Do you ever wish you could get an extra 5 minutes underwater when you go scuba diving?
It’s a common thing through the whole scuba diving community. You look at your air gauge and its time to start ascending, the next thing you check is to see how long you have been diving for. More often than not you wish you could have had that extra 10 minutes exploring the dive site or your just not quite ready to come back to the real world!
When I was learning my PADI Open Water here on Koh Tao Thailand, I always seemed to be the first member of my group running low on air. I was always asking everyone how much they had at the end of every dive and couldn’t believe my Instructor was finishing with over half a tank each time! However, after listening to some tips and tricks from the great staff here at Crystal Dive, I was soon extending my dive times.
When you conserve your air, you increase your dive time, something that newer divers may struggle with initially. However, being a good diver is more about being a safe diver and it certainly isn’t a competition to see who is the best. Just because you have good air consumption does not make you an expert in diving. There are many factors involved with air consumption, such as physiological factors that not everyone can adapt to.
However, this does not mean you can’t adapt with practise. It can be very frustrating to both you and your dive buddies when you have to end a dive prematurely from the original dive plan. So let’s talk about some diving techniques and equipment use, that can extend your bottom times and help you to gain confidence in your own abilities.
Buoyancy & Weighting
As we know, the key to becoming a scuba diver is mastering neutral buoyancy, essential to conserving air for divers. Experience and practice is the quickest way to achieve this.
Before the dive you should be making sure you think about trim. Stream lining your hoses before the dive, tucking away any hoses that could cause drag or entanglement and not wearing any unnecessary items. This could cause you to use more energy than you actually need to.
As divers if we practice, putting just small amounts of compensating air into your Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) at a time and use your breathing to make small adjustments.
Don’t be reliant on your BCD’s inflate and deflate button, this should be used to a minimum. Make sure you think about trim before the dive, tucking away any hoses and not wearing any unnecessary items.
Perform a buoyancy check on yourself before a dive if it has been a while since you went scuba diving or you are diving in unfamiliar equipment. Having too many weights on will cause your body to hang downwards meaning it’s harder to swim. Also being underweighted can mean you use more effort in swimming down combating your positive buoyancy during the dive. Both will have the same effect of you having to use more energy and therefore will cause you to breathe more.
It is recommended that you write down how much weight you require. It is important to remember that the amount of weight you need will be affected by factors that can change over time, such as weight gain or a change of equipment. This will be even more prevalent if you are diving in various locations, such as colder environments.
A colder environment will require different equipment from warmer places, as the thickness of any wetsuit will need to be adjusted and certainly for dry-suits this will be important!
Also take into account if your diving with steel or aluminium tanks. If you have been in warmer climates you will most likely of been using the latter. Steel tanks are much heavier than aluminium which for you means that you wouldn’t need to have as many weights on you during a dive. Don’t get this part confused!
Scuba Diving Equipment
You need scuba diving equipment that is the correct fit. Equipment that is too big means you will be bulky and won’t be streamlined. This can cause an increase in drag that can upset your balance, causing you to use energy and with energy consumption comes air consumption. Additionally, scuba equipment that is too small can be restrictive and make it uncomfortable while diving, affecting your breathing.
While we are not saying that you can’t have good air consumption with rental equipment, owning your own dive equipment is a positive way to improve your diving. Purchasing equipment on Koh Tao is a good idea due to the many well known brands like Mares, with expert advice on hand and attractive discounts offered.
Check that your regulator is in good working order, this is a safety critical piece of equipment and needs to be in good working order. Remember the question from your PADI Open Water Course? The most important function of a scuba diving regulator is how easy it is to breathe from.
If you own your own, regularly have it serviced to prevent leaks that could represent significant air loss, and give you piece of mind that your equipment is in good working order.
As part of your pre dive checks you should have your mask fully prepared to prevent fogging that can lead to anxiety or leaks to clear the mask. Even if you own your own mask or you are using someone else’s, ensure that it fits correctly, as constantly clearing your mask will waste air during your dive.
Ensure that you are using equipment that is correct for the conditions that you will likely encounter. Not being insulated correctly can cause you to use more air as your body tries to stay warm. Additionally, with warm water it can be unnecessary to wear bulky wetsuits and often a simple rash guard is more than ample. Here on Koh Tao, weather is good year round with water temperature between 26-30 degrees.
All these things above may seem minor, however, add them all together and you are already on your way to a more efficient and comfortable dive, which will in itself have a positive contribution to how much air you are using throughout your time underwater.
Relax whilst diving
A lot of air can be saved by just slowing down and not charging around a dive site – Swim slowly!
Going for a dive should be like going for a walk in the park. Making slow movements and not using your arms for propulsion will make you look a lot cooler. You should plan to be in a nice streamlined/trimmed position with a comfortable straight back.
Consider your breathing patterns; I was given lots of different methods on how to breathe correctly on a dive from; consciously thinking about slowing down your breathing to add time to a dive or even to count to 5 as you inhale and exhale.
For me this made me think about my breathing too much and not only did I not then remember any fish on the dive I just ended up using the same amount of air on the dive.
He told them to just relax and its not about how much air you don’t breathe in it is about how much air you do breathe. He told his students to focus on breathing in slowly and concentrate on the sound of the regulator.
Making the sound on the inhale as quiet as possible but also still feeling comfortable. The next dive I took his methods and guess what? It worked!
Learning to breathe from your diaphragm is another fundamental skill to have as a scuba diver. Limiting the use of your chest and muscles to breath in air and focus more on your stomach.
Try it now. As you breath in keep your chest nice and still and suck in the air as your belly sticks out. Now the opposite. As you breathe out again focus on keeping your chest still once more while your belly starts to sink back in.
However, i need to stress that good air consumption cannot be achieved by holding your breath. You should be extremely careful not to hold your breath when you are diving. As divers will learn during their PADI Open water course this is extremely dangerous and can cause serious injury or death!
Planning your dives
Dive planning is important, you should be well rested the night before a dive and have a plan of what you will do, reducing anxiety before a dive, which will in turn decrease stress giving a calmer breathing rate. Set up and check your equipment well in advance of the dive so as to stop any stress beforehand, you should enter the water in relaxed mood.
Know your dive site! At Crystal Dive fun dives are led by professional Divemasters who have knowledge about the dive sites meaning you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the marine life while they guide.
It is knowledge of a dive site that helps us avoid hard work underwater and go with the current rather than fight against it. There will be times when you have to fin a little against the current to find the next bit of shelter.
Having a decent fitness level will help you reduce the amount of air your body demands in these situations. Another way is to enrol on the PADI Underwater Navigation Specialty course which is designed to give a better idea of how get around a dive site and how to use a compass properly.
Improve your dive skills
Taking PADI continuing education courses is going to enhance your diving experiences and improve your air consumption drastically. PADI have a course that is aimed at improving your buoyancy and breathing technique – The PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty course (PPB).
I took the PPB Adventure dive as part of my PADI Advanced Open Water course. I found it improved my air consumption rate 10 fold. During these dives my instructor challenged me into maintaining different body positions underwater.
This is turn gave me the confidence to learn how to perfectly “hover” that divers originally learn during their PADI Open Water course, also how to kick and fin more efficiently. Having perfect buoyancy will help prevent injury by coming into contact with the bottom and help to protect the marine environment, such as sensitive corals and other sea life.
To assist in the protection of the marine environment when scuba diving on Koh Tao we have a dive site aimed specifically towards this dive, conveniently named Buoyancy world.
Dive more often
Its is important to remember that diving is all about fun, enjoyment and safety. Scuba divers train for this and it is up to them to become their own master underwater. I hope that some of the points that have been discussed in this blog help you to extend your dive times and have a lot more fun. The more you dive the better your buoyancy will become, the more familiar your equipment will be and the more relaxed you will be. You will want to challenge yourself to improve your skills even more.
Nothing is going to improve your air consumption more than getting out there and getting wet. Koh Tao has over 26 + dive sites (with more artificial sites being created) local to the island, so it is very easy to come and spend some time getting your dive count up.
Next time you are blowing bubbles, whether here in Thailand or elsewhere, try some of these tips and tricks and you’ll be sure to get your extra 5 minutes underwater, I know it has certainly helped me.