12 Ways to Save Your Air While Scuba Diving for Maximum Bottom Time

Here are ScubaLuis’ 12 Tips and Techniques for Conserving Your Air While Scuba Diving

Ways to Save Air While Scuba Diving

This is Part One of our Series on How to Conserve Your Air While Diving. Click here for Part Two!

When you are scuba diving in Cozumel with ScubaLuis, you’ll want to take every advantage of our promise of maximum bottom time on each and every dive. It stands to reason that, in addition to staying well with the no-decompression limits (NDL) of recreational diving, the air you are carrying in your scuba tank is pretty important.

So, how can you save your air so that you can have a longer dive?

There are many factors that affect the amount of air you will breathe while scuba diving. The good news is that not being an air hog and always the first diver back to the surface is entirely in your hands, regardless if you’ve just gotten your open water certification or are a fairly experienced diver.

#1 Take Your Time and Slow Down!

When you are scuba diving, I’m certain that you want to enjoy every minute of it. Personally, I believe we should all strive to make every dive our best dive ever.

Don’t do something if it isn’t fun! Right?

I promise you won’t win a medal for being the fastest swimmer or get a shiny gold star for how much ground you cover (especially if your dive buddy is having a tough time keeping up). The truth is that if you are a hyper-competitive person, bucking your instinctive need for speed and doing the opposite is the real goal while scuba diving.

It’s about the minutes, not the miles.

Swimming faster, kicking furiously and beating the group to the next sea turtle will just make you tired and out of breath. Stay behind your divemaster and let him or her do the work while setting a comfortable pace for everyone.

So, if you are a “Type A” scuba diver think of it this way: slow and easy wins the race.

#2 Stay Shallow to Conserve Your Air

In my experience, most new scuba divers try to get to the bottom as quickly as their ears will let them and veteran divers often find the “call of the deep” a bit too irresistible. If you recall from your open water certification course, Boyle’s Law states (and I’m going to paraphrase) that as pressure increases on a gas, the volume will decrease (if the temperature remains constant).

Believe it or not, just 15 feet of depth, up or down, can have a significant impact on your bottom time.

The deeper you go the smaller the volume of air is in your equipment and in your body! At greater depths, we are still taking regular breaths of air but are consuming more air with each breath. Another consideration for some divers is that diving deep may also create a little extra stress that will increase their breathing rate.

The deeper we descend means we will also need to put more air into our BCDs to maintain buoyancy. This is precious air that will just get vented off into the water during our ascent.

Boyle’s law is the primary reason we can dive for 100 minutes or more at Columbia Shallows where the average depth of the dive is little more than 25 to 30 feet, but we can only get 70 minutes on Palancar Reef where the average depth of the dive is 60 feet.

Truthfully, if you like to see a diverse population of fish and have the best light to take great photos or video, the best bang for your diving dollar is in the first 40 feet of depth above Cozumel’s reefs anyway. Don’t go deep unless you need to or have a purpose.

Stay shallow and save your air for maximum bottom time.

#3 Breathe Deeply and Deliberately

Just like you should dive slowly, you also need to focus on controlling your breathing. Breathing deeply and slowly is the very best way to conserve your air while scuba diving for 3 reasons:

  1. The number one rule of scuba diving is to never hold your breath. The premise of the rule is to prevent a very serious over-pressure injury to your lungs. Getting an arterial gas embolism (AGE) is a pretty terrible way to cut your dive short.
  2. Holding your breath, “skip breathing” and rapid shallow breaths cause a build-up of carbon dioxide, which is actually the physical trigger that creates the need to breathe more often. An excessive amount of dissolved carbon dioxide is probably one of the reasons some divers report getting minor headaches after a dive, too.
  3. Rhythmic, deliberate breathing, just like the kind of breathing practiced during Yoga, will enable your body to absorb more oxygen with every breath. A higher concentration of oxygen in your blood helps prevent lactic acid build up in your muscles during strenuous activity and allows for better gas exchange throughout your entire body, which keeps you feeling great and ready for more. There’s the presumed added benefit of a more efficient off-gassing of nitrogen, too.

Pro tip: Not getting rid of the accumulation of nitrogen in your body before reaching the surface can lead to decompression sickness, more commonly known as “the bends”. Getting bent can prevent you from ever diving again… that’s ZERO bottom time. Breathe deeply and deliberately, mind your no-deco limits and stay well-hydrated.

#4 Buoyancy Control Is Absolutely Critical

Neutral Buoyancy and Conserving Air While Scuba DivingBesides preventing contact with the bottom, the reef or potentially harmful underwater life, there are multiple reasons to maintain peak buoyancy control that relate to breathing less and saving your air while scuba diving.

Carrying the proper amount of weight, only that much necessary to keep you neutrally buoyant at the end of your dive is the first and most important step to finding underwater bliss and maximum bottom time.

Neutrally buoyant divers do not exert nearly as much energy as divers struggling with being over-weighted or not having enough weight because they kick less and don’t need to make big or forceful movements underwater. They do not need to flail their arms and legs to get where they want to go.

As mentioned previously, if you are constantly descending and ascending you are wasting a lot of air by filling up and venting your BCD. This is the air you should be breathing.

Over-weighted divers also have to inflate their BCDs more than necessary, which creates more drag through the water while swimming. This drag requires more physical effort (especially in Cozumel’s currents) and causes increased air consumption.

Don’t go in “heavy.” It may seem easier but learning to master your buoyancy control with as little lead as possible is better.

#5 Kick Properly and Use Scuba Fins Suited for Your Finning Technique

Despite what you’ve seen from other divers in the past, there’s a reason why we put fins on our feet rather than on our hands in order to get around efficiently underwater.

Whether you like to frog kick or scissor kick (also called the flutter kick), proper finning techniques take advantage of the largest and most durable muscles in our hips and legs. The gluteus maximus, or for the Latin language challenged… yo’ butt… is the largest muscle in your body. Followed closely are your quadriceps, the four muscles that make up your upper leg and then your hamstrings, the 5 tendons that extend and retract your leg at the knee.

A proper fin kicking technique uses the wide, flat part of the fin to push water in the opposite direction of your intended direction. If you are scissor kicking then you have to keep your legs fairly straight, pointing your toes behind you and flexing at the hips, not your knees. If your finning technique looks like you’re riding a bicycle, then you’re spinning your wheels for nothing.

Frog kicking has to be seen rather than explained in words. Try to imagine that your body is horizontal, your knees are slightly bent and your toes are again pointing behind you. The kicking motion looks sort of like you’re clapping the bottoms of your feet together.

Here’s a great primer on how to do the frog kick correctly:

Choose the right scuba fin for your kicking style and the conditions. For example:

  • Split fins don’t work well while frog kicking.
  • Long freediving fins don’t work well while scuba diving.
  • Short body surfing fins don’t work well for scuba diving or for freediving.
  • Short, stiff and heavy rubber fins aren’t well-suited for children or divers with weaker leg muscles.

Choosing the right fins for you is important and a personal decision. I’m guessing that you wouldn’t buy a scuba mask without trying it on to see if it fits your face or not; being properly fitted for the fins that work best for you is important too. If you have the opportunity, ALWAYS test drive the fins you are considering while scuba diving before making a purchase. If trying before buying is not practical in your situation, then get professional help at a minimum.

Use the big muscles in your legs to move the big part of your fins against the water and you will go forward without breathing as “bigly.”

#6 Streamline Your Body and Equipment for Less Drag

Resistance is Futile Air Hog

In addition to finning efficiently, the position of your body in the water column has a lot of influence on the amount of air you are using while diving, too. The best position is to dive keeping your body horizontal and your arms close to your body.

Tuck your scuba gear away!

Not only are you not dragging the bottom or breaking off bits of coral with a dangling pressure gauge, but you’re minimizing drag. That goes for your snorkel, camera and surface marker buoy (SMB) as well. If you’re not taking pictures of the animals or using something, put it away inside of your BCD pocket.

Like being properly weighted, when you streamline your body and scuba gear while diving, you will be creating less drag, decreasing resistance and reducing your workload.

Resistance is futile!

Part 2: 6 More Tips and Techniques for Conserving Your Air While Scuba Diving, including the MOST IMPORTANT tip, can be found in part 2 of this article:

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  1. […] This is Part Two of our Series on How to Conserve Your Air While Diving. Click here for Part One! […]

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