Scuba diving is a fantastic adventure, allowing divers to endlessly explore the wonders of the ocean, and to meet some great people along the way. But for people who are still looking at scuba diving from the outside, the gear required can be pretty intimidating. All those tubes, straps, and tanks…you might be asking yourself whether you could really handle all that equipment.
A scuba tank typically weighs anywhere from 26 to 40 pounds out of the water. Aluminum tanks are heavier, while steel tanks are lighter. Regardless of material, a scuba tank should feel mostly weightless while you’re underwater.
How heavy a scuba tank feels, and how difficult it is to wear it, depends on a lot of things. These include the tank you buy and the proper use of other essential gear. You shouldn’t be too concerned about being able to handle the weight of the tank. No matter what physical shape you’re in, there’s probably an instructor out there who can teach you to scuba dive well.
Types of Scuba Tanks
The vast majority of scuba tanks are made out of either aluminum or steel. It might seem surprising that aluminum tanks are heavier than steel ones. After all, once you drain an aluminum pop can, it seems to weigh almost nothing.
Steel is actually 2.5 times denser than aluminum, which means that in most cases, it is the heavier substance. The strength of the metal is the main reason for steel scuba tanks being lighter. Since steel is so much stronger than aluminum, the walls of the tank don’t need to be as thick. Less material is used, so the tank ends up being lighter. (Source)
Scuba tanks also come in different sizes. While most are no more than two and a half feet long, some are larger than this, and these naturally tend to weigh more. Larger tanks will also have more air capacity, allowing divers to stay underwater longer. (Source.
Weight Above Water
Scuba divers use the term “dry weight” to refer to the weight of a tank on land. The dry weight of steel tanks tends to be between 28 and 30 pounds, while aluminum tanks are in the range of 31 to 35 pounds.
Having trouble picturing what 35 pounds feels like? Imagine carrying four gallons of milk at once, or a backpack stuffed with big textbooks. It’s a little bit heavier than that. Of course, that’s still not factoring in the weight of the other gear that’s essential for scuba diving.
To some, that kind of weight may seem intimidating, but keep in mind that you’ll typically only be carrying that weight for a short time each diving session. Thanks to buoyancy, that big, heavy scuba tank will seem to weigh next to nothing once you’re underwater.
I have listed several options in steel and aluminum near the end of this post. But if you are looking for a good lightweight tank with reasonable capacity for decent bottom times, buy the steel Faber FX in 100 cubic feet at 34 lbs or the same tank in 80 CF at 27 lbs. Both are sold at the House of Scuba.
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In simple terms, buoyancy is when liquid pushes up on an object. Sometimes this force is enough to overcome the object’s weight; that’s when the object floats to the surface. Other times, the force isn’t strong enough, and the object sinks. But the liquid always supports some amount of the object’s weight.
Buoyancy applies to scuba divers and their tanks, too. While our bodies don’t actually weigh less underwater, it feels like we do because the water is supporting some of our weight, so our legs don’t do as much work. And it supports some of the weight of a scuba tank, too, so that also feels lighter.
In fact, with the use of a buoyancy control device (or BCD), you and your diving equipment can float effortlessly in one spot while underwater, feeling like you weigh nothing. The BCD is one of the most important pieces of equipment for a scuba diver. They often take the form of a vest, and by operating their controls, you can choose to float, sink, or stay in one spot whenever you want.
So, if you’re worried about the weight of a scuba tank, there’s little reason to be. Most of a diving session is spent underwater, and with the help of buoyancy and your BCD, you’ll barely notice the weight of the tank. And aluminum tanks start out with negative bouyancy when full, but some will float when they are empty (source-my post.)
Am I Strong Enough to Carry a Tank?
Of course, before you get underwater, you first have to enter the water. There are a few methods for doing this, but they usually involve being all geared up first. What if you don’t have the strength to carry the tank to the water and get it on your back?
Rest assured: lifting and carrying the tank is not as difficult as you might think. Gretchen Ashton, an experienced diver, and trainer has found that most people can accomplish this part with almost no effort. She finds that other forms of fitness, such as cardiorespiratory fitness, are much more important for diving.
However, although being in shape and doing specific training will help, you don’t need to be an elite athlete to be able to maneuver underwater with a tank. Check out the tips for transporting scuba tanks article if weight is a concern for you.
Scuba Diving With Injuries or Disabilities
Maybe there’s something else holding you back from trying scuba diving. It could be chronic back pain, a serious injury, or simply a disability. How can you handle a heavy scuba tank if your back hurts the whole time?
Luckily, there is no reason to worry. Rather than aggravating injuries, the buoyancy and pressure involved in scuba diving can provide people with a welcome relief from chronic pain.
Remember, the water supports a lot of the weight of a scuba tank. And most diving organizations have programs geared specifically toward helping people with disabilities scuba dive successfully.
I had major back surgery in 2009. My neurosurgeon cleared me for scuba, waterskiing, autoracing and all my other activities 6 months after surgery. I had no trouble carrying a tank using the hand grip around the valve method. Many boat crews will help you if you have problems with your tanks on land or on the boat.
If you know that your physical condition will make it painful or impossible for you to carry heavy gear above water, let your instructor or diving partner know. They’ll probably be happy to help you transport the gear as far as you need.
You don’t even have to wear your gear above water at all. If your condition warrants it, you can get in the water first, then have someone pass you your tank and other equipment for you to put on there. Then, after your dive, you can simply take off the gear, pass it back, and get out of the water.
The diving community tends to be extremely friendly and supportive of anyone interested in starting the hobby. And multiple organizations have been formed specifically to support scuba divers with disabilities, such as the Handicapped Scuba Association and Disabled Divers International. So don’t let your physical condition stop you from getting underwater.
Choosing a Scuba Tank
If you don’t want to ask for accommodations, but you’re still concerned about the weight of a scuba tank, you can always go for a lighter model. If you’re on the smaller size or just not confident in your strength, you might want to consider investing in a lightweight steel tank. If you do a lot of local or nearby diving, buying a tank makes good sense. If you can’t rent the right size tank for you, buying and transporting may make good sense.
If most of your diving is done on long distance flights to other parts of the world, you’ll probably end up renting. We have often rented our tanks. In the post-COVID19 world, some may reconsider this. But don’t panic.
No one is exhaling into the tank, and no one is coming into direct respiratory contact with the tank valve to contaminate it. Shops will just have to thoroughly wipe down tanks after use to make them safe for the next diver. It’s your regulator and mouthpiece that should be of more concern.
You can buy lighter tanks that have lower capacity and pressure tolerances. This Sherwood Aluminum 80 cubic feet (CF) tank on House of Scuba weigh 32 lbs empty and can be filled to the standard 3000 psi starting pressure. It is available in 6 colors at that link. The Sherwood 62 CF version weighs only 27 lbs empty, but bottom time will be less due to the lower volume of air.
When you switch to steel tanks, you can get the 100 CF Faber FXG at 34 lbs empty and the 80 CF version at 28 lbs. So you’ll note you can get longer bottom times with steel tanks when comparing weight equivalent to aluminum.
Shop the entire line of full-size scuba tanks on the House of Scuba site.
Don’t Let the Tank Hold You Back
If you dream of going on otherworldly adventures underwater, scuba diving is for you. Don’t let the gear or your physical condition discourage you. There are so many equipment options and supportive people out there that you’re bound to find something that works for you. So choose your gear, find an instructor, and get ready to start diving!