This month's question was raised by Bob Halstead of Papua New Guinea in a letter recently sent to headquarters. In it, he raised a concern which has been discussed many times over the years, the propriety of solo diving, and the need for training in the same.
With the responses garnered from members, a number of concerns were addressed that surprised me, as I did not consider them in the context of solo diving. The primary one was the issue of diver competence and self-confidence. Of the persons who thought that the idea of providing some training in solo diving had merit, this issue ranked as the primary reason. In fact, one member even suggested consideration of having EVERY entry level diver complete a solo dive prior to being certified!
Other reasons for providing training in independent diving techniques included: it occurs anyway, so we should recognize it and qualify when it may reasonably be done; that all instructors dive alone, especially when teaching or guiding divers at resorts, and recognizing that fact would reduce the amount of hypocrisy in the sport; solo diving is not riskier or more unsafe than other socially acceptable activities which are conducted alone, such as flying; and it would provide another opportunity for NAUI to show leadership in the field of sport diving education.
Equally persuasive were the counter-arguments received. The primary drawback to implementing the idea of a solo diving specialty, even among those who solo dive and feel it is a beneficial activity, was that the legal liability was just to great for us to do so. The open water training agencies have printed so many training materials that it would just be too difficult for any agency to reverse the axiom of "Always dive with a buddy."
Other views expressed were that solo diving provided no safety back-up for any problems which might arise, and would lead to more accidents. It was also felt that this was an unneeded training program, as the people who wish to dive alone could and would do so regardless of training. The point was raised that this is a free country, and no agency regulated how one dives, but only how one is trained. (This is not completely true, as some states and local governmental entities have regulations covering diving alone.)
In all thirteen members responded in writing, with eight of them being opposed to the concept of offering formal training in solo diving. Three members were in favor of the idea, with the other members taking a less well defined stand.
QUESTION: "Should NAUI sanction solo diving, perhaps by offering a solo diving specialty certification? Why/why not? Do you personally solo dive?"
A. "Solo" diving certainly has a "bad" connotation most days. On the other hand, training divers to be self reliant and proficient at problem avoidance, recognition, and solution are cornerstones of quality instruction. Buddy diving's purposes are two-fold: to enhance enjoyment and to increase safety. Viewed in this perspective, one could argue (if one had a sense of humor) that once a student was trained in "solo" diving, he/she was then ready to move up to buddy diving. In a more serious vein, I believe there are situations in which independent diving could be indicated. Most of these situations do not apply to the classic definition of "sport" diving. If a moral decision has been made that a diver does not wish to jeopardize another diver as his buddy (such as in advanced cave diving excursions) that "solo" decision is very personal and steps outside of "public" domain. Scientific and working divers, including resort divemasters who must check an anchor set, may find that the dive task does not warrant a dive buddy. And lastly, emergency situations may require deviation from routine practices. Do such dives happen? Of course they do. Should NAUI sanction an advanced independent diver course? No. Should NAUI instructors teach independent skills in advanced courses and acknowledge that diving without a buddy exists and why? MOST CERTAINLY.
--Robert Rutledge, MD, NAUI 5127; Miami, FL (Miami Co-Chapter leader. Teaches entry level to ITCs. Has spoken at ICUEs and other dive programs. Recipient of NAUI Outstanding Service Award.)
A. All instructors solo dive, in fact, they even do it with people whom are less than able to assist them if the need arises!! (ie students) This is a very touchy subject, and I suspect that not many people will want to respond to this with their names attatched. All of us solo dive, but it would be tantamount to professional suicide to acknowledge it.
--A past Branch Manager (This respondent wished to remain anonymous)
A. It's tough for me to respond to this in any but a detached way. (I'm sure you will get much more emotional responses than this!) Let's look at the issue from several angles. Practically, I don't see how a major training organization could ever endorse solo diving. This is not because solo diving is wrong ‑‑ it's simply because there are too many potential expert witnesses waiting to testify that solo diving is contrary to all prevailing standards of practice.
Realistically, the agencies already teach something that goes far beyond solo diving. It's called being a Divemaster, AI or Instructor. In these positions, you are not only totally responsible for your own safety, but for the safety of up to eight other people as well. In comparison to this, solo diving may actually be less risky.
Personally, I think we have to remember that it is still a free country. The agencies don't make the rules or laws that we are compelled to follow while diving (unless, of course, an individual dive charter operator chooses to implement them...). All the agencies can do is make recommendations through training. Outside of situations in which we voluntarily choose to go with a dive‑charter operation and follow their rules, whether or not we choose to follow a particular agency's recommendations is up to us.
--Harry Averill, NAUI 4829; ?, NC (Currently on staff at Pro Dive; and Editor of DEMA publications. Past NAUI Special Projects Director, Past PADI Managing Editor. Has taught all levels of diving from introductory to ITCs.)
A. NAUI and the other agencies at their inception borrowed an axiom from the swimming world, "Don't EVER swim alone." This occurred because most diving instructors were also instructors in other aquatic sports. The rule was meant to provide safety for swimmers in the event they developed cramps, so someone would be there to pull them in. This does not necessarily pertain for diving.
The rule stating "Always dive with a buddy" has been written into so many instructional manuals and guidelines at this time, that I do not believe there is any chance of changing it. Legal experts who would testify that solo diving is dangerous are so plentiful that I do not think that we could ever give the right, and the privilege, of diving alone back to the individual making the decision to do so.
It makes no more sense to me that an individual cannot go diving by himself (or is at any more risk) than it would be to state that the same individual could not drive a car or fly an airplane alone. The Federal Aircraft Administration allows pilots to solo aircraft, which fly above the earth, homes, buildings, and schoolhouses. These individuals could do tremendous damage, not just to themselves but to numerous others besides. Why is this considered a less risky venture than diving alone?? A solo diver may encounter problems, but it is only that individual person who reaps the consequences, without other innocent people placed in jeopardy. The only negative consequences of any accident occurring would be the negative publicity accrued to sport diving, but this occurs whether the person is diving alone or drowns with a buddy.
Unfortunately, we would be hard pressed in a court of law to prove this now. NAUI, PADI, and the other agencies have dug their own trench, and must lie in it. Were NAUI to adopt an official policy permitting solo diving, the experts in the field would hit them with their own words and rules which have been published for decades, unless some completely new justification could be identified that everyone in the industry would easily agree to and abide by.
I solo dive. Some of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had while diving, and the best, most productive learning I have ever done occurred while solo diving. While diving alone, you are far more perceptive and alert than when diving with a buddy, and you naturally see more. I also developed a great deal of self-confidence and learned how to be self-sufficient as a result of my early solo diving experiences before there were clubs and rules and axioms to follow. These are attributes present day scuba divers lack, depending far too much on specialized equipment and a buddy who may or may not be able to help them if trouble occurs.
Of course, we must also recognize that every diving instructor solo dives. Worse than that, they do so with a number of liabilities when they teach class in open water. Even with only four students, the instructor has four liabilities and is solo diving besides.
--Spence Campbell, NAUI A-20; Renton, WA (Private professional instructor and diving consultant, and author of the "Secrets of the Diving Reflex" program. Past NAUI Board of Directors candidate and Chapter Leader, past General Manager of the Ocean Corporation.)
A. Many of us seem to have forgotten why we take a buddy diving with us. Some people have been known to go diving with anybody just so that they can go diving. Some even go diving by themselves because nobody was available or wanted to dive. But have you ever seriously thought about whether you could rely on that person if the need should arise? Would your buddy help you? Would you help your buddy? For example, If you buddy needed air and buddy breathing was called for, would you stop and worry about AIDS first? Or, if a big shark swam by, would you stab your buddy and leave him to be eaten instead?
A buddy is not for informing your next of kin as to what happened or for returning your body for insurance purposes, but rather just the opposite. So the next time you decide to take your cavalier attitude diving instead of your best buddy, stop and think about the consequences first.
--Shawna E. Reed, NAUI 11214; Lajas, Puerto Rico (Currently at the University of Puerto Rico, has done extensive research diving.)
A. Solo diving should not be considered an everyday acceptable activity. Ideally, divers should dive in teams, but occasionally the situation dictates otherwise (Buddy not feeling up to the second dive, etc.) Solo diving should be permitted under only the most benign conditions. Any dive 60' or deeper or if other adverse environmental conditions exist (surf, current, poor visibility) should mandate buddy diving. This automatically precludes the more hazardous diving specialties such as wreck, cave, or ice diving. Solo diving should not be a haphazard activity, but should be approved and closely supervised by the divemaster.
The skills necessary to dive alone should be an integral part of every dive course, beginning with the initial entry level class. These skills should be constantly reinforced and fine tuned in advanced and specialty courses. After all, the goal of scuba training is to create an independent safe and competent individual who can take care of himself and master the environment in which he was trained.
--Hillary Viders, NAUI 10107; Tenafly, NJ (Director of Operations for Scuba Connections, Inc. Teaches entry level courses to ITCs, and wreck, photography, modeling, and rescue specialties.)
A. Solo diving is to buddy diving as self gratification is to a sexual liason. Diving, although designed as a buddy endeavor, if done carefully alone can result in a climactic experience without permanent damage to the person involved.
--Roger Edmonds, NAUI 10232; Grand Cayman Island, British West Indies (Assistant Operations Manager, Don Fosters Dive. Has taught extensively throughout the Caribbean in diving resorts.)
A. I don't believe that NAUI should specifically sanction solo diving for recreational purposes. NAUI ought to however recognize that there are times when solo diving can take place without too much of a safety burden on the participant such as brief shallow boat bottom repairs or inspections. Also we need to recognize that we all live in a free country and even though the safest way to dive is with a companion, one of the measures of social acceptability of any human behavior hinges on how it affects one's fellow man. I don't believe that solo diving has any great negative effect on other humans unless it necessitates a rescue of that solo diver by others. To sum things up, I don't think that solo diving itself is a great sin but at the same time I think that we ought not condone it as proper (safe) SCUBA diver behavior.
‑‑Bob Widmann, NAUI 2055; Aptos, CA (Past Mid Pacific Branch Manager. Has taught all levels of diving, including having served as ITC Director. Recipient of NAUI Outstanding Service Award.)
A. I don't mind diving alone at all at anytime, but I prefer diving with someone else because I find it more pleasant. I have never known of a buddy really being important assisting another buddy in a life-threatening situation. I think the person can usually take care of their own self if they are a capable diver. As far as encouraging people to dive alone, I think they accept things the way they are now. The buddy system is extremely well known everywhere, so I do not see any reason to change that to suggest diving alone under specified circumstances (unless there is some type of emergency requiring that action.)
--Roy Damron, NAUI 207; Kona, Hawaii (Diving Instructor, current NAUI Board of Advisors member. Past NAUI Director, Chapter Leader, West Pacific Branch Manager, and ITC Director. Recipient of NAUI Outstanding Service Award.)
A. God is my buddy when I dive with students or guide clients on a dive.
--Patricia Scharr, NAUI 4593; Grand Cayman Island, British West Indies (Diving Consultant and Private Professional Instructor. Has managed dive resorts, and was past member of NAUI Board of Directors.)
A. I have observed the buddy system in operation on thousands of dives. This also means I have seen the buddy system FAIL on thousands of dives. I think the idea of two divers sharing a dive and caring for each other is a wonderful ideal, but in practice it is an almost impossible achievement. How many time have you seen buddies who are incompatible either through interest or ability? Dive teams where one diver is dependent on the other, where the "buddies" are too far apart to help each other, or where the divers are alternately coming to the surface (a dangerous place) to look for each other are not buddy diving.
I used to think that I could do something about this, something to teach people how to buddy dive. "Now Jane, when you saw Jim's signal that he was out of air and going to ascend, why did you chase off after that whale shark?...What would a good buddy have done?...Yes, I know you had plenty of air, but.... Buddy teams on every dive are a myth. What I am saying is that it does not work for everyone all of the time. People can, will, and do SOLO DIVE...but are they TRAINED for it??
NAUI has a choice. They can condemn solo diving, and by doing so ignore what I believe to be a distinct trend in diving (even the notoriously conservative Skindiver magazine had a recent editorial mentioning a [solo] diver being "with" someone who was in the boat); or they can take a pioneering view and determine under what conditions solo diving could be accepted as a "safe" activity.
I believe that for some people in specified conditions solo diving IS a safe activity, just as I believe that some people will NEVER be safe diving no matter how good the conditions , or their buddies, are. I find it easy to accept that it is safer for a NAUI instructor to dive by him/herself than be leading two students on an early dive.
Another point that is not so obvious. Teaching the buddy system teaches DEPENDENCE. Because so many of our training exercises involve the buddy, we install in the student the subconscious reasoning that they do not have to be proficient because their buddy will bail them out. Protest if you like, but the system still teaches "Depend on your buddy." Just imagine how students might perform if they HAD to make ONE solo dive during their course. Pilots have to solo, don't they?
I still think buddy diving should be taught at the open water level. What I would like to see is a NAUI certification SOLO DIVER to appear somewhere after open water diver, as a regular NAUI course. It would have many benefits, including: defining the skills and conditions necessary for solo diving, legitimize solo diving for those with the experience to do it safely, show the novice diver there are skills to master before contemplating solo diving, help remove the false sense of security accompanying buddy diving, reinforce that is desirable to have the skills of a completely independent diver, emphasize self rescue and self evaluation skills, attract more people to diving and keep them longer, and make buddy diving safer.
SOLO DIVING EXISTS. Let's get NAUI to lead in recognizing and formalizing this aspect of our sport.
--Bob Halstead, NAUI 2000; Alotau, Papua New Guinea (Operates the live aboard dive charter vessel MV Telita. Has taught all levels of diving, including acting as ITC Director. Chapter leader for Papua New Guinea.)
A. I am not in favor of solo diving. There should always be some form of support for the diver. I would not want to teach a solo diving specialty, because I do not believe standards could be made rigid enough to make it safe. Traditionally, scuba diving is a buddy sport, because of the risks involved. Because there is no backup or assistance available with solo diving, and because there is no safety margin, solo diving should not be condoned.
--Moke Huck, NAUI 10750; Grand Cayman Island, British West Indies (Operations Manager for Don Foster's Dive. Teaches primarily Openwater I and II courses.)
A. Solo diving techniques should be taught, but solo diving itself not encouraged.
--Jerry Schnabel, NAUI 2464; Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles (Photo pro for Divi Resorts in Bonaire. Has taught primarily Underwater Photography specialties, but also has entry level thru ITC teaching experience at many resorts in the Caribbean.)
A. When teaching Openwater I students about the buddy system, at least one student is bound to ask what will happen if he goes diving alone. Technically speaking, nothing WILL happen if that diver is careful and aware of the risks he is taking. But we tell our students what NAUI sanctions and what we think about it, that is why solo diving should be discarded as an option.
The sad fact is that eventually some student will go out alone. There is no law enforcement officer that will meet him underwater, escort him to the surface, and get him out of the water, and chastise him for diving alone. Especially when diving from a private boat, he is alone.
So instead of simply telling students never to dive alone, let us teach them how to dive first, then offer them a specialty: solo diver. Well taught, this might very well prove as safe as cave or ice diving! Once so certified, nothing will keep those divers from getting together on a site, planning their dive, going their separate ways, coming back out again, and sharing their experience. Let us offer those divers who want to solo dive safety through education...it might put NAUI another step forward in diving education!
--Martin Poirier, NAUI 10040; Cartierville, Quebec, Canada (Teaches part-time for Secteur d'Activites Subaquatiques, a NAUI Pro Facility. Teaches primarily Openwater I classes, and enjoys ice diving.)
A. I certainly appreciate that there is probably a fair amount of successful solo diving being conducted. However, there have been too many documented cases of a diver's life having been saved only by the presence of his/her dive buddy. For reasons of safety, NAUI just cannot back away from the buddy diving concept.
--Jim Corry, NAUI 7184L; Washington, D.C. (Has taught all levels to ITCs both privately and at UCLA. Currently serves as Chairman of the Diving and Water Rescue Committee of the National Association for Search and Rescue. Has authored many articles about diving safety.)
NOTE: The views expressed in this column are opinions held by the individual members referenced, and are not those of NAUI or the editors of NDA News.]Questions for the next issues:
Questions for the next issues:
For the July/August issue: "What could be done to improve the marketability of NAUI's products, programs, and services?"
For the September/October issue: "Should NAUI require mandatory diver recertification? If so, what should it entail? If not, why not?"
All members are encouraged to respond. This column is for you, the membership, to develop. Answers should be kept fairly brief, preferably no more than two or three paragraphs. Responses to each question will be collated by the editor, condensed if necessary, and printed in this section. New questions may also be posed for discussion. Questions should be concise, and should stimulate a wide cross‑section of the membership. Include with your responses or questions the following information: your name, address, phone number, NAUI membership number, dive‑related employment, past diving accomplishments, and a review of your dive teaching experience. Send your materials to Jeffrey Bozanic, c/o NDA News, P.O. Box 14650, Montclair, CA 91763‑1150.
Compiled and Edited by Jeffrey Bozanic, NAUI 5334L
Sources, May/Jun 1989, (1:1), pp. 12-16.
NAUI Members' Forum #11
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