re bound to discover over time that the fit of your first mask isn’t quite right or that the wetsuit you’ve purchased isn’t suited for the climates you prefer to dive in. You might find that you want to purchase your own tank rather than renting one. These are the idiosyncrasies that you can only determine through practice.

You’ll also find that certain skills take time and education to master. Neutral buoyancy is one such skill, as you’re sure to discover. What is neutral buoyancy? Why is it so important? And how can you perfect this skill? Here are a few things you need to know.

What is Neutral Buoyancy?

When an object is immersed in fluid, it will either sink or float. Which one depends on both the density of the object and the density of the fluid. If the object density is greater, it sinks, whereas a greater fluid density would cause the object to float.

Neutral density is the point at which an object’s density is the same as the fluid in which it is immersed, causing the object to neither ascend nor descend in fluid, but remain in a neutral position until it is impelled to move.

In terms of scuba diving, achieving a state of neutral buoyancy allows you halt and control your progression, whether you’re in the process of sinking or rising. Understanding and controlling buoyancy can not only enhance your diving experience by allowing you to remain relatively static while you enjoy your surroundings, but it is also an essential component of dive safety.

Why is it Important?

The ability to descend, ascend, or maintain neutral buoyancy while diving is crucial to having a safe and successful dive, as well as avoiding injury or death. If you sink or rise too quickly in the water, a number of unfortunate situations could occur.

At the very least, you could become separated from your group and lost, especially in murky water or dark diving conditions. You may run into objects or find yourself in dangerous situations.

More importantly, however, you could suffer serious injury as a result of changing atmospheric pressures. You might dive deeper than anticipated and run out of air trying to reach the surface again.  Or, if you ascend too quickly, you could suffer decompression sickness (the bends). Plus, such scenarios could cause you to panic and make fatal errors. In other words, mastering neutral buoyancy is a must.

Ballast

Ballast is the extra weight you carry to help you sink to your planned dive depth. Inexperienced divers often make the mistake of carrying too much weight and having to overcompensate. In fact, an excess of ballast can leave you constantly toying with your buoyancy compensator (BC), a bladder containing a scalable air bubble that offsets your ballast weight.

Most divers start out with excess ballast during training to help them sink below the surface.  As you become more experienced you can take less ballast and find other ways to decrease and maintain your buoyancy more easily and effectively.

Understanding Trim

Trim basically pertains to your position in the water when you’re neutral (i.e. not moving). Even if you achieve neutral buoyancy, if your body is positioned upright instead of supine, you’re naturally going to rise when you kick off to move laterally through the water. Then you’ll have to adjust to regain a state of neutral buoyancy.

How Gear Impacts Buoyancy

Your wetsuit can trap air bubbles from the surface, making you more buoyant. Your air tank gets lighter as you breathe the air within. These factors require compensation if you want to control buoyancy throughout your dive.

Don’t forget, your breathing also affect buoyancy. The way you breathe can either help you to remain neutral or cause you to rise and fall in the water with no other adjustments. Understanding these principles can help you to take the steps needed to control your buoyancy during dives and remain safe and calm when unexpected situations occur.