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Diving solo. Except for the photographer


Ryby Stonehouse

Much hullabaloo has been made in recent weeks about the launch of PADI’s new Self Reliant “SOLO” Diver Speciality course… and quite rightly so, it goes against everything we’ve ever been taught.

Or does it ?

All the dive training agencies (PADI, BSAC, SSI, SAA, YMCA, DILLIGAFF and others) advocate safe diving practices. And just about every instructor I’ve ever met recommends that ALL divers progress their training to at least Rescue Diver level, which is all well and good for those of you that have (and that frequently review/refresh/practise these key skills), well done… but what about the other diver that you’re buddied up with on the dive boat when you go out ? What if the person you are diving with either isn’t trained to your level, or more commonly, did the rescue course five years ago, got the badge and hasn’t had a review since (like all skills – if you don’t use it, you lose it)? So there you are, jumping into the big blue wobbly thing with somebody who probably-might be able to help you out if it all goes Pete Tong, possibly- maybe, you hope… In reality you are SOLO DIVING – EEEEEK!

Don’t Panic – Keep calm – Carry On… you’re alright, the putty isn’t going to melt in your mask, and there really are no PADI Police out there to catch you breaking the rules. But surely you should be Doing It Right (now there’s a phrase – somebody should use that )…

So PADI launches the new Self Reliant Diver speciality to train you how to go solo properly.

It’s all about having the right kit, the right skills and the right attitude to dive alone and I’m not talking about the “I’m so good I don’t need a buddy” approach.


You need back-ups. First is redundant air by either diving twinset with isolator, sidemount (coolio), or a reserve pony. SECOND is secondary no-deco info, best is a second computer, but depth-timer and tables work.

Then you need SMB (red) & reel, compass, cutting tools – and I always recommend a back-up mask and an emergency (yellow) SMB.


You need to be good. The minimum experience needed to start thinking about diving solo is a hundred dives, even then instructors will do a dive assessment to ensure you’re ready for it. Don’t be offended if you’re told to go away and practise on something, we’re actually trying to keep you alive.

Skills involve extended buoyancy control, accurate compass and natural navigation, out of air self rescue, no mask drills (joy of joys in winter) and importantly dive planning and control.


You need to actually be Self Reliant. Confidence, competence and discipline is the name of the game here. Solo diving isn’t about jumping in and playing on your own. You have to be committed to following procedures – not that it’s rigorous and stressful – but if you get complacent you’re going to be in a world of hurt if it doesn’t go right down there.

So who wants to dive solo anyway? Surely you’ll miss out on the camaraderie and fun by being alone… not so. You’ll still be on the same boat with your mates. You’re just not restricted underwater. In the first months of running this course, I’ve had very experienced BSOUP photographers (with big cameras worth more than my car) who want to get away from the crowds for “that shot”; I’ve had instructors and divemasters wanting to dive solo so they don’t have to babysit inexperienced divers (fun though that can be); I’ve had die-hard UK Channel divers wanting the qualification for what they actually do every week (just to satisfy insurance cover); and I’ve had Advanced Tec Trimix divers wanting the freedom that solo offers when not going into deco… And yes – I’ve got a few Billy No Mates that can’t get a buddy anyway because of social ineptitude (hmmmm – that was my inside voice that thought that wasn’t it?).

How many times have you gone off for a dive, and then through no fault of your own, your buddy has disappeared. So you search for a minute and have to abort the dive (honestly in UK viz... you know it goes on... and you really should be surfacing… but not if you’re solo. You didn’t lose your buddy, you didn’t need one).

And it’s not just about UK diving. Next time you’re out in Sharm or anywhere with great viz, you know you stretch away from your buddy… try this: trail back just 10m behind your buddy whilst they swim steadily away from you. Now pretend you are out of air and try catching them up for their octopus. It’s a tough one and that’s only 10m behind. But in 50m clear viz, how far are you usually away from them (go on admit it)?

Answer: Self Reliant Diver: you know it makes sense.

As for the fetish angle on this: there’s places in Soho (apparently) where people pay good money to get dressed up in black rubber suits, wearing black masks to get tied up in hoses (hosiery?) and play with themselves in the dark… surely what they REALLY want to do is dive solo.

Ryby is a PADI Course Director and Tec Trimix Instructor Trainer. Solo Diver courses are run every month in Maidstone, Kent. Also available at Stoney Cove and NDAC Chepstow contact: email, 01622 212 022.

Photo: Andy Gent

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