It’s never a good thing to go diving by yourself. Although there is a speciality under most sanctioning bodies for solo diving; if you can help it, dive with a buddy. Now, I’m not saying that you and your dive buddy have to be attached to each other’s hips, but it’s smart to dive with somebody; or at least let someone know where you’re going during the dive and what your planned objectives for the dive are; just in case something does happen, people have a reasonably good idea of where to start looking for you. I’ve dove solo many times; with other people in the water; but I was sill without a buddy. In that respect I would like to talk about being self – sufficient underwater. It’s important to note that solo diving, or diving without a buddy, is a very reasonable thing to do for many different reasons. You could be taking photos of a specific part of a reef or a wreck and don’t want divers to get in your way or take your visibility. Or you could just be wanting to explore away from divers who have different plans and objectives than yours. I want to make this clear; it is always better to have a dive buddy with you, but becoming a more self-sufficient diver is always a good thing. There are a few things you should start to consider about equipment choices, dive habits, and your actions underwater, in order to become more self-sufficient as a diver.
Equipment choices will vary now that you’re practising self-sufficient diving. It is very important to consider your options and what you will need underwater. This is not the time to be a gear nerd; it is the time to be concerned about how and why you’re choosing that particular gear. Redundancy is key in this respect, and you should really think about why you’re taking a particular piece of gear (realistically you’ll be bringing two of it). A pony bottle is a must (depending on your SAC rates you should start looking in the 19 cubic foot to 30 cubic foot range), and so conversely you’ll be rocking a second regulator. So now you have two tanks, and two regulators; with 3 2nd stages (following me so far? Good). Now we need to think on how you would like to carry said pony bottle.
Before we keep going here, some divers may not know what a pony bottle is, so; a pony bottle is a smaller tank/cylinder, with of course a regulator attached to it, that gives the diver an extra option or smaller stage bottle should something untoward happens underwater. It is carried various ways, but essentially performs the same task. Usually pony bottles are between 19 cubic feet all the way up to 30 cubic feet (I’ve even seen 40 cubic feet pony bottles). Anything bigger than that really becomes a true stage bottle (which is the technical diving world, and in the respect of this article; isn’t something you should worry about at this point).
Pony bottles can be carried a variety of ways, and it really comes down to your comfort, confidence, and personal choice. A tank band will connect the pony bottle to your main cylinder, and then your regulator from the pony bottle would just fit inside your regulator necklace. In this option, the cylinder itself is behind you, and unless you position it where you can reach the valve, you’ll want to remind yourself to open the valve before you enter the water. You can also turn the tank upside down if you choose (and have a long enough high pressure hose), when you place it into the tank band. There are different types of tank bands; but essentially, they all perform in the same manner. Check with your local dive centre and see what they have for sale and recommend based on the diving in your local area and your own personal comfort. You can also using clips to attach the pony bottle to your front. This will give easier access to open and close the valve, but adds more items clipped to your BCD. Weigh the two choices before you get in the water, and play with both setups in a pool. Better to have a problem in 3 metres in some public pool (if you don’t have one) than to have a problem in 33 metres in open water.
Next you’ll want to start thinking about redundant safety gear, navigation aids, and lights. Carrying additional safety gear/ hi-vis items is easy to do. Bring a safety sausage, or surface marker buoy and back up its’ redundancy by bringing a whistle; attach it to your BCD. Easy, right? Next think about navigation aids. Having a compass on a slate is nice, but bring a second compass in a pocket on a BCD just in case (I do this one myself all the time). Put the second compass on the opposite side of your body as the two might interfere with each other. One of my favourite set ups is a compass on a small slate on my right side hooked to the shoulder strap on my BCD, and then my backup compass I placed in a pocket on my wetsuit (yes you can have pockets on your wetsuit), on my left side. Next you should think about lights and computers. You can do this a variety of ways. I place small a backup light in my pocket (I seem to have a thing for pockets don’t I), and clip my primary to my BCD next to my compass. Since my computer is wireless air integrated, I practise redundancy by using a small Aeris A100 (I chose this one for two reasons: first, it was an older computer that I used in a console and when I upgraded I kept it, and second because it’s a puck style and fits in a pocket easily), that I throw in (can you guess?) a pocket on the same side I wear my wrist computer on (right side). Then I further practise redundancy by using an Air Pressure Gauge that I sling under my arm and clip to the left side of my BCD. So in this respect, if my computer goes; I have a backup computer and still know how much air I have. When it comes to air, and the ability to know how much you have left, it is perfectly ok to be a little paranoid.
Again, I cannot stress this enough; you should take a course that’s been approved by your sanctioning body before going out solo. But being self-sufficient underwater is something you can start practising right now, even with your dive buddy. Being a self-sufficient diver means, more fun and confident dives. It also means that you and your buddy are evolving and becoming better divers; in the way you look at equipment, how you dive underwater, and how you manage your profile.
Dive Safe, Dive Often. Your World Underwater.