Hundreds, maybe thousands, of divers went with me for an orientation dive. Most of whom were rather rough in getting the weights correct and often not so interested in going the extra mile to reach the right amount. Though plenty of them asked later for a bigger tank or had a headache after the dive. So easily to avoid. If you want to get the best out of your dives it is the most essential thing. A bit too much is no problem, you say? Not really . . .
Why you should not have too many weights:
Too much weights means that your weight-belt pulls down and your partially inflated BCD pulls upwards. Unfortunately not on the same spot on your body, so resulting in a more vertical position. You could try to stay horizontal, costing you effort, or just accepting it and push your body in this non streamlined position forward. Whatever you do, it will never be comfortable.
Being busy with nothing
If you have the right amount of weights, you will have inflate and deflate very few, if you have too many, every meter up or down will make it necessary to deduct or add air.
Loosing time, chances and money
No rocket science that the above points will cost energy, therefor faster breathing and so, shorter dives. Shorter dives mean less chance to spot something and interestingly are relatively much mor expensive . You get less and pay the same!
Too many kilos makes staying comfortably at the surface hard in ideal conditions, but even unsafe in less favourable conditions. Even underwater it is less safe as strange downwards currents can be fought easily by just adding some air in your BCD . . .if it is not already almost full because you had too many weights.
Convinced about proper weighting? Ok, lets go over the basic principle again. A fully dressed diver has a certain weight and in the water “pushes” some water away, just by his presence. If the weight of this displaced water is more heavy than the divers total weight, he will need to add some weights for the difference to reach neutral buoyancy. When he goes deeper, his wetsuit and the air in his BCD compresses and he will need to add some air to compensate. Hopefully you reached this stadium of automatically adding and venting air from your BCD as every beginner course teaches you that.
What most people do not realise well, is that a full 10 litre tank has app 2.4 kilo of air inside and at 50 bar only 0.6 kilo remains. We loose (breath) 1.8 kilo during our dive!!!. So theoretically, when you would start your dive neutral, you would end up much too light. That is a lot of weight difference that everyone should notice every dive. Still many divers find it hard to come down at the beginning of their dives while at the end hang very heavy in their safety-stop. According to the above . . . It should be the other way around! Though more factors are involved the main reason we are not sinking easily is us. No matter how much we try, it is virtually impossible to dress in tropical temperatures, to be (at the least a bit) excited about a dive, carry all this heavy stuff and . . . touch the water and breathe immediately calmly. We, no matter how experienced, will have a slightly higher and faster breathing then normally and our buoyancy is effected.
The point of this article is to make the right decision in choosing with how many weights to start with and as that is normally defined rather fast in the orientation dive, most divers end up very much over weighted. Of all dives, this is the one that involves the most anxiousness and maybe peer pressure. So how to avoid ending up with too much weights and spoiling (or at the least severely shortening) your first dives? A bit of preparation goes a long way, so here is very simple list that, if followed, will get you diving faster with more fun.
Simple steps in getting your diving weights right
Go through your equipment well before the actual dive.
Check your stuff the evening before, look at the stuff that stayed dry for a year and remember again how it all works and how it is put together. Hold it in your hands and visualise yourself using it. You will enter the water with an advantage.
Be well in time for the orientation dive.
The ones arriving at the last minute and preparing everything in a hurry, normally are the ones that two dives later realise they are very much overweighted. Be in time, wet your wetsuit, put it on at least until your waist and exclude yourself from the stress- group.
Organise your stuff.
No matter if you are on a boat or on a bench before a dive centre, prepare your set, put it down if needed, lay your fins next to it with your mask on as if you are preparing to pack a suitcase. It helps you to again familiarise with the stuff and, when the divemaster gives the go sign for dressing, makes the last moment for the dive so much easier.
Believe your experience but do trust your divemaster/instructor.
True, I have been in places were the local divemaster advised me at least three times the weights I actually needed, but mostly . . .these guys see orientation divers every day. They know the relative weight of the tanks, the saltiness of the water and perhaps the buoyancy of the rented suit. Where I worked before the average client estimated the needed amount of weights pretty much always two or three kilo too high. Very hard to give you the benefits of my experience if you are .. well . . stubborn.
Start with too few weights
It is more easy to find the correct amounts of weight by starting with too few than with too many. A proper orientation dive should cater for somewhere some extra weights nearby the entry point so that you take your time to add if you really need. If you start with too many weights, chances are that just sinking will convince you that you are ok.
Take your time and don’t struggle
Don’t let yourself be pushed to hurry and go in your own speed. Even more, take your time in trying to get down with what you believe is maybe a kilo too few. Don’t struggle, just hang there and and breath calmly. Only then are you imitating the actual mood for which you search the right amount of weights, that of relaxation.
Review the outcome.
Even if you did all the above well, you still probably have had a slightly elevated breathing at the beginning. So, at the end of the dive, when you are relaxed and your tank is at 50 bar, check if you can manage your safety stop with an empty jacket and without swimming (up or down). If you have to keep swimming with an empty BCD to stay at 5 meter, take a kilo of and give to your divemaster and see if you are ok. As this is often the best check, I tend to try to give people the correct amount of weights minus a kilo on the beginning of the dive and ask them to put one kilo in the BCD. In this way it is very easy to check during the safety stop.
At the end all this is nothing more than simply caring, common sense, anticipating, putting a tiny bit of effort and getting big results. Similar to many other things in live . . .
See you in perfect buoyancy.
Be safe, but ... dive!