Sunday January 26 2020
October 1, 2013

Best Breathing Technique While Scuba Diving

It is obvious that we should all breath underwater from our air sources. But what should be the frequency and/or duration of each inhale and exhale while scuba diving? Most common mistake is to breath just like you do on land. There are some points in breathing through an apparatus. If you inhale normally (like you are doing right now) while scuba diving, you will get tired and consume your air faster (you can read my Using Less Air While Diving article). I admit that we, instructors always say to “take a normal breath underwater“. However, we actually don’t mean that a diver should breath just like he/she does on land, but mean that it is still easy even under the water. This makes the diver (candidate) to feel better prior to enter the water. Below is the best breathing technique while scuba diving that will make you feel much more comfortable, maximize your bottom time and save your air…

Best Breathing Technique During Descend

You have jumped onto the sea and final checked your gear on the surface. Dive leader gave the “down signal” and you took your second stage. Ready to go:

  1. Slowly (like whistling) exhale while deflating your BCD
  2. Go on exhaling slowly until your head is 50 cm under the surface
  3. Stop deflating your BCD after 50 cm of depth even if you have more air in it
  4. When you need to inhale, do it. But not lungful: Slowly and steady
  5. You will go on your descent while exhaling, slow down and even stop while inhaling and so forth
  6. You should NOT be “falling“, you should BEsoaring” like a leave.
  7. This will give you the chance for equalization (both mask and ear) and save air by moving slow (less oxygen need)

Best Breathing Technique During the Dive

You made the way to the bottom/level you wanted to be. You leader gave you the “stay at this level” signal. Journey has started, you are looking around and trying to enjoy it. Here is how you should breath while scuba diving.

  1. Inhale for 4 seconds slowly
  2. Pause for 2 seconds (I am not talking about holding your breath)
  3. Exhale for 4 seconds

If there is an obstacle in front of you, like a giant rock, you can shorten the 3rd steps. This way, you are going to be able to use your lungs for this obstacle. Then you can exhale fully again and follow these 3 steps. The idea here is to full your lungs that will dissolve as much oxygen as possible during the dive. On the land, you are inhaling and exhaling for 2 seconds (try it). But saturating your lungs with oxygen is important when we are talking about the underwater. Why? Let’s go a little bit on detail.

Dead Air Space

We are using regulator 2nd stages and snorkels. As you know, there is also some air inside of these equipment. If you breath like you do on land, you’ll always inhale “enriched carbon dioxide“. That’s because you are always exhaling into snorkel/regulator 2nd stage and carbon dioxide here increases. If you don’t inhale long (like 4 seconds I have mentioned), you’ll inhale this “enriched carbon dioxide” air trapped in these dead air spaces.

So, if you inhale long enough, you will again inhale this “enriched carbon dioxide” air, but will reach fresh air right after. We don’t face with this issue on the land, because we are inhaling the air directly. However, if you want to try this, you can use a straw to breath.

Role of Carbon Dioxide In Dead Air Spaces

Carbon Dioxide is an unwelcome gas (at least by the scuba divers). If you breath short through a snorkel/regulator 2nd stage, you will be inhaling carbon dioxide you have just released on your previous exhale. We don’t want this to happen and always say “breath slow and steady“.

Our brains always check our carbon dioxide level to give the “breath command“. When we breath too much CO2, our brain commands us to breath more and more to exhale the excess CO2 and reduce the level of it to an acceptable level. But if you go on short breathing, your heartbeat is going to increase, trying to pump more oxygen to your tissues.

As a result, you will try to breath more and lower your air in a short time, you will have a low bottom time and of course, you will get tired.

“Image courtesy of rajcreationzs /”

Best Breathing Technique During Ascent

During your ascent, it is a must to breath continuously. As you all know, golden rule of scuba diving is not to hold your breath (You can read my Rules for Diving article). Therefore, you must breath a little bit different than breathing during your dive.

                  1. Inhale for 3 seconds
                  2. Never ever hold your breath
                  3. Exhale for 4 seconds
                  4. Be sure that you are exhaling fully

1 second difference between inhaling and exhaling is to emphasize the importance of exhaling fully during your ascent. This will prevent lung over expansion injuries (you can read my Risks of Diving article)

Breathing techniques underwater is important, because it not only prevents some dive injuries but also provides comfort, air save and more bottom time for us. What is explained and suggested here is my own techniques that I apply in my dives and teach in my courses.

What are your breathing techniques while scuba diving?  


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About Seaman


Hi, my name is Murat Demirağ. I have been diving since 1996 and teaching scuba since 2005. I wanted to share my knowledge through

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