Weight systems are a key component of any divers gear set. Without them, most divers are buoyant, making it difficult to sink to your desired depth after accounting for the rest of your gear. Most of your gear should be negatively buoyant – wetsuits are extremely buoyant, offsetting a lot of the weight your loadout may have. So that’s where weight systems come in!
With them, you’re able to descend on demand, or even ascend quicker in the event of an emergency. When it comes to weight systems, you have two main options, weight belts, and integrated weights. Let’s jump into the pros and cons of each of these systems, allowing you to get the right setup for your next dive.
A weighted belt is usually just made of synthetic materials (nylon) or rubber. I like the rubber one as it can be used for freediving as well as scuba. It fastens around your waist just like a normal belt.
Weight belts are the oldest method of making divers neutrally buoyant and involve stringing a belt around yourself with weights (typically lead). They are super basic and can be uncomfortable at times, but get the job done. It’s also an extremely simple and cheap system to get up and running. In the event of an emergency, weight belts have a quick-release strap that you can pull, dropping them to the ocean floor while you ascend up.
As you get to the higher end of weight belts, you may find some more comfortable ones made out of fabric with pockets. These are great because rather than having a giant lead block digging into your hips, you have a soft fabric protecting you.
A super common option these days is getting a BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) that has pouches for weights to go inside. This is my preferred method, but then again I come from the newer generation of divers.
These BCDs sometimes have weight systems specific to that BCD that socket in (shown above) or just contain general pockets that the same lead weights could go inside.
The main advantage of this method is that it’s just much more comfortable to dive this weight, and may even help you get more horizontal underwater.
Integrated weight systems are also very good for when you need to use a lot of weight for one reason or another. When you are diving in a dry suit or in colder waters, they are a better option.
Why Not Combine Weight Belts and Integrated Weights?
In the event, your integrated weight pockets are maxed out, or there’s no more room on your weight belt, you may find a combination of both methods to be useful. This is a great way to dive since it distributes the weights more evenly across your body. Sometimes I even put a weight on the tank strap as it gives me some balance.
Just remember that in the event you need to drop your weights, you’ll have a few places to release, not just one. So practice this before you get in the water and make sure your buddy knows where your weights are as well in case of an emergency.
Releasing Your Weight System
If you ever find yourself in an emergency while diving that requires you to release your weights, it’s imperative to know how the current weight system that you use releases.
Weight belts typically have a quick-release strap but you may see some systems with a buckle. Try to look for buckles that are strong, and reliable, yet easy to release if necessary.
Integrated weights are usually inside pockets/pouches, or have a quick-release pull that can allow you to ditch the weight quickly. A quick-release system is not the same as having weights that are secured by buckles that are loose, you want to make sure the weights don’t slip out by accident.
No matter the system you use, even if it is both you want a quick and safe way to release weights. Something that you can control and handle while underwater and that you can take off quickly is imperative.
We really hope a situation never comes up where you’d need to release weights in an emergency, but it’s important to be aware of your release systems.
Most people do not travel with weights, but if you have the weight in your luggage I would say go for it as the more comfortable you are with the gear the better the dive will be and the less air you will use. The amount of weight and the placement will differ on a lot of factors. Below I will outline and discuss the main factors that come into play when you are working out how much weight you will need for a dive.
- Body Weight – You need to know your body weight and body mass index, the BMI comes into effect since muscle sinks and fat floats.
- Water Type- You will need more weight in salt water compared to fresh and even the salt level matters. When I dove in Egypt it was much saltier than the Philippines and I needed an extra few pounds. In general, you will not need to use as much when in freshwater as you would in salt water, around 10% less.
- Equipment- Besides wetsuits and tank, are you bringing a buoyant camera, tools, etc? These will all add or subtract buoyancy.
- Wetsuits- All wetsuits are naturally buoyant and the thicker the wetsuit, the more buoyant it will be.
- Tank Type-When it comes to tanks, aluminum is more buoyant than stainless-steel models. You also have to keep in mind that tanks become more buoyant as you consume the air in them.
How to Accurately Weigh Yourself
I hope now you have a better idea of the different kinds of weight and how it affects you. A buoyancy test in the water type (the same type you are diving in) is the best way to do it. If you don’t have access to at least a pool here is a handy tool to help you estimate how much weight you will need based on multiple factors.
Weighting For Scuba Diving
You are normally taught that while you are on the surface of the water, breathe normally vertically with no air in your BCD. The water surface then should rise halfway up your mask in a perfect world. Too high in the water and you will need more ballast and vice versa.
This though is only a rough test. There are more comprehensive ways to perform a proper scuba diving weight test here.
Weighting For Freediving, Spearfishing, and Snorkeling
When you are on the surface, you want to be neutrally buoyant when you are snorkeling.
Freedivers usually do a surface exhale test and your mask should be in line with the water. After you feel comfortable you can go down the dive line and check to be neutral around 35 feet (10 meters). More experienced freedivers will add less weight as they go deeper as the issue is not getting down it is getting back up. They also have dived the weight often around their necks with small lead balls.
As for spearfishing, most spearfishers tend to overweight themselves (which I do not recommend) to get down easier. This can be dangerous and you should be weighed as you would if you are freediving. It is safer and a good idea to start with less weight than to add extra weight as needed.
Other Ways to Use Dive Weights
Even if you do not need to use a lot of weights there are other uses for them underwater. If you are doing a marine or coral survey, weights are great to anchor and weigh down any equipment you may be using. It is also used in courses and to practice buoyancy, you add and take off weights to work on your breathing and underwater movements. Instructors and dive guides also carry an extra one or two for students or clients if they are having trouble staying down.
How Much do Dive Weights Weigh?
You will see weights of all different weights and sizes, most dive weights will be 1 to 4 pounds (.5 to 2 Kilos) But you will see dive weights would weigh from 1lb to 10lbs (.5 to 4 kilos).
At the end of the day, weight is weight. You will sink with all methods. For beginner divers, we’d recommend just going with the basics and rental gear, which is typically in the form of a simple weight belt. Some rental gear will have integrated weight pockets, but it’s not super common.
For more advanced or intermediate divers who want to start getting their own gear, we’d recommend getting an integrated BCD, or even just a more comfortable weight belt.
It all comes down to preference. You may prefer a combination of both, or a method not even mentioned here.
How do you set up your weights on your dives?
Let us know in the comments below!