Self-Reliant Diver vs Solo Diver

Brett Bovard   Feb 12, 2020

By Tom Figueroa

As Open Water Diver students we were all taught, literally from day one, the value of using the “Buddy System” when diving. We were told to always dive with a buddy, never dive alone. Some of the benefits of diving with a buddy, as PADI explains it in their Open Water Class are:

a. Practicality – you assist each other before, during and after the dive.

b. Safety – you help each other prevent problems, and you assist each other if there is an emergency.

c. Fun – diving is a social activity; it’s rewarding and fun to have someone to share underwater adventures with. -PADI Open Water Manual-

I believe all of these benefits are true, and it is almost universally agreed that most divers should be diving with a least one buddy.

However, picture this real life scenario; this has probably already happened to a number of you in one form or another. You and your dive buddy recently signed up for a great day of Advanced Level diving on one of our local boat trips. On the day of the dives, your buddy texts you early in the morning and tells you that he cannot make the trip because he woke up with a cold and is pretty congested- probably a good decision on his part. Well, you are already in the car at 5:00 am on your way to the boat, which boards at 6:00 am, so you decide to go anyway, hoping that there is somebody on the boat that you know. When you arrive, you find that you don’t know anyone on board, but everyone seems friendly enough, so off you go. Later, while the DM is giving her pre-dive briefing at the first dive site, she asks if anybody needs a buddy? You do, so you raise your hand, and you get “buddied-up” with someone that is in need of a buddy as well. Great! Problem solved, right? Mmmm, maybe.

As mentioned earlier, this is an Advanced Diver’s boat trip, let’s say at the Oil Rigs, which for all intents and purposes doesn’t have a bottom; at least not one that you should be visiting as an Advanced Open Water Diver, therefore, sharp buoyancy skills are a must. Well, perhaps you’ve done this dive numerous times, have over 100+ dives under your weight belt, and are very confident that you can help your buddy out in an emergency, if one was to happen. Now ask yourself, are you confident that your “new” buddy, someone you’ve never met, let alone dived with, can help you in an emergency situation, at depth, if needed? I wouldn’t be.

Now, I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t do the dives in the above example, that is a decision that should be left up to you, and you alone. Nor am I suggesting that you should decline a buddy and go and dive “solo”. I am suggesting, however, that there is a way to mitigate some of the potential problems, even when diving with someone that you do know and trust, if you were trained to be more self reliant. By now, I suspect many of you are asking yourselves, “why would he suggest that I learn to dive solo when I’ve been taught to always dive with a buddy”? Well, I’m not suggesting that at all. This is where some of the confusion, at best, and misinformation at worst, of the differences between being a “Solo Diver” and a “Self-Reliant Diver” needs to be explained. Let me start by offering my simple descriptions of both:

  •  A Solo diver is one that necessarily pre-plans, and executes a dive knowing that he will be diving by himself, from the start of the dive to the end of the dive.
  • A Self-Reliant diver is one that plans dives in such a way as to be able to respond to emergencies, independently, whether diving with or without a buddy.

In other words, a solo diver will absolutely, by design, be diving by himself, and a self-reliant diver may start out with a buddy, but end up by herself, or be caught in an emergency situation with a buddy who is ill equipped, or lacks the training needed to be of much help. Both of these divers will have the equipment, skills and knowledge to respond to diving emergencies without assistance.

I am of the opinion that only a very few, very well trained divers should dive solo. Among these are instructors and divemasters. There is a saying that many instructors use when asked by a student if they ever dive alone, and that is, “every time I am diving with new open water students”. Of course in reality, we are not diving by ourselves, however we are diving with 3 or 4 people who are just learning to dive, and most likely, couldn’t be relied upon for much help if we were to run into a problem. Others you may find that dive solo are professional photographers (because who wants to dive with someone who stays in one spot for an hour looking to get that perfect shot?), and videographers.

I am also of the opinion, however, that most qualified divers should learn to be Self-Sufficient Divers. All of us could benefit by having the equipment available, and the skills necessary to respond to an emergency without having to rely on a buddy that may or may not be able, or willing, to assist us. The PADI Self-Reliant Diver course will help you achieve those skills. In the course you will learn about equipment redundancy, self rescue, gas planning requirements, and self-reliant dive planning, amongst other things. This is a class that has some strict prerequisites, but if you have earned an Advanced Diver certification, and can show that you have at least 100 logged dives, then you are probably good to go, just call the shop for more information. Maybe the next time you are called upon to buddy up with someone you don’t know, you will be confident in knowing that you have the equipment and skills to be a better buddy and also be Self-Reliant?

Have fun, be safe!