This is Why Scuba Divers Enter the Water Backward

Ever wonder why sometimes scuba divers roll backward off of the side of a boat? Different entry methods can keep you safe when you enter the water in different conditions. While it might look strange to see a diver enter the water backward, sometimes it’s the best option.

Scuba divers enter the water backward to keep their body protected when hitting the water. Their equipment hits the surface first. It also keeps the tank and BCD from being pulled away from the diver’s body when hitting the water. Backwards entry is often used when stepping off the rear isn’t possible.

Every diving scenario is different, and some dives are better than others in certain circumstances. Read on for more on why divers enter the water backward and for more information on water entry methods. 

Why Enter the Water Backward When Scuba Diving? 

The oldest joke in diving goes like this:

Why do scuba divers dive backward in the water?

Because if they fell forwards, they would still be in the boat!

The real reasons why a diver enters the water backward:

  • It’s easier on the body than entering facing forward. 
  • Also, while there are many different ways to enter the water, this dive, called the back roll, backward roll, or back entry, is recommended when you’re diving from a small boat as it keeps the boat more stable (KooXDiving).
  • The backward dive is particularly safe when you don’t have a steady platform to jump from because it doesn’t require balance.
  • Entering the water, even from close to the surface, can put a lot of strain on a diver when they’re geared up in heavy scuba equipment. The backward roll keeps your body from absorbing the shock of hitting the water.
  • The backward roll also allows divers to keep control of their equipment as they enter the water.

Advantages of the Back Roll

The back roll has its perks, besides it being safe, that make learning this move worth it. Here are some big advantages:

  • Staying seated lowers the platform or boat’s center of gravity, keeping it from rocking unnecessarily as you dive.
  • The back roll prevents a belly-flop situation as you enter the water, which can misplace your gear and fill your mask with water. A belly-flop might also painfully slap your mask against your face.
  • The back roll requires less movement, which isn’t the easiest thing when you’re wearing 30 pounds of scuba equipment.
  • Walking and entering the water in scuba gear is far harder than performing a backward roll.
  • The backward roll is easier than other techniques to learn.

(The Coastal Side

How to Dive into the Water When Scuba Diving

In short, the diver performs the backward dive after being fully outfitted in her equipment. This move requires the diver to face the boat/platform with their back against the water, their chin tucked, and their legs together. The diver leans back and gently rolls into the water. 

Diving into the water when you’re scuba diving can be nerve-wracking, especially for beginners. The back roll technique, in particular, looks intimidating. It doesn’t help that it’s not very intuitive to let yourself fall backward. However, once you get used to the experience, it’ll be your preferred method of entry. Here’s a step-by-step explanation of this move:

1. Safety First: Safety Before, During, and After the Back Roll

Safety doesn’t just happen before a dive. Stay safe before, during, and after performing the backward roll by taking the proper measures. Here are a few things to remember:

Before the Back Roll

Make sure you are certified to dive. All divers need to be certified or need to dive with a certified diver. If you don’t do this, you won’t be covered by travel insurance. So if you do happen to hurt yourself on the way down, it won’t be covered by your plan.

Make sure you’re healthy enough to dive. Don’t dive if you’re not feeling great on that day or if you’ve come down with a cold or hangover.

Know who you’re diving with. Are you diving with trustworthy people? If you’re diving with a school, are they certified? If you’re feeling nervous about doing the back roll, having trustworthy, trained divers around you can put you at ease.

Communication is vital (read our guide) when diving. You should know how other divers plan on communicating with you above and under the surface. For instance, will a diver on the boat be waiting for a signal from you once you’re in the water? Do divers expect you to follow them below the surface? Know this before the dive.

Double-check that all your gear is ready for the dive. If you’re new to diving, make sure you ask any questions about your equipment before the dive.

Immediately Following the Back Roll

Know your limits. If you feel disoriented immediately following the jump, or you do happen to make a mistake and hurt yourself, speak up. Take a few moments to collect yourself and proceed as you feel comfortable.

If you descend quickly from a negative dive, remember that you cannot ascend at the same rate. Ascending too quickly can cause decompression sickness (eMed), also known as “the bends.” 

Remember not to hold your breath once you’re submerged. Holding your breath during a dive can cause an embolism (DAN), which can be life-threatening. Breath throughout the dive. 

Hours to Days After the Dive

After the dive is fully completed, you still should be on the lookout for some things. Debrief with your fellow divers on how things went and what you could have done differently to make your experience better.

Remember to properly put away your gear. Properly taking care of your gear can extend its lifespan. Also, remember that you’re dealing with pressurized tanks. Although they’re usually safe, you should still exercise precautions by properly handling them. Don’t leave it out for others to trip on.

If you aren’t feeling okay after a dive, let someone know. While it’s normal to feel “off” after a dive, if you have a headache, chest pain, belly pain, or tingling, don’t ignore it. Seek medical attention. 

“Don’t fly until at least 24 hours after a dive” (World Nomads). Because of the extra nitrogen in your system, you can develop decompression sickness from the plane depressurizing during a flight.

2. Know Where to Back Roll

The back roll is best performed on a small boat or, more commonly, a rigid hull inflatable boat (normally called a RIB). A RIB is a high performance, durable, unsinkable, but a lightweight inflatable boat that divers often use. The back roll is the best way to enter on this device because of its size, weight, and soft walls (Scuba Diver Mag).

When divers intend to back roll off a small boat or RIB, they should discuss a plan of how they want to enter the water before leaving shore to limit unnecessary movement or confusion once everyone is ready to dive.

Divers should always communicate with people in their environment and be aware of their surroundings to stay safe and avoid mistakes. Know who is already in the water before you yourself dive.

3. Performing the Back Roll Entry

This dive comes in handy when you don’t have a stable platform to dive from, and when you are close to the water surface. Say your jumping from a small boat or inflatable boat. To perform this entry:

  1. Put on all scuba equipment on the boat itself.
  2. Sit on the top edge of the boat with your tank behind you facing the water.
  3. Turn around and check behind you to make sure your diving area is clear of people or objects.
  4. Tuck your chin, hold on to your regulator and mask with one hand. Hold on to the back of your mask strap with the other.
  5. Bring your legs together while they’re bent at the knees.
  6. Lean back and fall into the water. Be gentle and let gravity do the work.
Scuba diving after backwards entry

Back Roll Diving Tips

While the back roll is an easier dive to perform, it still might take you a couple tries to nail it. Below are some things to consider if you’re trying to master this entry method.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before the Back Roll

Are you doing a positive or negative entry? A positive entry is when your BCD is filled while diving, so it brings you back to the surface while a negative entry is when your BCD is empty, allowing you to immediately descend (Dive Buddies). 

You should go for the negative entry if you want to take advantage of a strong current and descend immediately after entering the water. If you’re diving in a group, keep at their pace throughout the dive, so you don’t lose them.

Are you diving with others at the same time, or are you diving individually? If a group of divers finds a good current for diving, they might only have a few moments to enter using this current. If this is the case, rolling in a group all at once might be your best bet. Make sure everyone knows to wait for the proper signal before jumping so no one lands on each other.

Tips and Tricks to Nail the Backroll

There are a few tricks of the trade to mastering the backroll. Here are a few things to keep in mind about this technique if you want to become a master:

  • Know when it’s best to do a backroll. The backroll can be unsafe in certain conditions, like if you’re entering the water from a surface too far above the water.
  • Make sure your equipment is secure before diving.
  • Avoid hitting your head on the tank valve by tucking your chin in as you roll back.
  • Always swim away from the boat when doing a positive entry to make room for other divers.
  • When rolling, extend your legs, so they are straight to avoid hitting them on the side of the boat.

Back Roll Mishaps

Sometimes mistakes happen. The most common reason for diving-related injuries is human error (Private Scuba). Protect yourself from common mistakes you can make doing the back roll by referring to these pointers:

  • Check that your air is on. You won’t be able to breathe or inflate your BCD once you’re submerged if you forget to do this. If this happens, grab your buddy quickly and have them open the valve. It happens to the best of us. 10 feet down in Cozumel and my newly certified 16 yr old had to open my valve. I was focused too much on him on the boat.
  • Let yourself fall back. Don’t push or throw yourself back; this can put your feet over your head and disorient you as you enter.
  • Once submerged, swim away from the boat to give other divers space. 
  • Don’t forget to signal the captain that you’ve safely entered. 
  • Take care not to hit your head on your tank as you fall.
  • Wear a dive float or flag to stay visible as you dive.

When the Back Roll Isn’t an Option

There are many factors that determine what dive is going to be the best for your circumstances, like what surface you’re diving from and how much space you have to perform your entry. 

The backward roll isn’t your only option, and it isn’t always the safest either. Picking the right dive for your situation protects you and your equipment from damage. You’re going to need to answer the following questions about your surroundings before you can figure out what dive is right for you:

  • How deep is the water? The backward roll should only be done in deeper water; otherwise, you can make contact with the bottom or reef.
  • How high are you from the surface of the water? The backward roll should only be done when you are closer to the surface of the water. Performing the backward roll from higher above the water increases the risk of hitting the side of your platform on the way down or over-rotating.
  • Are you on a stable platform? If you’re on a stable platform, other jumps might be easier for you to perform (Padi).

Divers have other options for entering the water beside the backward roll. Below we will go over a few other methods of water entry, as well as when they should be performed, in more depth. 

1. Seated Entry

This dive is best when the water is too shallow to perform the giant stride entry or the back roll. It’s also good if you don’t have a steady platform, or your boat is too close to the surface of the water. This method is the best option for old or disabled divers (OK Divers Bali). To perform this entry:

  1. Put on all scuba equipment on the boat itself.
  2. Sit on the edge of the platform with your feet hanging over the edge.
  3. Gently push yourself up and away from the platform using your hands and slowly lower yourself into the water.

Note: Make sure not to hit yourself or your tank against the side of the boat when entering.

2. Giant Stride Entry

This entry is best when you have a stable platform and are too high to perform a back roll. To perform this entry:

  1. Put on all scuba gear on the boat itself.
  2. To avoid making a negative descent, inflate your buoyancy compensator (also known as a BCD).
  3. Stand on the edge of the diving platform so that only the balls of your feet are on it.
  4. Look forward, hold your mask and regulator in hand and take a big step forward.
  5. Once submerged, push yourself back to the surface by quickly bringing your legs back together. Signal to the boat that your entry was successful.

3. Shore Entry

Shore entry is the trickiest dive. It’s usually performed as a last resort. While shore entry is essentially walking into the ocean, it actually takes a bit of skill to master with your heavy scuba gear. To perform this entry:

  1. Walk backward slowly to enter the water. To avoid falling forward, make sure your tank is facing the water.
  2. Inflate your BCD.
  3. Once you are deep enough, submerge yourself fully into the water.

*Note: This entry is different depending on the shore. For a beach/surf shore, enter the water with your fins and regulator mask on. 

For a rocky shore, enter the water without your fins on. Have a friend help you put your fins on after you inflate your BCD; this is because your fins can become damaged from hitting the rocks. 

With a rocky shore entry, you’ll need to keep your hands free to steady yourself, so for this scenario, avoid carrying extra scuba equipment or accessories like cameras or lights/torches (Leisure Pro).

See the Dives in Action

Want to see the back roll entry perfected by a real person? Here is a video showing how to do the back roll step by step.

While the backward dive seems scary and complex, you’re actually choosing one of the safest and easiest dive methods when you make this move. If you go for the backward dive, be prepared, be safe, relax, and have fun!


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References:

https://www.okdiversbali.com/blog/how-scuba-divers-enter-water

https://www.kooxdiving.com/en/why-do-scuba-divers-dive-backward/

http://www.private-scuba.com/diving/lessons/tips/common-scuba-mistakes.html

https://www.scubadivermag.com/dive-like-a-pro-rib-diving/

https://www.worldnomads.com/travel-safety/worldwide/safe-scuba-diving

https://www.diversalertnetwork.org/emailView/landing/blogs/avoidAGE0818/index.html

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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