Are You A Closet Solo Diver?
By Jeanne Bear
Sometimes what we preach and what we do are two different things. Other times what we actually do and what we call it don't jibe. Occasionally, we simply don't think about what we do. Other times we don't care what anyone labels it, we do what we want.
All of the above is true when it comes to solo versus buddy diving.
The instructional agencies teach and practice the importance of buddy diving. The industry preaches buddy diving. Students practice the system in their open water training dives. But, once on their own, divers do as they please.Before you start penning letters to the editor, read on. The purpose of this column is to present all sides of the solo/buddy situation and ask you to examine what you say and what you do. There isn't one right answer, but what is done in the water certainly doesn't match our virtuous slogans.
Any buddy is better than no buddy
Buddy diving proponents say any buddy is better than no buddy. The value of the buddy system is in the aid one buddy can render another in time of need. The theory is that the potential of some aid is better than no aid.
Beyond the rescue/aid value of a buddy, there are other important aspects. These include comfort, companionship, psychological safety net, someone to share the wonder of the underwater world and his/her knowledge of its inhabitants. The social side of humans seeks peer acceptance and the interaction of observations, gossip, helping with bulky equipment, evaluating the dive conditions and someone with whom to build a memory bank of fun times. Fear of the unknown is lessened with a buddy at our side.
Some operations refuse to let divers enter the water unless buddied up. They won't be swayed by an encyclopedic dive log, a precisely worded waiver or a demonstrated ability to freedive to 60 feet. So what happens? If single divers prefer to dive alone instead of with someone they have just met, they conspire, enter the water, do their own thing and exit separately, usually without comment by the dive operation. If someone without a buddy really wants a buddy, they meet on the boat deck, shake hands, size each other up and jump in, each hoping the other is more competent than they are. In these cases 'appearances' are being upheld-but is anyone safer as a result?
A third situation occurs when there is an odd number of divers. Someone ends up without a partner. Now the pressure is on for a buddy pair to adopt the orphan or the dive operation to supply a staff member as a buddy. Planned threesomes, where the individuals are committed to the group, can be great fun. A third diver you do not know and do not want is another story. This is a contest of wills with the divemaster who makes you feel obligated to accept the third diver and you practicing assertiveness training and saying no as many times as it takes. Of course, the divemaster asks you with the lonesome diver standing right there. Don't be bullied into accepting a responsibility you do not wish to accept.
The ideal buddy would be skillful, competent and self-sufficient. He/she would stay by your side underwater, always aware of your location. You would know each other's moods and read each other's body movements as you share the same underwater activities. A buddy with whom you can dive in synch is a joy of shared experiences. The competent buddy knows your equipment and can render aid if something malfunctions, can share air on your system or his/hers, sticks with the dive plan and is aware of the environment. This is the model instructional agencies teach and the industry preaches-but is this how you and your buddy actually dive?
When buddy divesare solo dives
A buddy who is not an asset to the pairing is a liability. When an asset dives with a liability, the asset is making a solo dive.
A group dive without specific buddies is several solo dives happening on the same reef.
'Same ocean, same day' buddies are solo divers who happen to enter the water at the same time.
Two divers who profess to be buddies, but cannot locate each other underwater within 15 seconds are solo divers.
A buddy to someone making his or her first 25 dives is a solo diver.
These statements are not to condemn but to identify reality. A solo diver is prepared to handle or resolve any emergency independent of other divers. In each of the aforementioned situations one diver is dependent upon another-one person in the pair is essentially making a solo dive. Interestingly, good solo divers make great buddy divers. If they dive with a buddy, it is because they choose to and not because they are physically or psychologically dependent upon the other person.
Why solo dive?
Pure solo diving is deciding to jump in the water by yourself and dive alone. Those with hundreds of dives who will admit they solo dive say they like the spontaneity, the peacefulness, the solitude, the opportunity to be self-reliant and the escape from the demands of others. They like the ability to focus on what they do underwater, such as spearing fish or photography, without the distraction or interference of a buddy.
Solo divers who live near the water say they dive more often than they would if they had to find a buddy. An instructor says she dives solo for fun because, with students in the water, she feels like she is on red alert the whole time. An oldtime Florida skin diver turned scuba diver told me he got tired of being expected to babysit divers with poor water skills. It took all the fun out of diving, so he turned solo. A few candid souls admitted they got tired of being hypocrites about buddy diving and decided the heat of going solo was preferable. Several divers reported they became better planners, decision-makers, got in better physical shape and took better care of their equipment when they made the commitment to be self-reliant. Their decision to be skillful, competent and self-reliant was a conscious choice to practice solo diving.
At the same time, nearly all the on-purpose solo divers I've interviewed have commented on three things. 1) They feel they are setting a bad example for new divers, 2) They miss the spontaneous sharing of the wonder and excitement of what they see and do underwater, and 3) They still buddy dive in certain situations such as cave, cavern, wreck, deep, ice, far offshore