Should you scuba dive solo? 7 Tips for diving alone

Scuba diving is a special sport that lets you explore parts of this world that most humans will never get to see. Scuba diving is an adventurer’s dream that attracts people around the world. But for full safety reasons, all divers are taught to follow the buddy system. Is there any wiggle room in the safety standards for scuba divers to do solo dives? 

You can do solo scuba dives if you have good experience and keep these things in mind:

  • Take the PADI Solo Self Reliant Course.
  • You must be in good physical shape.
  • You must be a competent, self-reliant diver. 
  • Always bring redundancies and an extra air supply. 
  • Thoroughly plan your dive and dive your plan. 
  • Know your limits and be honest with yourself.
  • Let a friend know your exact plans before you start out.

Scuba sometimes gets a bit of a reputation as a dangerous sport. But really, safety is the absolute key. The risks and dangers, while real, are also rarely experienced. With proper training, focus, and safety at the forefront of your mind, it’s possible to be a solo diver and experience the thrill only the ocean’s depths can offer.

Can You Scuba Dive By Yourself?

There are two things that all beginner scuba divers are taught right off the bat: never hold your breath, and always dive with a buddy. One of these rules is essential if you want to live. The other is widely debated with multiple pros and cons on each side. For good measure, we can confirm right here that you never want to hold your breath while scuba diving. But what about the adventurer who wants to take a solo dive?

Solo diving has been around since scuba diving first began, but it was not officially entered into the SDI’s (Scuba Diving International) certification roll until 1999. In order to qualify for an SDI solo diving course, you need to meet the following criteria: 

  • You must be at least 21 years old.
  • You must have logged at least 100 dives already.
  • You must have a signed medical release stating that you are in excellent medical condition at the time of the course.
  • You must be certified as an advanced diver.

As you can see, before you can even sign up for solo certification, there’s an extensive checklist that you’ll need to satisfy. But why would you want to take a solo dive? Even with a buddy, the risk is tremendous. Veteran divers who were known for their experience have met their tragic end underwater. But despite this, people are still willing to learn.

And many experienced divers have a saying: “every dive can become a solo dive.” You may lose your buddy at any time, and you need to learn to be self-reliant even if you always plan on diving with a partner.

7 Essential Rules to Follow with Solo Scuba Diving

There are a few reasons for someone to want to do solo dives. Maybe no one is available to pair up with. Perhaps you’ve found an area you’d like to explore on your own. Some people are also rugged individualists who like to spend time alone.

Be Self-Reliant

Learning to be a solo scuba diver forces you to learn self-reliance and total competence underwater. People who are certified in solo scuba diving often make for the best scuba diving buddies, as they are masters of the sport who are capable of tackling any challenges that may arise on their own.

Being self-reliant is a critical skill you should learn for life in general, but in scuba diving, it could be the difference between life and death. Before you even consider taking the SDI solo diving course, it is essential that you have an exceptional handle on principles of scuba, including the science and the practical aspects .

With a buddy, you have an extra set of eyes watching out for you. But when you are a solo scuba diver, you alone are responsible for your safety. Should any troubles arise, it will be up to you alone to handle them. Here are some skills that all scuba divers, solo or buddy, should master:

  • Plan your dive and dive your plan: The method you use to enter and exit the water heavily depends on the dive location and access to site. Normally in groups that have a divemaster, there’s an extensive briefing on the area, but solo divers will need to familiarize themselves with the dive site before setting off.
  • Keep gear in tip top condition: It’s essential to keep your gear in good condition. The last thing you want is for your gear to malfunction in the middle of a dive. Perform regular check-ups and maintenance on your gear to make sure it’s safe and ready to dive with. Divers always perform pre-dive and post-dive checks before and after every dive. 
  • Emergency responses: Running out of air happens occasionally. Without a buddy, you’ll have no one to share air with, so make sure you’re taking every measure to prevent this circumstance. But solo divers also need to be ready to handle sudden current and weather changes, wildlife encounters, and maybe even line tangles or accidents with structures or boats.
  • Complete gear handling skills: This is another essential that all beginners will learn. Certain BCDs (Buoyancy Control Device) may include an integrated weights system, while others will not. Familiarize yourself with the gear you’re using, and make sure you can quickly remove and replace them underwater without assistance.
  • Familiarity with self-rescue techniques: If you ever find yourself in an emergency situation, you must be competent enough to react immediately. Adjust your mind to be set on self-rescue. Practice self-rescue techniques often and commit them to second nature habits so that you can react appropriately when the time comes.

All solo scuba divers must be self-reliant and competent in the sport. Mastering basic and advanced skills will prepare you to handle unexpected minor and major occurrences.

Stay in Diving Shape

There’s a reason that SDI requires a signed medical release that confirms your physical condition. Scuba diving is a physically demanding sport. Maintaining proper diving shape is essential to solo and buddy divers alike, but if you’re striving to be solo, then it’s safety-critical to take care of yourself under and over the water.

Make sure you are eating well. Maintain regular exercise habits and get plenty of rest. Do whatever you can to avoid stressful situations and harmful habits. Nearly any pre-existing medical condition or health factor can compromise a diver’s safety. The goal underwater is to stay relaxed and in control of your breathing because your air is limited. If any of the following conditions apply to you, then scuba diving may not be the sport for you:

  • Obesity
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Breathing Difficulties
  • General Lack Of Fitness

Even mild colds and allergies should be taken seriously, as they can compromise a diver’s safety. When you’re underwater, you want complete focus on what you’re doing. Anything that compromises your ability to stay alert can be fatal in the middle of a dive. If you feel any of these conditions or any other illness on the day of your dive, then don’t hesitate to call it off. 

To understand why this is, read this 2018 report with statistics on scuba fatalities from the National Library of Medicine.

After you’ve recovered from the illness, you should still give your body extra time to recover from the lasting effects. We all know it takes a few days to get back to full strength even after minor illnesses. You don’t want to jump into the water before you’re able to breathe deeply again or tolerate the physicality.

It’s good practice to get regular medical examinations to determine if you’re still in diving shape, especially for middle-aged divers. Pilots, race car drivers, and other professionals are required to do this. As a physician myself, I strongly endorse the same for scuba divers.

Plan Your Dive, and Dive Your Plan

Every diver needs a clear plan, and if you’re a solo diver, then your plan will often be more detailed with extra considerations. Besides basic safety know-how, the most important factor to consider is that you stay within the limits of your diving experience and personal comfort zone. 

Take time to consider all environmental conditions. You may feel comfortable doing a solo dive at a particular site with perfect weather conditions, but those conditions are prone to change. If you don’t feel comfortable with any change in conditions, then consider diving at that site with an experienced buddy.

Set a Maximum Depth and Dive Time

Air management is the most important consideration you can make when you’re in the water. Know your maximum depth, and the amount of time you plan on being under the water. As we’ve stated above, running out of air does happen. In addition to the risk of drowning, performing a rapid panic ascent can also cause problems. Even veterans can lose track of time, so make sure you’re regularly monitoring your gauges.

A good planning guideline every diver should be familiar with is “the rule of thirds.” This rule states that the first third of your air supply is for the trip out, and the second third is for your trip back. The final and perhaps most important third is an emergency supply for unplanned circumstances that may arise. 

Keep in mind that getting to the surface is not the end of the line. You still need to get out of the water, and as a solo diver, nobody is going to help you. Be sure to plan to ascend close enough to your exit point that you have enough energy left to get out. Swimming underwater back to your entry point requires less energy than a surface swim.

There have also been occasions where surface conditions have changed while I was submerged, making it mandatory to use my tank to surface breath rather than my snorkel. For both of these reasons, that reserve air supply comes in handy.

Bring Extra Air Supply

Divers with enough experience to consider solo diving should be very familiar with their own air consumption rates and tendencies at various depths and in different conditions. Even then, an unexpected event that changes the plan mid-dive can change the air consumption.

Regulator first stage start leaking? You won’t notice this when diving alone. Current suddenly a little harder to swim against? Consumption will increase.

As a solo diver, you won’t have a buddy around to help, so you need to prepare for suddenly running out of air.

Make sure you bring a second source of air. Even if you never use it, you’ll still be glad to have it. Here are some examples of redundant air supplies you can use:

  • A second full-sized tank: Carrying a redundant full-sized tank will certainly save you if you find yourself in an emergency situation, but it can be cumbersome. It is possible to fully change a tank underwater with practice. A second tank can be dropped via line from boat or placed at a specific spot at the start of the dive.
  • Spare Air: Spare Air is the brand name given to the world’s smallest air replacement system. The air is packed in a small 8-12 inch tall aluminum tank. This is a popular option for new divers because it’s easy to use, and can be attached to your scuba tank. 
  • Pony Bottles: Pony bottles vary in size. They’re larger than Spare Air but smaller than standard scuba tanks. They’re meant o be an extension of your scuba set, and they have their own regulators and gauges. If you run out of air during a dive, then you simply attach your pony bottle to your main air supply via a connector and open the valve. They come in multiple sizes ranging from 6 to 40 cubic feet.

Every dive is different, and you’ll want to pick your redundant air supply accordingly. Spare Air and pony bottles are both refillable. Before adding them to your supply, though, you should practice and make sure you know how to use them properly. Spare air is good for beginners who plan on diving in shallow water, and pony bottles are good for experienced divers who plan on going deep and know how to efficiently change air supplies (read this post to learn how to do this.) Click the image below to check latest price and Amazon reviews.

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Know How to Navigate the Dive Site Ahead of Time

Make sure you’re familiar with the dive site. Ideally, a solo diver has previously explored the area they’re diving in with a buddy. They will be familiar with the details of that location, and their dive plan will reflect it.

If you’ve never dived at a particular location before, then jumping right in the water and going for a solo dive is not a good idea. In addition, dive sites often change with weather, current, and changing light. A familiar dive site will look completely different in murky water or at night.

If you plan on exploring an overhead environment such as an underwater cave network or a shipwreck, always attach a line to the outside. It’s easy to become disoriented and lose your way underwater, and multiple divers have lost their lives because they ran out of air while trying to find their way back. I would go so far as to recommend not doing penetration dives alone. There’s too many risks involved.

Know Your Limits

Everything we’ve discussed in this article can be simplified to knowing your limits. This applies to your physical condition, your knowledge of the dive site, and your competency as a diver. When it comes to scuba diving, the most important word you can learn is “practice.”

Know the limits of your training and keep your dive within those boundaries. You’ll learn a little bit more with each dive, and those limits will expand. Testing those boundaries are safe in groups when you have a buddy, but solo dives should be reserved for sites you have plenty of experience with.

Conclusion

Scuba diving is the only sport that allows us humans to experience a world our bodies weren’t naturally designed for. From observing marine life to exploring shipwrecks, it can be a wonderous escape from reality. Whether you’re a technical diver or a recreational diver, scuba diving is dangerous and should be approached with the utmost respect to its safety standards.

Solo scuba divers range from photographers and hunters to people who just want to experience the solitude that only the ocean depths can provide. Whatever your reasons for being a solo diver are, always make sure that you’re observing safe practices, and have fun! There’s a reason that people are passionate about the sport, and you can discover it too. To learn more about scuba diving, be sure to check out scuba diving.com.

Sources

https://www.scubadiving.com/training/ask-expert/ask-expert-solo-diving-ok-or-no-way

https://www.scubadiving.com/going-it-alone

https://www.scubadiving.com/training/lessons-life/lessons-life-solo-diver-never-resurfaces

https://www.scubadiving.com/training/basic-skills/4-reasons-divers-die

Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding, with wakeboards and kitesurfing the next challenges for my adult kids. Click the photo for a lot more.

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There are 2 rules that every trained scuba diver is taught:  never hold your breath and always dive with a buddy.  So, when is it safe to dive alone?  If you're going to attempt solo diving, here are 7 necessary rules to follow when doing so.