Your dive buddies are your most important pieces of dive gear. They back up your brains and hands underwater, and if you’re lucky, they’ll help out with gas and pick up a dinner tab from time to time. You need a buddy, and you should always dive with one, but occasionally it’s nice to be able to dive independently, assured by the knowledge that you have the skills and equipment to take care of your own emergencies. For example, you might get separated from your buddy, wind up paired with a stranger on a dive boat, or your buddy could be busy taking photos and you don’t want to waste dive time waiting for him. PADI has a new specialty course designed for divers like you… Self-Reliant Diver.
Self-Reliant diving is a collection of skills and attitudes that allow a diver to undertake certain kinds of dives alone or with limited buddy support. Self-reliant divers use redundant gear, such as two cutting tools, two computers, two masks, redundant breathing systems, redundant lights, and so forth. Just having the gear and jumping into the water with it is only part of the story. Self-Reliant diving is about discipline as much as anything else. Because you have limited or zero support from a buddy, dive planning and correct execution of the plan are critical. There can be no shortcuts taken in planning or gearing up, or technique.
Who should take this course?
Even if you never plan to dive alone, being able to safely handle your own emergencies certainly is a valuable set of skills to have. It will make you more confident, you’ll be safer overall and more relaxed in the water as a result. There are several diving situations in which separation from your buddy is likely or planned or in which you may want to rely on your own skills rather than those of your buddy.
- The travelling diver. If you find yourself by yourself on a boat full of divers, and get paired up with a random buddy, it’s comforting to know that you are able to take care of yourself rather than rely on a stranger’s skills for rescue.
- Parents diving with children. When we dive with our children, we’re watching out for them in a big way, but who’s watching out for us? * Photographers and videographers. If you’re shooting video, you may not want the sounds of your buddy’s bubbles to get recorded, so the urge is to shoo him away. Whether you’re shooting video or stills, it takes a pretty devoted buddy to stick with you while you fiddle with your camera’s settings to get just the right shot of that sea horse. Better you and your buddy be trained as Self-Reliant Divers so you can take care of yourselves and check in on each other from time to time.
- Wreck Divers and Drift Divers. Both of these diving activities have a high likelihood of buddy separation. Being self-reliant changes being separated from your buddy from an emergency into a manageable situation.
- Divemasters, Assistant Instructors, and Instructors. When we’re underwater, we’re focused on our students. Their safety is our Number One concern, and we’re ready to help out at a moment’s notice. However, we pros need to be self-reliant so that we don’t have to count on the skills of a trainee in case of an emergency.
- Technical Divers. Team diving is a big concept in the world of technical diving, but every technical diver starts each dive prepared to finish the dive alone if needed.
I think this course is a great idea, and I’m glad that PADI introduced it, but there are several kinds of dives that should probably never be done alone, such as dives into an overhead environment, or any dive that is a “pinnacle” dive for you – your deepest, longest, or first dive under conditions that are new or difficult.
Gear for Self-Reliant diving doesn’t differ too much from what you’re using as a recreational diver, there’s just more of it. You’ll need:
- Surface Marker Buoy with at least 100 feet of line
- Redundant depth gauge and bottom timer, or redundant computer
- Redundant signaling devices, both visual and audible
- Redundant cutting tools Wrist slate and pencil
To take the course, you’ll need a PADI Advanced Open Water certification (or equivalent), 100 logged dives, and you have to be at least 18 years old.
During the knowledge development portion of the course, we’ll cover dive planning in detail, including teaching you how to determine your Surface Air Consumption (SAC) rate, so that you can later go take air consumption measurements to calculate it. We’ll also cover how to use your SAC rate to calculate gas requirements for a dive planned to a specified depth and time. You’ll learn to plan your dive so that you begin your ascent with a sufficient breathing gas reserve to ascend safely and to allow for the unforeseen. Underwater problem-solving is also a focus area. Mask issues, air supply problems, entanglements, currents, getting lost, BCD malfunctions are all items that will be covered.
Once we’re in the water, you’ll do three dives. Some of the skills are:
- Buoyancy control
- SAC rate gas consumption measurements
- SMB use
- Respond to simulated air depletion and regulator free-flow
Your third dive will actually be a fully self-reliant dive. You’ll be in the water with your instructor and the rest of the class, but you’re expected to handle all aspects of dive planning and execution completely on your own. The rest of us will back you up if needed, but the name of the game for this dive is Self-Reliance and Self-confidence.
When you finish the PADI Self-Reliant Diver course, you will have come a long way and learned a lot about diving and about yourself. You’ll be more confident, and you’ll truly be able to take care of yourself in the underwater environment.
See you soon ~ underwater, but you won’t need me… you’ll be Self-Reliant!