Finding that Zen-like state of neutral buoyancy takes a bit of practice, but once mastered the skill becomes such a natural part of your diving routine that it is rarely given much thought. If you're having difficulty shifting into neutral once you're beneath the surface, consider investing a dive or two -- or even some pool time -- in perfecting this skill. The ability to maintain neutral buoyancy is a big part of what separates the merely comfortable from the truly competent diver. It reduces drag, fatigue and air consumption while helping you protect the environment and increase your overall confidence level in the water.
Step 1: Make sure your BCD is adequate to your diving conditions. Warm-water divers who wear thin wetsuits and little weight don't need 50 pounds of lift from a BC, and cold-water divers who wear 20 pounds of lead shouldn't try to get by with a BC that only provides an equal amount of lift.
Step 2: Be properly weighted. When fully geared up, and with your BC completely deflated, you should be able to float at eye level on the surface while holding a lung full of air. Exhaling should begin a slow descent. Get a buddy to help you add and subtract weight to determine how much you need. As a starting point, divers wearing thick wetsuits should use enough lead to equal 10 percent of their body weight.
Step 3: Once at depth, find a visual reference point and establish neutral buoyancy. This reference can be the seafloor or a prominent rock or sponge on a vertical wall. Add air to your BC in two or three short bursts and then breathe normally for a moment. If you begin to ascend, use an exhaust valve to let out a small amount of air. If you descend, add another short burst of air with your power inflator. Small adjustments are always best and will help you quickly fine-tune your buoyancy.
Step 4: When your buoyancy is neutral, you will probably rise and fall slightly with each breath. This is normal. Over time you will naturally learn how to make moderate buoyancy adjustments by taking deeper or shallower breaths as you dive. For more drastic depth changes you will need to add or subtract air from your BC. But, again, do so with short bursts. These small adjustments will help you quickly find the perfect balance between up and down.