Regulator Skills

Your first experience breathing underwater will be one of the most memorable moments of your life, and it only gets better from there. But before you take your first plunge into the water, you need to know a few safety precautions regarding breathing compressed air underwater.

First and most important, never hold your breath while breathing from scuba equipment. As you'll learn during the next two chapters, holding your breath underwater can result in serious injury or death.

Next, always exhale through the regulator before taking your first breath. This clears water and sand out of the 2nd stage so that you don't accidentally inhale it.

Finally, breathe slightly slower and deeper while on scuba. This conserves air, increases your breathing efficiency, and helps you relax.

diver underwater

Monitoring Your Air Supply

Monitoring your air supply is a habit you should develop during your first pool session. At a minimum, check your air every 5 minutes. Check it more frequently when you are diving deeper than 30 feet or when the cylinder's pressure is below 1000 psi.

Your psychological comfort in the water will have a significant impact on your air consumption. If you are anxious or excited, you'll breathe faster and go through your air supply faster. Your air consumption rate will improve with experience as you gain comfort and control your breathing rate.

Another habit to develop early is surfacing with at least 500 psi of pressure remaining in your cylinder. This provides you with a reserve for use in the event of an incident during ascent or at the surface. Keep in mind that you'll continue to consume air during ascent, so begin your ascent with 700 psi or more.

diver checking air supply
At a minimum, you should check your air supply every 5 minutes.

Clearing Your Regulator

Your 2nd stage will fill with water any time it's out of your mouth. Before you take a breath from the flooded 2nd stage, you must clear it using one of two available methods.

The Blast Clear

To use the blast clear, all you have to do is exhale through the 2nd stage. This forces the water out through the regulator's exhaust valve.

The Purge Clear

The purge clear is used whenever you do not have enough air left in your lungs to use the blast clear. To use the blast clear, push your tongue against the mouthpiece and briefly press the regulator's purge button.

Remember, you must never hold your breath when breathing underwater. Therefore, whenever the 2nd stage is out of your mouth, you must maintain an open airway by exhaling a small stream of bubbles.

Regulator and Snorkel Exchanges

Your instructor will have you practice switching between your snorkel and regulator at the surface without lifting your face out of the water. When practicing this skill, remember to clear the regulator or snorkel before taking your first breath.

You should develop a habit of switching to your snorkel as soon as you complete a water entry or surface from a dive. This saves valuable air for the remainder of your class or dive.

diver exchanging a regulator and snorkel

The Sweep Regulator Recovery

Your regulator may be accidentally pulled out of your mouth by another diver, piece of kelp, or your own arm. You can locate and retrieve your 2nd stage by using the sweep method. To use the sweep method:

  1. Remember to exhale a small stream of bubbles while the 2nd stage is out of your mouth.
  2. Lean to your right side.
  3. Place your right arm against your leg, then move it straight back towards your cylinder.
  4. Bring your arm straight out, then forward. Your arm will catch the 2nd stage hose.
  5. Grab the hose with your left hand, and return the 2nd stage to your mouth.
  6. Clear the regulator using either the blast or purge method before taking your first breath.

The Reach Regulator Recovery

Another method for recovering the 2nd stage is the reach method. To use the reach method:

  1. Remember to exhale a small stream of bubbles while the 2nd stage is out of your mouth.
  2. Push the bottom of your cylinder up with your left hand.
  3. With your right hand, reach over your right shoulder and locate the 1st stage.
  4. Locate the 2nd stage hose with your right hand, and follow the hose to the 2nd stage.
  5. Return the 2nd stage to your mouth, and clear the regulator using either the blast or purge method before taking your first breath.

Breathing from a Free-Flowing Regulator

A free-flow is a constant delivery of air from the 2nd stage. While regulator failures are uncommon, this is the most likely regulator malfunction.

A free-flow will deplete your air supply in a matter of minutes, so it's important that you surface as soon as possible. You can continue to breathe from a free-flowing 2nd stage as you surface, and your instructor will have you practice this skill during the pool sessions.

To breathe from a free-flowing regulator, remove the 2nd stage from your mouth and place the mouthpiece lightly against the outside of your lips. This allows excess air to escape through the sides of your lips. Create a splash guard by placing your tongue against the roof of your mouth, look down, and breathe carefully. Ascend at a safe rate, and close the cylinder valve as soon as you surface to stop the free-flow.