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9 Reasons To Call a Dive

By Carlos Sagaro

Calling A Dive: 9 Reasons to Stay Safe and Dive Another Day

Pop quiz! You’re descending down the line with a new dive buddy.

As soon as you reach the bottom you begin second guessing whether or not you even want to do this dive.

Maybe it’s the fact that something about this guy, his gear, or his attitude about the dive just doesn’t seem right. Maybe it’s the fact that current is bit stronger than you expected or that the visibility isn’t all that great.

Is it ok to end the dive? Should you call the dive?

This is a great question and the answer can vary from person to person. Knowing when you absolutely must end a dive versus when it is okay to just deal with a situation underwater is something you must consider BEFORE it happens.

If you’ve never thoroughly thought this through, make sure to keep reading.

First things first, in case you haven’t heard the term before, “Calling a dive” is simply diver jargon for ending a dive. Typically, the hand signal used between divers to let each other know it’s time to end the dive is the “thumbs up” hand signal.

scuba mask fogging up, SCUBA mask anti fog, defog scuba mask

No doubt that your introductory SCUBA diver course you were taught that your dive is over when you are getting close to your pre-determined reserve gas pressure, your no-decompression time limit, or the pre-determined time that the captain or dive master gives before entering the water. There are many other reasons why you may and in many cases absolutely should end the dive.

Reasons # 1-3: You’re Too Cold, Working Too Hard, or are Otherwise Uncomfortable

When learning about decompression sickness, you were taught to adjust the dive tables by adding a letter group when you are too cold or working too hard. By adding a letter group, you reduce your total bottom time underwater.

If you are diving with a computer you should be extra conservative with your bottom times when you are working harder than usual or cold.

In both the above scenarios, by shortening the bottom time you are reducing your chances of getting decompression sickness.

So, what exactly is overexertion?

scuba mask fogging up, SCUBA mask anti fog, defog scuba mask

The most common cause of overexertion in diving is probably swimming into a current that is too strong.

If you are having to kick nonstop just to hold your ground underwater, then you’re most likely going to end up breathing harder than usual and overexerting yourself.

Other causes of overexertion can be swimming too fast, swimming with too much ballast, inefficient trim, bad buoyancy control, or an inefficient kicking technique.

Overexertion happens because you are working too hard. What a lot of people do not realize is that it can also happen because you are cold.

When you are cold your body will work to keep your body temperature up. Eventually we all know that if you stay cold long enough you’ll begin to shiver. All of this bad because it causes ingassing of nitrogen. 

However, there are times when we are working so hard or are so cold that our dives are no longer enjoyable.

scuba mask fogging up, SCUBA mask anti fog, defog scuba mask

Think about it, for the majority of us, SCUBA diving is a hobby we do to de-stress or to enjoy some R&R. I don’t know about you, but for me there is nothing relaxing or stress relieving about feeling overly cold or overly exerting myself. I mean, I love a good workout as much as the next guy, but not while I am underwater breathing compressed gas.

Bottom line, if you are in a situation where you are no longer comfortable underwater due to heavy surge, current or because the water is just too cold, it is a good idea to stop your dive and begin a nice, slow ascent performing a safety stop before exiting the water.

Reason #4: Your Regulator is Leaking or Performing Strangely

Your regulator is essential to SCUBA diving. Many people do not think about it however, it is life support equipment!

When all is said and done, we cannot spend very much time underwater without it. We count on it to keep us alive and to breathe easily while we enjoy the underwater world.

The problem is that often we do not “listen” to what our gear is telling us.

Bubbles streaming from the SPG or second stage, a leaky alternate air source that you need to keep covering up constantly during the dive, or even having more gas delivered to you from your second stage as you are exhaling are all signs of a regulator that needs servicing.

scuba mask fogging up, SCUBA mask anti fog, defog scuba mask

​The problem is that all of these warning signs can suddenly get worse. A significant change in your regulator’s performance or a stream of bubbles indicating a leak is a sure sign that you should cancel your dive immediately and slowly ascend to the surface while you still can. There is no reason to risk having an equipment malfunction while underwater.

Reason # 5: Your Dive Computer Fails or is Behaving Strangely

As stated earlier, as divers we rely on equipment to keep us alive and safe under water. Dive computers have become a staple for most avid divers. However, because they are electronic devices they certainly can fail underwater.

A funky reading (telling you you are at 100 feet (33 meters) when you know you are way shallower, a fading screen that looks like the computer is about to die, or of course if the computer just stops working for whatever reason.

These are all reasons to call the dive!

Because we depend on dive computers to keep us safely within the no-decompression limits it is extremely important for us to recognize that if this vital piece of equipment fails it’s time to call the dive.

NOTE: You should never use 1 dive computer for 2 buddies. A dive computer tracks the nitrogen in-gassed by each dive based on their unique dive profile. Because every diver will usually have a different dive profile (there is no way to be at exactly the same depth as your buddy on most dives), you should never share a dive computer. This is why if this instrument fails, it’ time to call the dive.

Reason # 6: Your timing Device Fails

If you are not diving a computer and your watch fails you must stop your dive and perform a controlled ascent with a safety stop. Not doing so can be very dangerous since you have no way of determining the time that you have spent underwater.

Reason # 7: Your Dive Buddy Makes You Feel Uncomfortable

This one certainly can be one of the most difficult situations to deal with, especially if your dive buddy is someone you know well or have been diving with for years.

At someone point in our lives, we have all felt peer pressure. Something is happening and you do not necessarily feel comfortable with it but you go along because you want to “fit in.”

It can be challenging to say “no thanks” but when you’re SCUBA diving, it is imperative that you always do things that you’re comfortable with. Diving with anxiety can be the precursor to a potentially serious diving accident.

When you are diving with a buddy, it is important that you communicate what your limits are before you get in the water so that expectations can be set. If those limits are pushed or something happens where they are broken, you should be ready to call the dive confident in the fact that you have done the right thing for yourself and your safety as a diver.

It is always better to have an uncomfortable conversation than to have to be taken to the hospital.

Reason # 8: You Don’t Feel Safe

If you are on a dive and you start to feel the “heebie jeebies,” it is a good idea to end your dive. The reasons for this is simple, feeling unsafe can certainly lead to anxiety about the dive you are on.

Being anxious is not the state you should be in if a situation arises that you need to deal with underwater. Dealing with a diving emergency, or even a diving nuisance when you are calm, cool and collected is not the same as dealing with it when you are already mentally stressed.

Being anxious can lead to all kinds of mistakes that otherwise would never happen.

It is always better to dive another day than to end up wishing you had just followed your instincts “that one time.”

Reason #9: Any Other Reason at All

“Any diver can call a dive at any time for any reason!”

This is something we teach all of our students in their entry level SCUBA diver course. It is something that I have instilled in all my students and reiterate to them throughout their classes at all levels.

Because SCUBA diving is a recreational sport, there is no reason to be on a dive if you are not comfortable while doing so.

Also, because you may depend on your buddy in case of an emergency it’s important for them to be comfortable and able to perform when needed. This means they need to be in a state where they are calm, cool and collected.

This is why any diver can call a dive at any time for any reason.

What other reasons do you think should be included in this list? Let us know in the comments below:

Warning: Why Your Weighting May Be All Wrong and How to Fix It

By Carlos Sagaro

If you’re like most divers, you probably have a set amount of weight that you carry with you as ballast when you dive

What you may not realize is that how you carry that weight is almost as important as the amount of weight itself.

Have you distributed that weight evenly across your rig so that your trim is balanced and you’re comfortable during your dive?

What would you do with the weight you carry with you in an emergency?

Is it important to you to be able to ditch your weight? If so, how much?

If you’re curious about the answers to any of these questions, then you’re going to want to read on.

In this article, we’re going to discuss a hot topic which is often overlooked yet critically important to your buoyancy control, trim, comfort and even your safety when you go diving.

One of the things that is counter intuitive when you learn to dive is the fact that you need to add weight to SCUBA dive.

Using an incorrect amount of weight when diving is one of the most common mistakes that many divers make. In many cases, people are diving with more weight than they need.

The cause may be doing an improper buoyancy check, sticking to weight that’s always been used but never tested, or simply adding more weight than what is really needed and compensating for it by adding air to the BCD.

Whatever the reason, in this article, we are going to dig into weighting and how you can use it to your advantage to improve your buoyancy, comfort level, breathing rate, and over all diving experience.

Why is Weighting Important?

Knowing and understanding how to be properly weighted will do wonders for you diving experience.

If you are over weighted or under weighted, your experience underwater is going to suffer. Let’s dig into some examples so you can see how:

What happens when you are over-weighted? 

First, imagine you were diving just 6lbs overweight. There are several problems which you will encounter. let’s go through them one at time.

  • Extra weight to carry around needlessly: That extra weight is going to need to be carried on and off of the boat. You may also be carrying it in your gear bag which is already heavy enough as is. What’s the point of carrying around dead weight that’s not needed?
  • Your propulsion may suffer: Every time you kick you’re moving more weight around than what is needed. It’s not just that weight itself. Because you need to compensate for the extra weight to stay neutrally buoyant you need to add extra air into your BCD. That extra air creates additional drag. This means more weight AND more drag in the water.
  • Your rig is likely off balance: It’s not just the amount of weight that you carry into the water, it’s where you position it that makes a difference in your diving. If like most divers you’re simply adding more weight to a weight belt or a BCD with ditch-able weights, there’s a good chance that, when you stop moving in the water column, your body is not in a balanced horizontal position like it should be.
  • It’s harder to get into and out of the water: That extra weight makes it harder to climb boat ladders. Even if you’re taking your rig or weight belt off and handing it up to climb on to a boat it’s still extra weight that doesn’t need to be there.
  • It can be extremely unsafe in the event of an emergency: If your BCD bladder or wing were to fail underwater this is now extra weight that you will need to swim up. If you ditch it, it may make it impossible to hold a safety stop or even lead to you having a fast or an uncontrolled ascent to the surface.

What if you were to be diving under-weighted? The circumstances are different, but just as serious.

What happens when you are under-weighted? 

  • Not being able to compensate for consumed gas: One of the reasons you may need to carry additional weight is to compensate for the shift in buoyancy which happens as you consume the gas in your tank. The video below explains this shift in gas that happens when you dive.
    • This is especially prevalent when you use aluminum tanks. As you consume the gas in your tank, it becomes lighter and lighter. Eventually the weight of the gas that was keeping your buoyancy negative is no longer there. It’s at this point that you find yourself having to fight to stay down.
  • Needing to change your body position to stay underwater: When you do not have enough ballast, you cannot hover effortlessly underwater. Because of this, you need to either kick or hold on to something to keep from floating up. Needless to say, if you are kicking to stay down you’re consuming the gas faster and the cycle becomes worse and worse as you have less gas and less gas in the tank.
  • Difficulty performing a safety stop: Even if you decide to call your dive, you still should perform a safety stop. Unless you are holding on to a line, this can be very difficult.

Types of Dive Weights

Now that you understand why it’s incredibly important to be properly weighted, let’s start at the beginning. There are several types of weights used by divers and each one of them has its pros and cons. In this section we are going to discuss a few of those systems and their characteristics.

Solid Lead Weights

Every diver has come across solid lead weights at one point or another in their diving. These are a tried and true type of weighting system.

To be thorough, because the name itself implies what they are, solid lead weights are a piece of lead molded to fit a weight belt. They come in a variety of sizes ranging from .5lb to 10lbs (.23 kg to 4.5 kg). In some cases, they are incased in rubber to make them more comfortable around the body and to minimize lead exposure.

The biggest plus about these weights is that they are the most compact and therefore produce the least amount of drag. They are one of the least bulky of the options. They also tend to last forever. They can be used both on a belt or inside BCD pockets. (more on this later).

The biggest con is that they can be uncomfortable if they’re in a position on your weight belt where they are hitting your hip bone. Also, you must be careful to not drop them as doing so can be very painful and can even cause injury if they land on your foot.

Beaded Lead Weights

These are also extremely common. They range in sizes starting at .5lb to 10lbs (.23 kg to 4.5 kg). They consist of lead beads that are incased in mesh to allow them to dry and so that water will not accumulate inside of them.

There are several benefits to these types of weights. They are softer which makes them much more comfortable to store inside of BCD pockets and pocketed weight belts. Being malleable, they can counter to a diver’s body which makes them more comfortable when work on a weight belt. Lastly, and this has saved many a diver, if dropped they cause little to no damage.

As for the cons, beaded lead weights tend to be a bit more expensive. They also are bulkier, especially when used on a weight belt. Finally, the life span is probably not as long as lead weights since the material used to hold the pellets inside can rip.

Using Your SCUBA Tank as Ballast

It is common knowledge that tanks come both in aluminum and steel. While many divers do not think of them in this manner, steel tanks can be used as a weight.

Steel tanks as ballast

Unlike aluminum tanks, Steel tanks tend to remain negative even when they are empty. Additionally, Steel tanks are generally heavier than aluminum tanks and therefore can be used as a form of ballast. Steel tanks also tend to hold more gas than a similar size aluminum tank.

Finally, because the weight of a steel tank is distributed evenly across your back, steel tanks are often a good choice because they make it easier for you to achieve good trim and body positioning while on a dive.

The cons to diving steel tanks are that they tend to be more expensive, require more maintenance, and are usually heavier out of the water.

Aluminum Tank Considerations When It Comes To Weighting

Unlike most steel tanks, aluminum tanks tend to start negative and then end up slightly positive towards the end of your dive.

Just like steel tanks, when you are diving with aluminum you must consider where the tanks buoyancy characteristics end up at the end of your dive.

If you are neutral with a full aluminum tank at the start of you dive, you will be positive at the end of you dive which could cause all sort of problems. This means that you need to carry additional ballast to compensate for the positive buoyancy caused by a tank that is floating at the end of the dive.

Aluminum tanks are the most common type of tank because they are generally cheaper and also easier to maintain.

The bottom line is, whether you are diving with a steel or an aluminum tank, you must be aware of the tank’s buoyancy characteristics when it is empty or near empty. The last thing you want is to be slightly positive at the end of you dive.

Additional Tank Considerations

It is important to note that all tanks tend to become less negative as they start to empty during a dive. Every tank is different, and tank manufacturers publish charts which you can use to determine which tank is best for you.

Using these charts, you can get a good idea of what the buoyancy characteristics of different tanks are. However, you should be aware that these charts are only a starting point in helping you determine the amount of ballast that you’ll need.

Tank manufactures usually list the buoyancy characteristics of a tank without including the weight of the valve or the tank boot (if there is one). Additionally, the buoyancy characteristics are listed for a completely empty tank (something you should never do). Finally, you should also note if the buoyancy characteristics are for salt water or fresh water.

Armed with this knowledge and knowing the amount of gas that you will need for a dive, you can choose the most appropriate tank for your needs.

Regardless of whether you have a new tank or if you are using the same tank you’ve always used, you should always perform a buoyancy check with the tank being at its reserve pressure, either with your SCUBA gear on, or off the gear by itself in order to determine its buoyancy.

Common Types of Weighting Systems

Weight Belts

Weight belts are exactly what they sound like. A belt that you use to hold weights when you dive. There are two types of weight belts. The first is a basic nylon belt that you slide solid weights onto. The second is a pocketed that you can slip weights into.

The nylon belts can only hold solid weights. If you use this type of belt you’ll also want to use a belt slide or stopper to keep the solid weights in their place.

The pocketed belt can hold both solid weights and beaded weights. Whether you are diving with a nylon or pocketed belt, they both should have a quick release in the event of a diving emergency. (we will go into ditching weights later in this article.)

Integrated weight pockets on BCD

It is fairly common for BCDs to have integrated weight systems. They usually consist of a removable weight pocket on the front side of the BCD attached to the cumber bun. 

These can be used in lieu of a weight belt. Essentially you insert the needed weight into the pockets and then insert the pocket into its slot in the BCD. You can use both solid and beaded weights with these pockets.

Weight Pockets on Tank Bands and on the Back of BCDs.

Weight pockets are often added to BCDs, usually on the back side to allow divers to add weight in other areas besides their waste to help with distribution and trim. They can be an integral part of your weighting because, in addition to providing needed ballast, they also allow you to improve your trim. They can also be added to the cam bands on your BCD should your BCD not have the pockets built in.


These are normally used in conjunction with a harness and wing. In recent years, there have been a few more conventional BCDs that have been modified to use back plates as well.

There are generally two types of back plates, Steel and aluminum. Which you should use depends on your weighting needs and the type of diving you are doing. Steel back plates are generally heavier than aluminum and thus provide more negative buoyancy. 

How much negative buoyancy they provide depends on the manufacturer, so it is important to find out how negative a backplate is in the water before you purchase it to ensure you are getting the best one for yourself.

The biggest positive attributed to back plates when weighting is concerned is the fact that they tend to distribute weight evenly across your back which provides more stability in the water by helping to placing your body in a horizontal body position. This is a huge advantage because having better trim reduces drag. This reduction in drag causes you to work less when under water which causes you to burn less gas and enjoy longer, less tiring dives.

There are two aspects to back plates that can be considered negative depending on who you ask (more about this later). First, backplates are a permanent part of your BCD and cannot be ditched in an emergency scenario (see the section on “ditchable” weights if you want to learn more about this). Second, the vast majority of jacket- style BCDs will not allow you to use a backplate. This is something to consider if you are thinking about switching to a back plate.

A note on Ankle Weights

While not as common as the other forms of ballast, there are people who use ankle weights when they dive. This is especially common when using a dry suit.

I do not recommend that divers use ankle weights. They make it more difficult to kick properly which negatively affects your efficiency under water. Their negative effects far outweigh any positive effect they can have in your trim.

The idea is that they help with keeping your feet down. When diving dry, air can become trapped near the legs and cause your feet to become positively buoyant.

If you feel you need more weight at your feet to help with trim, my recommendation is to look for a heavier fin, use one of the many wraps that are available to place around your lower legs to prevent gas from traveling to your feet. Or simply work on placing less gas into your dry suit. Having excess gas near your feet is a common beginners mistake when learning to dive with a dry suit.

Can you figure out how much weight you need using a calculation?

“Ten percent of your body weight!”

There is a common misconception with some people that you can use a formula to figure out how much weight you need in order to dive. One such formula which is the old “ten percent of your body weight” myth.

The truth is that there really is formula you can use to accurately calculate how much weight you are going to need when you dive. The only real way to do this is to get in the water and do a buoyancy check. The video below explains how to do a buoyancy check for yourself. 

How To Do A Proper Buoyancy Check: Part 1

How To Do A Proper Buoyancy Check: Part 2

Once you know how much weight you need for yourself, now you can determine the amount of weight you need for your gear. 

Do your ballast requirements ever change?

As stated in the previous section, only a buoyancy check can determine exactly how much weight you are going to need on a given dive. The reason why is because that number varies depending on several factors that we will go over in this section.

  • Your Gear: The equipment you use will certainly impact the amount of weight you are going to need when you go diving. When diving with a 5mm wetsuit, you are going to need more weight than when you diver with a dive skin or no exposure protection, simply because the thicker suit is more positively buoyant. The same is true if you switch from diving an aluminum tank to a steel tank or vice versa. Also, if you carry additional gear into the water such as reels, lights cutting devices etc.… All this equipment adds up and will affect the amount of ballast you need in the water.
  • Shell Dry Suits: A shell dry suit is a suit designed to keep a diver dry which does not in and of itself provide thermal protection. Shell dry suits require undergarments that give you the desired thermal protection based on your needs and the water temperature. Because these undergarments tend to be more positively buoyant the thicker they get, you will need to adjust your ballast needs accordingly.
  • Your body: Your buoyancy characteristics can change if your body composition changes. Let’s face it, sometimes we let ourselves go and we gain fat. Perhaps at other points in our lives we go on a diet and lose some of the unwanted fat. These changes in your body composition can affect your weighting needs. The more body fat you have, the more weight you need to achieve proper buoyancy.
  • Your Diving medium: Are you diving in fresh or salt water. Are you diving in an area that is known to have more salinity than the regular ocean? These things will affect your ballast needs. You will need to use less weight when diving in fresh water than when you are diving in the ocean. Diving in an area that is known for heavier salinity, The Dead Sea or Salt Lake come to mind.

Variables Which Will Change During the Dive

It’s important for you to know that in addition to needing to change your ballast requirements according to your gear, your exposure protection, fluctuations in your body composition and changes between salt and fresh water, there are also factors which could change during the dive.

  • Lung volume affects your buoyancy. The larger lung volume you have the more buoyancy shift you will feel as you inhale and exhale while you are diving. You can control this by thinking about how you breathe. By taking shallower or deeper breaths, you can make pinpoint adjustments to your buoyancy without having to make ballast changes. This is an important note to make since breathing deeper or shallower can affect your buoyancy throughout the dive.
  • Neoprene compression: When diving a wetsuit or neoprene dry suit, it is important to understand that neoprene compresses at depth. This is not so noticeable with wetsuits that are 3mm or less, however if you are diving with a 5mm or 7mm wet suit this fact is important, especially if you are diving deep (over 66 feet or 20 meters) where the neoprene will compress significantly. 

    This causes a change in its buoyancy characteristics. The thicker your suit, the more this becomes a factor. When selecting your ballast requirements, you must consider the suits buoyancy before the neoprene is compressed as well as after it compresses. We will get into more details as to why this is important when we go into the topic of ditching weights later in this article.

What About “Ditchable” Weights? Don’t All Weights Need to be “Ditchable”?

Most of us were taught in our entry level SCUBA course that we need to be able to ditch all our weight quickly so that we can properly manage an emergency.

When you think about it, it sounds like it makes sense. If there is an emergency underwater and you need to bring yourself or another diver to the surface, ditching the weight may make it easier since there is less ballast to bring up. This is especially true if the diver is unconscious and wearing a lot of lead. It is also easier to establish buoyancy on the surface when there is less ballast.

Now, before we move on, let me ask you something. In the above scenario, why does ditching the weight make everything easier?

I’ll give you a moment to think about it…

Do you know why?

It’s because most of the time the diver is over-weighted!

If a diver is properly weighted, it means that they are carrying just enough ballast to remain neutral at the end of the dive with the reserve pressure in the tank.

Think about it this way, if your tank is 3lbs positive at the end of your dive, you are going to need to add 3lbs of ballast to your rig to offset that change.

Now, let’s look at this using the example of a diver using an aluminum 80 (12 liter cylinder).

The weight needed to offset the positive buoyancy an empty aluminum 80 (12 liter tank) is around 4 pounds (1.8 kg) in salt water. Of course, it is highly unlikely you will ever dive with a completely empty tank.

At its working pressure, an aluminum 80 is about 2lbs (.9 kg) negative.

This means that, if you are properly weighted, you should at most be 6lbs (2.7kg) negative at any point during the dive.

6 pounds (2.7 kg) is NOT a lot of weight. Every BCD or wing on the market that can easily offset that amount of weight. It’s also an amount of weight that any diver should be able to swim up easily even if you were to have your BCD fail on you and not able to hold air.

Why am I saying this?

Because for many divers taking the weight off of their weight belt and distributing that weight either through weight pockets on the tank bands, a stainless steel backplate, or even by using a steel tank instead of an aluminum tank makes a lot of sense.

Distributing your weight around in this manner makes you more streamlined and puts you in a horizontal body trim position when you dive.

The bottom line is that, as long as you are not over weighted, whether your weight is ditchable or not will not be a big deal.

NOTE: There is an exception to this and it’s when you are diving in cold water and using a thick (7mm or more) wet suit or diving a dry suit (more on that later).

Why Ditching Your Weights Can be Dangerous!

What if you really need a lot of ballast to dive?

Maybe you dive in cold water. If you do, I know, you need quite a bit more ballast than if you are diving in warm water. Using a thick wetsuit or a drysuit is very different than diving a 3mm wetsuit on a tropical reef.

Perhaps you just need more ballast because your anatomy requires it.

Either way, when you do a proper buoyancy check, you’ll know that you are diving with the amount of weight you need to offset the positive buoyancy of yourself and your gear.

As a rule of thumb, if that amount exceeds 8lbs (3.6kg) the practice of placing all your ballast either on your weight belt or in the ditchable pockets of a BCD while at depth can be dangerous.

You may be wondering why. It’s because, if you were to ditch all that weight at depth, you could possibly be placing yourself into a situation where you could go into an uncontrolled ascent the moment you lose all the ballast that was keeping you down.

Uncontrolled ascents can have catastrophic effects on a diver.

Things like an arterial gas embolism, decompression sickness, or a reverse block are all real dangers. There is also the danger of being finding yourself in an uncontrolled ascent while hearing the sound of an oncoming boat.

If you still choose to store all your weight in a system that makes it ditchable, you need to think about the possibility that you could accidentally lose all your ballast.

I’ve seen this happen many times over the years. A belt becomes loose or the Velcro that holds a weight pocket in place becomes worn and doesn’t hold as tightly any more. This could cause a diver to unknowingly lose all their weight.

The bottom line is that if you need a lot of weight to be neutral at the end of your dive, suddenly losing that weight can be dangerous. You need to think about where you are placing the weight that you need and why you are doing so.

When You Absolutely Should Be Able to Ditch Your Weights!

There is one scenario where you absolutely need to be able to ditch SOME of your weight. It’s when you are diving deep (over 100 feet / 30 meter) and using a wet suit that is 5mm thick or more.

Why? Because the wet suit will compress at depth. Neoprene is a material that is made up of microscopic nitrogen bubbles. Those bubbles compress the deeper you go.

This means 2 things:

  • Your wet suit will not insulate as well at deep depths as it does at shallower depths.
  • More importantly, because all those tiny microscopic bubbles are compressed, the suit will also be less buoyant at depth.

Because of this, you’ll need to compensate for the positive buoyancy that your suit loses at depth by adding gas to your BCD. It also means that you are more negatively buoyant at depth than you are when you are shallow.

Therefore, it is important for you to be able to ditch some of your weight at depth.

Should you experience a catastrophic event that renders your BCD useless, you may not be able to swim your way up to the surface because of the additional negative buoyancy caused by the compression of your wetsuit.

In this scenario, ditching some of your weight could save your life.

The above scenario poses a difficult decision. You may need to ditch some weight to be able to get to the surface but doing so puts you in a position where, once your suit becomes more positively buoyant, you could find yourself in an uncontrolled ascent.

Yes, it is a catch 22. The way I see it is, I would rather be slightly positive than extremely positive due to the fact that I had to ditch all of my ballast. This is why I think it is important to make only some of your ballast ditchable rather than all of it. The amount that you ditch should not exceed amount of buoyancy lost by the suit.

When Things Go Wrong: Abrupt Changes in Buoyancy

I have a confession to make. When I first started diving I thought that the chances of having a failure of your BCD or anything else that would severely affect your buoyancy was unlikely. Especially if you maintained your gear and always went diving with relatively new gear.

Boy was I wrong!

First, I had a dive where my own BCD broke at the elbow where the low-pressure inflator connects to the bladder.

About a year later I was doing a dive with a student and her high-pressure hose burst while on the dive.

A couple of years after that, I had a different BCD’s dump valve completely come off when I pulled on it to release some gas.

Over the years I’ve heard multiple stories just like these that happened to other people.

I’m telling you this because, if you dive long enough, you will experience equipment failures. It’s a part of the sport. Fortunately, if you are properly trained these are usually just minor annoyances as they were for me and my student.

There are several scenarios where your buoyancy can change quite rapidly and without warning. As a diver, it’s important for you to know about and plan for the possibility of these scenarios.

Equipment failures that can cause abrupt Buoyancy changes

Catastrophic equipment failures are not common but they can happen and it is important to consider these unlikely scenarios and how to handle them.

Becoming Positively Buoyant Unintentionally

Burst disk failure: In the event that the burst disk on the tank valve fails you will be put into a potentially dangerous situation. Firstly, you will be losing the gas in your tank quickly. Your ability to breath will be completely compromised and they tank’s buoyancy characteristics will change very abruptly.

A free-flowing regulator:  Should a regulator fail and begin to heavily free flow, the rapid loss of gas can affect buoyancy. However, the effect will not be as abrupt as in the scenario above.

The high-pressure hose or SPG (submersible pressure gauge) can burst also causing a rapid loss of gas.

Becoming Negatively Buoyant Unintentionally

Wing Failure: Catastrophic wing failures have been known to happen. When wings fail in this manner, they tend to fail at the elbow of the low-pressure inflator or at one of the dump valves.  This renders the wing useless as a tool for buoyancy control.

A tear in the BCD is a possibility, however tears do not always render wings completely useless and are a lot less common. A leak in the bladder can also affect buoyancy, however the leak’s size and position may allow the wing to be at least partially useful as you ascend to the surface.

In any of the scenarios above, immediately ending the dive and ascending becomes of paramount importance. As we discussed earlier, controlling that ascent is also important because rapid ascents can cause all sorts of potentially life-threatening diving injuries.

The Case for Redundant Buoyancy

Being able to swim up without the assistance of the positive buoyancy of your bladder is something that every diver should consider. As we mentioned before, this is especially important if you are diving with thick thermal protection in cold water.

It is because of this that we recommend that you only dive with the amount of weight needed to offset your gas. This will make you just slightly negative in the event that you are in a scenario where your bladder is no longer functioning.

That being said, there are several avenues you can choose should you want to carry redundant buoyancy.

  • Redundant wings: There are wings that have two bladders in them. They are designed to offset each other in the even that one should have a catastrophic failure. They will require two low-pressure inflator hoses attached to two independent low-pressure inflators
  • A Dry Suit: A dry suit can be used as redundant buoyancy in the event of a catastrophic wing failure. This is because by adding extra gas into your dry suit you can make yourself more positively buoyant.
  • Lift Bag: This is the least desirable option. However, should you find yourself in a scenario where your bladder is no longer functioning, a lift bag can be used to offset negative buoyancy. If this is your only option, you must be aware that the bag cannot just be shot up to the surface from all depths and it is important to try to control the amount of lift the bag is providing you in this situation. Controlling buoyancy with a lift bag is not easy therefore it is the least desirable option.

Ditching Weight at the Surface

Many of us were taught that, if there is an emergency situation on the surface, we should ditch our weight as well as the victim’s weight. This is to establish positive buoyancy.

Every choice in diving has tradeoffs. If you dive a steel tank, a stainless steel backplate, or even some pockets on a tank band, you’re carrying some weight that may not be able to be ditched.

The tradeoff for not being able to ditch the weight is being more streamlined and having better body position in the water. Both of these allow you to have longer more enjoyable dives. You also avoid the negative consequences of losing your ballast at depth and having an uncontrolled ascent.

As mentioned before, as long as you are weighted correctly, the negative buoyancy created choosing to distribute weight in this manner should be minimal and easily compensated for by the BCD.

The real problem is that there are a lot of divers that are over weighted.

Ditching weights on the surface becomes crucial when a diver is over weighted. It’s when divers are over weighted that you MUST BE ABLE TO DITCH THE WEIGHT. Not being able to do so makes it difficult to establish positive buoyancy.

So, the bottom line is, if you dive don’t be over-weighted. If you have buddies who dive, don’t let them be overweighed, and if you want to help other divers become aware of this topic, make sure you share this article.

As you can see, there are many factors to consider when thinking about weighting.

Still wondering what ballast options are best for you? Use our buoyancy tool below to determine what kind of ballast will best suit your needs.

Did we miss anything? Do you have any questions? Please feel free to comment below!!

Air Sharing: Why Your SCUBA Configuration Matters

By Carlos Sagaro

You're on a relaxing dive enjoying the beauty of the underwater world. You’ve left all your frustration and responsibilities above the surface. After all, this is where you come to “get away from it all,” right??

All of the sudden, you notice that another diver is swimming over to you wide-eyed and in a hurry. They give you the “out of air” hand signal just as they take their regulator out of their mouth.

This is where all your training and the choices you’ve made about how you configure your gear come into play.

How will you deal with this scenario? Is the way you’ll handle it optimal? Can you go through the motions in your mind’s eye right now and feel confident you are ready to handle an exasperated out-of-air diver?

When it comes to sharing air, there are many different configurations that divers use.

If you’ve ever wondered why different divers configure their primary regulator and their octopus different ways, and what the pros and cons are of each configuration, you’re going to want to read on because in this article we are going to touch on exactly that!

Disclaimer: Before beginning our discussion on air sharing techniques and configurations, it’s important to note that air sharing, especially in an emergency, is a skill that must be mastered in confined water under the supervision of a qualified SCUBA instructor. Do NOT SWITCH YOUR CURRENT CONFIGURATION without proper training and coaching from a qualified SCUBA instructor!

The origins of air sharing

When SCUBA diving was still new and considered by some to be an “extreme” sport, the gear that was used wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is today.

Early SCUBA rigs only had one primary regulator to breathe from. If your buddy ran out of air underwater, the only option was to share your only regulator by passing it back and forth between you and your buddy. Essentially, you’d take turns taking breaths from a single regulator.

As SCUBA equipment became more advanced a redundant second stage was added. This redundant second stage, which is commonly known as an octopus, could be given to an out-of-air diver independently. Now both the out-of-air diver and the diver donating the air supply could breathe simultaneously from the same tank.

With the ability to have 2 divers breathing from the same tank come many questions about how to best configure your gear. The first question being….

Which regulator should you give a diver in distress?

Before we can address the issue of how to configure your regulators, we need to discuss the major philosophical difference in opinion that many SCUBA instructors have.

You see, some instructors believe that an out-of-air diver should always receive the regulator which the diver that’s doing the rescue is breathing from, also called the primary regulator.

Others believe the out-of-air diver should receive the octopus.

While there is not “right” answer here, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of each method.

Some of the pros of donating the primary regulator (the regulator the diver is breathing from) include:

  • The shared regulator is usually the higher performing regulator:  The out of air diver is likely to have a higher breathing rate because of the nervousness / anxiety cause from being out of air.
  • It puts the diver that is donating the air source in control of the situation:  This means that the diver who is less likely to be in a panicked state becomes the dive leader.
  • Because the regulator being shared is the one the diver is breathing from, it needs to be on a longer hose:  This allows for the octopus to be on a shorter hose and reduces the chances of it dangling along and getting caught on the reef.
  • This configuration is usually more streamlined.
  • If an out-of-air and panicked diver rips the functioning regulator out of your mouth, you can instinctively reach for your alternate regulator which is what you would breathe from under this scenario anyway.

The cons of donating the primary regulator in a buddy-breathing scenario include:

  • It requires more skill / training to share air in this manner then using an octopus for a distressed out-of-air buddy.
  • When using an air2 or other similar regulator that serves the dual purpose of an inflator and a secondary regulator, that secondary regulator may not be as high performing as the primary.
  • Because the out-of-air diver needs the diver donating the air to participate, it is more difficult to simply grab an octopus and begin breathing without the assistance of the diver with air: This will make it more difficult for the distressed diver to get to his or her much needed air.

Diving with an octopus to give out as the alternate air source is probably the most common configuration.

The pros of giving out the octopus to an out-of-air buddy include:

  • Because the donating diver does not need to actively give up his or her regulator, the person who is out of air can gain access to the gas without having to rely on the donating diver’s skill level or proficiency.
  • The diver that is donating the gas never has to take the regulator they are breathing from out of their mouth.

The cons of giving out the octopus to out-of-air buddy include:

  • Because the octopus is on a longer hose and is rarely used, it is more likely to dangle or get caught up on a reef or a wreck.
  • Because it can dangle behind a diver, if a leak or free flow occurs at the 2nd stage it can go unnoticed for far longer than it would with other configurations.
  • Many of the octopus regulators on the market are meant to be cheaper and thus have more breathing resistance. Giving a diver who may already be panicked because they ran out of air a poor performing regulator may aggregate their panic.

Now that we understand some of the pros and cons of using an octopus for an out-of-air diver vs. giving them the regulator you are already breathing from, let’s look at some of the different configurations.

Configurations where you give out the octopus to an out of air diver

The placement of the octopus holder should be somewhere in the “safety triangle”. This is an imaginary triangle that goes from your chin to your waist in front where the octopus can be easily accessed by both the diver and their buddy.

Having the Octopus on a holder

There are many different types of octo holders on the market. Each design has their benefits and drawbacks. The basic premise behind all octo-holders is the same.

They must hold the octopus securely throughout the dive so that the regulator does not accidentally become dislodged and begin to dangle. They must also simultaneously be easy to deploy and come lose if it is needed for an emergency. (IMAGE of Octo holder)

Because of this dichotomy, many octo-holders fail and end up having a diver dangle their octo behind them damaging both the regulator and the reef.

BCD with integrated Octo-holder

Some BCD manufactures have taken note of the issue of keeping the octopus nice and tidy while still making it easy to deploy in case of emergency.

To help solve the octopus dilemma, they’ve designed their BCD’s to hold the octopus for you.

Using a D-ring as an octo holder

Yet another creative way to solve the octopus dilemma is to curl it into the D-ring of a BCD.

While this solution is less likely to result in the regulator becoming loose and dangling behind the diver, it does take a bit of getting used to.

Also, it may seem awkward to have the curled-up hose dangling below the D-ring where the octopus is stowed.

Configurations where the primary air source is donated

Air 2 (Regulator Low-Pressure Inflator Combo)

One of the most common configurations where the primary air source is placed on a longer hose and donated is when a diver is using an Air2 or similar inflator / regulator combo.

There are several low-pressure inflator / regulator combos on the market, but the SCUBA Pro Air 2 was one of the first systems that gained widespread use.

By combining the low-pressure inflator and the alternate air source into one, the diver effectively eliminates one hose from their SCUBA rig.

You also eliminate the possibility of having the octopus dangle because the hose used for the low-pressure inflator is typically much shorter than that of an octopus.

As mentioned before, the downside is that it requires the diver to be more involved in an out-of-air scenario because the must give out their primary regulator.

Because the hose on the Air2 is short, it makes it very awkward and less than ideal to be donated to another diver for air sharing.

Hogarthian set up (long hose tech diving set up)

The final configuration worth mentioning is one that was born in cave / technical diving but has been adopted by many recreational divers.

It is known as the Hogarthian rig named after Bill Hogarth Main.

The rig consists of the primary regulator being a longer hose (up to 7 ft) curled around the diver’s body. The octopus is worn on a necklace right under the diver’s neck.

In this configuration the octopus never comes off the necklace. In an emergency, the diver donates the longer hose and then switches to the octo.

Some advantages to this system include:

  • ​Most divers using this configuration opt to have 2 high performing regulators on your rig which eliminates the low performing octopus other divers use..
  • It eliminates the possibility of a regulator ever dangling because it’s nearly impossible for the octopus to come loose from the necklace..
  • If a diver ever approaches you in an out of air scenario, you can give away your primary and have almost instant access to your back up.
  • Because this set up often uses a much longer hose, it will give you the freedom to have some more space to move should you ever have to share air.

The only real downside to this configuration is that it does require training and practice in sharing air using this configuration. Also, if using a long hose for the primary, it does require extra care to not drag the primary regulator on the floor since it is on a very long hose.

Below is a Video where we discuss Air Sharing in Different SCUBA Configurations:

What configuration do you use and why? let us know in the comments below.

Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS Review

By Carlos Sagaro

You're on a dive enjoying a beautiful reef. The time finally comes when you've consumed your gas and you and your buddy ascend to the surface. Once you break the surface you realize that you're are faced with the nightmare scenario every diver dreads...The boat is gone!

Maybe you just can't see it. Several minutes go by and you realize this is not the case. Maybe they had an emergency, surely another boat will come pick you up.

An hour and a half later you realize that's just not happening. What now? You and your buddy are stranded at sea and you haven't seen a boat for hours. That fancy SMB that can be seen several feet out of the water is useless, same goes for your whistle, they're only good if there's a boat nearby and looking for you. 

SCUBA divers navigating wall

I realize that this is a situation most of us don’t care to think about. Let’s face it, most of us dive to escape reality and relieve the stress we experience in our lives. Unfortunately, this scenario is more common than we want to admit. Being a SCUBA instructor, I read several stories about lost divers every year. Sadly, these divers are not always found before it is too late.

What if I told you there was a product available that could ensure that if, god forbid you ever found yourself on the surface all alone, you would not be left hoping that someone would come get you.

Say Hello to The Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS

Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS

The Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS (Nautilus Lifeline for short) is the device divers have been waiting for years! 

It's is a personal signaling device made just for divers.  It's small enough that you can fit in your BCD pocket or on your SCUBA rig using the optional pouch. This allows you to take it with you on every single dive.

This is the first device of it's kind that can actually ensure that you'll feel secure knowing that you will always make it back to your friends and family no matter what happens on your dives.

In the event that you are lost at sea, the Lifeline allows you to send out a signal to commercial vessels, private yachts, military vessels and the Coast Guard that travels up to 34 miles. This signal will send your position and let any vessels in the area know your position so you can be picked safe and sound.

The truth of the matter is that we are not 100% in control of our destiny when we go in the water. No matter how diligent we are as divers...

There are things that happen that are out of our control!

Things like storms and a change in wind speed can affect surface conditions making it more difficult for dive operators to see you on the surface. Also, changes in current and visibility could make it difficult for you to get back to the boat, especially if you are diving off a private boat. Not to mention an emergency on the dive boat or even a dive operator forgetting you are in the water. All of the above has happened to divers over the years, and these are just a few scenarios that could cause a diver to get lost at sea.

The scary part is that we have no control over these things. 

Just like the seatbelts and airbags in your car, the Nautilus Lifeline is there to protect in case the unimaginable happens. It is your insurance against the unexpected.

It is compact which means that it can easily be stored in a BCD pocket or you can attach it to a BCD strap using the optional pouch. The batteries on the Lifeline can last up to five years and are easily user replaceable. The CR123 batteries and be purchased at any drug store or even online.

As long as you keep the cap closed, it is waterproof to 425 feet. The cap should only be removed on the surface when you are ready to activate the lifeline. It is positively buoyant and waterproof in all surface conditions, even with the cap off. The Lifeline comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warrantee.


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How Does It Work?

The Lifeline sends your GPS position to the Coast Guard, all commercial dive vessels and many yachts within a 34-mile radius. The signal is accurate to within 1.5 meters. It’s broadcast via AIS (Automatic Identifications System) and DSC (Digital Selective Calling) which are the two most commonly used nautical messaging systems throughout the world. This means that if you need to use it, all modern vessels equipped with a VHF radio will receive your distress signal.

Nautilus Lifeline GPS sends out a signal to all boats within 34 miles

What is included with the Nautilus Lifeline?

Nautilus Lifeline Review

It comes well packaged in a box with an antenna winding tool. The batteries and pouch are sold separately. You can see for yourself what's in the box as well as how the device works first hand in the unboxing video below. 

The Evolution of the Nautilus Lifeline

As mentioned earlier, this is truly a device designed by divers for divers. The video below shows the story of the Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue Radio (this is the first-generation Nautilus) and how the original idea for the lifeline came to be.

The device shown in the original video was the first generation of the device (technically it’s now called the “Nautilus Lifeline Radio”) It is discontinued and no longer available. The newest generation is called the “Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS”.

First Generation Lifeline

Nautilus VHF Radio

The newest generation does not have a built in VHF radio. This is actually a good thing. The reason is because it means that the device is half the size, does not need to be registered, it does not require programming, and does not need to be constantly charged.

It makes owning and operating the lifeline extremely easy. You just take it with you on every dive, rinse it off with the rest of your gear, and change the batteries out every 5 years or so. It really doesn’t get much easier. When the latest generation was released, its creator was interviewed about the differences. You can see that interview below: 

How Much does all this peace of mind cost??

The price of the the Lifeline makes owning the device a complete no-brainer. It retails for $200 dollars however, you can purchase the Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS here for just $179. Click the link to find our more!

I don’t think there is any price I wouldn’t pay if I were stranded at sea for even a short while. The peace of mind having a device like this gives you is priceless. It’s something every diver should own.

The Nautilus Lifeline Rescue GPS is a great for anyone who is active on the water.  Whether you are a SCUBA diver, free diver, surfer or an avid boater, it will ensure you will never feel alone on the water again.  It is also makes a great gift for anyone who loves being on the water!

I hope you enjoyed our review.  Feel free to share this article with your SCUBA diver friends and leave a comment below if you have any questions for us.

How To Prevent Losing Your Dive Gear – Choosing SCUBA Gear Clips

By Carlos Sagaro

Have you ever lost a piece of expensive dive gear? As divers we all experience this at one point or another. I remember how frustrated I was when I lost a reel on a dive in the Keys. I saw it fall off of my rig and sink to the bottom, powerless to stop it. $125.00 dollars lost…

If this has happened to you, then you are definitely going to want to read on because we are about to go over a few simple steps you can take to ensure that you never lose another piece of expensive dive gear again.

Why You Need to Clip Off Your Gear

As divers we carry multiple pieces of gear. Things like primary and backup flashlights, compasses, submersible marker buoys, reels, whistles, cutting tools, etc. The list is long.

Because we carry so much gear with us, it is essential that we clip off every piece of equipment that we take with us into the water. The reasons could not be clearer.

First, dive gear is expensive and none of us want to lose our hard-earned equipment.

Second, clipping off our gear is important to protect the underwater environment. By making sure that our gear is both clipped off and snugly stowed away near our bodies and in pockets when we dive, we are ensuring the survival of the underwater environment that we so dearly love.

Preventing “Danglies”

We are all familiar with danglies. It is the term used by divers to describe hanging gear. Maybe you’ve seen them on your own dives. You are swimming and you look at another diver who has an octopus or maybe a flashlight hanging low off of their BCD. Maybe you’ve even seen this gear clumsily crashing into a reef or wreck as you cringe in disbelief.

At Greatdivers we take the protection of the underwater environment VERY seriously. Because of this we teach all of our students how to properly stow away equipment so that it does not dangle and cause damage to the fragile underwater environment.

Over the years we have tried several things to stow gear to our BCDs but have found that tire inner tubes tend work extremely well. All you have to do is take a used tire inner tube (I got an old one from a local bike shop for free) and cut it into strips and use it to affix things like lights to the shoulder straps of your BCD.

Please check out the video below to see exactly how we do this and how effective it is at keeping gear stowed away nice and tight:

How to Set Up Your BCD Pocket

Whether your BCD has pockets attached to it or you have purchased a pocket that you strap on to the webbing of your harness, all pockets should be properly set up.

Yes it is true that pockets usually have zippers or Velcro that keep them closed, but that in and of itself is not always enough. It not uncommon for divers to reach into their BCD pockets, go to take something out and accidentally lose a piece of gear in the process.

This is why we configure our pockets to ensure that we never lose a piece of gear when we reach in to retrieve our compass, reel or any other piece of gear stowed away inside of it.

We do this by looping a piece of bungee cord inside our pocket. By doing so we can clip off all the gear in our pocket to the cord so that we can easily have access to anything inside the pocket without accidentally losing another piece of expensive equipment. The short video above illustrates how we do this so please take a minute to check it out.

The Different Types of Clips

There are several different kind of clips that divers use to attach their gear to their BCDs. In this section we are going to review the two we recommend and one that we think is dangerous and no diver should ever take with them in the water.

Bolt Snap

Bolt Snaps: these are the most common clips we use with our gear. They are easy to use and can easily be attached to gear. It is important to note that they must be thoroughly rinsed and should be lubricated from time to time to prevent them from rusting.

Trigger Snap

Trigger Snaps: These are also extremely common for divers to use and are highly recommended in colder environments where heavy gloves need to be worn. This is because their design allows easy access when using heavy gloves. Even though these are less likely to rust than bolt snaps they should still be rinsed out thoroughly and lubricated on occasion


Carabiners: We do not recommend that you use carabiners to attach your gear. Their design allows them to easily be clipped off to your d-rings but they also have a fundamental flaw in that they can easily clip off to monofilament line that is often found underwater. This can cause a diver to get tangled and can create a dangerous situation. It is for this reason that many divers call these “suicide clips” and why we DO NOT recommend you use them to clip off your gear.

How to Tie Your Clips to Your Gear

Most SCUBA equipment comes with loops that are designed to allow divers to tie clips to it. One question we get asked is what we use to tie the clips to the equipment.

We recommend braided nylon line. There are two reasons for this. First it is easily accessible since most dive reels and spools come with the line. In our experience these reels usually have more line that you need and it is not difficult to take a few feet and use it  attach clips to gear. Secondly, this line is EXTEMELY resilient underwater.

We do not recommend that you use tie wraps to affix gear to clips. Tie wraps tend to deteriorate after repeated exposure to salt water and can fail. This happens quite often.

Below is GIF showing exactly how we tie clips to gear. Please take a minute to watch it so that you can ensure that your dive gear remains with you for years to come.

If you found this post useful, just click below to download our free guide “The 8 Navigational Tools you should Never Dive Without.” In it we go over 8 little known tools you can use to help you navigate while you are underwater.


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How outside pressure affects the diver's ear

Equalizing Your Ears: Preventing SCUBA Diving Ear Problems

By Carlos Sagaro

Have you ever had problems equalizing on a dive? Maybe your ears hurt underwater when you descend? If you’re unlucky, maybe you know the feeling all too well. If you’re extremely lucky however, maybe you haven’t experienced this yet. If there’s one thing that’s certain in diving, it’s that sooner or later you’ll have a dive where the dreaded ear equalization problems will creep up. That’s where this guide will come in handy.

In my sixteen years as an instructor, I have seen all kinds of students who have had difficulty with equalization. Hell, even I had some problems with this skill when I first started. After all, it is not natural for us to “pop” our ears.

The good news is that the vast majority of the time SCUBA diving ear problems are easily correctable. Things like being able to equalize one ear easily but not the other, being afraid to push too hard and having sinus congestion are just a few examples of the things that happen which you can easily overcome. Below we will explain how to stop your ears from hurting underwater so you can dive comfortably for years to come.

Why do my ears hurt underwater?

Before we get started, let’s talk about what causes the pain we feel when we descend. It all has to do with pressure.

As we descend into the water column the pressure surrounding us increases. That increase causes our ear drums to compress. This happens because the water pressure outside of our ear is greater than the air pressure inside of our ear.

How outside pressure affects the diver's ear

Equalization is the process whereby we equalize the air pressure in our inner ear to the pressure outside of our ear. We do this by pushing air from our sinuses to our inner ear through the Eustachian Tube, a thin tube that connects our inner ear to our sinuses.

Because the Eustachian Tube is so thin, it is easily compressed. Once compressed, it becomes extremely difficult to pass air through the tube. This makes it almost impossible to equalize and is the reason why we must equalize early and often when we begin our descent into the depths.

What happens if you do not equalize?

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you did not equalize or were unable to equalize? Well, there are a couple of things that can occur and they are not pleasant.

First, you could theoretically cause your eardrums to burst if you were able to stand the pain caused by not equalizing and were able to descend deep enough into the water column. This is unlikely since the pain alone would likely cause you to stop your descent. What could happen is that, once you feel pain in your ears, you would try too hard to equalize by pushing air too forcefully. This can cause too much air to go into your ears and possibly rupture your eardrum. Not very pleasant!

There are two things that can cause you to push too hard:

  • The first is, you do not equalize early and often. This causes the Eustachian Tube to close which forces you to push air harder through your sinuses. Forcing the air in this manner could cause your eardrums to burst. This is why you should stop descending immediately when you feel pain in your ears. Forcing air into your ears on descent when you feel pain can cause your eardrums to burst.
  • Secondly, you dive while congested. The congestion causes the air to not pass through the Eustachian Tube properly. Upon ascent, the air in your inner ear cannot escape which, if not handled correctly, could cause your eardrum to burst. This is called a reverse block. I would like to note that, in the event that you feel pain in your ears on ascent, you MUST NOT attempt to equalize. In this case, you need to slow your ascent to a crawl so that the air can slowly escape. The last thing you want is to have an ear drum pop.


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When to equalize when SCUBA diving?

When we equalize is as important as how we equalize. Equalization occurs early and often. Before you break the surface and begin your descent, you should begin to equalize. You should equalize every couple of feet as you descend to your dive site. If you do not equalize early and often and force yourself down, your eardrum can compress causing pain. The pressure can even seal your Eustachian Tube. This is known as the “trapdoor effect” and can be avoided by equalizing early and often

ears hurt underwater, SCUBA diving ear problems, valsalva

A good rule thumb here is to understand that, if you feel pain in your ears, you have waited too long to equalize. In the event that your feel pressure in your ears, stop your descent and ascend a few feet until the pain goes away and you can equalize. Once this happens, you are free to continue to descend to that wreck you are dying to see!

You should never equalize on ascent. The air in your ear needs to escape as the surrounding pressure decreases. Because of this, there is no need to add more air to your inner ear on ascent.

Remember that, due to your dive site’s topography, your actual depth may change while you are diving. Whenever you ascend a little to see that shark swimming at the top of the reef, you have to equalize again to check out the eel in the hole at the bottom!

How to equalize underwater

There are several different ear equalization techniques you can use for ear preasure relief. Which one is best for you truly depends on your physiology, how your sinuses are functioning on the day you are equalizing and simple preference. The good news is that there is something for everyone here. In my experience as an instructor for several years, I can tell you that I have never had a student who I was not able to teach how to equalize. While there are rare cases where people cannot equalize due to physiological problems, the vast majority of people are able to do so once properly trained.

The most common method of equalization is called the Valsalva maneuver. This is probably the one that you were taught in your dive class. The Valsalva maneuver is named after Italian anatomist Antonio Maria Valsalva, who was the first to document the technique.

You perform the Valsalva Maneuver by pinching your nose and gently pushing air to the back of your throat through the Eustachian tubes and into your inner ear. Here’s the thing, in order for you to complete this correctly you should be able to physically see a bulge forming on either side of your nose if you look down. Think of it as blowing up a balloon. A good way to practice this is to equalize in front of a mirror while watching your nose. You should be able to see the skin on your nose expand. It is important to remember that, while you do not want to blow too forcefully, you do need to apply enough force to feel your ears filling with air. Go ahead and try it now.
ears hurt underwater, SCUBA diving ear problems, valsalva

If the Valsalva maneuver does not work, do not worry!

There are several ear equalization techniques you can try. 

  • Turning your head from one side or the other while performing the Valsalva Maneuver helps
  • Swallowing while doing the Valsalva maneuver helps
  • A combination of the above can help as well.
  • Tilting you head back while attempting the VM helps too
  • The Valsalva maneuver while wiggling your jaw forward can assist as well
  • The Toynbee Maneuver and can be used in lieu of the Valsalva maneuver. You perform the Toynbee maneuver by swallowing with your mouth closed and your nose plugged. You do not have to blow out while doing this
  • The Frenzel Maneuver is another alternative to the Valsalva maneuver. It is performed by pinching your nose while pressing your tongue against the back of your throat while making a “T” or “D” sound.

What you are doing with the vast majority of the variations above is relieving pressure on the Eustachian tubes to allow the air to enter them so you could equalize.

What if I still Can't Equalize Ear Pressure??

Believe it or not, despite all the variations you saw above, there is still a very small percentage of people who have difficulty equalizing. If you are one of these people, keep reading for some other tips to help you get to that dive site you’ve always wanted to see!

  • Descending feet first: If you have trouble equalizing, try descending feet-first rather than doing a head-first descent. This reduces the change in surrounding pressure drastically. Remember that the greatest pressure change occurs in the first 33 feet (10 meters) of water. By starting your descent feet-first, you reduce the dramatic nature of the pressure change increasing your chances of equalizing.
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Diver Equalizing While Descending Feet First

  • Descending on a line: If you’re still having difficulty equalizing, you can control your descent even further by descending feet-first on a line. The trick is to go slowly and equalize early and often.
ears hurt underwater, SCUBA diving ear problems, valsalva

  • Chewing gum: Chewing gum before your dive relaxes your soft palate which has been known to assist in equalization. That being said, DO NOT chew gum during your dive! Besides the fact that chewing gum with a mouthpiece on is difficult. When you dive you’re breathing through your mouth which could cause you to choke on your gum. This could cause a potentially dangerous situation, so do not do it!

Congestion and diving

When you are congested or have a cold, it is not recommended that you dive. Congestion can make it extremely difficult to impossible to equalize. Also, as mentioned above,diving while congested could cause a reverse block, that’s where the air in your inner ear cannot escape and could potentially cause your eardrum to burst.

Some people have advocated taking medication to relieve congestion before a dive. This is potentially dangerous as the side effects of medications while under pressure are not completely understood and their effects could wear off mid-dive causing a dangerous situation.

The big takeaway here is that, when done properly, equalization is not difficult and it is safe. Just like anything else we try to do, it requires practice to master. Whichever method you decide on using, just remember that you will get better at it as you continue to dive.

A couple of things to remember:

  • Equalize right before you begin your descent and continually all the way down to your dive site.
  • Remember that we never equalize on ascent.
  • If you feel pain in your ears on descent, stop and ascend until the pain is relieved before attempting to equalize.
  • If you have difficulty equalizing remember that it is easier to equalize when you descend feet-first.
  • Do not dive when you are congested.
  • Practice several methods of equalization, just because one doesn’t work does not mean a different one won’t.
  • Finally, remember that practice makes perfect.

If you would like to learn more about the medical aspects of equalization including some video on what happens to your ear drum when you equalize, click the link below:

If you would like to learn more about the valsalva maneuver along with the other equalization techniques mentioned in this article. Make sure to watch this video from Dr. Edmond Kay on how to resolve common SCUBA diving ear problems. 

SCUBA Mask Fogging up? How to Defog Your SCUBA Mask

By Carlos Sagaro

How to Prevent Your SCUBA Mask from Fogging Up

It has happened to all of us at one point or another. We have arrived at our dive site! We have been anticipating this for some time. The reef is waiting to display its opulence of life. The Crew gives us their briefing. We don our gear and are anxious to get in and enjoy the view. We enter the water and begin our descent into the abyss, and then it happens…OUR MASK FOGS UP!!!

It’s too late to go back now, we know that we will spend the rest of our dive with a foggy mask because we did not follow the right procedure to ensure that this does not happen. While it is not a serious situation, a foggy mask causes an inconvenience that it is impossible for us to ignore.

​Don't worry though, in this article you are going to learn a new scuba mask preparation procedure that will ensure that this does not happen to you ever again. Keep reading so you can learn what you can do to make it so you never dive with a fogged up mask again.

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Mask Preparation: The Key to a No Fog Mask


Different manufacturers have different processes that they use in the production of their masks. Before you do anything to your new mask, you need to read the instructions that come with it. The procedure that will be detailed below does not apply to masks that come factory-applied defog or no fog masks.

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Mask manufacturers often spray their masks with silicon during the manufacturing process to protect the mask skirt as well as the glass. In many cases, this silicon spray is not removed as it also protects the mask during shipping. The problem is that, if not removed before diving, this silicon spray will make it practically impossible to stop your mask from fogging up. The best anti-fog spray for scuba masks in the world will not make a difference if you do not pretreat your dive mask.

The way we at Greatdivers suggest that you remove this spray is by cleaning your mask with toothpaste before your first dive. Cleaning the SCUBA mask the first time in this manner will make a huge difference in your ability to prevent it from fogging up.

Below is a video explaining how to do this:

Pre-dive Ritual that Prevents Your SCUBA Mask from Fogging Up.

Even if you clean your mask like we did in the video above, you will still need to apply some sort of SCUBA maskanti fog so it does not fog up. There are several liquids you can apply to your mask that will help you achieve this.

  • Antifog Spray: There are plenty of commercially available defogs you can use to prevent your mask from fogging up. The way they work is simple, you apply the solution to the inside of your mask and rub it in. You rinse off the excess and the residue leaves a film on the mask that prevents it from fogging up.
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  • Baby Shampoo: Many people swear by this. A diluted solution of baby shampoo can be used in the same manner as the defog above. Divers who use this like it because it is designed not to irritate the eyes.
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  • Spit: For many divers, spit is their method of choice. It is effective, ready-available and it most certainly does not irritate the eyes. Some people are not a fan because they are grossed out by the idea of using spit asdefog. I will admit, this is my method of choice and I do not mind a "spit mask."
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I would like to mention one last thing, I have never been a fan of using mask buckets on dive boats. Often times they contain dish soap which can be extremely irritating and this is made worse when every other diver on the boat dunks their mask into the bucket. If you are going to use the mask bucket, I highly recommend that you try on your mask before you get in the water to make sure that it does not irritate your eyes.

What is your preferred method of dealing with a foggy mask?

Underwater Navigation: How to use a SCUBA Compass

By Carlos Sagaro

I remember when I first started SCUBA diving. My instructor told me I should always have an underwater compass with me when I go diving. He “went over” compass navigation in my basic SCUBA class but, by the time I received my certification, I had little more than a BASIC understanding of how to use a SCUBA compass. If you feel the same way I did, then read on because in this article we are going to go over the compass and how to use it as a SCUBA navigation device.

Parts of the Compass

The most commonly known SCUBA navigation device is the compass. All divers have one and should carry it with them whenever they go underwater. After all, we all know that there is no such thing as an underwater GPS for Divers! However, many of us, including myself when I first started, do not really know how to use the compass correctly to navigate underwater.


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Before we get into how to navigate underwater, I want to review the parts of the compass:

The Card:

This is the part of the compass that has the degrees (from 0 to 359 and the letters that determine direction

It rotates inside of a closed chamber that is full of liquid, which allows us to use it underwater.​

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SCUBA navigation device, best underwater compass, underwater navigation

The Bezel:

This a rotating piece of plastic on the outside of the compass which can be moved around to help us read our heading

The Lubber Line:

This line is used to determine the direction you are heading in.  It is fixed on the compass' face.

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The Side Window

This is a window on the side of the compass that makes it easier for us to see our heading when we are pointing the compass.

    It is important that you become familiar with the different parts of the compass and how to use them before you attempt to use a compass to navigate. Not doing so can cause you to get lost, which I am sure you do not want to have happen! **Note that a digital compass does not have all these parts**

    How to Use a Compass for Underwater Navigation

    The first thing we need to go over is how to hold your compass when underwater. This is important because different compasses are mounted in different ways. Determining what the best underwater compass for you to use is a personal preference but, it is important for you to understand how to hold them so you get the correct heading. Not knowing how to hold a compass can cause you to get an incorrect heading

    Hand-held compass

    When diving with a hand-held or pocket compass, you must hold the compass in front of you, with both hands and in a center line to your body when getting a heading. This will ensure that you are not off center and will allow the card to move freely

    SCUBA navigation device, best underwater compass, underwater navigation

    Wrist-mounted compass

    When using a wrist-mounted compass or a digital compass that is incorporated into a dive computer, you must hold the hand the compass is not mounted on in front of you pointing in the direction that you want to go while grabbing the arm that is pointing ahead in a ninety degree angle so that the wrist that the compass is mounted on goes across your body. This provides you with a fixed position for your compass and ensures that the card does not become stuck so you can get an accurate reading.

    Console-mounted compass

    This works just like the hand-held compass. The major difference is that you will hold the console the compass is attached to in front of you rather than just the compass. One thing that you need to be aware of is that often times compasses that are attached to consoles are placed there at an angle. This is done to allow the diver to have access to the window at the bottom of the compass. You must make sure you are holding your console in an orientation that allows the card to be free to move so that you can get an accurate reading.

    SCUBA navigation device, best underwater compass, underwater navigation

    Taking a heading

    A heading is the numerical description attached to the direction you are traveling in. This will always be between 0 and 360. It is common knows as degrees.

    Now that you know how to hold your compass, the next thing you need to be able to do is take a heading. You will take your heading by pointing the compass in the direction you are travelling in. The lubber line is fixed and will always point forward. The card will rotate in a manner that will always have the “N” pointing north. When you look through the window you will see a number, that number is your heading.

    If you would like to learn more about taking a heading, check out or video below.  In it we go over this as well as a few other aspects of compass navigation.

    How do I get back to where I am came from underwater?

    Introducing The Reciprocal course

    This is a very common question. Because we take headings in a circle from 0 to 360 degrees, it is possible to calculate your reciprocal, or opposite heading. To do this we use something called the add/subtract 180 rule. It requires a little math, but it is not difficult.

    Before I explain this, I want to point out that it is not uncommon for people to round either up or down when they take headings to make their calculations easier and there is nothing wrong with you doing that when you are calculating your headings.

    How this rule works is simple: If your heading is above 180 or higher, you subtract 180 to get your reciprocal heading. If your heading is below 179, you add 180 to get your reciprocal course.

    Example 1: Subtract 180

    You are heading 240 degrees west-southwest. In order for you to calculate your reciprocal course, you would subtract 180 degrees from that heading. 240 – 180 = 60 degrees east-northeast.

    Example 2: Add 180

    You are heading 160 degrees east-southeast. In order for you to calculate your reciprocal course, you would add 180 degrees from that heading. 160 + 180 = 340 degrees west-northwest.


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    How about natural navigation? How to use your compass to assist in natural navigation.

    SCUBA navigation device, best underwater compass, underwater navigation

    It is a very good idea to use your compass in conjunction with natural navigation. This is a very good way of avoiding tunnel vision, this is when you are so singular focused on your compass that you do not notice what is happening around you. I have seen it happen more than once that a student will focus so diligently on their compass that they will swim right passed the ascent line of the boat without even noticing it.

    By fixing your heading on something on the sea floor. A part of the reef or some other fixed object, you can focus on that object and your surroundings and then fix your heading on another object to continue swimming in your desired direction. This also allows you to continue to enjoy your dive. 

    What if there is a cross current?

    There are times when you will be swimming with a current coming across your body rather than in front or behind you. The idea here is to slightly deviate your swimming directing into to current to compensate. Of course, this is not an exact science, but it will allow you to compensate for the current and get you closer to your desired destination.

    Is the compass the primary / only navigational tool I need?

    Great question! While the compass is what is often emphasized in most beginner SCUBA courses it is not the only navigational tool, nor is it the only way to navigate underwater. Natural Navigation (using the environment itself as a navigational tool) is actually the type of navigation used most often. The reason why compass navigation is emphasized over Natural Navigation is two-fold.

    The first reason why compass navigation is prioritized is because it is incredibly important for performing boat checks. A boat check is what you do when you are unsure of your position underwater (more on that in a moment). During a boat check you ascend to the surface take the bearing on where the boat you need to return to is, and then descend back underwater to follow the heading which you took on the surface. This skill is critical to ensuring you make it back to the dive boat safely. This is why it is critical that you learn how to read and use the compass.

    The second reason why compass navigation is prioritized in most SCUBA classes is because it generally is easier and simpler to teach.

    So how do I perform a boat check using my compass?

    SCUBA navigation device, best underwater compass, underwater navigation

    The boat check is usually only done on shallow reefs. if you ever feel lost or unsure about your position on a reef, provided that there is not a strong current then you can perform a boat check.

    The idea is to go to the surface, take the heading of where the boat is, and then return underwater and swim in the direction of the boat. The reason for returning underwater is because by doing so you avoid stronger currents, waves and boats which are on the surface.

    To perform a boat check you'll need to follow these 6 simple steps:

    1. Ensure that there are no running boats in the area before ascending to perform a boat check. If you hear the sound of an engine, wait for it to go away. Sound travels 4 times faster underwater than it does on land so establishing where the sound is coming from is impossible while diving.
    2. Determine who will be the dive leader. This is the person who will be taking a bearing leading the group back to the boat.
    3. Ascend to the surface slowly to check for the position of the boat.
    4. Inflate your BCD and begin scanning the horizon for the dive boat. You may need to do a full circle sometimes before locating the dive boat.
    5. Once you've located the dive boat, point your compass in its direction and take note of the bearing by looking through the side window. You can use the bezel to lock in the reading you just took.
    6. Deflate your BCD and descend back to the reef / wreck.
    7. Swim back to the dive boat while following the heading that was taken on the surface.

    About dive leaders

    You probably remember from your entry level course that you should decide on a dive leader for the dive. This is especially true with compass navigation. The reason is because it is very easy for 2 different compasses to read slightly differently from each other. It's also very easy for 2 divers each paying attention to their own compass to become easily separated. For this reason it's incredibly important for just one person to be the dive leader and for that person to both follow the heading of the compass and continue to monitor their buddy and dive team while navigating underwater.

    How to Use Your Buddy To Take a Heading

    There are times when you are just going to have to do a boat check. Maybe you got turned around or you were busy paying attention to a turtle or other interesting sea creature.

    When your buddy ascends to do a boat check you can use him or her to take a bearing so you can also get an idea on the direction of the boat.​

    It is important to remember that the person who ascends and takes the bearing is the one who will lead the group back.

    Another good idea is to double check what bearing your buddy took when they get back down.

    ​Click below to check out our video explaining how we do this.

    I hope this has helped you understand the ins and outs of using a compass as a SCUBA navigation device. Keep in mind that the compass is only one of 8 different tools you can use to help you to navigate. If you'd like to learn more about the other 7 tools you can do so by clicking here to get our FREE guide "The 8 Navigational Tools You Should Never Dive Without"