When I first began diving, weights were applied liberally and without reservation, a little like a 6 year old dispensing ketchup onto, well, anything.
There are many articles out there about how to get your weighting right (here’s one I wrote many years ago) but there aren’t so many about the equipment itself.
What are your options when it comes to weighting? Lets take a look at what will work best for you:
Divers use lead as it’s dense and relatively cheap. Osmium is the heaviest metal, about twice as heavy as lead, but given that global production is approximately a tonne a year would probably make your weightbelt the most expensive piece of equipment you own, even if you have one of those new limited edition Atomic regs... You could also use the core of a neutron star, a teaspoon of which, apparently, weighs a billion tonnes but it’s probably a bit impractical to get hold of. So lead it is.
Lead comes in a two forms for diving: Shot and block. If you’ve stolen some sheets off a church roof then you’re naughty and should put it back. Let’s take a look at blocks first:
Blocks come in a few forms, there are the coated and uncoated versions that are designed to be threaded onto a webbing weightbelt like the Seapearls. In general lead is pretty much inert so even uncoated lead is unlikely to be much of an issue environmentally, however the coated versions are protected and also the brighter colours can mean they're more visible if dropped.
Blocks are pretty versatile and can be used in pouch belts and integrated weight pouches too however sometimes they can be too big to fit into the pouch space, especially for trim pockets. One thing to be careful of with these style of weights is that you don’t drop them as they’ll deform and you won’t be able to thread the webbing through. Many divers also use a weight retainer to stop the weight sliding around on the belt
Scubapro do the choclead blocks which are long and thin and designed to work better for integrated weight systems.
Finally you can also purchase specialist block weights like the V weights that are designed to sit between the backplate and a twinset removing the need for weights on a belt which can often interfere with a technical divers harness.
Shot weight comes in pouches. Scubapro make their eco weights where the lead is sealed into the pouch bag. Shot weight pouches are quite versatile as they can be made to fit a variety of different spaces.
Those are your choices when it comes to weight, so now how best to secure the weight to yourself as a diver?
One thing we all know is that a diver needs to be able to ditch their weight fast in an emergency (unless you’re a tec diver and that’s a different story). The manuals talk about belts, weight integration and weight harnesses. Weight harnesses have really fallen out of favour over the last few years as they tend to interfere with the BCD so that leaves belts and integration.
Weightbelts are either a simple piece of webbing with a quick release buckle like the Scubapro ones. These are ideal for carrying small amounts of weight between 4-6 kilos so work well for tropical diving with up to 5mm wetsuits. The issue with them is that they can become uncomfortable with larger amounts of weight and can slip more easily. Pouch style weightbelts like the Scubapro are better for carrying larger amounts of lead and have a tactile band running around the inside which helps to prevent the belt slipping under the water.
The main issue with either style is that they can become unwieldy with larger amounts of lead and as you descend, and the neoprene on your suit compresses, they need to be tightened up to prevent slipping.
Weight integration has become almost standardised now amongst most BCDs with even the most basic models often featuring integrated weight systems. Integrated weights tend to sit on the waist part of the BCD along with some kind of quick release system to free them in an emergency.
However many BCDs also feature trim weight pouches that are typically on the back of the BCD around the camband. These are designed to allow you to distribute weight a little higher up your body and are very useful in helping you get into horizontal trim. That said, these pouches are not quick release so if you only require a small amount of lead you shouldn’t use these for the weight placement.
Well we probably need to touch on ankle weights. I know that some divers say that they need them and who am I to argue but in general ankle weights have also taken a nose dive in popularity recently. The original thinking was to do with either preventing runaway ascents in drysuits or keeping floaty feet down but redistributing your weight on the BCD and even just moving the tank lower can be all that's required to fix that problem.
So with all that being said, what’s the best solution? I personally haven’t worn a weightbelt with a wetsuit for a very long time. I find the integrated weights on a BCD are more than adequate to house the 4-6kg I’ll need in the quick release pouches and if I do need more I can use the trims. In general you don’t want to load up a BCD with much more than 6-8kg depending on it’s size and lift though.
If you’re diving in thicker wetsuits, 7mms and drysuits then you’ll typically require a fair bit more weight, usually at least 8kg and above. In these situations a combination of the BCDs weight systems and a weightbelt are ideal. I’ll tend to use a couple of 2kg on a weight belt and then the rest of the weight I need in the BCD weight systems.
Ultimately the best thing you can do is get your weighting right. If you're diving over-weighted then all the equipment in the world can only help so much. Correct weighting is your key to a serene and safe underwater experience!