Advanced Buoyancy Control


I am trying to contain my laughter at a very animated Bruce Bowker. He is belly flat on the table in a most awkward combobulation of twisted arms and legs, screaming at the top of his lungs: ‘The more you breathe, the more you float, the more you float, the harder you work.’ It’s that simple.

Greg Johnston
This diver is perfectly horizontal in the water, demonstrating proper balance control, which is the key to efficiency.

I have come to the Carib Inn to participate in Bruce’s Balanced Buoyancy Control workshop. Having spent many hours underwater, I always thought of myself as having excellent buoyancy control. A shot of air here, a little purge there, and I was hanging with the fish. Never even considered the idea of balancing myself. And now the fear of looking like that mangled mess Bruce had gotten himself into scared the hell out of me. ‘Watch how fish swim,’ says Bruce. ‘They swim horizontal in the water. That’s because fish are balanced, divers are not.’

This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. The heavier part of a diver’s body is usually the legs, and the lighter part is the chest because of the lungs. So where do we put weight? At the heavier part. Where do we put air? At the lighter part.

You could say Bruce Bowker is quite an expert on diving Bonaire. He was the first dive instructor working full time after arriving there in 1973, and since 1980 he has owned and operated the Carib Inn. With more than 26 years of showing visitors the underwater side of Bonaire, you could say Bruce knows divers’ habits very well.

According to Bruce, the biggest problem divers have while swimming underwater is their fin strokes. ‘We’ve all seen divers swimming as though they are riding a bicycle and others who drag their fins along the bottom like a huge sea slug,’ he says, ‘and as trivial as it may sound, it is related to buoyancy more than you think.’

Ankle weights will help the foot-light diver.

The more efficiently you kick, the less work, the less breathing and so on. Almost everything you do underwater is related to buoyancy and balancing your buoyancy, is the key to efficiency. The solution is to add weights in the chest area where you are the most buoyant. Try this experiment: when in shallow water, position yourself horizontally. If your feet sink, then you are foot-heavy. If your feet have a tendency to float, this is easily remedied by adding ankle weights. For divers who are foot-heavy, you must offset this unbalanced nature by distributing weights differently.

On my next dive I tried Bruce’s theory of relativity and proved you can teach an old dog new tricks. I wear 10 pounds of lead weights with my 3.2mm full wetsuit, and I am foot-heavy. I redistributed my weight configuration with two three-pound weights on my belt and one four-pound weight around the top of my tank. This setup made me perfectly horizontal in the water. To dive deeper, I simply moved my head downward and kicked. To come up, I pointed towards the surface and kicked up slowly. My air consumption even improved because my kicking power was used efficiently. This balancing of weight will also help when swimming in heavy current. The more horizontal you are, the less water drag you will have.

However, redistributing your weights is only part of the solution. For most divers, the real problem is over- weighting themselves. ‘You gotta lose the weight,’ says Bruce, ‘I have had many people like yourselves take this seminar and lose 10 pounds immediately.’ While I would like to lose that much weight from my midsection, I certainly enjoy losing it off my belt. There is no reason to add 20 pounds of lead to sink, then offset that weight by adding 20 pounds of air lift to your BC.

Foot-heavy divers need to redistribute their weights.

Weights have only one function for most recreational diving: to make a diver as close to neutral as possible. There are some that will argue that extra weight is needed at the beginning or end of the dive while you are in that 15-foot ‘problem zone’ as Bruce calls it. But if you are perfectly weighted for neutral buoyancy and balanced from head to toe, swimming or hanging while decompressing is simply a matter of efficient fin strokes.

I thoroughly enjoyed the program and laughed at the comical antics Bruce put himself through to show us divers just how silly we can look and perform underwater. After all, diving is fun; we shouldn’t have to work too hard at this.

Dive In at the Carib Inn
The friendly staff at the Carib Inn is dedicated to the needs and requirements of dive travelers who want an effortless diving vacation. With only 10 units, the resort is small and intimate. Bruce prefers to keep it this way, not only with diver-friendly vacation packages, but also excellent service through personal attention to all his guests.

For information, please call (599) 717-8819 or fax (599) 717-5295 between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm EST, seven days a week (fax is 24 hours). You can also write to Bruce Bowker’s Carib Inn, P.O. Box 68, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles or e-mail

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