Scuba diving is a very social sport, to the point where you are not supposed to even go scuba diving without a buddy. But have you ever thought about why? Your dive buddy is effectively a second set of everything and most importantly eyes and hands. Yes, they have extra air that you can breathe but you can just bring a second tank of air right? One thing you cannot bring with you by yourself is something that can see a leak or an entanglement behind you and fix it for you. Diving with a buddy is great.
Self-reliance is less about “hey I fancy a dive, and off you go” it is more about serious planning and organisation so that if the worst should happen, you have considered it and have a contingency. This all starts before you leave your home.
What does it mean to be a more Self-Reliant diver?
Bring lots of Everything
Ideally, you would have a spare everything, but that is not practical so you need to bring redundant backups for the most important things. Bring a spare mask, if you cannot see then you are going to have a rubbish safety stop on the way back to the surface. Bring spare cutting devices and torches because you will never cut through fishing line with your bare hands and finding an exit to a shipwreck in pitch black is not fun.
The worst thing about being caught in an entanglement and not being able to free yourself is knowing that you have a cutting device on you, but you just cannot reach it. Advanced divers will have cutting devices positioned so that they are accessable via either hand so they can always reach at least one and a point to note – not all cutting devices cut all lines.
If it is just a single strand of fishing line then any cutting device will cut through that, thicker lines and nets will require a serrated edge. You can waste a lot of time trying to cut through a mass of netting with a tiny line cutter, so bring the right tool and bring a backup if you drop that one.
Your dive torch is great and is probably one of the most multi-purpose pieces of kit that you can take with you on a dive. You can see what you are looking at in the dark, you can communicate with other divers and if the ambient light shifts like when you enter a shipwreck, then you do not have to wait for your eyes to adjust.
Your torch is not just for seeing things in the dark, it is also so that you can be seen in the dark, a backup torch and other signalling devices are a must when diving by yourself.
Bring lots of gas
If you do not know what your SAC rate is, or even what a SAC rate is, best that you learn what your SAC rate? Knowing how much gas you breathe can help you work out how long a given amount of gas will last so you can better plan a dive and make sure that you have enough gas to get out of the water.
Also, consider; what if something goes wrong during the dive? If you only have one tank and one regulator then if any part of that equipment fails your nearest air supply is the surface. On many dives you cannot just swim up to the surface on a single lungful you have to do a safety stop so self-reliant divers will almost definitely dive with a redundant air supply.
Check you gear
It is rare that your dive kit will fail in your kit bag before your dive, if it is going to fail, it is going to fail at the worst possible time and so many faults and incidents can be avoided by noticing that “this nut is loose” or “that valve is not open all the way”.
Build up your own personal checklist or go through one of the hundreds of already tried and tested checklists out there.
Your body also needs to be checked from time to time because while diving can be an easy, relaxing sport it can also be testing at times. Heart problems are standing out as a big contributing factor to scuba diving incidents so it is worth going to your local dive doctor and booking a diver medical. They put you through your paces and test your heart and lung functions, eyesight and hearing, all sorts but if they can diagnose an underlying heart condition it is definitely worth a couple hours of your time.
Practice your skills
You do not want the first time you experience rope or fishing line in the water to be when you are diving alone. The same goes for out of air scenarios and a lost mask, you want to practice worst-case scenarios in a safe place so you have the muscle memory and airway control to fix the problem at hand in the correct order. With the right practice and comfort in these scenarios, you can get yourself out of a tight situation.
In a safe environment practice mask removal and replacement, air switching drills and anything that you can think of to make sure that you are calm and collected if something fails.
If you know the theory behind something, that is great, but actually doing that thing can be very hard especially when you are stressed, alone and “urgh, I have never actually done this with gloves on”. So you need to practice these things so you are not surprised or come across a learning gradient that you cannot manage when you are all alone.
So most of being a better self-reliant diver is about preparation, pre-dive checks and just bringing spares. There is plenty more to being a self-reliant diver so do not just strap on a second everything and think you can dive alone if you want to then check out the proper solo diver course with your Instructor but until then, maybe think about your kit and what could go wrong during a dive.