One of the first questions we ask all of our divers when they checked in is, "How many weights do you need?". It's so important to keep track of your weighting to make each dive, wherever you go, as easy and relaxing as possible. Being severely underweighted or overweighted on your dives can be incredibly stressful, especially if you are not an experienced diver. Your dive center can try to help you out by estimating the weights you need, but especially with everyone's different body compositions, they aren't always going to be able to accurately predict what you need.
Here are some tips to help you weight yourself accurately every time.
Tip 1. Keep records
Every time you dive, make sure to note your exposure suit type and the weights you used. That way, the next time you dive somewhere, you can just look through your logbook, find the corresponding exposure suit to match what you'll be wearing this time, and weight yourself accordingly.
As a note, BCD and fin types can also affect buoyancy, so if your equipment drastically changes between dive trips, take that into account as well. Always perform a buoyancy check on your first dive in a new place.
Tip 2. Be aware each time you are weighted
We get a lot of people telling us "I used four (or any other number) weights last time". Four 2-pounders? Four 3-pounders? Four 4-pounders? Don't count on just knowing the number of weights you had, make sure to keep in mind how much each weight weighed as well. It's your responsibility to be aware of your weighting needs, so even if your dive center sets everything up for you, you need to keep track yourself.
Tip 3. Focus on your breathing techniques
You could be perfectly weighted, but if you don't breathe properly, your buoyancy could be off anyways. If you tend to keep air in your lungs, learn how to empty them completely. Breathe in and out big, deep breaths, and never hold your breath. Your lungs act as an additional buoyancy control device, and holding your breathe will only add to your buoyancy. Good breathing will greatly improve your buoyancy control and your diving.
Tip 4. Learn what weight distribution works for you
There are different ways to weight yourself. Some people prefer weight belts, some prefer integrated weights, some like to use a combination of both. Everyone is different in their preferences and in what works best for their diving. Figure out which method you prefer, as well as the distribution you prefer, and stick to what works best for you.
It is important, however, to be flexible. If you're relying on rental gear, you kind of have to use what they have available. A lot of dive centers don't have integrated weight pockets in their rental gear, so if integrated is something you must, must use, consider purchasing your own BCD to avoid problems.
Tip 5. Take a buoyancy control course
Whenever we have a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course starting, one Adventure Dive that we always encourage is the Peak Performance Buoyancy dive. It's a great opportunity to really figure out how much weight you need, you learn what it feels like to be both over- and underweighted in a controlled environment, and we have little obstacle courses and games to help you focus on your breathing and buoyancy. The PPB dive, and corresponding specialty, can improve your diving in so many ways, so it's a continuing education option that you should definitely consider.
Bonus tip. Practice makes perfect!
Every time you dive, take the time to focus on all aspects of your diving techniques. Think about your breathing, your kicking, your weight distribution - think about all of it every time you dive. As a certified diver, you should know these things. Don't rely on the dive center to be able to figure it out for you. It's your responsibility, both to yourself, to your buddy and to your dive center, to be the best, most self-aware diver you can be.