B.C.'s Are Not Weight Belt Compensating Devices
Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D.
This is an electronic reprint of an article that appeared in Underwater USA (Oct. 1993, p. 35). This material is copyrighted and all rights retained by the author. This article is made available as a service to the diving community by the author and may be distributed for any non-commercial or Not-For-Profit use.
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is within our sport diving community a disturbing trend to overweight. We are
propagating a generation of divers who actually believe the myth that it is
necessary to grossly overweight in order to go diving. That myth is simply not
true! Dan Orr, Training
Coordinator for D.A.N., has interviewed and photographed hundreds of divers in
preparation for his slide presentation "Dressed To Kill." His
findings indicate, "Over-weighting is a problem that knows no boundaries
in experience or certification level." Dan's slide presentation contains
numerous "candid" photos of divers who have gone to great (and often
bizarre) measures to accomplish this over-weighting. Such extremes include,
but are not limited to, strapping large hip weights on scuba cylinders with
duct tape, using multiple ankle weights including chains, and use of duct tape
to secure weights on the ankles. Although the problem is most easily
recognized on the basic checkout, this problem with over-weighting appears
throughout our diving community.
of the genuine pleasures of diving is to glide weightlessly through the water
environment. With time a diver
develops a sense of oneness of self and Planet Ocean. It is this freedom from
gravity that is, in part, responsible for that very real "divers
high." Over-weighted divers are not free from the constraints of gravity
and thus deny themselves great joy. Diving weightless is fun! Crashing into
(and destroying) our reefs and/or disturbing everyone's visibility by mucking
around on the bottom because of over-weighting are not fun; it is work! Let's
examine and hopefully destroy this myth "that over-weighting is O.K.
because you can add air to your B.C."
put: Work is the movement of mass through distance. If you carry more weight,
you move more mass through the water; thus you will do more work.
More work means more air consumed and less bottom time. If you
compensate for the extra weight by adding air to the B.C. you increase your
drag in the water; thus you do even more work.
The over-weighted diver generally adds a lot of air to the B.C. As the
diver moves, the air shifts and such divers often feel like they are moving
around out of control. (They, of course, are out of control.) The added air
poses an additional problem on ascent. The air rapidly expands and increases a
diver's ascent rate. An efficient diver tries to minimize work done by
streamlining his body; thus an efficient diver moves horizontally through the
water. An over-weighted diver generally moves through the water with head
higher than feet. This position presents a larger cross-sectional area and
creates a lot of drag. Again, the
diver must do more work. In this position most of the thrust from the fin is
wasted trying to stay level in the water column and forward movement is not as
much as it should be. Again, more needless energy is expended. Finally, the
extra weight puts a strain on the back and increases risk of diver injury.
Bottom line: If you overweight, then you will overwork.
Greek philosopher Archimedes described the fundamental principle involved in
weighting. He discovered that an object would be subject to a buoyant upward
force equal to the weight of the water displaced by the object. This means
that if an object immersed is denser than water (more mass than an equal
volume of water), then the object will sink.
If the object immersed is lighter, the object will float and weight
must be added for the object to sink. Most
human beings have a density than is nearly the same as water. (No big deal, we
are composed primarily of water.) Lean muscle tissue is denser than water; it
sinks. Fat floats.
are two primary sources of buoyant force that enter the water with the diver.
They are fat tissue and air spaces. The fat problem can be addressed by proper
diet, exercise and lifestyle modifications. The air space problem can be
addressed by merely taking time to evaluate the situation.
primary source of buoyancy lies in the wet suit. The foam rubber material uses
trapped air for insulation. This volume of air must be compensated for by the
addition of weight. Except for purchasing a dry suit that does not change
buoyancy at depth, there is very little a diver can do to change this factor.
The diver becomes heavy at depth because the water pressure decreases
the volume of the trapped air in the suit and this reduces buoyancy of the
are people. People do not breathe water. As you enter the water, your
primitive brain reminds you that you do not breathe water and you tend to
inhale and hold larger volumes of air. For this illustration consider the
lungs to be like a Mae West jacket: as you inhale, you inflate your "life
preserver" and descent becomes more difficult." This is particularly
noticeable in new divers. Doing
surface dives and floundering around kicking with fins in the air does nothing
but burn air, tire divers and increase frustration.
Jerry Ashe, NAUI instructor and Florida dive guide, states, "Most
visiting divers have no concept of how much weight they should be wearing to
achieve a hovering state of so-called "neutral buoyancy." " Too
many divers," he says, "simply put extra weight on to get
underwater, instead of learning to relax." The best way to descend is to
simply relax. This allows lung
volume to be normal. If properly weighted (see below), descent is initiated by
simply exhaling. Many early difficulties in descent can be overcome by
relaxing a few minutes at the surface prior to submersion.
(I have seen divers remove more than eight lbs of lead when shown how
divers who have descent problems have failed to drain all of the air out of
their B.C.'s. Some inexpensive bladder stabilizing vests actually trap large
volumes of air. This is not a problem with higher quality jackets. If you are
having problems descending, it might be wise to have a buddy look at your
jacket to determine if large air volumes are being trapped between the bladder
and the outer covering. This is the type of situation that is easily solved:
Throw money at the problem (buy a better quality jacket) and the problem
disappears. Often divers do not actually vent all of the air from their B.C.
Divers should examine their own individual gear and assume a descent position
that places the B.C. vent at the highest possible point. It is helpful to have
a buddy/instructor examine descent procedures to determine the optimum venting
position. Descent in this position allows the water pressure to push all of
the air out of the B.C. (I have seen divers remove 10 lbs of lead, or more,
when they were shown how to properly vent their B.C.'s.)
a 1/4" farmer john wet suit in fresh water, I use the following procedure
to establish proper weighting. Start
with 10% of your body weight on your weight belt.
Inflate your B.C. Enter
water just slightly deeper than your height WITH A NEARLY EMPTY TANK! (~500
psig). Assume a vertical position in the water.
Take a few moments to relax. Put
the regulator in your mouth and breathe normally.
Vent your B.C. Your dive buddy/instructor can verify that your B.C. is
empty. You should float at eye level. You should sink as you exhale and rise
as you inhale. If you cannot sink below eye level, add weight in 2-pound
increments until you can float at eye level. If you sink below eye level, then
remove weight in 2-4 pound increments. Since your buoyancy is set with an
empty tank, there will be no problem at the end of your dive in shallow water
or holding a 10-foot stop because of buoyancy changes caused by the
consumption of air. A full tank will be a few pounds heavier than an empty
tank, thus you will initially enter the water slightly heavy.
Initial descent is then a matter of venting the B.C. and exhaling. This
procedure should be done with each change in equipment configuration. The mark
of a good diver is the ability to dive with a minimum of weight.
should realize that buoyancy is an individual matter that depends on a number
of variables. Lee Somers, Ph.D., Diving Safety Officer for the University of
Michigan, in his booklet, Buoyancy and the Scuba Diver, reminds divers that
their buoyancy changes with size (weight gain/loss), body composition (%fat),
lung capacity, breathing volume, psychological state (relaxed vs. tense), and
exercise load. As these variables change, so will the amount of weight
necessary to achieve a hovering state. Since buoyancy changes with time and
experience, divers should get in the habit of routinely checking their
personal buoyancy requirements.
weights on the belt should be balanced, i.e. left and right sides should be
equal so that the diver does not roll to one side because of more weight on
one side or the other. Have your dive buddy look at your belt to verify that
the weight is evenly distributed. The weight should be as far forward as
possible on the belt. No weight
should be on the back part of the belt underneath the scuba cylinder. (This
minimizes strain on the back and shifts the center of buoyancy closer to the
center of mass. Translation: You will be more stable in the water with lesser
tendency to roll. You will be able to remain stationary on the surface without
rolling to one side.) Finally, eliminating the weight underneath the scuba
cylinder makes the belt much easier to ditch in an emergency.
The ability to control buoyancy is a fundamental skill. Divers who cannot master this skill will be working too hard to ever really enjoy the absolutely fantastic "wonderfulness" of gliding weightless through Planet Ocean. Lou Fead, the EASY DIVER, said it best, "Dive with your brains, not your back!" If you remember that B.C.'s are not weight belt compensating devices, then you will work less and enjoy diving more.
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"Harris" Taylor, Ph.D. is a biochemist and Diving Safety Coordinator
at the University of Michigan. He has authored more than 100 scuba related
articles. His personal dive library (See Alert Diver, Mar/Apr, 1997, p. 54) is
considered one of the best recreational sources of information In North
All rights reserved.
Use of these articles for personal or organizational profit is specifically denied.
These articles may be used for not-for-profit diving education