Reef Diving Skills

Mastery of a few coral reef diving skills will go far in helping scuba divers make the most of their visits to coral reefs. Coral reef diving presents special challenges not found in other marine habitats, and therefore is best accomplished by becoming highly proficient in a few scuba skills first introduced in basic scuba certification courses.

Becoming a technically adept coral reef diver does not take a great deal of effort; only a willingness to commit oneself to the extra effort and learning needed to perfect these skills.

Buoyancy Control

Learning to master the art of neutral buoyancy at any depth allows divers to move effortlessly around reefs while avoiding the need to continually fuss with equipment or thrash about to keep from continually sinking or rising in the water column. This is the most basic of coral reef diving skills.

Neutral buoyancy allows the reef diver to consume less air and focus on observing and exploring the reef (and otherwise enjoying the dive). Neutral buoyancy is also an essential coral reef diving skill for fish watchers, allowing divers to get close enough to the reef to be able to observe even smaller creatures without banging into the reef (bad for you and the reef).

Coral Reef Info

Achieving neutral buoyancy is an essential coral reef diving skill. 

The modern buoyancy compensator makes such skills relatively easy with a bit of practice. All it takes is knowing exactly (not approximately) how much weight you need to make you slightly negatively buoyant, and then learning to add/remove air in very small doses until the desired effect (neutral buoyancy) is achieved at any depth.

Remember, the amount of weight a diver needs to be slightly negatively buoyant at the surface will change with a number of factors, including weight of the equipment you carry, changes in your own body weight, and the water density at your dive site.

The density of tropical seas in which coral reefs thrive will almost certainly differ from that of the water in your local pool or lake back home, so a bit of on-site fine tuning of the proper weight to carry will usually be necessary upon arrival at your coral reef diving destination. This is best accomplished by making your first dive in the calm shallow waters of the lagoon (back reef zone) where you can fine tune the amount of weight you will carry without dealing with waves, currents, and other distractions.

If you need help in mastering neutral buoyancy, don’t hesitate to ask your dive master or other advanced divers in your group.

Movement and Breathing Control

Learning to move slowly about coral reefs is also one of the most essential of coral reef diving skills. Fishes and many other forms of marine life are extremely sensitive to underwater sound, a form of which is created by underwater moving objects such as a diver’s arms and legs.

Sudden movements will often trigger an alarm response in marine life, and you will not see nearly so many critters as you might otherwise. Sudden movements close to the reef can also lead to contact with the reef resulting in painful injuries for divers as well as reef habitat damage.

Likewise, practice (until it becomes habitual) to breathe from your regulator in a smooth, regular and controlled manner. As with sudden movements of the body, irregular, sudden, and/or strong exhalations of divers create unexpected underwater sounds that can be sensed at surprising distances by marine life.

Mastering these few simple coral reef diving skills will help you make the most of your personal exploration of coral reefs. Along with our recommended reef friendly diving practices, these skills will help protect both you and the reef environment. Our “Additional Resources” section contains our pick(s) for the best available books specific to improving your coral reef diving skills.