Unless you’re relatively slender and diving in warm water, you’ll need some weight. In this piece we’ll look at types of weight and how they can be mounted to you or your gear, and we’ll talk a bit about determining proper weighting. By the way, we’ll call it “lead” as most shops do, but today that often means a lead-antimony alloy which is tougher and less likely to flake into the ocean.

Before we start, though, remember that almost anywhere in the world you travel the resort or boat will have weights. There’s no need to pack those, unless you’re driving and want your to use your own. Weight today is going for $3 or more per pound new, and as little as $1 per pound used. If you’re buying weight online, don’t forget to figure in the cost of shipping!

Hard versus Soft

“Hard Weight” is cast lead, usually with two slots to accept a two-inch-wide webbing belt. It’s been around since diving began. “Soft Weight” is lead shot sewn into nylon mesh bags. “Coated Weight” is hard weight with a plastic coating, often in a choice of colors. Coated weights are much kinder to the pool bottom than uncoated hard weights when you’re learning, and the metal’s contained so it can’t flake off into the sea. Both of these are hard on the toes, of course, while soft weights are more user-friendly.

In the USA, hard weights are widely available in 2, 3, 4, and 5 pound sizes. Larger weights are available, as are 1-pound “bullet” cylinders with a single slot for the belt. Hard weight is usually stamped so it’s easy to tell what you have. The coating process, however, tends to obscure that, so coated weights can be harder to identify.

Soft weights are color-coded (although the colors used varies among manufacturers), and they sport a small tag showing the weight so identification is easy. Soft weights are widely available in 1 through 5 pounds, and can be ordered up to 10 pounds.

Identifying the weights available on a charter boat can be tricky. Soft weight may have lost its tag, hard weight may not be stamped or may be coated and unreadable. Ask the crew for help if you need it. Developing a feel for weight is a useful skill, which you can practice at any dive shop. The 2, 3, 4, and 5 pound sizes are the most commonly encountered.

Carrying Your Weight

Weight can be threaded onto a weight belt, usually two-inch webbing. Hard weights are slightly curved so they’ll sit more comfortably around your waist. “Weight Keepers” are small plastic or metal rectangles with two slots. Threading these onto a belt will keep your weights in position if they tend to slide on the belt.

Belts usually use a simple plastic or metal buckle, very easy to release in an emergency. A plastic buckle can break under stress (or the impact of weights), so if you’re buying your own you might want to consider a metal buckle.

A weight-integrated BC will take either hard or soft weight in its pouches and trim pockets. If you need to pack a lot of weight, uncoated hard weight is the most compact.

There are also weight harnesses. A harness is a weight belt plus suspenders, which keeps the belt from sliding down from your waist. And “soft belts” made from nylon and neoprene or similar materials are available, in two styles. There are soft belts with pockets, so you can add the weight you need, and soft belts with permanently sewn-in weight (for instance, a 25-pound belt).

Finally, you can buy small weight pockets (usually made of nylon, with a velcro closure) which will slide onto your tank band. These are good for fine-tuning your trim.

Special Weights

Ankle weights use a neoprene tube containing lead shot, and a plastic clip. You can fasten these on your ankles to improve your trim if you find yourself head-down a lot underwater. Some drysuit divers, especially those with neoprene suits, use them. You can also fasten an ankle weight around the neck of your tank to help your trim if you float head-up underwater. Ankle weights come in half-pound increments from one to four pounds per pair.

Clip weights are usually two pounds, with a snap or spring clip molded in. These can be attached anywhere you like. Instructors often carry them in case new students need a little extra weight during the dive.

Weighting Considerations

Safety is the first consideration, obviously. Keep your weights on the boat deck, not on the bench. I’ve seen more than one very nice soft weight belt on the bottom of the ocean, presumably lost when a dive boat heeled.

When figuring how much weight you need, consider the exposure suit you’re wearing, the type of tank (steel is much heavier than aluminum), and whether you’ll be in salt or fresh water. A new seven-mil wetsuit can add up fifteen pounds of buoyancy (for the larger sizes). And don’t forget that your tank will get lighter during the dive, as you breathe out the air in it. An aluminum 80 weighs five pounds more full than it does when it’s down to 500 psi.

The trick is to record your weight and what suit and tank you used, on every dive, until you feel you’re dialed in. Make up a chart or a list, with salt vs. fresh, different wetsuits, etc. Keep updating it whenever you change gear, and don’t hesitate to check your weight again from time to time. As you relax more into your dives, you’ll be able to use less weight.