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Buoyancy Control Tips

Good buoyancy control is key for making longer dives, air conservation, and protecting the local marine environment. When you are able to control your buoyancy well you will have more time and freedom to see more and get into those trickier spots. 

Diver Spending Time on reef

It will also allow you to take better underwater photos/ videos while moving effectively through the water. Since you will be consuming less air this will lead to a reduced risk of accidents, injuries, and emergencies. 

Here are some tips to achieve better buoyancy that a beginner diver can use and the most experienced diver can always brush up on.

example of a photo taken with a red filter

What is Buoyancy?

Let us start with what exactly is buoyancy and how it works. The difference in mass and weight makes some things float and others sink. 

For example, a cargo ship floats as it displaces more water than it weighs. But a rock sinks as it weighs more than it displaces.

The same goes for the body if your density of weight is greater than the amount of water displaced you sink and vice versa.

Boyle’s Law and its Effect on Buoyancy

While displacement matters a lot for buoyancy, so does Boyle’s law. This law states that when you multiply the pressure surrounding gas by the volume of the gas, the resulting number will always be the same (as long as it is a constant temperature). 

In layman’s terms, this means that when the pressure increases (descending), the volume of the gas decreases, and the opposite goes for when you ascend. So when you are descending, the volume of air in your BCD, lungs, wetsuit, etc will decrease.

 The reason that this is vital, is because it explains how our dive gear and breath control affect our buoyancy.

Scuba diver giving "ok" signal under water

Why is Buoyancy Control Important for Diving?

You want to get the most out of your diver and leave the smallest impact on the marine area, this is done through buoyancy control. 

Bad buoyancy control has a big effect on your diving and can damage the corals, kill wildlife, and destroy wrecks. As opposed to good buoyancy control allows you to manage your air better, grove you better trim and control your dive.

Two divers on a line at a safety stop

Controlling your buoyancy will help to reduce your fatigue levels and lower air consumption as you won’t have to work to stay balanced. It will slow down your descent and ascent to make sure you do not get the bends.

Factors That Affect Buoyancy Control

Here are some factors to think about before and during the dive that will affect your buoyancy.

  • BCD – How much is the BCD inflated or deflated? Does it have a metal plate (that is extra weight)? Are there pockets of air that are hard to empty out on the descent?
  • Weighting – How much lead are you wearing? Do you have a camera or any other things that are negatively buoyant?
  • Wetsuit – Is it a drysuit, 3mm, or 5mm? Do you have gloves, booties, or a hood? How cold will it get?
  • Breathing – If you are breathing calmly and evenly? Are you stressed and taking large deep breaths?
  • Depth – What is the dive plan and depth you will go to? How long will you need to do a safety stop?
  • Trim – Am I streamlined? Do I have diving shorts on with things hanging off me? Am I finning correctly?
  • Tank – What is the size of the tank? Is it steel or aluminum?

How to Do a Weight Check

This is the standard weight check that is taught to divers. You wear all your equipment into the water in an area that is too deep to stand. You want to be able to hang vertically without any movement (normal breaths) so that you float around at eye level with an empty BCD. We have a weight calculator that also works great. 

If you are struggling to stay vertical at the surface, try to deflate your BCD a bit before starting.


diver doing a weight check in the pool, in vertical position

We will call a normal breath what you do when you are not thinking about it, it is difficult to say as everyone breathes differently. But if you take in a deep breath you will ascend and exhale deeply you will descend. Try both of these things to know how it feels as well. Get you to know your breathing and your body.

It is good to do a weight check with as close to an empty tank as possible as the tank will lose around 4.5lbs (2k) of weight during your dive.

Use Your BCD for Better Buoyancy

When you do a controlled descent, you empty your BCD, and then upon reaching your desired depth you may add small amounts of air to become neutrally buoyant. Add little bits of air at a time with your inflator. If you add too much you will start to ascend and start the process over again or in the worst case a rapid ascent.

Be sure to stretch the inflator house upwards so all the trapped air gets out and look for bubbles to double check. When you achieve neutral buoyancy you will only be moving up and down with your breath.

could use one more photo here - someone doing "deflate and rotate"

Deflate and Rotate

When starting out or using certain types of BCD air can get stuck in certain places. This may happen even if you have raised your hose to deflate.

Try to drop your shoulder and raise the other one, this makes the hose go to its highest point, and also you will be able to see it to make sure bubbles are coming out. I also use my dump valves sometimes if I can rotate around.

Breath and Relax

Your BCD is another tool that you have to control your buoyancy, but it is not the most important. The more relaxed you are and able to control your breath the easier it will be to move around in any direction. I rarely use my BCD unless I am trying to float on the surface.

I know this sounds simple but try to when descending you can fully exhale and when you get to your depth breathe normally. If near the bottom, take a deeper breath but never hold your breath.

When you get to your desired depth relax, this is the most important. Try to breathe as normally as possible. Focus on the dive and not your movement. It will become second nature the move you dive into.

Divers practicing Buoyancy in a pool


There are no shortcuts or tips that will allow you to get around this. If it is your first dive or you have been out of the water for a while it will take some time. Make sure you know the basics and always be observing other divers and asking questions. Scuba divers are generally a friendly bunch and are happy to help. 

If you can practice in a pool or somewhere that is calmer and may have some obstacles to swim through or games to play that are fun as well as effective.

Scuba divers doing a Gear Check

Take a Course/ Get Guidance

There are different courses from agencies like PADI that offer courses specific to buoyancy. If you are doing your advanced open water this is one of the 5 specialties you should do. If you do not want to take a course maybe just get a divemaster or instructor to help you privately (being sure to pay them for their time).

These courses will teach you how to relax, different types of breathing, streamlining, trim adjustments, weighting, etc. You will probably want to be adept at your buoyancy especially if you like or want to wreck and muck dive, these are sensitive environments.

Log Your Dive

You will want to keep a log of your dives for many different reasons but one of them is for this. Every place has different water temps, and conditions and you will change your gear accordingly.

So instead of relying on your memory or if it is a new environment, the dive guides advice you can look back through and see what worked for you in the past.

Weight belts or weight pockets?

The question of whether to use integrated weights vs a weight belt will come down to the design of the BCD if it is a jacket, wing, or hybrid. This is totally up to you and your personal preference. You can even use both if it helps. 

If you find it hard to keep your legs from sinking (as I do), try having a wight on your tank strap to compensate. 

In drysuits, a common issue is the feet floating and some people use ankle weights. It does not matter how it is set up as long as it is comfortable and you are able to release them if need be. 

Find what works for you and experiment.

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Welcome to our blog!
Austin on a dive baot
I am a PADI Divemaster based in South Florida. With nearly 10 years of diving experience, I have accumulated the knowledge to help readers become better divers, buy their next piece of gear, and plan their dream dive vacation! Please contact me if you have any questions.

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