Posts Tagged ‘Go Pro’

After Sidemount, my favourite course to teach is related to neutral buoyancy and buoyancy control.  Why?  In my opinion and experience divers gain the most value for money from is learning better control of their buoyancy through a one day Advanced Buoyancy class than any other training, gadget or piece of equipment available on the market.  I say this because the key benefits of improved buoyancy control are better protection of the marine environment (in case I want to come back and see it again), less physically draining diving and lower ‘Surface Air Consumption (SAC) rates.  In simple terms you would probably dive easier and longer for the same money spent on air!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am constantly reminded when diving of how other divers perceive the concept of trim and neutral buoyancy.  Experienced divers I see kicking around or (even worse) lying on the reef as they try to get their next underwater masterpiece, they have the concepts in their head but perhaps are unsure about the execution.  Only last month when I was running a small AB class (I call it the ‘Art of Buoyancy’ class), I asked the three students over coffee at the start of the day how they would rate their control underwater.  All of them believed they were above average or fairly good.  The woman who needed to dive with gloves knew that it was “important to keep off the reef” as she pushes the Gorgonian out of the way with a neoprene covered paw.  The gentleman who was completing the course with his daughter claimed he was “very comfortable with keeping off the bottom” as he created a silt storm behind him.  The good thing is that these three individuals recognized improving their buoyancy control would improve their diving experience.

The vast majority of divers, like my three students, understand the importance of buoyancy control.  Many have not developed the appreciation or have had the opportunity to see or experience buoyancy control concepts in the real world and have not been able to adapt these into their own diving style.  So how do you know if you need some help on buoyancy?  I’ve listed below a few typical symptoms an signs that your control underwater may not be where you want it and that you may want to think about contacting your local PADI dive center for a AB course:

  1. Scuffed Fins:  Check out the end of your fins.  Do they look like they’ve been chewed by the cat for a month?  Fins can take a small amount of abuse getting onto or off of the dive boats, but on the whole the fin tips should be fairly even and a recognisable shape.  If yours are battered and worn, they have probably come in contact with the reef on a number of occasions.
  2. High SAC rate: If you had a SAC rate of more than 1 bar per minute (15 psi per minute) and you are usually the first to call ‘low air’ on a dive, and have maybe been referred to as an ‘air hog’ (see link here to calculate your SAC rate: down
  3. Single Kick Style: What is you kick style? Do you only use a flutter kick (up and down movement) and do you struggle with any other style of kick
  4. Hips Down: In candid pictures of your diving from your buddies, do you have are your hips predominately lower than your torso?  Get the friends to take some video too and see how you look.  Is this how you think you look in the water?
  5. Handy Man: Do you have a tendency to use your hands for either propulsion or control in the water? We call it sculling, and apart from turning in really tight spaces (usually created by students wanting to see what I am looking at and giving me no room to get out of their way!) it is a really ineffective way of moving in the water – measure your hand size against a fin and take a guess which would give you better propulsion if you could control it?

Anyone of these symptoms could suggest that you need to be more aware of your position in the water and your diving style.  If your head is bouncing like a nodding dog, then you should come and check me out.  Through your Open Water course you’re taught the basic principles of buoyancy control, and many instructors have a different view of the ‘mastery’ requirement.  With something like the ‘Art of Buoyancy’ course we’re going to give you the skills to become a master.  If you were to take a class like this, your diving would improve.  The degree of improvement would depend on how much effort you put in and how much practice you put into each skill, but generally students see marked improvements in their air consumption and are able to enjoy longer dives.  They expend less energy on the dive and therefore are less tired during the ‘Après Dive’ sessions.

When I am looking to teach this course, the principal is to use a lot of the skills that you would have learnt in Open Water and try to conduct them in mid-water.  This is a principal I was taught when I learned how to dive Sidemount with Fernando Cañada.  We would be looking at things like:  In confined water conditions can you complete the following skills and still maintain your position?

  1. Blind hover – Get yourself into a hover in about 2m of water.  Close your eyes and hold your position for 20, 30 and 60 seconds.
  2. Mask remove and replace – Get yourself into a hover in about 2m of water.  Remove your mask and hold it off for about 5 breaths before replacing it
  3. BCD remove and replace – Get yourself into a hover in about 2m of water.  Remove your BCD fully and put it back on again.

If you would like to find out more about improving your buoyancy or completing the ‘Art of Buoyancy’ program or learning to dive in the amazing Caribbean Sea off Carriacou, check out for details



ImageSidemount scuba is simply an evolved approach to equipment configuration which was developed by cave divers needing precision buoyancy and the ability to dive in unusually tight conditions.  It employs innovation and discipline to produce an arrangement of scuba unlike any the typical diver is accustomed to.

Think of your Scuba back-mount system like a car which has a front mounted engine.  It’s there because that’s where everyone puts it and it’s easy.  It has it’s limitations, but works for 99% of applications.  Sidemount scuba is like mounting your engine in the middle of the car.  It’s more complicated and means having to move some other bits and pieces about to accommodate it, but you do it because it improves weight distribution, performance and manoeuvrability.  It’s also WAY cooler!

ImageI was introduced to Sidemount by Fernando Cañada, Steve Zoni, Steve Bogaerts and Suzy Phipps whilst living and diving in Central America.  This was in the days before the large training organisations recognised a growing trend and when equipment options were a little ‘limited’.  Steve Bogaerts went on to create the ‘Razor’ system to overcome this, and this is the setup I prefer to use.  Initially I was intrigued by the configuration.  I liked the idea of having two tanks with me and the setup looked much more easy to manage than manifold twin-sets (yes, I was also an air hog!) and would mean I could extend my bottom time beyond 40 minutes.  I liked the idea of narrowing your profile and being able to follow Fernando through some of those tighter swim-through’s.  However, I thought it all looked a little cumbersome and unwieldy.  Zoni and Bogaerts both convinced me to start and to stick with it and soon I would be a convert…..

ImageGetting started is hard!  Everything feels so wrong.  There are tanks in the way and it all feels cumbersome.  The harness is too tight and cuts into your neck/hips/crotch* (delete as applicable) and on top of that Bogaerts’ training programme has you practicing buoyancy skills in 3’ of water.  It took me about 5 dives to figure out which parts of the harness and ‘rig’ were the most uncomfortable and then to be able to adjust them to a better position.  Once you have your rig configured…. That’s it you’re hooked!  There is no going back.

On the course you’re taught precision buoyancy skills – holding a position in the water for extended periods of time and trying to get as close to the sand as possible whilst still remaining ‘afloat’ and neutrally buoyant.  Different ways of manoeuvring yourself in the water using both hands and feet, and of course how to deal with emergencies.  Once out in the open water with a comfortable setup you realize that your position in the water is different.  You carry less weight, and less around your hips.  This means you become more ‘feet up’ in the water.  You’re able to hold a stationary hover almost effortlessly and bend and twist around the reefs like never before.  You’ll soon realise that you have increased levels of stability, which is a real boon for the photographers amongst us.  Not only can you hold that hover without needing to ‘touch down’, you’ll also be able to comfortably get under those tight overhangs and catch that Nurse Shark image the others can only dream of.

ImageI’m a complete convert to Sidemount and now teach both the Bogaert’s and PADI Sidemount specialities.  I choose to dive this way almost anytime I’m diving and not teaching.  I am recognised as the only trained Sidemount instructor on the Island of Carriacou and teach all my courses with the same dedication, professionalism and fun as the guys taught me, using my copy of the Razor system.  This means that when you’re thinking of learning Sidemount you’ll be confident that you’re being taught by someone who knows what they’re doing and knows why they’re doing it.

On my rare days off, I can be seen dropping into the Ocean with a single Sidemount tank and bumbling around the cracks and holes around Jack Iron Point or Anse La Roche and trying to get some great photo or video for the shop.

If you want to find out more about diving on Carriacou, you can visit our website at

Or if you are interested in trying Sidemount or learning to dive Sidemount you can find more information at

Neutral BuoyancyNeutral buoyancy: A condition in which a physical body’s density is equal to the density of the fluid in which it is immersed. This offsets the force of gravity that would otherwise cause the object to sink. An object that has neutral buoyancy will neither sink nor rise.

We all know the importance of attaining neutral buoyancy when we’re diving, as it allows us to attain that complete weightless feeling, easily control our direction and attitude in the water, move more efficiently and of course conserve our air.  However, attaining a neutrally buoyant position in the water is only half of the art.

In this review I will discuss with you those remaining elements which I consider integral to mastering….

The Art of Buoyancy’.

1)      Visualization: Take a few moments to think about your dive before you get into the water.  Use visualization techniques to relax  Viz and calm your breathing.  Think about how you want to dive and focus on graceful movements.  See yourself in your mind’s eye effortlessly gliding through the water.  Think about being slow and smooth, graceful and efficient with your movements.  This step is more important than many people give it credit for and can take anything from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.  Visualization allows you to step back from the frantic hubbub of activity which can cause stress and tension before a dive and allow you to enter the water in the right frame of mind, relaxed and ready to enjoy the dive. A relaxed and smooth diver will be more efficient in the water, which means they will use less air.

2)      Effective movement: I’ve never seen anyone win a medal or any plaudits for how fast they can dive a site or how quickly they can breathe through their air.  Diving is a fun experience based activity and we want each experience to last as long as we can, to allow us to see and encounter as much as we can.  To help us in this we have to think and act slow.  We want to expend as little energy moving forward as possible.  Use every element to our advantage, drift down current as opposed to swimming back to a fixed boat.  Use light kicks to hold you in a back surge before using a bigger stroke to propel you with a forward surge, but more importantly take the maximum advantage of each kick stroke.  A simple exercise to practice for this is to try to glide between each fin kick and think ‘Kick, kick, gliiiiiiiiiiiide’ if you’re using a flutter type kick.

3)      Efficient fin kicks: Most divers start their life in the water using a form of flutter kick. This type of kick is signified by an up and down movement of the fins.  This form of kick is the Finmost natural to perform for most people, but the easiest to perform inefficiently.  If we want to have forward propulsion in the water we need to try to use the largest and strongest muscle groups in our bodies.  The muscles in our thighs are amazing in that they’re strong, effective and usually have good endurance too – after all, they’re the ones that allow us to stand up and walk!  To make your fin kick efficient you should strive to use the power from your thighs to move forward.

Many experienced divers and dive professionals abandon the flutter kick and move to a wide frog kick.  To complete the frog kick you’re using the big muscles in the back of your thighs (hamstrings) to create a single, double legged power pulse, and then you’re gliding forward as you prepare for the next pulse.  It’s effective from a movement perspective and efficient from an energy angle too.  It takes some practice to get used to, as you’ll initially feel as though you’re going nowhere.  It’s worth persevering though.

4)      Correct weighting: Using the incorrect weight is the number one reason why divers burn air.  Most new divers tend to use too much weight.  I have also seen many divers with hundreds of dives still using too much weight.  Over-weighting has the advantage of allowing a lazy diver to descend really quickly and easily.  But they then need to add a fair bit of air to their BCD from their tank to slow or stop the descent.  Whilst they are diving, they’re lugging around a whole load of lead which is serving no purpose, but they’re making themselves more bulky/less streamlined by having to inflate the BCD to compensate.  However, the most heinous element is still to come.  Most divers wear their lead close to or around their waist.  Carrying too much weight here has the effect of making your hips heavy in the water and giving you the appearance of heavy feet.  At best this makes you very un-hydrodynamic meaning you will expend energy going upwards as well as forwards.  At worst, you’re likely to have low feet and constantly be kicking the coral or marine environment.    To address this issue, perform a buoyancy/weight check whenever you’re diving with new equipment, in a new environment or if it’s been a while since you were last out.  To perform a weight check properly, you should use a tank which has already been used, as this will ensure you’re carrying enough weight at the end of your dive.  You can complete the weight check at the start though.  Get into the water with all of your scuba gear donned.  With you regulator in your mouth hold a full breath (the only time you’ll be told to hold your breath).  Let all of the air out of your BCD whilst holding your breath.  If you have the right weight on you should drop below the water level and rise back up and float with the water at eye level.  Do not kick or skull, but try to remain motionless.  As you exhale fully you should start to slowly descend.  If you’re carrying too much weight, you’ll sink whilst still holding your breath.  If you don’t float at eye level, you should add a couple of pounds.

Trim5)      Trim: OK, so you’ve done the weight check and you know you’re now carrying the right  weight, but look, you’re still ‘hips down’ in the water.  This is because you’re probably still carrying all of the weight around your hips.  The hip bone is the heaviest in the body, and so by sticking additional weight in the area will undoubtedly make your hips sink.  You need to start to think about weight distribution to try to make you as flat in the water as possible.  What this will probably entail is trying to move some weight higher up your body.  This sounds reasonable, in order to stop our hips from sinking take some of the weight from there and put it higher up.  It’s not that easy to complete though.  I mean, can you just wear a weight belt under your armpits? Maybe, but it sure won’t be comfortable.  Many modern BCD’s have trim weight pockets on the back, up near the tank cam-band.  If you have them, use them to more evenly distribute your weight.  If you don’t, it might be an idea to look at investing in a couple of small pockets that will fit onto the cam-band.  Start by going for a 40/60 split of weight in your trim pockets and weight belt and seeing if you’re head down or hips down when you’re diving.  Adjust as necessary until you attain that perfect, comfortable, horizontal position.

Practicing and mastering these techniques will start to yield immediate results.  You’ll expend less energy fighting the water, you’ll burn less air thus enabling you to dive for longer and enjoy your dives more by being less tired.  Consider focusing on your buoyancy by taking part in a PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy specialty course and improving your diving today.

If you want to find out more about PADI cources in Carriacou, you can visit our website at

Or if you are interested in becoming a dive guide and instructor yourself, you can find more information at

My name is Alex. I’m a biologist. I’ve wanted to be a diver since I was 8 years old when I was rummaging in the basement one day and uncovered a mildewy copy of a book by Hans Hass. Hans Hass is famous as a pioneer of under water colour photography. Sharks, stingrays, morays and giant mussels filled every page, and from that moment I was hooked!

One of the books that captured my imagination

One of the books that captured my imagination

So when people now ask me, “Why Carriacou?”, my answer is the same – from the first dive, I just loved this place – like that 8 year old back then, I was hooked! You see, I’m a dive guide and instructor now – after years of half-hearted office careers, I have finally come full circle, and I’m that person now that I wanted to be when I was a child. I love Carriacou – it’s homely and cozy and quiet – and I love sharing its treasures with people. Carriacou is like what the Caribbean used to be like years and years ago, both above and below the surface.

Above the surface you will find relaxed life, small shops and bars, a few hotels and restaurants, nothing of the overblown scale on some other Caribbean islands. Carriacou doesn’t go in for tourism or glitziness big style – fewer than a couple of thousand tourists find their way here each year, and only a fraction of them are divers. There are no cattle boats here. Don’t let that mislead you though – under water is pandemonium!

These small fish are a regular sight on the reef

These small fish are a regular sight on the reef

As you drop below the surface, aquatic life proliferates everywhere you look. A thousand creole wrasse make their way busily along the reef – a ribbon of blue purple fish swimming three abreast. I’m guiding the dive, so I stop to let them past. As we’re in their element I feel that they have right of way here. The adult creole wrasse are followed by a disordered school of pale blue juveniles, all mixed up with some hundred or so brown chromis that have decided to come along for the ride. These guys are what I call the usual suspects – they are everywhere on the reef, like a huge flock of small greyish brown birds, busying themselves picking minuscule fragments out of the water.

Then there are the tomtates and the smallmouth grunts bunching together, and, as a school of redfin parrotfish passes, it makes such a beautiful picture, I turn to my guest divers, with a gesture that says, “Look – look all around you! Isn’t that beautiful!” It’s hard to signal something like this – I settle for a sweeping gesture, which leaves me hovering, arms wide, but I think my meaning must have got through, because both my divers stop, look and nod enthusiastically.

The chain moray is one of the most beautiful of the moray eels!

The chain moray is one of the most beautiful of the moray eels!

As we carry on along the reef wall, one of the divers stops, then bangs on her tank. She has found a chain moray – it’s black with yellow chain-like markings – one of the most beautiful of the moray eels! As we approach it withdraws into its hole in the reef, but as we wait patiently the head reappears, mouth opening and closing. This is not a sign of aggression, but simply the way the eel breathes.

As I look around, I see that the eel shares its portion of the reef with others: a cleaning goby perches on one side of the eel’s retreat, and I can see two red banded coral shrimp and a tiny tiny Pederson shrimp nearby – a macro village. A little bit further on I spot the waving antennae of a lobster. I bang my tank to get my divers’ attention and waggle two fingers above my forehead. As we come closer we realise that we have found a lobster family – we count one, two, three… eight lobsters, all different sizes, from a giant granddaddy to a juvenile less that 4 inches long. We pass on from the lobsters and I see a flash of blue – there it is again… a queen triggerfish, turning and posing. These beautiful fish look like they are the work of an artist.

At this point, I feel a tug on my fin. One of my divers has reached half a tank – it’s time to turn around and make our way back to the boat. I lead the turn and ascend to a shallower depth.

At 10 meters (33 feet) we are near the reef top now, and new vistas open up: ferns, dotted here and there with flamingo tongues, small princess and stoplight parrotfish.

The distinctive shape of the tail of the nurse shark means that they can be easy to spot!

The distinctive shape of the tail of the nurse shark means that they can be easy to spot!

Visibility is good today, and some way away I can see a large porcupine fish rapidly retreating. I turn back and scan the reef beneath me – now, here is a familiar shape!

Before the thought has fully formed in my mind, I’m already banging on my tank: the shape that has caught my attention is the tail of a nurse shark, asleep in a crevice in the reef. Nurse sharks can grow up to 10 feet long, and this one’s a big guy – no worries though, because these sharks don’t have any teeth – their diet consists mostly of crustaceans. I can tell everybody is really excited by the shark – lots of bubbles are swirling away above us!
At this point I check my divers’ air one last time – 60 bar, not bad. I see a familiar expanse of finger coral stretching away like rolling hills and I know we’re not far from the mooring. I look up to the surface and see the reassuring shape of our boat. I turn to my divers and signal for a safety stop – I see a moment of resignation on their eyes, but hey, even the best dives have to end! We have been in the water for 55 minutes averaging around 15 meters (50 feet) in depth.

Finger coral stretching away like rolling hills

Finger coral stretching away like rolling hills

As we come up everybody is really excited.

“Did you see the shark?”

“How many lobsters??!”

“Oh my God, that was awesome!!!”

Everyone goes a little bit quiet at this point, as if only just realising that this was the last dive, and tomorrow afternoon they will be flying home. Still, by the time we get back to the dive centre, plans are already being made to come back, and we say “See you next year!” when we say goodbye. After they’ve left I sit down to log my dive, looking out at the sunlight glinting on the sparkling blue sea, and I think just how much I love my job!

I ♥ diving!

I ♥ diving!

If you want to find out more about diving on Carriacou, you can visit our website at

Or if you are interested in becoming a dive guide and instructor yourself, you can find more information at