Solo Diving and Solo Diving Certification: It’s Time to Set the Record Straight
There’s so much hype, debate and misinformation about solo diving and solo diving certification that its time to set the record straight. And for one, I’m tired of hearing all the whining from both sides – people that whine because they have to dive with a buddy and dive operators that won’t let properly trained solo divers do their thing. Enclosed in this post is a real solution that can work for everyone. Read on.
The Buddy System
The buddy system has been the cornerstone of diving safety for decades and is taught by every major diving organization. The buddy system is great for social reasons and diving is a social activity but that’s not the most important reason. That reason, of course, is safety. A buddy can supply you with air if you run low or run out and now an octopus/alternate air source/safe second is standard equipment on practically all gear so you don’t have to buddy breathe. Buddies can help free you from entanglement, remind you to check your time and air/gas consumption; monitor your depth. They can assist you if you become overexerted underwater or on the surface, they can tow you to the boat and help in u/w navigation. They can help you with a gear malfunction or if your tank slips out of your BC. They are your teammate for your pre dive safety check. THE most important reason to have a good diving buddy, however, is evident when you read DAN’s (Divers Alert Network) Annual Report which includes statistics and commentary on diving fatalities. If you haven’t done this and want to have insight on this subject, you should read it. What you will find is that most of the accident commentaries begin with something like this, “The body was found at …..” You see, it is very, very rare for a diver to die in a diving accident when their buddy is with them. Restated, the vast majority of people who die in diving accidents are alone. Some of these diving fatalities occur after unintended buddy separation – you’ll see that in the report. But a statistically significant number of fatalities happen to solo divers – people that choose to dive without a buddy.
Why Would Anyone Want to Solo Dive?
So why would anyone want to solo dive? Again and again in posts and articles, the primary driver for solo diving is clear:
Most divers that dive solo don’t want to be bothered with being paired up with somebody they don’t know, having a buddy at all, keeping track of another person, taking care of a less experienced diver or adjusting their dive plan for somebody else that may run low on air faster or doesn’t want to spend an hour watching a mimic octopus. Its really that simple.
Underwater Photographers are the Worst Diving Buddies in the World
I’ve been an underwater photographer for 15 years and taught it for 10 and have seen this phenomena happen too many times to count … and I’ve done it myself. Once most underwater photographers get a camera in their hands and the viewfinder comes up to their eye, everything outside of that frame disappears including their buddy. It’s like they are absorbed into an alter reality where they are blithely drifting through watery space completely immune to whatever is happening around them or their buddy’s needs. After long minutes pass, they finally look up from their viewfinder and find, to their amazement that nobody is in sight. They are completely unaware that the nice little viewfinder is actually an attention black hole that they have been sucked into. Does that mean that there aren’t any u/w photographers that are good dive buddies? Of course not. But the above situation is absolutely pervasive.
Solution? Either pull you head out of the viewfinder more often and become a better buddy, find the world’s most patient dive buddy who will watch you the entire dive (not so safe because you still aren’t watching them) or, maybe the best option, practice safe solo diving.
SCUBA Diving Safety
Here’s a brief note on inconvenience versus SCUBA diving safety. Safety comes first – always – because if somebody gets injured or dies, it’s no fun for anybody. I’ve been involved in too many body searches to know otherwise and you don’t EVER want to have to do that or make the phone call to a new widow. If being safe means being a little inconvenienced, tough. It’s just not worth the possible alternative.
SDI Solo Diving Certification*
The SDI Solo Diving Certification is a thorough certification which prepares the experienced diver with the mindset, techniques and equipment to safely solo dive.
A solo diving certification isn’t a new thing – SDI has been offering it since 1999. It’s rigorous and the prerequisites are 100 dives and an advanced open water certification. During the class, you not only learn and train on self reliance (like you do for cave diving, penetration wreck diving or deep tec diving) but you also learn specialized protocols and train using a redundant air source – which is an absolute necessity if you are solo diving. If you don’t have a fully redundant air source and you run out of air or lose your air supply, you could be in real trouble. During our open water certifications we train for an out of air situation by doing a simulated controlled swimming ascent from 20’. That’s great but I routinely see divers without a buddy or redundant air supply at 60’, 80’ and even 100’. The talk I read and hear is that “I could make it to the surface if I had to.”
Really? Have you done it before? Have you ever actually practiced that skill from that depth? Because if you haven’t, the fact is that you don’t know and divers drown in 30’ of water every year. Sixty feet is a long way down when you don’t have any air and you don’t want to be the next guest star in DAN’s Annual Report.
Divers don’t expect to be able to rent a tank or dive off a commercial boat without presenting a c card. Divers don’t expect to be able to get a nitrox tank without a nitrox certification. Divers don’t expect to be able to cave dive or deep tec dive without the correct training and associated certification. Solo diving isn’t any different.
Solo Diving Has Created an Image Problem for Itself
The main point of this post is that there is a LOT of solo diving going on today and when practiced safely, with the right training and protocols, its a great thing. This is something that should be part of the mainstream conversation because solo diving is mainstream. This conversaton has become difficult because solo diving has created an image problem for itself and all of us that practice it. Unfortunately, a lot of the solo diving I’ve observed around the world is done sloppily, without proper safety protocols or certification. Also, unfortunately, there is a very vocal group within the solo diving community saying things like: “Nobody can tell me what to do” and “I don’t need no stinkin’ certifications” and “the training agencies can’t teach me anything.” Understandably, this makes dive operators uncomfortable. First, most dive professionals really care about the safety of their diving guests. Second, it can expose the dive operator to increased liability and third, it goes against the whole reason that formalized recreational dive training and certifications were created several decades ago. Given this, its no wonder that some dive operators are resistant to the practice of solo diving.
What’s the Problem with Dive Operators, Dive Resorts, Dive Instructors and Divemasters?
So here’s the message for dive operators, resorts, instructors and divemasters: We need to encourage ans support solo diving – when its practiced the right way. There are a lot of solo divers properly trained and certified but they are getting hassled by the diving community anyway – and that’s not right. I remember when nitrox diving was the fringe. I remember when deep tec diving was fringe. All of these diving disciplines are now understood and accepted as long as the individual is properly trained and holds a certification for it. Solo diving isn’t any different. The professional diving community needs to recognize this and recognize the solo diving certification just like it does any other certification from any other accredited agency. If solo divers are going to spend the time and money to get properly trained and certified, they need to know that the certification is going to be accepted.
So What is the Answer to the Solo Diving Debate
Simple really. If you are a diver who wants to dive solo, you don’t need to be inconvenienced but you do need to be trained, experienced, have a solo diving certification and use the correct techniques and equipment – especially a redundant air supply. Dive resorts, operators, instructors and divemasters need to step up and support proper and safe solo diving and not allow people without the necessary training, equipment and certification to dive without buddies. Its a safe solution for everybody.
Ridlon Kiphart, aka Sharkman is a member of the prestigious Explorers Club, an American Airlines Ultimate Road Warrior and a master instructor with over 5000 dives. His diving career began in 1977 and he is a big proponent of fun and safe diving.
*He is not an SDI instructor nor has any commercial relationship with SDI or the SDI Solo Diver certification.