Neutral Buoyancy

Bookshelf: Neutral Buoyancy

Neutral Buoyancy: Adventures in a Liquid World – Tim Ecott

Neutral Buoyancy
Neutral Buoyancy

Tim Ecott is a journalist who learned to dive just after the death of his mother. Through diving, he learned to cope with his grief, and channelled it into a sense of wonder and curiosity as he explored the underwater world.

Neutral Buoyancy is hard to locate in a particular genre, but a rich reading experience nonetheless. It’s partly a history of diving, part an account of some of the wonders of the marine world, partly a description of diving medicine, but Ecott allows himself to be sidetracked frequently (this is a good thing – sometimes an author who can’t keep to his topic is annoying, but Ecott’s diversions are wonderful). The narrative is interspersed with accounts of specific dives he’s done, all over the world, and he flits engagingly from topic to topic as the opportunities arise in the text.

He visits the sponge divers in Tarpon Springs, Florida – Greek families who have done this for generations. The 1953 Robert Wagner movie Beneath the 12 Mile Reef was shot there and features characters akin to the fishermen and sponge divers he interviews.

The chapter on free diving was fascinating – I am constantly amazed by what the human body can tolerate (and even excel at). I was also captivated by Ecott’s reverent descriptions of his encounters with various forms of marine life – from a sea cucumber that looked like a penis, to an underwater encounter with dolphins on the hunt for mackerel, to giant sponges. He recounts a terrifying dive in the English Channel during which he almost died, and blissful underwater experiences where everything was perfect and beautiful.

Tony is busy reading this book, and in his opinion it’s a must-read for Divemaster candidates. Ecott describes the development of our understanding of how breathing pressurised gases relates to dive physiology (Boyle’s law, the dive tables, and so on) in a holistic, fascinating and very readable way. The Divemaster manuals don’t really do the subject justice, whereas Ecott fills in all the gaps.

Tony and I love diving together. We do, a lot, since I tag along when he has students on weekends, but our particular favourite times together are when we are buddies and Tony isn’t having to look out for the group, count divers to make sure no one has gotten lost, or be an instructor. We did a fun dive on the BOS 400 late last year, and the two of us had a blissful ten minutes alone after the other divers had gotten low on air and ascended. Ecott dives with his wife, Jessica, and can relate:

There is great intimacy in diving with another human being. Diving with someone you trust as a diver is a very good idea. But diving with someone you love brings a shared joy and dependency which is a reinforcement of the closeness you feel above water. Underwater, the communications is not verbal, and a light squeeze of hand or the brush of shoulder is an intensified connection in a different world.

Buy the book here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise go to

Published by


Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

3 thoughts on “Bookshelf: Neutral Buoyancy”

  1. From: tim ecott
    To: Tony Lindeque
    Sent: Thursday, January 20, 2011 7:54 PM
    Subject: neutral buoyancy

    hello tony and clare,
    how verynice to read your review of Neutral Buoyancy on your website – and thankyou for such a positive endorsement! after several years in print i keep being told that it is a book that helps a lot of people understand their decompression theory – which isn’t at all why i wrote it of course, but i’m glad people find it useful and practical as well as enjoyable. good luck with your diving business in Capetown.
    all the best,

    Tim Ecott is the author of
    Neutral Buoyancy: Adventures in a Liquid World (Penguin) and
    Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Luscious Substance (Penguin)
    Stealing Water (Sceptre)

Leave a Reply