Are you a Self Reliant Diver ?

Self Reliant diver with redundant cylinders
Self Reliant diver with redundant cylinders

For most of us, one of the key points that would have been reinforced a number of times during our early diving experiences is the need dive with a buddy and the merits of always diving with someone who can help you out in the unlikely event that of problems arising.

This advice still stands, and for the majority of people buddy diving has a great deal to recommend it. However, diving organisations are now recognising that there are certain situations and certain groups of divers for whom diving with a buddy is not always practical or necessary. This should not be taken as an indication that diving with a buddy is no longer thought to be important, but it does acknowledge that for experienced divers with the correct experience, training and equipment, diving alone can be undertaken without an undue increase in risk.

PADI and other diving agencies have introduced a “Self-reliant diver” or similar course that, once completed, equips divers with the skills to dive alone.

This course is particularly suited to certain groups of divers who may already encounter situations where they are not always diving with a buddy. These include:

  • Instructors who may be diving with a group of uncertified or inexperienced divers
  • Underwater photographers or videographers who typically spend much of their time whilst diving looking through the viewfinder rather than at their buddies who are often some distance away
  • Technical divers who already have an element of self-sufficiency in their training
  • Travelling divers in situations where you may not know (and not be happy with) the buddy you are allocated on a dive or have different dive objectives
Self Reliant Diver with pink cylinders
Self Reliant Diver with pink cylinders

This type of diving is not suited to everyone and there is an expectation that you will be an experienced diver before trying it. The PADI course for example has a prerequisite for 100 logged dives.

One of the biggest differences in diving on your own is the mental preparation. In this situation it is even more essential to develop and stick to your dive plan, to be ready to anticipate and deal with any problems that could arise and be ready to handle small issues before they get bigger!

As experienced divers we would always make sure that our gear is in good repair and is regularly serviced and this is even more important if diving alone as you won’t have a buddy nearby to assist in the case of equipment failure. One of the key elements of this training is to consider issues of equipment redundancy and to make sure you know how to handle gas swap-overs underwater.

There is no real difference in the type of equipment you need to dive alone but you will need to think about additional pieces to allow you to cope in the case of failures. The following list includes the sort of extra equipment you should consider on top of your normal diving kit:

  • Redundant air supply – e.g. a pony, twinset, bailout or side mounted cylinders
  • Redundant signalling equipment – both audible & visual
  • A spare mask
  • Two cutting tools or knives
  • First aid kit and if possible access to emergency oxygen

Redundant in diving terminology means “additional or backup” equipment

There is no particular need for your kit to be organised any differently when diving alone and technical divers will already be

Diver enters the water
Diver enters the water

familiar with configurations for carrying twin or spare tanks and making sure that they are able to reach any redundant air supplies. Whatever redundant air supplies you choose it’s essential that you are familiar with its use and practice with it regularly. Can you switch on your pony whilst swimming for example?

Another area of self-reliant which is slightly different from buddy diving, is dive planning. This is important for all dives and the phrase “plan the dive and dive the plan” will again be familiar to all. However, this is even more important when diving on your own as there is no one else to remind you or help out if things go wrong.

One key element of dive planning that is considered in some detail, on the PADI course in particular, is air consumption.  During this part of the training you will learn a number  f calculations to assist you in  estimating your surface air consumption rate (SAC) and therefore the volume of air you will need to make dives to specific depths and for specific periods of time. These parameters are also important considerations in any dive, but even more so when there is no readily available buddy to share air if the need arises!

In the event that something does happen you will need to be prepared to deal with it on your own and therefore having good self rescue skills is essential, as is practicing these regularly to ensure they stay sharp. It doesn’t matter whether this is dealing with an equipment failure, running out of air, or panic at the sudden realisation that you on your own, you must be confident that you can cope and put the training into practice when the need arises.

Diver with sidemount deco cylinder
Diver with sidemount deco cylinder

On any course you would expect to have the chance to put the learning into practice and these courses are no exception with a couple of open water dives that are used to put you through your paces of switching to an alternative air supply, deploying a DSMB by inflating with the exhaust from your regulator, dealing with a lost mask and calculating air consumption, etc., etc.

Of course, almost all the skills you will learn are equally applicable when diving with a buddy and therefore even if you can’t envisage a situation where you will ever dive alone learning these skills will help you become a better buddy.

If you fit into any of the groups described earlier or even if you don’t but are up for a new challenge, it’s worth thinking about becoming “self-reliant”. You never know when you or your buddy might need it!

Why not ask your local dive centre it they can offer this course or can provide you with more information.

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