The Secret of Solo Scuba Diving News Feed

The Secret of Solo Scuba Diving

Until recently, the mere mention of anyone going Scuba Diving alone would cause claims from official dive industry spokespersons that such a practice was unsafe, unethical, and even unenjoyable. The PADI created buddy system has been so entrenched into most divers' mental rule books that the very idea of descending below the surface solo amounted to treason among most "by-the-book" practitioners of the sport. Ironically, despite such a strong communal belief, tens of thousands of divers have actually been diving alone in some form or another under the water for years, many of them without the required skills or qualifications to do so, and most without even being aware they’re doing it.

At the top of the knowledge chain, solo diving is a regular occurrence. Instructors teaching open-water courses, for example, are pretty much on their own if they need to help a specific student with a technical problem or buoyancy issue. Even divers who buddy-dive regularly may find that they drift apart in poor visibility or because one of them is drawn to a particular creature of marine scene. Descending in a group can also often leave single divers waiting at depth for the rest of their buddy team to catch up because of equalisation problems, and although all the above scenarios are considered best practice "no-nos", they still happen on a regular basis, meaning that even novice divers unwittingly find themselves on their own, if only for a short time.

Underwater photographers, of course, constantly dive alone because it is virtually the only way to guarantee the best shots. If every diver with an underwater camera was forced to stay close to their buddy at all times, the internet would definitely not be wallpapered with the colourful close-ups that draw so many people to the sport. In fact, if you look closely at the best dive galleries online you will usually find an iconic shot of a diver suspended in the big blue alone, with no buddies or bubble streams in sight. The person taking the photo would, in most cases, find it pretty tricky to assist if the subject of his masterpiece ran out of air or bolted for the surface. Finally, incredible documentaries like like The Blue Planet simply could not have been made without solo divers. Capturing nature in action requires minimal disturbance,  and when it comes to catching a nervous pelagic on camera, two's a crowd.

The world’s leading Scuba Diving training organization, PADI, bases most of its courses on diving for recreational purposes and sharing the experience safely with fellow enthusiasts. The organisation has long stood by the buddy system as one of the key elements in its diver training, leaving those who wish to dive alone effectively operating outside the law. However, in response to an 2001 article in a US diving magazine that suggested buddy diving could be dangerous in certain situations, a senior PADI official did acknowledge that safe solo diving was possible when carried out by experienced divers. The official did, however, emphasise that buddy diving was the most effective and safe way to dive for recreational divers as the skills required for solo diving were extensive.

Fast forward 10 years and after what must have been hundreds of discussions and meetings in the corridors of scuba power, PADI finally launched what could well be the most contentious SCUBA course it has ever released. The Self Reliant Diver Course was developed independently by PADI Instructors and adopted as a Distinctive Speciality by PADI. As the name suggests, the course is designed for divers that need to be self sufficient when their buddy is not around and is not promoted as a course for everyone. In fact, to enroll on the course, divers must already be PADI Advanced Open Water certified and also have a minimum of 100 logged dives.

The Self Reliant Diver course involves classroom based knowledge development sessions and an equipment workshop, as well as of three open water training dives. As it is aimed at experienced divers,  it is assumed that divers already own appropriate active-diver equipment, including full kit, pony bottle set or stage cylinder, DSMB and reel, spare mask, line cutter or knife, dive computer and audible signalling device. Specific areas of focus include dive planning, risk management and equipment considerations for self-reliant diving with open water practise and skills development that includes out of gas drills, pony bottle deployment, buoyancy control and trim, and backup mask exchange mid-water. The course provides divers with the skills, knowledge and confidence to undertake dives in a much safer way, with the emphasis on anticipating, preparing for and dealing with problems if and when they occur.

PADI remains the champion of buddy-diving, but the fact that it now acknowledges that “a suitably qualified and equipped diver with the right mental attitude, if they are prepared to accept the risks involved, can dive independently of another diver” is a major development for the diving community as a whole. Underwater photographers are particularly pleased by the change in thinking, as the course definitely opens new doors and creates fabulous opportunities for top class photography by recreational divers.


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