Scuba diving has always traditionally been a team sport. The buddy system ensures that you never dive alone, mainly for safety reasons, but in 1999 SDI began to offer the Solo Diver Certification. Since then it has become a popular speciality, but many training agencies such as PADI, SSI or NAUI still refuse to create their own solo diving program. Why is this? Should they take the solo plunge or are they right to stick by the buddy system for all diving activities?
Why do we dive with the buddy system?
According to PADI we use the buddy system because: Diving with a buddy is easier, safer and more fun. All cheesiness aside, they have a point. The main reason we use the buddy system is because our buddy can help us if anything goes wrong. You could be the best trained and most experienced diver in the world, but something can still happen to you due to unforeseen circumstances such as equipment failure or an unknown medical condition. Your buddy will be there to help you out in the event of any issues, but a problem still remains, what if your buddy is not trained in rescue techniques? Every time an instructor goes out on their own with a group of students, could this not be considered solo diving? By PADI standards an instructor can take out 8 students for Open Water Dive 1 with no assistant. If the instructor came into any serious problems could the newbie diver really help? My guess is probably not.
Why choose to solo dive?
Solo diving is very popular among underwater photographers and videographers for a couple of reasons. Generally underwater photographers are very mission orientated. By diving alone they can focus all their attention on what they are doing, and not have to worry about what everyone else is up to. Most underwater organisms are wary of divers, so the photographer/videographer has a better chance of getting up close with their subject if they are alone.
The buddy system is designed so one diver can give help to the other if in distress or danger, but this leads to some divers becoming reliant their buddy to guide, point things out and even check their air for them. Being forced to look after others who are already qualified to look after themselves gets old after a while. Differences in certification and experience can force experienced divers to shallower depths and shorter dives as their less experienced buddy may consume air far faster.
Is solo diving safe?
Solo diving can be safe and it can also be unsafe, depending on how you do it. I personally believe that solo diving in standard recreational scuba gear is unsafe. With the buddy system you at least have a backup air supply, which your buddy carries, and you carry the backup for them. The same goes with other important safety equipment such as dive computers/depth gauge timers or surface markers. Because of these reasons I believe that in order to safely solo dive, you should follow the path of technical divers, and have a backup for everything. The sidemount configuration wearing two tanks works for this, as does the twinset back mount option. Two regulators, two air sources, two of everything considered vital to survive a dive.
Solo diving is not to be taken lightly, and it should only be done by those with proper training. For the SDI Solo Diver course the student requires (as a prerequisite) at least 100 logged dives, minimum level of Advanced Open Water (or equivalent) and must be medically fit, and signed off by a doctor. In my opinion, as long as the solo diver has the right equipment, knowledge, training and maturity, it does not pose any more hazards than diving with the buddy system.
Is solo diving for me?
Only you can answer that question. Many divers will never feel comfortable solo diving, no matter what training or experience they have. Many feel that part of the joy of diving is being able to share their experiences with others. Other divers feel that by being alone they have more of a chance to explore the underwater world without hindering the rest of the team.
Personally, I enjoy both solo diving and diving with a buddy. As an instructor I am always looking out for everyone else in the water, which is great, but it also means that I often end up not achieving what I wanted to do on the dive. By solo diving I get to temporarily forget about everything else, and just focus on some good quality ‘me’ time.
‘Solo Diving’ was written by Mike