New divers are traditionally taught that everyone needs to dive with a buddy. The reasons cited for this wisdom range from: "They can help you if you have problem," to "You will have someone to enjoy your experience with." When one is gaining experience and growing one's comfort level this advice holds true with the condition that the person one buddys with, is competent, attentive and unselfish. However, and this takes many divers by surprise, as we gain experience, independent diving or going solo is still deeply frowned upon by a large number of instructors, dive operations and resorts. Unlike learning to fly - where solo flights are part of the certification process - this segment of our industry consider diving too dangerous to enjoy on one's own.
Scuba Diving International was the first major certifying agency to see that this made little sense and that a structured course on solo diving had a place in an experienced diver's toolkit.
Why did we create a course that at first glance seems to fly in the face of convention? Well, as an experienced diver one soon learns that - among other issues - too many divers in the water cause fish to swim away, thus making one of the main reasons we dive disappear with them. As a matter of fact, most professional underwater photographers will tell you that they never dive with a buddy because the buddy only disturbs the marine life they are trying to take photos of.
Furthermore by the time we've logged just a few dozen dives, many of us have already experienced "bad buddy syndrome." BBS is that unnerving situation where - through no fault of our own except turning up for a dive without a companion — we have been saddled with someone whose sole intention seems to be making our day a miserable fiasco. The shape that misery takes may be bumbling incompetence: "Hey, is this hose supposed to be missing a breathing thing!" Or we may be teamed with the "same ocean / same day" type of buddy who seems visibly surprised and a little put out when we stay within sight of him during the dive. Of course, the misery may be more intense... like the time we learned too late that our newly assigned companion expects his dive buddies to be a hybrid nursemaid / lifeguard / gear sherpa and travel consultant. Regardless which of its many possible forms BBS takes, its outcome is usually the same: general frustration and a creepy feeling that being buddies with this person has increased the degree of unmanageable risk rather than lessening it.
Your SDI solo diver specialty course has been designed to teach you a series of skills and procedures to help you counteract Bad Buddy Syndrome and get a very firm handle on its attendant risks and how best to manage them... and of course, the card you earn, should you pass this course, is increasingly recognized around the globe as qualification to dive independently outside the traditional buddy system and marks you as an exceptionally skilled and knowledgeable diver.
That said, we should be clear: Solo diving does not mean diving in a vacuum and ignoring commonly held conventions about dive safety, nor is it a license to ignore the rules of charter operators, marine and private parks. Most of all perhaps, solo certification does not mean that we think it's OK to abandon an assigned buddy at the first opportunity, or turn your back on a buddy in need of assistance.
We feel that solo diving and certification in this technique is a natural progression for many divers who find themselves wanting to enjoy the peace and freedom offered by self-reliant diving or who find they must dive with buddies whose skill level and overall lack of awareness makes them a poor port of call in an emergency.
In addition, many of the divers who have earned an SDI Solo Diver card actually dive with a buddy but prefer to be self-suffi-cient with regard to all but the most unlikely emergency situations. This is a particularly common reason cited when an experienced diver dives with friends who have lesser skills and experience. The solo diver's friend has them as a buddy while the solo certified diver can function without troubling their less experienced buddy if things go pear-shaped.
Good luck in your SDI specialty course. Its goal is to make you a better, more rounded diver.
SDI, Spring 2007
This manual uses a variety of symbols to identify the type of information you will be reading. These include:
The Key Concept symbol identifies information that is essential to your understanding of how to safely and effectively become a Solo diver.
Learn by Example
Following many of the step-by-step procedures described in this manual, you will find a practical example of how these procedures are applied. These are identified by the Learn by Example symbol.
At the end of each chapter, you'll find questions that test your knowledge of what you have previously read. These are identified by the Scuba IQ Review symbol.
The Caution symbol identifies information that may be critical to your health, safety and well being.
Acting Outside the Buddy System
In this chapter, you'll learn about:
• Why the Buddy System's basic logic is flawed
• Risk Management and its role in dive planning
• Solo divers make good buddies too
• When and where solo diving is not recommended
Buddy System Has Basic Flaws
Since the very first scuba certifications were offered back in the Stone Age, teaching new divers the sanctity and infallibility of the buddy system has been mandatory fare. The message is that the buddy system is proven safe and one must dive in buddy pairs if one wishes to dive safely. But there are several logical flaws to this absolute rule.
To begin with, the overarching assumption is that both divers are well matched in experience and orientation, and equally capable of helping each other. Sadly, this is rarely the case when one dives with a randomly assigned buddy, and the usual outcome is that the more experienced diver acts as an unpaid instructor for her less experienced dive mate. This constitutes a wonderful bonus for the new diver, but in the event of a real emergency the inexperienced diver probably cannot offer appropriate assistance to his more experienced buddy without compromising his safety as well as that of his stricken buddy.
Another point to consider, given the cost of charters, price of gas driving to and from the dive site, lunch and a nitrox fill, is that if experienced divers take their responsibilities random buddy sweepstakes seriously, their dive is unlikely to be the recreational experience they signed up for. Essentially, the more experienced buddy is paying for the privilege of coaching a perfect stranger, and probably doing so for no thanks at all.
The second flaw in the buddy pair logic is that the ONLY perfect team is two people and this configuration is easy for newbie divers to work within right from dive one. This is simply untrue. A two-person team IS one of many configurations that CAN work but it is not intuitive to a newbie diver and requires skills that are by no means innate and that are seldom drilled thoroughly enough to stick in today's diver-training classes.
The buddy system has become a crutch for many divers, rather than the safety net it was designed to be
Technical divers whose exposures are typically longer, deeper and altogether more complex than a traditional recreational dive find that the optimal size for a dive team is three people or more... they refer to this as having redundant buddies... and the benefits of this team configuration in real emergencies are legion. However, effective communications in multi-person technical teams requires that each team member enjoys a degree of awareness that allows them to expand their attention to things more than an arm's length beyond their body... the typical attention zone for many divers untrained in this type of diving. Each team member is also a capable and self-sufficient diver who would be able to complete the dive on a contingency plan without relying on any of those buddies if something separates them. In short, they have taken the time to develop and perfect skills that counter the most common instances of equipment failure and operational "malfunctions." Well-trained solo divers do the same thing.
Early dive training programs adopted the idea of a two-person buddy system because it made a lot of sense at the time since scuba gear was far less reliable then than it is today, and things like SPGs and BCDs were concepts for a future generation of divers. However, those pioneer divers were taught to be self-sufficient. Courses were tougher and more focused on water skills than today's typical certification class. Unfortunately, as equipment and training have evolved, the buddy system has become a crutch for many divers, rather than the safety net it was designed to be.
Solo divers are self-sufficient.
Solo divers understand their limitations.
Solo divers plan dives in great detail.
Solo divers have skills that translate well to buddy diving.
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