Sea Wolff Diving Article Bank

Forbidden Fruit?

It’s a cardinal sin. I know it, you know it, your buddy knows it.
By Alex Wolff

Your instructor in your open water class (as close to clergy as we get in the SCUBA industry) told you so in just about every class session.

NEVER EVER DIVE ALONE! Second in importance perhaps to always keep breathing, never hold your breath, the taboo of diving without a buddy is stressed more than any other theme in SCUBA. We even created a workshop (Sea Wolff Diving Buddy Procedures Workshop) to fine tune buddy skills. Although we strive and train to be self sufficient divers, choosing to dive with a buddy is the easiest and most effective step we can take to ensure our own safety.

The first time a new diver sees a diver enter the water without a buddy, the cross comes up, the garlic is used like deodorant, and their instructor is deluged with the question /statement: He’s not supposed to do that! is he? Invariably, the instructor shows a little grin and shrugs his shoulders.

Although the buddy system is heavily emphasized in the industry today, there are many divers that dive alone. We see them on the wrecks in the northeast, on the reefs in the Caribbean, in the lakes and quarries; probably every place but under the ice. The truth of the matter is, right or wrong, solo diving is practiced by many divers. Some do it as part of work (the divemaster that goes down alone to set or release the hook) and some do it for convenience (the photographer waiting for the coral polyp to open). There is no machismo associated with solo diving, just a perceived need. Regardless of why people solo dive, it is important that they are adequately prepared for the task.

Before I go any further I wish to make it perfectly clear that I DO NOT CONDONE NOR PROMOTE SOLO DIVING, regardless of a diver’s experience level. For those of you that solo, there is no condemnation from here; I have no doubt you have your reasons and hope you are adequately prepared for the task. The purpose of this article is to provide divers with an intelligent basis for answering the question - ‘Should I go solo?”

Solo diving for the sake of solo diving doesn’t really make sense to me, just like we don’t go deep without a purpose, but if you have a need to solo dive you should approach the subject from a conservative and rational point of view. Despite what you have been told by your grade school instructor, priest, and boss at work, “Negative Thinking” can be a good thing. The decision to become a solo diver should be the result of careful analysis, and not made on the spur of the moment due to a seasick buddy. Take some time to compile a list of reasons that you should not go solo. I have taken the liberty of filling a side bar with general reasons not to go it alone. There may be other, more personal reasons not to attempt or practice solo diving. These range from competence and confidence issues to health and other circumstances.

If you are not sure about your qualifications for going solo and find yourself asking other people if they think you are ready, immediately disqualify yourself from consideration as a solo diver, at least for the time being. Competence and confidence are two qualities that are mandatory for solo divers. Hopefully the competence is real and the confidence is well founded. Here are some other immediate disqualifying points to consider.

Do I have any medical conditions that are normally OK to dive with but would put me at too great a risk if I am by myself? Conditions that people sometimes dive with that may put them at too great a risk to go solo include asthma and heart arrhythmia. Both conditions are generally recognized as contra indications for diving, but there are active divers with both conditions..

Am I in good enough physical shape to beat the stresses involved in an out of air situation? Free ascents from depth can be physically demanding.

Do I have the appropriate equipment to do a dive alone? Reliability and redundancy can’t be stressed enough. Do I maintain my equipment adequately? Annual overhauls and servicing as needed - forget about diving with that slow leaking low pressure inflator.

Am I adequately trained? No agency (to my knowledge) offers a Solo Diver Specialty Rating, so no one but you can answer this question for you (this is true for dives of any type). Your entry level certification prepared you to dive to depths of 60 feet in similar conditions as your check-out dives but not to a 100 feet in zero visibility. The same rationale holds true for solo diving. You may think you are prepared to go solo on a beach dive in Hawaii but that you are not prepared to solo when diving back in Long Island Sound.

What is enough training and experience? The answer to this question is quite subjective so I’ll just say “a lot!” From a training point of view, I recommend that all divers in the northeast hold a minimum rating of Rescue Diver, not so much for the ability to assist other divers, but for the self rescue skills that are developed during the course. For divers choosing to go solo, I further recommend a training level of Divemaster, Dive Control Specialist, or the equivalent rating from your agency. The skills taught to prospective divemaster candidates include problem recognition, environmental assessments, diver assessments and dive planning are of extreme importance to the solo diver.

Having attained a high certification level is really just the beginning. Are you planning to dive deep? on wrecks? in caves? A high level of expertise must be developed for the type of diving you will be doing. The various specialty courses help you approach the expertise level, but you graduate a specialty course with only basic knowledge of the skills, which must be honed by practice, diving, and more diving prior to your solo dive. To round out your knowledge base you should give yourself extra-curricula reading assignments. There are now dozens of books by recognized experts like Farber, Keatts and Gentile on advanced, deep, and wreck diving. Before diving any wreck by yourself, you should be totally familiar with the wreck, not only from performing many dives on the wreck, but read about it. There are many publications and even TV shows available on the wrecks from North Carolina to Maine. In the NY area, there is Wreck Valley (the book and the TV show) from Dan Berg and Aqua Explorers. Check your local dive shop for the best book or show in your area.

ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? Or I should ask, are you experienced enough to go solo? Experience is another one of those relative terms. It is entirely possible that even after 1000 dives you will not be experienced enough to go solo, and experience in one type of diving can still leave you a neophyte for other types of diving. One of the markers of an experienced diver is the ability to apply common sense. Even the most experienced solo diver knows that he or she can’t go solo in all circumstances. Is the vis too poor? Is the dive too deep? Am I feeling less than 100%? Is the current too strong? Have I done this type of dive enough? Has my equipment been behaving? Is there an appropriate safety structure in place?

Diving under the best of circumstance, is potentially hazardous. Solo diving is sometimes compared to driving in a rainstorm without a seat belt. Not wearing a seat belt is not a guarantee of an accident, but if an accident occurs, the ramifications can be far worse than if the driver is wearing a seat belt, has anti-lock breaks and an air bag. An entangled diver can be freed by his or her buddy, two divers are less likely to get lost, with good buddy teams, neither diver is likely to run out of air or to surface too fast. Unconsciousness (caused by any reason) occurring during a diving accident can be addressed by an attentive buddy. The buddy can help the unconscious diver surface, can pull the diver from the water, can administer CPR, first-aid, and oxygen as necessary, and can summon assistance. There is no help available to the solo diver, so any type of accident is more likely to result in a fatality. Going solo increases your risk of dying in the event of an accident, it may even increase your chances of having an accident. Assess yourself and your skills before deciding to practice Solo Diving. Like in a court of law, only proceed if you are beyond a shadow of a doubt!

Alex Wolff, a SCUBA instructor, is Principal and Technical Director of Sea Wolff Diving. Sea Wolff Diving developed the Sea Wolff Dive Log for Windows, Sea Wolff Diving Buddy Procedures Workshop, SWD Recreational Intensive Training program, the SCUBA Serenity Workshop and consults on PC systems development for the dive industry.

6 reasons to dive with a buddy and NOT to dive alone A buddy
1. Has extra air
2. can monitor my air consumption, time and depth
3. can check my equipment before and during a dive
4. can help in case of entanglement
5. can perform CPR, First-Aid
6. can summon assistance
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