Most divers want to decrease the amount of air that they use on each dive, and those who don’t use much air are often asked just what the secret is. So seeing as I seem to have gained a reputation as one of these people that “just don’t breathe”, I thought I’d pass on a few of my thoughts and tips.
Firstly, it’s VERY important to remember that decreasing your air consumption should not be an aim in itself, as it is actually an outcome of good diving practice and technique. Good air consumption does not make you a better diver, but it does allow you to stay down longer where appropriate.
If you focus purely on decreasing your air consumption you may well actually cause problems, such as by commiting one or more of the following:
- skip breathing – this can lead to carbon dioxide retention which can cause headaches, and could increase the risk of lung trauma caused by breath holding on ascent.
- shallow breathing – you are not fully refreshing the air in your lungs on each breath, and so are preventing a sufficient level of gaseous exchange from occuring. This is called hypoventilation, meaning mean that you are not taking in enough oxygen while at the same time are retaining carbon dioxide. This can be extremely dangerous and can lead to shallow water blackouts.
- underfilling your BCD – while filling your BCD does obviously use air, underfilling your BCD in an attempt to conserve air will make you negatively bouyant at depth. As a result you will find yourself working a lot harder to stay at the same depth or ascend, and this increased activity will actually cause you to breathe a lot more, making the whole attempt worthless. It could also prove dangerous as a negatively bouyant diver that is not concentrating will sink, increasing the risk of nitrogen narcosis which together with the sinking could prove fatal.
- irregular breathing – if all you are thinking about on a dive is air consumption, then automatically your breathing is going to become a bit stilted and irregular purely because you are focusing on it so much. This could hamper gaseous exchange or lead to breath holding, and will not allow you to relax. You will also be distracted and thus less aware of the activity and potential problems around you.
What you should really do is forget about air consumption, and instead focus on the following things as mastering these will greatly improve both your air consumption and diving experience:
- Bouyancy – This is the main thing that all scuba divers should master. Good bouyancy will give you greater control over your movement and position in the water, allowing you to cruise along in a relaxed fashion and keep any exertion to a minimum. You can also avoid any regular depth changes that cause you to continually dump and inflate your BCD, as you are able to maintain a constant level in the water.
Good bouyancy skills are also extremely valuable for wreck diving, reef diving, and any diving that requires proximity to the bottom, as you will be able to avoid kicking and damaging the wreck/reef or kicking up sediment that destroys the visibility for the whole dive group. The PADI Peak Performance Bouyancy speciality can help to hone your skills in this area, and if you practice over time you should see a marked improvement. Just one thing to note on a pet subject of mine:
*PLEASE do not dive too close to a coral reef or wreck if you know that your bouyancy is not brilliant! Coral reefs in particular are very fragile eco systems that are very easily damaged, and many reefs are a fraction of their former selves due to damage by careless divers. Please help to preserve them so that other divers can enjoy them after you! *
One test that I use to ensure that I am negatively bouyant while diving is stop finning, breathe out slowly, then breathe in slowly. On the exhale I should slowly sink and on the inhale I should slowly rise, not by much but it’s noticable. If I’m always sinking then I’m negatively bouyant and need to put a bit of air into my BCD, if I’m always rising then I’m positively bouyant and need to let a little bit of air out. I know it’s the simplest test that we are all taught at the start (the whole concept behind fin pivots) but it helps me to stay aware of my bouyancy so might help someone else.
- Weights – to help you achieve good bouyancy control and a good position in the
water you need to make sure that you are properly weighted. You need to have enough weight to get down at the start of the dive, but also enough weight to ensure you stay down on your safety stop as by this time your tank is a lot lighter as it’s holding less air. Remember the test for correct weighting:
- at the start of the dive, take a deep breath and deflate your BCD
- you should float in the water at around eye level – if you sink then you’re overweighted, so remove some weight and try again
- exhale slowly
- you should find yourself sinking under the water – if not then you’re underweighted and need to add on some weights
- remember that different equipment, in particular exposure suits, require different weighting as do different salinities of the water. So make sure you check your weighting regularly, particularly if you’ve changed equipment or location. As you get more experienced you may find that you can dive with less weight.
The position of your weights is also important. I find that if I’m diving with a lead tank I need more weights placed around the front to balance out the heavy weight of the tank on my back. But if I’m diving with an aluminium tank then I prefer the weights to be further round the sides on my hips, as otherwise I have difficulty being in any position other than on my front with my face in the floor (a bit difficult if I’m trying to maintain a head up ascent). You generally want your weights to be on the front half of your body, from the side of your hips forward, with maybe a small 1kg or two in a trim weight pocket, but everyone has their own favoured configuration. Just play around with them until you have a setup that you feel comfortable with.
- Streamlining – while this might seem a bit over the top to some of you it’s actually quite important. You need to make sure that you have nothing dangling any distance from your body as it could become caught on something, thus trapping you underwater. It may also scrape along a coral reef which obviously damages the reef, or it could get dragged through the silt which won’t be any good for your equipment, especially if it’s an octopus that someone might later need to rely on in an emergency.
Cut down on unnecessary equipment, take only what you need. If you go diving with everything bar the kitchen sink then you’ll probably be overweighted, besides not being able to find the thing that you need in those crucial minutes, again providing a safetly hazard. So apart from allowing you to cut an easier route through the water which will lessen any exertion, there are also some safety implications involved with streamlining yourself.
- Body position –
Try to maintain a good horizontal body position underwater. This allows you to cut through the water much easier and will allow decent, long, relaxed leg kicks to be used, greatly reducing the amount of exertion required. Most of the things that you came to see will be down infront of you anyway, so this is an ideal position for viewing them.
Some people find it helpful to hold their BCD inflator with one hand and their right sholder dump pull with the other, as this prevents them from flapping their arms around and encourages them to adopt a better body position. This will also help with your streamlining and allows you to easily control your bouyancy
- Fining technique – this is related to good body position, linked to good bouyancy and weighting, so it isn’t one to worry about too much as mastering the previous points will probably improve your finning technique a great deal. You can fin in whichever way feels most comfortable, natural and effective for you. Just try to remember that long, slow, controlled kicks using your full leg are much better than trying to fin quickly just using your leg from the knee down. And if you are drift diving then let the current do a lot of the work. It doens’t have to be a race. Which brings me to my final point:
- Relax! – this is very important, and something that will come to you easily (if it doesn’t already) once you are confident in the water. And if you do feel a bit shaky then conversely relaxing can push away those worries and actually increase your confidence. It will calm you down, help keep your breathing rate steady, and will let you enjoy the dive a whole lot more. So stop trying to go everywhere at 90mp, stop worrying about every little detail and just relax and enjoy yourself. If you didn’t want to do that you wouldn’t be diving, would you?
If you want to try something a bit different then how about yoga? There are a few places now that run combined scuba and yoga holidays as apparently they go very well together. I’ve also heard (completely unsubstantiated) that brass players also use less air due to their increased lung capacity and greater breath control. So if you go by that logic then take up a brass or wind instrument, or try singing as the breathing techniques required may help. (As I say – completely unsubstantiated, but if you have any stories then let me know!)
So these are just a few points to help improve your diving, and once you’ve mastered these you should find that you air consumption will have improved quite a bit. And you never know, one day people might be asking you how you use so little air whilst diving!
If you have anything that you’d like to add then please just let me know. I don’t consider myself an expert and am always keen to learn good tips to improve my own diving!
*Images from stock.xchng