Scuba diving is a very social sport, to the point where you’re not supposed to even go scuba diving without a buddy. But have you ever thought about why? Your dive buddy is effectively a second set of everything and most importantly eyes and hands. Yes, they have extra air that you can breathe but you can just bring a second tank of air right? One thing you can’t bring with you by yourself is something that can see a leak or an entanglement behind you and fix it for you. Diving with a buddy is great.
Self-reliance is less about “hey I fancy a dive, and off you go” it’s more about serious planning and organisation so that if the worst should happen, you’ve considered it and have a contingency. This all starts before you leave your home and I cannot stress this enough, if you’re diving alone then tell somebody where you’re going, and when to raise an alarm if you don’t check-in. Oh, and maybe tell them who to contact too so they’re not wasting time trying to find who’s best to contact.
Now we have covered this topic in another video so it’s worth checking that out too if you’re considering self-reliance and while we don’t particularly recommend diving solo, many of the skills and procedures of self-reliant diving will make you a better diver. Now obviously this doesn’t replace proper training and there is a lot more to diving solo but
Let’s take a look at How To Be A More Self-Reliant Diver
Bring lots of Everything
Ideally, you’d have a spare everything, but that’s not practical so you need to bring redundant backups for the most important things. Bring a spare mask, if you can’t see then you’re going to have a rubbish safety stop on the way back to the surface. Bring spare knives and torches because you’ll never cut through fishing line with your bare hands and finding an exit to a shipwreck in pitch black is not fun.
The worst thing about being caught on an entanglement and not being able to free yourself is knowing that you have a knife on you, but you just can’t reach it. Advanced divers will have cutting devices all over them so they can always reach at least one and not all dive knives cut all lines. Some are specialised or are at least better at cutting through some things more than others.
If it’s just a single strand of fishing line then any cutting device will cut through that, thicker lines and nets will require a serrated edge. You can waste a lot of time trying to cut through a mass of netting with a tiny line cutter, all of that time this net is slowly wrapping around you and tangling up with more of your stuff, so bring the right tool and bring a backup if you drop that one.
Your dive torch is great and is probably one of the most multi-purpose pieces of kit that you can take with you on a dive. You can see what you’re looking at in the dark, you can communicate with other divers and if the ambient light shifts like when you enter a shipwreck, then you don’t have to wait for your eyes to adjust even if they can inside a metal box that light can’t penetrate. So, if you’re in a dark dark place, relying on your torch to find your way out. What if it floods? Or the battery runs out? A spare torch would be really handy, wouldn’t it?
Your torch isn’t just for seeing things in the dark, it’s also so that you can be seen in the dark. A scuba diver lost at sea is a tiny blip on the surface of a constantly moving ocean so if you can make yourself stand out in any way then you greatly increase your chances of being found. In a recent news story, a diver was only found when a search boat was just 100m away from him before they noticed him, a backup torch and other signalling devices are a must when diving by yourself.
Bring lots of gas
If you don’t know what your SAC rate is, or even what a SAC rate is, can I suggest that you learn what your SAC rate is? Knowing how much gas you breathe can help you work out how long a given amount of gas will last so you can better plan a dive and make sure that you have enough gas to get back. And you need to make it back with plenty of gas left, if you end your dive with no pressure left in your tank, that’s not good gas management that’s dangerous. So many divers are too blasé over the 50bar rule, or what is it? 800psi because nothing bad has ever happened to them and I might as well use that extra gas.
Also, consider; what if something goes wrong during the dive? If you only have one tank and one regulator then if any part of that circuit fails your nearest air supply is the surface. On many dives you can’t just swim up to the surface on a single lungful you have to do a pesky stop so self-reliant divers will almost definitely dive with a redundant air supply, just in case. Diving with side-mounted stage cylinders is the best way to dive solo because you have independent air supplies that you can switch between if you need to. The chances of both of them failing is slim.
And probably the worst thing that can happen is if the needle on your SPG is stuck. You gaze at your gauges without thinking and see that you have plenty of gas. Only you don’t. The easiest way to encounter something similar is to assemble your gear, pressurise it and then close the valve while you put your wetsuit on. You get all kitted up, check your gauges and you’ve got a full tank, in you go but three breaths in, the air in your regulator has run out and you’re testing the reach of your shoulder to turn your valve back open. Check your gauges often and try to notice any unusual movement or none at all. Try to imagine what your tank pressure will be roughly before you look at it. If it’s much different then consider the fact that your gauge may be wrong.
Check you gear
Religiously check your dive gear for faults and wear. It’s rare that your dive kit will fail in your kit bag before your dive, if it’s going to fail, it’s going to fail at the worst possible time and so many faults and incidents can be avoided by noticing that “this nut is loose” or “that valve isn’t open all the way”. And it happens to the best of us, I was diving with another Instructor who completed a dive with his valve open only a tiny bit. They could breathe, just not too heavily.
Build up your own personal checklist or go through one of the hundreds of already tried and tested checklists out there. Check EVERYTHING, the release mechanism of your knife, the mask buckles on your mask, look for tiny nicks in your mask strap that could rip the whole thing if you tug on it too tight to clear it. The littlest thing will cause trouble so if you can fix small problems before they become big problems then you’re a better diver.
Your body also needs to be checked from time to time because while diving can be an easy, relaxing sport it can also be testing at times. Heart problems are standing out as a big contributing factor to scuba diving incidents so it’s worth going to find your local dive doctor and just booking a diver medical. They put you through your paces and test your heart and lung functions, eyesight and hearing, all sorts but if they can diagnose an underlying heart condition it’s definitely worth a couple hours of your time and I’d rather find out I have a heart problem in a Doctors office, rather than 30m underwater by myself.
Practice your skills
You do not want the first time you experience rope or fishing line in the water to be when you are diving alone. The same goes for out of air scenarios and a lost mask, you want to practice worst-case scenarios in a safe place so you have the muscle memory and airway control to fix the problem at hand in the correct order. With the right practice and comfort in these scenarios, you can get yourself out of a tight situation but without that practice and experience, you might flounder.
In a safe environment practice mask removal and replacement, air switching drills and anything that you can think of to make sure that you are calm and collected if something hits a fan. Because you do this all the time, it’s no big deal, you don’t even hesitate or second guess yourself, you prioritise what needs to be fixed first so you can tackle the next problem.
If you know the theory behind something, that’s great, but actually doing that thing can be very hard especially when you’re stressed and alone and “urgh, I’ve never actually done this with gloves on”. So you need to practice these things so you’re not surprised or come across a learning gradient that you can’t manage when you’re all alone.
So most of being a better self-reliant diver is about preparation, pre-dive checks and just bringing spares. I have to limit myself when packing for a dive trip because I literally pack two sets of gear because what if one breaks? These traits can obviously be used in buddy diving and they will make you a more well-rounded diver. And there is plenty more to being a self-reliant diver so don’t just watch this and strap on a 2nd everything and think you can dive alone if you want to then check out the proper solo diver course with your Instructor but until then, maybe think about your kit and what could go wrong during a dive