a scuba diver performing backwards entry

Why Do Scuba Divers Dive Backwards?

If you’ve ever watched scuba divers enter the water from a boat, you may have thought that it looks a bit odd. Rolling backwards into the water may seem uncomfortable. After all, anyone who has ever tried the trust fall activity knows that willingly falling backwards seems unpleasant. 

The reality is that falling backwards into the water certainly does look unnatural. Additionally, the first few times you do a backwards roll, it may feel awkward. So why do scuba divers dive backwards?

While there are a variety of reasons divers perform a backwards roll into the water the primary benefit to this method of entry is that it is the safest method for the diver, their equipment, and the boat on the surface. The mask is protected from being dislodged and the tank absorbs the impact, rather than the body.

What are the mechanics of a backward roll and how does it help enhance safety? Let’s look at these and some other important questions regarding this technique.

a scuba diver starting backwards entry

How Do You Do a Backwards Roll?

The backwards roll is one of the most basic entry techniques; however, many people do not learn it during their open water training. This is because this technique is done from a boat and may not be conducive to the site of open water training.

However, a backwards roll is an important technique to learn. To begin, simple sit on the edge of the boat. At this point, you will put on and secure your BCD, mask, fins, and other gear. It is easier to put on your gear here when you are already seated.

Next, complete your standard safety checks with your buddy to ensure that you haven’t forgotten anything critical such as turning on your air supply.

Before beginning the backwards roll, you will want to check the water directly behind you. The goal here is to make sure it is free of debris or other divers. With clear water, inflate your BCD to provide buoyancy.

Next, place your right hand on the front of your mask. This will ensure that it stays in place when you enter the water. This is very important as failing to do so risks your mask becoming dislodged and sinking to the bottom.

Some people will use their left hand to keep their regulator in place; however, many simply use their right hand for both mask and regulator and cross their left over their body. Use whichever method feels most comfortable. This may come down to the size of your hands.

Finally, simply fall backwards and let gravity do the work. Depending on the height of the boat, you will land flat on your back or slightly head down. Orient yourself in the water and begin your dive. If you encounter any problem (such as losing your mask if you forget to hold it), notify your dive buddy and troubleshoot.

3 scuba divers on the edge of a boat

Benefits of the Backwards Roll

Now that you know how to do a backwards roll, let’s explore the benefits. As we discussed earlier, the major benefit is safety. This involves safety to you, your gear, and the boat.

Entering the water from a few feet up may not seem like a significant distance. However, it is important to remember that scuba equipment is quite heavy, particularly your tank. Thus, that mass over even a few feet of distance can create problems.

Why not simply fall forward into the water? There are actually many alternative entry methods. 

This is not one of them, and for good reason. Falling forward would create a number of problems.

First, falling forward risks having the impact of the mask on the water cracking your mask, knocking it off, or injuring your face. 

Additionally, falling forward would have your body absorb the full impact of the tank. It can also result in the tank shifting and striking the back of your head.

Thus, falling forward is not an option. However, by falling backward, your tank hits the water first and your mask does not strike the water directly. This eliminates these two safety issues. It is safer on your body.

Additionally, by entering the water from a seated position, you are more stable. Boats shift in waves, so entering from a standing position can be dangerous if there isn’t a stable surface.

The backwards roll is also safer on your gear. The tank is the most durable component and absorbs all of the impact. Jumping forward into the water (which is another entry type) can damage your fins over time. 

But a backwards roll is relatively risk free.

Finally, the backwards roll is critical for the boat in many cases. On a large boat, you may not do a backwards roll. 

In fact, you might practice the giant leap off of a stable platform (more on this later). However, for small boats, this method of entry has a huge benefit.

For smaller boats, entering from a seating position lowers the center of gravity for the boat. This means the entry will have less of an impact on the boat, preventing it from excessively rocking. 

This is also safer for other divers who are preparing to enter as it minimizes the risk of falling or other accidents.

a scuba diver observing a turtle

Common Backwards Roll Problems

There are a number of things that can occur that can complicate the backwards roll. Thus, it is important to follow the following guidelines to ensure a successful entry.

  • Don’t force yourself back or push yourself back. Simply let yourself fall. With your gear, you are top heavy, and the weight will do the work for you.
  • Make sure your air is on. If you forget this, it will be an unhappy surprise. If you do enter without air, signal your buddy and have them turn it on quickly.
  • Once you enter, swim away from the boat to allow others to enter the water.
  • Remember to give the ok sign to the dive master before descending. This is proper procedure and part of ensuring safety.

What Are Other Types of Entries?

There are a number of other water entries that are practiced depending upon the situation. These include the giant stride, controlled seated, and shore entries.

Giant Stride Entry

This, at least for me, is the most unnatural feeling of all entries; however, it is a useful technique to learn. The giant stride entry can be an effective method of entry from docks or from larger boats with stable platforms.

As usual, begin by checking the water in front of you for debris. Next, inflate your BCD in order to help you resurface after entry. Step where your fins are hanging off the edge of the boat or pier.

Like the backwards roll, you’ll want to place a hand over your mask and regulator. Next, take a giant step into the ocean. Reduce the urge to hop in. Rather, take a large, almost comical step.

Controlled Seated Entry

This is not an overly common option; however, there are places where it is useful. I enter many quarries this way from docks.

Here, you’ll do the typical things you always do including safety checks and ensuring the water in front of you is clear.

Next, inflate your BCD. Sit on the edge of the boat or dock, facing forward with your legs at a 90-degree angle.

Place your arms firmly on the ground. Next, push your body slightly upward off of the surface and push yourself forward while twisting. The result should be entering the water facing the surface you just left.

With this entry, you typically have less force of entry and will bob back up very quickly.

two scuba divers on the seabed

Shore Entry

As you would expect from the name, this involves entering the water from the shore. Here, you put on your gear at the water’s edge and begin walking into the water.

If there is surf, you will want to time your entry between large waves if possible. Simply continue to walk until the water is deep enough to sit and kick out towards the open water.

If the surf is particularly rough, you can walk backwards. The weight distribution of your tank will help you stay upright when facing incoming waves.

If you do fall down during this entry method, do not attempt to stand back up as this will waste lots of energy. Simply kick out or, if the water isn’t deep enough yet, crawl forward until you can.

Final Thoughts

While there are a number of different ways to enter the water when scuba diving, the backwards roll is the most common. It helps increase safety by protecting your, your gear, and others on the boat. 

As always, taking proper precautions and following procedures is key to safety during this method.

There are a number of other methods of entry that divers may select based on the specific conditions, and it is important to learn those as well. 

However, the backwards roll is what you will typically perform on most dives, particularly those from smaller boats.

Mike Seals
Chief Crisp Eater at Guiness Brewey | + posts

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.

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