Nothing sucks more than being the first scuba diver in the group to run out of air.
Let’s be honest, we’ve all secretly compared our air consumption to our fellow dive buddies.
And no one wants to be the reason a dive has to end early.
Luckily, there are many ways that you can make your air supply last longer when scuba diving.
So let us share with you our top tips to help you improve your air consumption.
Perfecting your breathing technique when Diving
We’re confident that you know how to breathe.
Of course, you do or you wouldn’t be reading this.
But what if we told you how you breathe when scuba diving can have the biggest impact on your air consumption?
Focusing on taking long, slow and smooth breaths when scuba diving can dramatically reduce your air consumption. By reducing the number of breaths you take per minute, you can make the air in your tank last much longer.
Try inhaling for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 6 or 8. Extending your exhale shifts your body into a more relaxed state by activating your parasympathetic nervous system. And it helps conserve the air in your tank.
But don’t strain yourself. If you’re trying to exhale for as long as you can, and then you’re dying to take your next breath, try reducing the durations slightly. This should all feel very comfortable and relaxed.
Concentrate on taking deep breaths from your diaphragm. If you’ve taken a yoga or freediving class you might be familiar with this breathing technique.
As you become more advanced, you start to find a rhythm where you’re only breathing where you really need to. Naturally, the fewer breaths you take, the less air you’ll use.
Master your buoyancy
Maintaining good buoyancy throughout your dive will reduce your air consumption in a few ways.
First off, you’ll spend less time fidgeting with your buoyancy control device.
We’ve all been there.
Tapping your inflator several times and then deflating it when we’ve put too much air in. Not only does the act of inflating use air, but it’s also time that we’re not focusing on being as calm as possible.
Secondly, you’ll be able to hover effortlessly just above the bottom. You won’t be wasting energy, and therefore air, trying to stop yourself hitting the bottom or keep yourself from floating up to the surface.
Remember to adjust your buoyancy frequently in small amounts throughout your dive. And try using your breath to fine-tune. You can easily ascend or descend by a meter solely by controlling your breath.
Mastering your buoyancy is much easier if you are wearing the correct amount of weight.
For more info about getting your weight right, check out our weight buoyancy calculator.
Which brings us to our next tip…
Get your weight right for every dive
A lot of scuba divers have a habit of diving over-weighted. Perhaps you feel a little more confident if you know you can stay down easily during the safety stop.
But carrying that extra weight around will require more energy, which means increased air consumption.
Carrying the correct amount of weight with you when scuba diving will dramatically improve your air consumption rate.
But how do you know how much weight you need?
You learn how to conduct a buoyancy check as part of your open water course but most divers often skip this step. Just because you needed 4kgs when diving in the Red Sea, does not mean you’ll need the same diving in the Indian Ocean.
The amount of weight you need will vary significantly, not only with the environment, but also with the equipment you’re wearing. So it’s best to conduct a weight check when diving in new gear or a new environment.
Maintain good trim
Don’t worry you don’t need to cut your hair to improve your air consumption.
In scuba diving, your trim refers to your positioning underwater. The more streamlined and horizontal you are, the easier it is to move through the water which means you’ll use less air.
Not only do you want the right amount of weight to improve your air consumption, but you also want to position them in the right place to maintain good trim. You want to distribute your weights in a way that allows you to sit as horizontal as possible in the water.
For example, if you find that your legs always dip down you might want to move your weights slightly higher on your body. Often moving most of your weight to the front of your body can help pull you into a more horizontal position.
Many divers find that a BCD with back inflation only really helps them maintain a horizontal position. Alternatively using a BCD with an integrated weight system provides you with more options for managing your trim.
Make sure your dive gear fits you properly.
If your gear is too big or too small it can make maintaining your position underwater much more difficult. Take advice from an experienced instructor.
If you wear equipment that fits correctly you’ll be more comfortable and more streamlined in the water.
And don’t forget to tuck in your gauges and alternate air source to avoid unnecessary drag in the water.
Make sure you relax during your dive
Anxiety and panic increase your heart rate which leads to greater air consumption.
Scuba diving is often referred to as underwater meditation for a reason. The more relaxed you are, the slower you’ll breathe. The slower you breathe, the better your air consumption will be. Simple!
If there are things that often cause you anxiety or frustration when scuba diving, can you address them before the dive?
For example, if you’re always stressed out about the rental masks leaking then consider purchasing your own diving mask to avoid this.
Or if you’re worried about miscommunication underwater, make sure to review all the signs and signals with your guide or buddy before jumping in.
Remember to stay with the group and close to your buddy. This will give you peace of mind and help you relax more.
Achieving a zen-like state of calm whilst scuba diving will not only dramatically improve your air consumption, but also increase the chances of reacting appropriately in case some problems arise.
We know there’s an overwhelming array of exciting creatures to see underwater. But if you zig-zag all over the reef at lightning speed you’ll find your bottom time is dramatically reduced. Water is much more dense than air, so any fast movements require a lot of energy.
Taking slow, deliberate movements will not only improve your air consumption, but you’ll also find that when you don’t chase the marine life they come a lot closer!
Stay Fit for scuba diving
If you are unfit, you’re going to breathe more heavily during gentle exercise, which underwater leads to higher air consumption. Feeling overexerted on a dive also adds to stress, which we already know will increase your breathing rate.
Maintaining a good level of fitness through regular cardio exercise can help improve your air consumption when scuba diving.
Wear the Right dive equipment for the environment
If you’re diving a site where you’ll have to deal with some challenging currents, then we don’t recommend those cute little full foot fins you love.
Forget style. Is your dive equipment fit for purpose? Having those strong, chunky fins will make it much easier for you to swim across current, conserving both energy and air.
Not sure what fins are best for you? Check out our guide to the best scuba diving fins.
On the other hand, there’s no point in being kitted up like a Christmas tree, with a plethora of hardcore gadgets, if you’re planning a gentle drift dive at 15m. Avoid excess baggage and you’ll easily see an improvement in your air consumption.
If you really do need to bring spares or additional accessories such as dive lights, make sure you keep them small. This will reduce additional bulk and keep you as streamlined as possible.
Bring your snorkel
Or your buddy is messing around with his mask before you descend and waves keep hitting you in the face. Instead of putting your regulator in, you can use your snorkel and save that precious air for when you’re under the water.
Do you know what’s really uncool? When you have to end the dive early and miss that manta ray everyone is raving about because you wasted a load of air on the surface.
The colder you are the more energy your body will use to stay warm. And as a result, you’ll burn through more air. Remember water takes heat away from your body up to 20 times faster than air.
Even if the water is 28’C it might feel toasty to start with but after half an hour or so your body is working pretty hard to maintain your core temperature.
So, it’s important to wear the correct exposure protection if you’re looking to improve your air consumption. Take a look at the best wetsuits for scuba diving.
Think about your depth
Remember that the deeper you go, the quicker you’ll use your air.
As you hopefully learned in your open water course, there’s an inverse relationship between the pressure water exerts on us and the air in our tank.
As we go deeper the pressure of the water increases and the volume of the air in our tanks decreases. But our lung capacity remains the same so we consume air much quicker at depth.
So, if you’re looking to improve your air consumption consider staying a little shallower on your next dive. If it’s not necessary to go deep to see a specific shipwreck or marine species then don’t. Save your air and extend your dive time.
Confused about the relationship between pressure, density and volume? Scuba Tutor explains everything you need to know about pressure and diving.
keep diving and keep learning
Often the more you dive the better your air consumption will be. As you improve your skills, gain confidence and feel more relaxed underwater you’ll inevitably use less air.
Further education in scuba diving, such as the rescue diver course or peak performance buoyancy, can also help improve your air consumption rate.
With more knowledge and experience you are able to better manage your buoyancy and your mindset.
Keep practicing and keep learning and we’ve got no doubt that you’ll see a big improvement in your air consumption.
How can I keep track of my air consumption rate when scuba diving?
Keeping a record of your air consumption is a great way to see your progress. But, as you know, your air consumption is directly affected by your depth.
In order to properly compare your air consumption rate across dives, we need to factor in the depth of the dive. We do this by calculating our surface air consumption (SAC) rate.
How to calculate your surface air consumption rate
Sorry to bring math into this, but to calculate your SAC rate you need the following variables:
- Dive time
- The average depth of your dive
- Total air consumed during the dive
- Absolute pressure at that average depth
Your dive computer will give you the dive time and your average depth.
For this calculation lets say the dive was 25 minutes long at an average depth of 20m.
To find out the total air consumed you subtract your end pressure from your starting pressure. For this example, we consumed 100 BAR.
The absolute pressure at a given depth is the atmospheric pressure plus the gauge pressure ( in other words the weight of the air and water above us).
At 20m in saltwater, the absolute pressure is 3 BAR which means the air is 3 x denser than at surface level.
We’ve got everything we need. Now it’s time to calculate!
First, we divide the amount of air consumed by the total dive time to work out our air consumption per minute. Then we adjust this for depth, by dividing it by the absolute pressure at our average depth.
Amount of air consumed / total dive time / absolute pressure at av. depth = SAC rate
100 bars / 25 mins / 3 BAR = 1.3 bars per minute
And there you have it, for this example, our SAC rate is 1.3 bar per minute
If you’d like to learn more about BAR and PSI, check out or calculator and info guide!
Take it a step further and work out your Respiratory Minute Volume when diving
Your SAC rate depends on your tank size. The bigger the tank, the more air is contained in those 1.3bars. Therefore, many divers now use Respiratory Minute Volume (RMV) rate as this is independent of your tank volume.
To turn your SAC rate into RMV, you simply multiply your SAC rate by the volume of your tank.
For our example, we’ll say the tank volume was 12 liters (average cylinder size found in most diving operations).
SAC x tank volume = RMV
1.3bar per minute x 12 liters = 16 liters per minute
Neither your SAC or RMV rates are entirely accurate as your air consumption rate will also be affected by your level of exertion during a dive but it gives you a good estimate.
Too much math for you?
Don’t worry, there are online calculators that’ll do the work for you.
If you’re serious about improving your air consumption rate, we recommend noting this down in your dive logbook so you can look back and see your progress.
And remember the most important rule in scuba diving…
Always keep breathing and never hold your breath.
At the end of the day, your body needs the air it needs.
But hopefully, by using some or all of these tips you can improve your air consumption when scuba diving and enjoy more time underwater.
Have you tried any of these tips? Did you manage to improve your air consumption?
Let us know in the comments!
Alexa Worswick is a PADI and SSI scuba diving Instructor, recreational freediver and freelance copywriter. She first learnt to scuba dive in the UK aged 15 and has since travelled and dived in multiple locations across 3 different continents. After quitting her marketing job in London in 2016, Alexa is now based in Indonesia where she can pursue her passion for the ocean fulltime.