Home Tech Tips Alec Peirce Tech Tips: Proper Weight Balance

Alec Peirce Tech Tips: Proper Weight Balance

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Alec and Helen
Alec and Helen

Hi guys, Alec Peirce Scuba here again at the AquaSub Scuba Diving Centre. I have one of our main instructors Helen here today to give me a hand in demonstrating weight deployment or weight placement. This comes up all the time: every time I mention weights or BCDs I get comments. I thought I’d quickly run through this with you.

With most modern upgraded BCs – sometimes you might get the most economical model like a rental – you get weight integration. What does that mean? Very simply, it means the BC you’re buying will accept weights: you can put weights into the BC rather than having them separate. Most new BCs (certainly upgraded BCs) will have a pocket of some sort. Some are fancy with clips and special things you pull to drop the weights and everything else; some are fairly simple. This one is fairly simple with a pocket with a zipper on it. You can adjust your weights on the BC.

This is great for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s much, much easier on your body. Even if you’ve worn much in the way of weights (certainly if you dive in cold water with a seven-mil wetsuit, you could be wearing 15, 20 or 30 pounds), I don’t care how strong or young you are, you’re going to have a sore back at the end of a long dive. Being able to put some of the weights into the BC has one major advantage in spreading the weight out over your body. It doesn’t matter, within reason, where the weights are: they all contribute to your negative buoyancy, which is what you really want.

Different BCs will have different mechanisms to get rid of those weights, and you need to look at them all. This principle started in the ‘50s with quick release buckles (Mike Nelson in Sea Hunt had a quick release buckle) with the theory if you had a problem you could drop your weights and go to the surface. That has carried on all these years, and 60 years later, we still have a quick release system for the weights. Even if you have a BC as a weight integrator that accepts weights in different pockets, there will be some system for dropping them quickly.

What about divers who wear a lot of weights? I get comments from divers who say, “I’m only wearing six pounds of weight.” First of all, you’re not wearing six pounds of weight if you have a wetsuit on; or if you do have a wetsuit on, it must be almost all worn out. Your body alone needs three to five pounds of weight just to submerge: most people are positively buoyant. If you’re wearing a wetsuit, then the amount of weight you need increases rapidly: on a three-mil suit, you need four, five, fix pounds; on a five-mil suit, eight to 10; and if you go into a seven-mil suit for very cold water, you might need 15 to 20 pounds or more depending on your size (the bigger person you are, the more wetsuit you need, and the wetsuit creates buoyancy).

Generally, a BC will have a rating on it as to how much weight it is designed to accept; and generally, that rating is optimistic. A BC will have a rating that says you can put 16 pounds into it – well, maybe. I’ve seen BCs that have a 16-pound rating and you might be able to force 16 pounds in: if you melted the lead and poured it into the pockets! If a BC says it normally carries 16 pounds, you might get 12 into it comfortably. You don’t want to go around with two great big cement blocks on each side. If you get too many weights in there, you start to lose the comfort you were gaining from a weight-integrated buoyancy compensator.

This brings up another good point. You’ll notice that the weight I put on Helen’s BC is what we call a soft weight. It’s a pouch filled with little lead shot. It’s great stuff… you can drop it on your toe and it doesn’t hurt! They come in different sizes: in twos and threes and fours; and if you need a lot of weight for cold water, fives. I suggest you get twos and threes, so if you need to take a couple of pounds off, you can take one out. These soft weights are great in particular because they are soft. You can put them in a BC and they don’t hurt your hips. You can use hard weights in the BC but they aren’t comfortable. If you decide to get a new BC – and you pay six, seven or eight-hundred dollars for a top-quality, full-featured, weight-integrated one – for gosh sakes, spend another 20 bucks and get soft weights.

Helen, with your seven-mil suit, I’m guessing you’d need about 16 to 18 pounds. That means if you’re going to put 10 or 12 into the BC… don’t forget you have to carry the tank, reg, and BC. You’re already up to almost 40 pounds. What you need to do then is get a small weight belt.

This is the beauty of a weight-integrated BC. You’ve got some weights in the BC – comfortable, not too heavy – and then get a weight belt. You can get belts of neoprene with Velcro closures or a standard weight belt with two-inch nylon webbing and a belt buckle. The point is you only need six or eight pounds. It’s comfortable, you’ve got a belt you can drop in an emergency, and a BC that’s weight-integrated.

Now, ladies in particular comment and say their boots keep rising to the surface: not so much with guys. Get a soft ankle weight, snap it around, and it will keep your feet down where they’re supposed to be so you can fin properly as you’re going along. These ankle weights don’t count too much toward your overall weight.

If you spread out your weight requirements across your body, it’s a lot more comfortable, it’s easier to carry, and your attitude – up, down, left, right – is much more controlled. I think you’ll find the dives a lot more enjoyable and safer too.

Talk to you soon,

Alec Peirce Scuba