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The Heart of a Solo Diver...

John Flanders
jflanders@academyofscuba.com

I've taught many divers to be self-sufficient and written several articles on Solo Diving. Several years ago, this topic was taboo and even scorned by many. The buddy system was rooted firmly in most divers' minds and only radical non-conformists would even dare think about breeching this tried and true practice. However, as time grew on, the debate took on a depth outside of the normal constraints that solo diving was figurative practices more than a literal practice. Even with a diver right next to you, there was still a possibility that you were a solo diver. The concept of solo diving evolved to a higher level and the pundits, while still holding firmly to their buddy system, even agreed that the idea of practicing emergency drills without the aid of a buddy was a good idea.

Welcome to 2012. Just about every major agency has embraced a self-reliant or solo diver course. Charter companies are reviewing standards and procedures for solo divers. More divers at the recreational level are thinking about self-sufficiency, redundancy, and fault tolerance. Some would say the solo divers have won. But you have to ask... have they?

Solo diving giant strideIt wasn’t too long ago I was on a charter boat in California. One of my former "solo diver" students was sitting on the deck preparing for his upcoming dive. I saw him as he handed over his solo diver release to the boat captain (who accepted it with a grimace of suspicion, but accepted it nonetheless). I watched him as he dressed for the cool waters of Southern California. I watched him closely as he wobbled his way to the swim step. It was at this point I stopped what I was doing, walked back to the swim step, and stopped him. I asked one simple question: "Where is your buddy?" He laughed, a bit over-confidently, and stated, he was solo diving today. I looked him square in the eye and said, "no you’re not." At this point, he chuckled uncomfortably. "What do you mean," he asked. "I am a certified solo diver, don’t you remember?" I told him I remembered his class quite well, but he obviously did not. At that point, I corrected all the problems I saw in my brief inspection.

I could list all the things he did wrong prior to our brief interaction, but his preparation was faulty at every level. The simple fact is, he had a solo diver card and he thought that entitled him to dive without a buddy any time he wanted. However, what he forgot was all the equipment, planning, and preparation that go into solo diving. Simple and obvious points he was missing included (but were not limited to) spare mask, appropriate cutting devices, qualified redundant air systems, and filing a dive plan with the boat crew. He was a solo diver that was breaking every rule in solo diving. But, most of all, he was missing the heart of a solo diver.

The heart of a solo diver is a simple concept. A solo diver is prepared to come back from every dive. In fact, all the planning, preparation, equipment purchases, and mental practices are geared to one objective: Come back from every dive... alive! A solo diver is not someone who just dives on their own, on occasion. A solo diver is someone who is prepared at the highest levels with a host of contingencies for even the most remote problems that may occur. A solo diver does not just review a quick checklist and jump in the water. A solo diver spends weeks, maybe months, reviewing their equipment, reviewing dive plans, getting site briefings from local experts, and learning all the angles that go into a particular dive. A solo diver is someone who attacks every dive with the highest degree of complexity.

Yes, even that 30 foot reef dive has protocols of redundancy, self-sufficiency, and fault tolerance. The heart of solo diver beats in one rhythm: Be prepared, come back alive! A solo diver is not just a solo diver when they are alone, but the heart of a solo diver beats on in every dive, regardless of their buddy plan. It never stops beating. At the beginning of every dive, a solo diver knows he can count on himself or herself first should any problems arise.

Thump! Thump! Thump!


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