Solo diving

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Solo diving is the practice of scuba diving alone without a "dive buddy". Solo diving, once discouraged by most training agencies, is accepted since the late 1990s[1] by some training agencies for experienced divers who have skills in self-sufficiency and redundant backup equipment.

Solo diving is a practice which has occurred throughout the history of scuba diving but was considered by some certification agencies to be unacceptably dangerous, and the practice of buddy diving has been recommended as a mitigation of the solo diving risks. However buddy diving brings its own set of risks and inconveniences, and some divers elect to dive solo to avoid these problems.


Solo diving, once considered technical diving and discouraged by most certification agencies, is now seen by many experienced divers and some certification agencies[1] as an acceptable practice for those divers suitably trained and experienced.[2] Rather than relying on the traditional buddy diving safety system, solo divers have to be self-sufficient and willing to take responsibility for their own safety while diving.[1] The first training agency to offer a Solo Diving certification was Scuba Diving International (SDI) in 1999. In 2011, the Scuba training agency PADI started offering a solo specialty called "Self-Reliant Diver," which in many respects (entry requirements, for example) is very similar to the course offered by SDI.

Reasons for solo diving[edit]

Some divers, such as instructors, are effectively acting as self-sufficient solo divers because they dive with students who may not yet be capable of rescuing them. Others, such as underwater photographers and videographers, dive solo as this allows them a greater opportunity to focus on capturing selected images and not having to rely on buddies to remain close at hand. Even those photographers or videographers who do dive with buddies are often effectively "same ocean" buddies, implying they may be far enough apart physically, or sufficiently focused on their camera-related tasks, to be ineffective as a designated dive buddy—just as if they were diving in the same ocean, but not together. This practice has led to many highly-experienced underwater photographers diving solo, since they don't commit to provide timely support to a buddy nor expect such support from a buddy. Underwater hunters also often elect to dive solo in order to focus on their prey.

Buddy availability[edit]

Solo divers don't need to work around a buddy's diving schedule.

Avoiding liability[edit]

Many divers will dive in a buddy pair if diving with a known and trusted buddy but otherwise dive solo in preference to being paired up with a potentially unreliable, incompetent, or otherwise dangerous partner. In the United States, the added danger of becoming a respondent in litigation in the event of a diving accident with such a "dangerous buddy" is a motivation to dive alone.[3]

Personal preference[edit]

The possible impression that solo divers are unsociable is often wrong. Most solo divers are normally gregarious and want to share their enjoyment of diving with others – they just want to do it when they get to the surface. The solitude they want to enjoy is during the dive. These solo divers take pleasure in this solitude and in the feeling of self-sufficiency for this style of diving, that one is not dependent on others, but is relying solely on ones own skills and capabilities. Finally, there is the sense of freedom, of not being impeded by the need to look after anyone but oneself and therefore being able to achieve ones own goal in the dive without compromising.[4]

Special interests[edit]

There are divers who enjoy specific underwater activities but are unable to find anyone who shares the specific interest sufficiently to dive with them, and where the activity is incompatible with a less than dedicated buddy. The option of simply not diving is not a solution, as the diver is then almost permanently prevented from pursuing the interest. Diving with buddies who get bored or tired quickly also does not lead to enhanced enjoyment for either party. When the underwater activity is of interest only to one person, diving solo is the only option that allows the activity to be undertaken.

Training and equipment[edit]

Safe solo divers must be self-sufficient, well trained, prepared and practised.[2] They should have a completely redundant set of all life support equipment (e.g. a complete, self-contained backup breathing gas supply). In addition, the responsible solo divers adhere to a very conservative dive profile, both in depth and level of difficulty. Unlike the buddy system, which encourages divers to rely on others in the event of an emergency, solo diving encourages divers to prepare themselves to overcome emergencies by their own means. The divers who engage in solo diving are typically those who are experienced and equipped enough to handle problems themselves. Solo divers must feel totally comfortable and relaxed in doing this sort of diving, and nobody should ever think of doing diving solo if they are not both competent and comfortable in doing so.

Qualifications for formal solo diving training as provided by SDI emphasises the need for experience and maturity in diving. In particular the student pre-requisites for the solo diving certification course are:

  • A minimum age of 21 years
  • A minimum certification of SDI/PADI Advanced Diver (or equivalent)
  • Proof of a minimum of 100 logged open water dives.
  • Depending on the country – a certificate of medical fitness

The student must have an acceptable alternative air configuration, redundant gauges and/or computers, SMB and reel, compass, and (depending on training centre) signaling device and line cutting device. During the course tests are conducted on swimming skills and swimming endurance, scuba skills associated with solo diving (e.g. use of redundant air), navigation skills and dive planning skills (including air management).

Certifications in solo diving[edit]

Hazards and their mitigation[edit]

While there are potential hazards involved with solo diving, most of these can be planned for and mitigated by the proper use of redundant equipment. In technical diving, where redundancy is standard, self-sufficiency is emphasised and taught more extensively.[citation needed] In many situations if a diver has a problem, other divers (e.g. their buddy) may not have sufficient gas to complete the dive for both.[clarification needed] This is especially true of cave diving where stressful situations can significantly increase gas consumption and where decompression may be required, adding to the problems of sharing breathing gas.[citation needed] A solo diver operating beyond the range for acceptable risk for a controlled emergency swimming ascent needs to carry a second, independent source of suitable breathing gas, which includes a regulator and preferably a submersible pressure gauge. This emergency gas supply typically takes the form of a pony bottle for recreational solo divers, or a twin tank set with the capability of independent operation of each tank, for more demanding or for technical diving. Additional equipment carried may include a backup dive computer, a backup dive light and a backup dive mask.[citation needed] The diver must be familiar with the equipment configuration used and be able to access the equipment easily if it is needed. A solo diver needs to be particularly aware of overall personal fitness and health and the limitations it may impose on their ability to manage an emergency.[citation needed] Finally, the solo diver typically dives a much more conservative dive plan than he/she might dive with an equally competent buddy diver.[citation needed]

As part of mitigating risks in solo diving the following specific practices have been adopted by SDI for solo diving or are key recommendations by Robert Von Maier—author of the 1991 book Solo Diving: The Art of Underwater Self-Sufficiency:

  • All solo diving is to be done within recreational dive limits (no deep, decompression, penetration, or rebreather dives while solo).
  • No dives which push one’s personal experience limits are ever to be undertaken while solo
  • No solo dives are to be undertaken in areas where there are known hazards of entanglement/entrapment[9]
  • Solo dives will only be undertaken to depths at which bailout carries an acceptable level of risk, the appropriate equipment is carried, and where the relevant bailout procedures have been practiced successfully by the diver.
  • The solo diver's maximum distance to point of exit (shore, boat) will never exceed a distance that can be easily and comfortably swum at the surface in full scuba gear – and the diver will maintain and exercise his/her navigational practices in solo dives to insure that this is the case.

Risk assessment[edit]

There has been much controversy over the relative safety and merits of solo diving. In 2003, very few statistics existed regarding the impact of solo diving on safety.[10] A 2006 report from the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) concluded that "BSAC currently takes the view that based on evidence from available statistics and risk assessment, the increased risk attendant to allowing planned solo diving is unacceptable".[11] The data underlying the statistics which are used to point to the dangers of solo diving are dubious however. For example, divers who end up dying alone but originally had started out as part of a buddy pair are often considered to be "diving solo" in such statistics.

In actuality, studies show that with buddy diving death incidents, 57% of deaths happened after the buddy pair had separated from one another during the emergency. Again, these cases should be more rightly attributed to failure of the buddy system rather than failure of any solo diving/self sufficient diving system.[12] A further complication in such statistics is that certain more dangerous diving practices (e.g. cave diving) are frequently carried out solo. Therefore it is a question whether a death in such a dive should be attributed at all to solo diving, instead of just to cave diving. Going back to the figures used by BSAC to categorise solo diving as dangerous it turns out that during 2001–2008 all but one of these "solo diving deaths" were in actuality paired buddy divers that became separated in the fatal incident (75%) or else were divers diving far outside of the limits set by both SDI and PADI for the practise of solo diving (20%) (i.e. actually deep divers, rebreather tech-divers, cave divers).[13] Two further "solo-diving deaths" were in actuality not scuba divers at all, but snorkelers.

In almost all circumstances, two highly competent, totally self-sufficient divers diving a specific dive profile as a buddy pair are at lower risk than those same two divers diving exactly the same profile separately, but this raises the question "how often do normal buddy divers both really fit into this particular description?" When considering the risks in solo diving the alternative risks found predominantly in buddy diving need also be considered. The greatest danger to sports divers is inexperience – 60% of all diving fatalities involve divers having less than 20 completed dives.[14] The buddy system itself can be a source of risk – a 2006 survey showed that 52% of buddy divers were at some time actually endangered by a buddy's behaviors or actions.[15]

Self sufficiency[edit]

The core objective in training to be a solo diver is to become as self-sufficient and self-reliant as possible, to be able to deal with any reasonably foreseeable problems without assistance, and to have the competence, fitness, discipline, skills and equipment that will achieve this result. This requires competence at risk-assessment and the ability to plan dives and select equipment that limit the risks. An additional benefit of these disciplines is that they will improve the safety of buddy diving whenever the competent solo diver pairs up with another diver in a buddy team by reducing the risk of the second diver being exposed to an emergency which they may not be capable of managing. Agencies training solo divers also recommend the self-sufficiency training in their courses for all divers as their diving experience grows, so as to achieve greater safety in all diving—buddy and solo.[16]


  1. ^ a b c Lewis, Steve. SDI Solo Diver Manual. Scuba Diving International. 
  2. ^ a b von Maier, R (2002). Solo Diving, 2nd Edition: The Art of Underwater Self-Sufficiency. Aqua Quest Publications. p. 128. ISBN 1-881652-28-9. 
  3. ^ Coleman, Phyllis G. (2008). "Scuba Diving Buddies: Rights, Obligations, and Liabilities". University of San Francisco Maritime Law Journal 20 (1). Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  4. ^ Von Maier, Solo Diving, Chapter 6: "Opinions", Watersport Publishing, 1991, ISBN 0-922769-13-3
  5. ^ Staff. "The blue world solo diver". Diving Instructor World Association. Retrieved 30 September 2013. 
  6. ^ Staff. "Solo Diver course". Scuba Diving International. Retrieved 30 September 2013. 
  7. ^ Staff (2010). "IANTD Self-Sufficient Diver (OC, SCR, CCR)". IANTD Tek Lite Programs. IANTD. Retrieved 2 May 2016. 
  8. ^ Staff (2016). "PADI Self-Reliant Diver". Distinctive Specialty Courses. Professional Association of Diving Insructors. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  9. ^ Gurr, Kevin: Technical Diving from the Bottom Up, 2002, Periscope Publishing, p. 19., ISBN 1-904381-20-0
  10. ^ Caruso, JL; Uguccioni, DM; Ellis, JE; Dovenbarger, JA; Bennett, Peter B (2003). "Buddy versus solo diving in fatal recreational diving accidents". Undersea Hyperbaric Medicine (Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society) 30 (1 supplement). ISSN 1066-2936. OCLC 26915585. Retrieved 2008-07-23. 
  11. ^ BSAC. "BSAC Talk - Solo Diving". Retrieved 2011-06-04. 
  12. ^ Edmonds, Carl, Diving Medicine for Scuba Divers, 3rd Edition 2010, Chapter 34: Why Divers Die, ISBN 978-0-646-52726-0
  13. ^ Powell, Mark (Dive-Tec); Seminar: Dive 2011 Birmingham, "Solo Diving—Coming out of the Closet", Oct. 2011
  14. ^ Elliot, D. and Bennett, 1993, Underwater Accidents, The Physiology and Medicine of Diving. 4th Edition, p. 240, W.B. Saunders
  15. ^ Coutanche, Andrew Philip (2006). "Does the buddy system really make recreational scuba diving any safer?" (PDF). Chilterns University College Thesis: 31. Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  16. ^ Scuba Diving International, SDI Solo Diving Manual, 2007 revised 2011, p. 13–18, ISBN 1-931451-50-8