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Solo/Self-Reliant Diving: Is it for you?
Airworks - 7/27/2019 6:45 PM
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Category: Educational
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Solo/Self-Reliant Diving: Is it for you?From the days of Jacques Ives Cousteau and the birth of SCUBA, recreational divers have been instructed to always dive in teams of two or more “buddies.” All diving-related activities – equipment checks, descents, ascents, etc., are all to be performed in groups.
The “buddy system”, as it is known, is intended to provide safety, fun, and socialization.
When the system functions as intended, with two or more competent divers joining forces underwater, the diving experience can be all it’s meant to be. Trained and capable divers who work together can overcome most minor incidences encountered underwater.

However, what happens when one diver who is trained and competent is required to dive alongside someone else whom they may have just met (for example, during a charted dive), or is a novice? That scenario presents circumstances that may actually endanger both the trained and untrained diver. What could otherwise be a wonderful and relaxing aquatic adventure could become a very unpleasant and downright dangerous reality. Mandatory and forced buddy situations where there are different abilities, mental attitudes, and objectives can be very counter-productive.

What’s the alternative? Let’s take a look at Solo or Self-Reliant diving.

Believe it or not, Solo diving as a certifiable endeavor began a few years ago and is becoming increasingly popular. In fact, some liveaboard charters allow divers to get wet on their own provided they have been properly trained and certified. Several of the major training agencies offer solo and self-reliant diver training courses.

However, Solo diving has engendered considerable controversy within the diving community.
The buddy system mentality is so deeply ingrained that other options seem implausible.

Since it appears that Solo diving is here to stay, let’s cut to the chase. What are the pros and cons?


> The Solo diver is only responsible for themselves, thus eliminating the natural stress associated with the sense of being responsible for the safety of someone else. With the buddy system, the stress experienced by a diver affects both the diver AND those he/she is diving with, distributing the cognitive and emotional pressure among those in the group. After a while, some divers within the group may become anesthetized by a false sense of security; the "safety in numbers" effect. This in turn may cause individual divers to become careless and lose appropriate vigilance, putting the other divers at risk.
Diving solo does increase the stress level of the diver, but it’s a different kind. A self-reliant diver is forced to remain vigilant. They are consciously alert to the fact that they are alone in what could be a hostile environment. This, in turn, helps them to more effectively focus on the place-and-moment, allowing them to achieve a heightened sense of self, and environmental, awareness. Because of that, the solo diver is more inclined to experience the underwater world in a more meditative and contemplative way.

> The well-trained and certified Solo diver is “always prepared” with the proper gear and numerous redundancies such as an alternate and separate air source, an extra mask, a couple of cutting tools, etc., all intended to handle potential problems on their own.

> There may be situations when a dive buddy or a family member is not readily available, and/or they may decide to opt out of the dive for one reason or another. For example, some buddies may plan for a two-or-more dive day, but then one may decide to abruptly stop after the first dive to run an errand or attend to a personal matter. The certified Solo diver may then choose to dive alone. The sense of freedom and not being dependent on the decisions or whims of others is very liberating.

> Certain endeavors almost require solo diving, such as in the case of a professional photographer. Coordinating times and schedules with other divers may often hinder taking the “perfect shot.” Or maybe the photographer needs to spend a lot of extra time working with an uncooperative Moray eel. He/she is free to take as much time as necessary and not compromise the diving experiences of others.


> Scuba diving at any level carries risks, and it’s obvious that going solo increases that risk. There may be no one around in case of an emergency, or to help in a difficult situation. The responsibility of the entire dive rests completely on the solo diver.

> Going solo will often require extra physical exertion, e.g. putting on and taking off your own wet or drysuit and tank ensemble. A solo diver must be very sure of their own physical capabilities.

The buddy system is a good one; please don’t misunderstand me. But it isn’t the best system for every diver and/or diving situation. Solo diving is not for the faint of heart, nor the unprepared and untrained. As divers, we must make informed decisions based on our skill sets, attitudes, and objectives.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed diving solo many times. My job situation and weird time schedules don’t always allow for coordinated dive excursions between my dive buddies and me. My work schedule allows me to dive during the week; most of my diving buddies only dive on the weekends. The freedom of not being dependent on someone else’s availability is perhaps solo diving’s most appealing aspect. But it isn’t for everyone.