If you are new to scuba diving or have friends who dive, you probably know that divers go under with a “dive buddy,” traversing the underwater area in pairs. You may have wondered if it is ok to dive solo.
After all, there are many reasons a diver may want to dive solo. Perhaps you are traveling alone on vacation and want to dive. Maybe you don’t have any friends who are divers.
A new quarry opened in your area and you want to check it out, but your dive buddies are all busy.
So can you dive solo?
While there is no law against diving solo and some highly trained divers do it well, it is a very risky practice that is strongly advised against. In fact, most reputable dive operators will not allow you to dive solo. If you are new to diving you should never, ever dive alone.
There are situations where people do dive solo. And depending on who you talk to, some people will note the belief that diving solo is safer as a panicking diver can be a safety hazard.
However, the general rule from all dive certification agencies and Divers Alert Network is that divers should dive with a buddy. Let’s look more into this issue.
What Are the Risks of Diving Alone?
There are a number of risks involved in scuba diving. They are mitigated and fairly rare, but they exist. This is something every diver covers in their training. When you go into the water, you are accepting a number of risks.
However, diving alone amplifies many of these risks. Let’s take a look at some of the major risks that disproportionately affect solo divers.
Entanglement While Diving
This is one that many people fail to consider. This can be particularly problematic when exploring areas like shipwrecks, caves, or even interesting underwater structures like passthroughs.
Entanglement occurs when you become caught on something. Maybe your equipment or even part of your body gets stuck. The most common culprit can be fishing line or nets.
This is why many people scuba with a dive knife.
However, becoming entangled often needs help from a buddy. If you can’t reach the area to cut it, your dive knife is no use. A buddy can easily help free you.
I once became entangled in a quarry on a guide line. I could have likely freed myself, but after a few seconds of struggling, my buddy came up and easily freed me.
Equipment Malfunctions While Diving
Another concern for solo divers is an equipment malfunction. The good news is that equipment used by divers today is of high performance and rarely has issues. But issues do occur.
Perhaps one of the most common equipment malfunctions is a regulator that goes into free flow. This occurs when your regulator begins continuously providing air rather than when only providing it when you breathe in. Cold water can be a common culprit. With a buddy, you can safely ascend, knowing they have spare air. Without, you may have to make an emergency ascent, risking decompression sickness.
Another issue is a malfunctioning computer. This is very rare but can cause problems calculating your decompression limit or your time underwater. With a buddy, you can simply rely on their computer. Without one, you need to ascend.
Disorientation While Diving
The reality is that scuba divers can become disoriented. This can occur when exploring unfamiliar areas or in enclosed areas such as shipwrecks and caves. It is rather easy to get lost in the maze of a shipwreck.
Disorientation can also be issues such as nitrogen narcosis. This occurs for some divers when they dive to deeper depths and can cause symptoms similar to what is experienced when someone is drunk.
This includes poor decision making that can often put divers in danger.
Out of Air While Diving
This is perhaps the biggest fear for any diver. Whether it is caused by a problem with equipment or simply failing to successfully manage your air, running out of air is a problem that no diver wants to experience.
If you are diving alone and run out of air, your only recourse is to make an emergency ascent. This can cause decompression sickness and lead to death depending upon the severity. Not making it to the surface in time can result in drowning.
If you are with a buddy, their extra regulator can give you air while the two of you make a controlled ascent to the surface. A friend of mine ran out of air on his first ever dive. Fortunately, he was at the end of his safety stop and not a big deal. He just swam up. If it was during another part of the dive, he would have just used my spare regulator.
Can People Dive Alone?
Yes, if you know the risks, accept them, and are extremely experienced you can dive alone. There are divers who do in some situations. However, a beginning diver should never dive alone as they simply will not have the skill set.
There are solo diving courses that give divers the proper training to dive alone.
For example, PADI offers a Self Reliant Diver specialty while SDI offers a Solo Diver Course. However, divers need to be very experienced in order to enroll in these courses.
There are also other dive instructors that provide their own instruction. One has a requirement that divers have completed a minimum of 100 dives before taking the course and, even in this situation, requires instructor approval.
In fact, if you want to consider the extensive requirements for diving alone, you need only to look at commercial divers, highly trained professionals that perform tasks at high depths as part of their job. Even these people who sometimes are technically alone have constant lines of communications and tethers to support teams on the surface.
What Is Involved with Diving Alone?
If you ever do want to dive alone and get to the level where you are prepared to undergo the training, it is important to realize that solo dives are much more involved than common recreational dives.
You will need to demonstrate significant pre-dive planning including planning dive limits based on your personal air consumption rate. You will need to plan very thorough dives.
You will also need to be able to execute a dive as it is planned within predetermined limits. With a dive buddy, you can call audibles on dives and go exploring a bit. When you dive alone, this is not recommended.
You will also need extensive navigation skills including use of a compass, have to demonstrate strong performance of emergency procedures, and carefully monitor computers and dive tables.
What If I Don’t Have a Dive Buddy?
Probably the most common reason that people inquire into diving alone is not having a dive buddy or not having one that is reliably free when they want to dive.
Fortunately, this is a thing that can easily be remedied.
If you are looking at diving a lot near where you live, you can find new dive buddies rather easily. Many areas have scuba diving groups that can be found on Meetup or other websites like Facebook.
I am in a local Central Indiana Scuba Divers Facebook group where I’ve met a few people.
These groups tend to have social events as well as diving events, making it easy to meet others who are interested in diving and often looking for dive buddies.
There are even a few large national and international social media groups where people going on vacation will post requests looking for a dive buddy, often getting many responses from locals.
If you are traveling to a popular area for scuba diving, you just need to start contacting different dive operators.
Most dive operators are happy to take on solo (as in traveling alone) divers. However, it is important to shop around as different shops have different policies.
Some dive shops will take people out in groups with a staff member for a few divers. Some will pair you up with a buddy.
A friend runs a shop in Florida and when someone solo books, he simply calls up a friend the night before and asks them if they want to go on a free dive to be a buddy. Other shops may pair you up with an instructor but charge you extra. Thus, calling around is useful.
The reality is that there are people who scuba dive alone. However, these should be seasoned divers that have extensive training and have logged a lot of dives. No beginning or even moderately trained scuba diver should attempt to dive alone.
Even some of the most seasoned divers have died when encountering a problem while diving alone.
There are a few stories a year where this happens.
If your concern is due to not having a dive buddy, join a local group or, if going on vacation, call dive operators and explain your situation. They will almost always accommodate.
Mike resides in landlocked Indiana but takes every opportunity to travel to warm waters for diving. When in his home state, he typically dives quarries. His favorite place to dive is the reef off of Ambergris Caye, Belize. When not diving, he works as a researcher, runs marathons, and spends time with his three kids.
2 thoughts on “Is It Ever Acceptable to Scuba Dive Solo?”
Nice article, however you neglected to mention any of the redundancy involved in solo diving, spare mask, spare computer, spare gas source, and what have you. This paints a valid yet wholly incomplete picture of solo diving. A properly qualified solo diver will have considered any possible equipment failures and have redundant equipment and procedures in place.
You are correct one thing you forgot to mention is the training it goes with solo certification.