One of the most important things to learn about scuba
diving is to maintain proper buoyancy. When a diver's buoyancy is out of
control it can lead to over-exertion, ear problems, lung damage, decompression
sickness, drowning, etc. A diver should be neutrally buoyant in the water.
They should start to float on the inhale and should sink on the exhale. Going
to the bottom or the surface too fast must be avoided. A diver's buoyancy
changes for a variety of reasons. Scuba tanks get lighter as the air is breathed
out of them. As mentioned in the Wet Suit Chapter, as one goes deeper the
suits get thinner. Thin suits don't require the weight -belt load thick suits
do. So, at depth the diver becomes negatively buoyant and tends to sink.
Negatively buoyant divers find it hard to go toward the surface and
are hitting the bottom (Fire coral!?) constantly.
The buoyancy-compensating device (BCD or just BC) is
a piece of life-support scuba equipment that allows the diver to adjust their
buoyancy. It consists of an inflatable bag that attaches to the scuba tank
and then to the diver. Usually there is a button that controls the flow of
air from the scuba tank into the bag (bladder). If the diver feels they are
getting too heavy the bladder is inflated until neutral buoyancy is regained.
If the diver feels they are to light and are headed toward the surface, air
may be removed using a second button. The BCD will compensate for changes
in buoyancy due to things such as suit compression, and tank air removal.
Some BCD's have a hard pack that is connected to the
air chambers. Some have a soft pack. Hard packs tend to have better stability
because the tanks don't roll around as much. To compenstae for tha, the soft
pack vests have 2 straps for tank attachment, whereas the hard packs have
only 1. Soft pack BCD's are easier to pack for travel because they require
less space. Tanks can be carried by the handle found on top of the hard packs.
Hard packs are hollow and take a minute or so to fill with water. That will
change a diver's buoyancy by about 3 lbs.
New divers are oftentimes unaware of changes in their
buoyancy. They might be diving along the bottom of a lake toward the shore.
As the slowly get shallower the suit bubbles keep expanding as does the air
in the BCD. As the diver gets more buoyant the fins are elevated to more
the diver down as well as forward. As ascent continues the diver gets out
of control and heads to the surface. By the time the diver comes to an upright
position to vent the air from the BCD the surface is reached. The ascent
was too fast. This must be avoided.
There is also a delayed reaction to buoyancy changes.
For example, a new diver may find they have become too heavy because of
increasing depth. They add air to the BCD in order to increase the buoyancy.
Since there is a delay to the change too much air is added and the diver
starts rising too fast. Or, a diver decides to start to the surface. They
add a little air to the BCD. On the ascent the air expands and increases
the diver's speed upward. If the air is not vented the diver may get out
of control. Sometimes the air is vented but too much is let out. Now the
diver sinks back to the bottom and more air is added only to have the process
repeat itself. It requires practice, and lots of it, to be able to properly
use a BCD.
It is important to come up in the
water no faster than 1 foot per second (60'/minute)! Usually the smallest
bubbles a diver can see in the water rise about 1'/second. Rising faster
than that, especially if you have been diving below 30', can create decompression
sickness and/or lung damage. The ascent must be controlled by properly using
the BCD. A direct ascent to the surface requires the diver to be in the "standing
up" position, with the left hand on the BCD hose extended upward, the index
finger on the exhaust button, and the thumb on the inflate button. The right
hand might be extended over the head to prevent hitting objects on the surface.
If the ascent does get out of control from an over-inflated
BCD, a stuck inflation button, or a lost weight belt, the diver should
immediately lay out flat, with the face toward the surface, and the arms
and legs extended. The BCD should be dumped. The breathing should be normal.
This will slow the ascent as much as possible. It is called, "the flare back."
If the cause is a stuck BCD inflation button the hose from the regulator
to the vest should be disconnected at the vest.
When on the surface the BCD should be comfortably inflated.
This allows the diver to float comfortably and without exertion. This should
be done during the pool training as well. Whenever you are instructed to
remain on the surface the BCD should be inflated. There should be no concern
about using the air from the tank for this purpose. It takes so little air
for buoyancy control on a normal scuba dive the difference in dive time would
be less than 1 minute. Even when training in the pool the excessive
use of air for surface buoyancy takes little away from the air needed for
BCD's are also used for surface swims. Either with a
snorkel with the diver's face underwater water, or swimming on the back,
the surface swim is a snap with a partially inflated BCD. Swimming long distances
is easy. Rescues of another diver using both BCD's is very easy compared
to a swimming rescue. Carrying a diver for long distances, even while
administering artificial resuscitation, is possible and not hard to do. Relieving
a leg cramp on the surface using the BCD is easy as well.
You will be instructed to properly put a BCD on the tank
and connect the hose from the regulator to it. You will be shown how to donn
the BCD with the tank attached, and how to adjust the straps. One important
note: Do not pull on the shoulder straps with the full weight of the tank
on the back. The buckles cannot take the force. Either have the bottom of
the tank resting on something, have someone hold up the tank, or lean over
so the weight of the tank is pressing down on the back, and then pull the
shoulder straps tight. You will also learn how to put a BCD on, and take
it off in the water while breathing from the regulator.
The whistle on the tank is for surface use only. It is
useless underwater. They are used to get the attention of another person
such as the captain of the dive boat or your fellow divers. Not having a
whistle can be dangerous. If a diver surfaces in rough water they might not
be seen for getting picked up by the boat. If an emergency occurs no one
may notice unless the whistle gets attention!
On some BCD's there is a device used to puncture a CO2
cartridge. The cartridge is similar to those found for making seltzer water.
It is called a detonator. A string hangs down from the detonator. If the
vest needed to be blown up in an emergency, the string would be pulled, a
needle would puncture the cartridge and the liquid CO2 would instantly turn
into a gas filling the BCD. These devices were very popular in the past.
Unfortunately, divers accidentally detonated the cartridge at times which
would send them to the surface in a dangerous uncontrolled ascent. They are
not used on most scuba BCD's today.
The BCD should never be used as a lifting device. If
you see an outboard motor and decide to bring it to the surface using the
BCD to provide buoyancy it could lead to a disaster. If the motor is dropped
during the ascent, the upward force on the diver might be so great a dangerous
trip to the surface would take place.
It is important for your buddy to know what type of BCD
you are using. Where is the inflation button? Does it have and weights that
are built into the vest, and how do you dump them? How is the vest removed
from the diver? Answers to questions such as these are very important in
order to avoid potential problems.
After use the BCD should be emptied of any water that
may have entered the bladder during the dive. You will be instructed as to
how to do this. All the straps should be connected. It should be rinsed if
it has been use in salt or dirty water. Rinsing the bladder of salt water
is important. It should be blown up and allowed to dry. Than it may be deflated
and stored in a place that will not have other objects on top of it to protect
the bladder from damage. The BCD should be kept from freezing so ice does
not open the bladder's seams!