Solo Scuba Diving: 7 Essential Rules To Follow

Scuba diving is a special sport that lets you explore parts of this world that most humans will never get to see. From being up close and personal with marine life and exploring underwater cave networks to traversing sunken ships, scuba diving is an adventurer’s dream that attracts people around the world. Being one of the most dangerous sports in the world, all divers are taught to follow the buddy system. But is the buddy system required for all divers? 

What are the essential rules that solo scuba divers must follow? There are several things you must consider if you want to be a solo diver:

  • Take the PADI Self Reliant Course.
  • You must be in good physical shape.
  • You must be a competent, self-reliant diver. 
  • Always bring additional 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.

Despite the dangers, new divers are racing to the seas every year to experience a world you’ll never see on land. A simple google search can provide you with a list of horror stories about solo dives and buddy dives alike that have ended in tragedy. But as with all things, safety is the absolute key. With 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?

Can you scuba dive by yourself? The truth is, 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 SEO-reliant even if you always plan on diving with a partner.

7 Essential Rules to Follow with Solo Scuba Diving

There are a few factors that can produce a desire for someone to become a solo diver. They range from personal to professional, and no matter what category an individual may find themselves in, they all must learn the essentials of solo scuba diving.

1. 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 be able to perform all entry-level skills in a deliberate, calm manner under conditions you’d normally experience without help.

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:

  • Entries and exits appropriate to the dive area: The method you use to enter and exit the water heavily depends on the environment and physical limitations of the dive location. Whether you’re entering and exiting on a boat or on the shore, it’s important that you are familiar with the conditions that apply to the area you’re diving in. Normally in groups that have a divemaster, there’s an extensive briefing on the area, but solo divers must already have a plan that reflects the area’s conditions.
  • Mask and regulator clearing: 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. Successful solo scuba divers always perform pre-dive and post-dive checks before and after every dive. 
  • Out-of-air emergency responses: Every scuba diver’s worst nightmare is running out of air underwater. This is the most common diving incident and the number one cause of diving-related fatalities. Without a buddy, you’ll have no one to share air with, so make sure you’re taking every measure to prevent this circumstance. We’ll cover extra air redundancies later in this article.
  • Buoyancy control: Buoyancy is the ability to seamlessly float in the water. Pinpoint buoyancy control is a fundamental skill in every scuba diver’s arsenal. Being able to control your body underwater without using extra energy is essential, and it’s not as easy as it sounds. With practice, efficient buoyancy control can become second nature to the experienced diver.
  • Removal and replacement of scuba unit and weights: 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 flawlessly 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. Do not panic; every second is precious. Adjust your mind to be set on self-rescue. Sometimes the smallest action, such as ditching your weights, can be the difference between drowning and survival. 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 are self-reliant and competent in the sport. Practicing good safety habits and committing yourself to master the basic entry-level skills are essential. Mastering these skills will sharpen your reaction time for when an emergency occurs, and it will make even make you a better diving buddy.

2. Stay in Diving Shape

There’s a reason that SDI requires a signed medical release that confirms your physical condition. Scuba diving, amazing and wonderous as it is, is a physically demanding sport that requires full bodily function. 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 effects it induced. For example, your fever may have passed, and the cough is gone, but it will still take extra time for congestion in the chest to clear. You don’t want to jump into the water before you’re able to breathe deeply again. It may leave you feeling starved for air, and this can lead to panic.

It’s good practice to get regular medical examinations to determine if you’re still in diving shape, especially for middle-aged divers. This simple money and time investment can prevent a fatal scuba incident, and it’s a big favor to yourself and those who care about you.

3. 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 rigorous 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 even mild conditions, then consider diving at that site with an experienced buddy.

4. 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, the worst thing that can happen to you underwater is running out of air. 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. 

Another good guideline to stick by is to limit your solo dive to a depth less than that from which you’ve successfully performed a controlled emergency swimming ascent. This way, should an emergency arise, you’ll know that even without air, you can confidently make it back to the surface.

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. Because of this, your underwater distance from the exit point should not be greater than the distance you can confidently swim in full scuba gear at the surface. 

5. Bring Extra Air Supplies

What if you happen to lose track of time, and you run out of air? As a solo diver, you won’t have a buddy around to help, so you need to prepare for this worst-case scenario. Make sure you bring a completely redundant air supply. 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. For this reason, divers often chose to use alternative air sources, otherwise known as “bailout cylinders.”
  • 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. You get the air through a rubber scuba mouthpiece, and it provides up to 50 breaths.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.

6. 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 intimately 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. Every site comes with its own set of emergency procedures; you’ll need to know each one. 

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. Even if it gets cumbersome, that line is your only exit guide. Never compromise safety for the thrill of adventure.

7. 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.


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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#page-4

https://www.scubadiving.com/training/basic-skills/10-ways-save-your-life

https://dtmag.com/25th-anniversary-vintage-articles/solo-diving-perspectives-going-alone/

https://www.divein.com/guide/solo-diving/

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. Click the photo for a lot more.

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