Mastering the Command Chain


In any kind of diving, the ability to react to problems with the right skills is paramount. Of course, a diver’s main focus should be on anticipating and avoiding problems in a first place, but when problems do occur, the diver should focus on diving basics (such as buoyancy) first.

Doing so will lead to a safer and more controlled solution.

What are the steps leading to a correct and controlled response?

The following protocol will help you achieve a deliberate, controlled, and safe reaction in a difficult situation.

  1. Check Your Breathing Rate

Breathing on land feels natural, and most of the time, we don’t think about it. However, underwater, the surrounding pressure and breathing resistance from the equipment will cause a diver to think again about something that is usually automatic.

When a diver is stressed or task loaded, the first thing that usually happens is that he either increases his breathing rate or holds his breath – and he usually does not notice that he is doing it! Not only does this affect his buoyancy, but it creates stress as his body builds up carbon dioxide. In the event of any task or problem management, first check your breathing and focus on long, slow exhalations. This will allow your body to get rid off carbon dioxide, allowing better mental focus, lower gas consumption, and reduced anxiety.

  1. Confirm That You Are Neutrally Buoyant

Before a diver takes any action, he should confirm that he is neutrally buoyant.

Neutral buoyancy requires the use of your BCD or wing and your breathing. As stated above, a diver who is hyperventilating or holding his breath will find himself ascending even with the proper amount of air in his BCD.

To check your buoyancy, the first thing you should do is nothing at all . . . just wait! There is always a delay between exhalation and sinking, and between inhalation and rising. Playing with this delay will allow you to find the buoyancy sweet spot – the pattern of breathing at which you rise and fall approximately the same amount with each breath, and return to the same depth with each breathing cycle.

The goal is to have the correct amount of air in your BCD so that you can breathe in a relaxed and consistent pattern while maintaining your depth. If you are exaggerating your exhalations or inhalations, adjust your BCD so that you may breathe normally. The incorrect amount of air in your BCD may affect your breathing rate, leading to stress! The worst part is that experienced divers often make these type of compensations unconsciously, so it is worth the small amount of time it takes to check your buoyancy and breathing rate before taking any action.

  1. Assess Your Trim

Trim refers to a diver’s body position. Many times, proper trim is horizontal but not always; it depends upon the environment. A diver’s body should be parallel to the bottom or the floor. This is very important in cave diving and wreck diving, where a silty bottom may not be horizontal!

Proper trim will help to reduce drag and the work of propulsion, as well as limit silt outs and damage to the environment.

Proper trim also gives a diver better control by offering greater contact with the surrounding fluid.

A diver in good trim will feel controlled and stable in the water – a diver out of trim will feel sloppy.

Achieving proper trim requires a bit of practice and equipment adjustments at first, as well as an awareness of the environment. Before taking any action underwater, check your trim to be sure that you are not struggling with an inappropriate body position. Doing so will allow you to focus on the task at hand, instead of struggling to maintain position.

  1. If Necessary, Consciously Choose Your Propulsion Technique

If the task at hand requires swimming, such as reaching a wreck or exiting a cave, choosing the most appropriate propulsion technique will help you to get to where you are going in an efficient manner.

Some good options include:

The Frog Kick

The frog kick propels water behind the diver (as opposed to downwards or upwards) creating a almost purely forward movement that prevents silting and damage to the environment. This kick is easy to match with your breathing, and it is the best technique for long swims and diving with bulky rigs.

The Reverse Kick

Trying to position yourself without a good reverse kick is like trying to parallel park a car without a reverse gear – it’s not possible. The reverse kick is used to manoeuvre in small places, reposition yourself without losing sight of your surroundings, or just to stop on a dime.

Flat Turns

Also known as helicopter turns, a flat turn in useful in positioning, allowing the diver to rotate around his center of gravity while keeping proper trim. Mastering flat turns will help to prevent dropping your feet (and all the problems associated with it) and allows you to manoeuvre in very tight spots.

  1. Consider Your Position

The next step to consider before taking action to solve a problem or complete a task is to choose your position relative to your dive team and the environment.

Be sure that you are not your partner(s)’ blind spot: your entire team should be aware of your presence thanks to your positioning.

In cave, wreck, and deep diving, this can also be achieved with your light beam position.

Choosing the proper position may involve more than just your placement relative to your team.

Considerations may include your position relative to a guideline or the current. Positioning is an art anticipating others’ movements and vice versa. Diving in a properly positioned dive team feels like being part of a team of jet fighters, and can be pure bliss once you master it.

  1. Finally, Take Action!

Once everything else is under control, analyze the situation and take deliberate action.

Consider what needs to be done, and plan your movements step-by-step before executing a task.

You have time (you are already in control) and thinking through a task step-by-step will help to avoid mistakes and the need to fix them or to start over.

The Command Chain in Practice

Putting these six steps together will lead to more controlled, less stressful diving.

For example, if a moment of stress leads to hyperventilation or over-breathing, your buoyancy, trim, and all that follows will be negatively affected.

Stop, and go back to the basics starting at the beginning of the list.

Calm your breathing, check your buoyancy, check your trim, etc.

Whatever action you wish to accomplish, be it swimming, laying a line, or inflating a surface marker buoy, will become easier and smoother.

Putting the command chain into practice helps to avoid additional problems, and increases your overall control and enjoyment of a dive.

One Final Tip – This Works for All Divers, Regardless of Level!

The command chain works equally well for recreational and technical divers. Divers who use the command chain will become more confident, relaxed and controlled. They are able to manage complex tasks, and generally proceed much more quickly through training.

Train yourself from now on that THE mantra to repeat to yourself in any circumstance is:

Breathing, buoyancy, trim, propulsion, position, action!

You will be a better diver for it!

Vincent Rouquette-Cathala is a technical diving instructor at Phocea Dive Center, Mexico


A short list of some of the hazards of wreck diving

Wreck DivingWrecks Are Considered an Overhead Environment

Penetrating a wreck’s interior can be a hazardous move, especially if a diver has insufficient equipment and training. Even swimming under a piece of wreckage is potentially dangerous. Some wrecks are so fragile that a diver’s touch or fin kick will send a piece of the wreck crashing down!

Wrecks Can Be Highly Disorienting

When diving a wreck, it can be very easy for a diver to lose his sense of direction. A wreck can be a veritable maze, with rotting structures, nets and other paraphernalia creating a confusing labyrinth. This is particularly true when a ship is not sitting upright on the ocean floor. A wreck diver must learn and employ proper navigation techniques in order to maintain awareness of his position and avoid disorientation.

Metal Can Be Dangerous

When diving on wrecks made of metal, sharp edges can snag, cut, and damage diving equipment – and even the diver! A wreck diver’s gear should be as streamlined as possible and configured for the sport. In additional, metal wrecks may render underwater compasses useless. A wreck diver must know how to use the structure of the wreck, navigational tools, and natural phenomena to find his way around. One popular method of navigation is the use of a guideline temporarily placed along the diver’s path which follows and removes during his exit.

Entanglement Hazards on Wrecks

The presence of monofilament line, rigging and nets on shipwrecks makes entanglement a considerable risk. If a diver runs out of air before he frees himself, he could have a serious problem. Every wreck diver should carry appropriate cutting tools (usually more than one) in order to cut himself free quickly in the event of an entanglement.

Depth Can Be Deceiving

Losing track of depth on shipwrecks can be surprisingly easy. If the top of the wreck lies in shallow water, a diver may plan a shallow dive and then accidentally go deeper as he explores the wreck. Of course, diving deeper than planned (or beyond one’s certification level) can cause a diver to experience narcosis or to accidentally enter decompression, which should only be done with proper training and dive planning.

Loss of Focus

A diver may become so captivated by exploring a shipwreck that he neglects to check his gauges. This can result in the divers descending to dangerous depths, going into decompression or even running out of air. Never let the environment distract you from your base skills.

Wreck diving has plenty of hazards that open water diving does not and managing these risks is one of the reasons that wreck diving requires specific training. However, with proper training procedures and gear, wreck diving is an exciting and fulfilling sport that can be done with minimal risk.

Torben Lonne is the Editor in Chief at online magazine.

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The difference between a perfect dive trip and a frustrating one – By Natalie Gibb Scuba Diving Expert


Doing your research, testing your gear, and packing carefully can make the difference between a perfect dive trip and a frustrating one.

  1. Test dive all your scuba gear before your trip!

When is your dive gear most likely to break? That’s easy. It is most likely to break when you are on your dream dive trip off the remote island of wherever, where no spares parts are obtainable and gear servicing is impossible. This rule is universally true unless you are an unusual size, in which case items are likely to break just about anywhere, because no one will have a replacement in your size anyhow.

Weeks before a dive trip, test dive your gear – each and every piece you will bring – in the open water if possible, in a pool if not. Evaluate new gear in a controlled environment and address issues immediately.

  1. Reviewing basic scuba skills in a pool before a trip.

If you have been out of the water for six months or more, consider taking a refresher course , even if you feel that you already know everything. Of course, the benefit of a refresher course will be a dependent upon your dive experience, but in general, shaking the dust off of your dive skills and knowledge will help to increase your enjoyment of diving on vacation.

The main benefit of a refresher course, however, is simply to get you back in the water using your gear in a controlled environment so that you feel as comfortable and confident as possible on the first dive of your vacation. You can even bring your own gear along on a refresher course to ensure that it is all working properly.

If you don’t have DAN Insurance, get it. 

  1. Review Your Travel and Dive Documents

Review your travel and diving documents before booking flights or a trip, and be sure they are up-to-date. The most obvious of these are your passport and dive certification cards. Keep in mind that many remote dive locations do not have reliable internet, and looking up your certification online is not always an option.

Other documentation you may or may not need can include travel visas, medical releases, your dive logbook, and dive insurance. Many standard medical insurance carriers will not cover recompression treatments, double check yours.

Be sure to alert credit card companies that you will be travelling. It is a good idea to carry copies of international toll-free numbers to call in case cards are compromised. Keep in mind that many debit cards and credit cards have daily limits when used at overseas ATMs or credit card terminals. Be prepared!


  1. Double Check Airline Regulations for Scuba Gear

Carefully research airline policies as to what dive gear you can carry on and what you can check.

If you are carrying your own equipment, be sure to double check airline regulations regarding dive gear, and keep in mind that regulations may be country and airline specific. Items such as HID lights, spare air bottles, spools and reels, and even back plates may require specific packing considerations.  Consider carrying print-outs of descriptions for unusual items to be able to prove to airport personal that they are dive gear, not bombs.

Divers will have to pick and choose what to bring in a carry-on and what to put in checked luggage. If possible, carry on delicate items.

Finally, consider TSA-friendly locks, pack and weigh your bags ahead of time, and be sure to allow for sufficient drying of dive gear before you pack it back up to go home. 

  1. Pack Spares of Vital Gear, Parts, and Medicine

Consider what items in your dive gear are easily replaceable and what are not. This will depend upon what gear you use, and where you are going.

Most dive shops have a decent range of rental gear that can be borrowed in an emergency, but if there is an item you cannot live without, pack an extra!

Divers who have allergies or medical issues should pack an excess of the required medication. A major consideration is prescription ear drops for divers with sensitive ears or those who are prone to ear infections.

Be sure to alert your dive shop to any prescription medications you are taking, and check all medications for potential side effects if they are to be used while scuba diving.  

  1. Research Your Dive Destination before Booking a Trip

Research your planned dive destination carefully.

Your research should include everything from surface/water temperatures and conditions at the planned time of your trip, to dive shop reviews, to candid recent photos.

Keep in mind that dive travel can be seasonal.

If there is a specific type of wildlife you are interested in seeing, or a dive experience you would like, email dive shops and ask when the best time of year is. Most dive service providers are interested in providing the best experience possible for clients, take their advice!

In some cases, the off-season is your friend.

Flights, accommodations, and even diving may be less expensive during the low tourist season, and you might be able to avoid crowds! However, sometimes low season is low for a reason.   

  1. Pack Diving Safety Devices

Purchase and learn to use your own diving safety devices, and then carry them on your dive trips.

The first, and most important, is a huge, inflatable surface marker buoy and spool, with a mirror, chemical light stick, and whistle attached in a small pocket at the base. The second is a dive computer.

If you carry a surface marker buoy be sure to alert the dive guide and your captain to its presence and appearance, and discuss the circumstances under which you will deploy it before ever entering the water.

  1. Plan a Day or Two Off

Plan a dry day or two to enjoy local sites and give yourself a buffer in case of illness or ear problems. 

Giving yourself a few extra days can make the difference between a fun dive trip and a disappointing one, so plan carefully. Consider flying in a day or two before a planned live aboard trip to accommodate flight delays or cancellations.

Plan a dry day at the end of your trip to dry dive gear, or mid-way through to see local sites.

You can use your dry day to make up dives if you unexpectedly fall ill, have ear problems, or can’t dive due to weather conditions.

Having extra days can be particularly important when booking courses, in which case a missed day of training can mean the difference between completing the course and having to retake it if you don’t have a few buffer days.

Natalie Gibb

Scuba Diving Expert

What Is the Maximum Safe Ascent Rate for Scuba Diving?:

Safety StopBy Natalie Gibb – Scuba Diving Expert

How fast of an ascent is too fast? The answer varies among scuba certification organizations.

Some organizations list a maximum ascent rate of 30 feet/ 9 meters per minute, while others allow a faster ascent rate.

A safe rule of thumb, (and the most commonly published maximum ascent rate at this time) is:
Never exceed an ascent rate of 30 feet/ 9 meters per a minute.

How to Monitor Your Ascent Rate When Scuba Diving:

The easiest way for a diver to monitor his ascent rate is to use a dive computer. Almost all dive computers have ascent rate alarms which will beep or vibrate when the diver exceeds the computer’s programmed maximum ascent rate. The moment the computer alerts the diver that he is ascending too quickly, the diver should take steps to slow his ascent.

However, not all divers use dive computers. A diver without a computer may use a timing device in combination with his depth gauge to monitor the time he takes to ascend a predetermined number of feet.

For example, a diver may use his timing device to check that he doesn’t ascend more than 15 feet in 30 seconds.

Every diver should carry a timing device underwater.

However, in a worst case scenario, a diver may gauge his ascent rate by watching bubbles around him rise towards the surface.He should ascend more slowly than the smallest bubbles he can see.

One trick is to look for tiny, champagne-sized bubbles and be certain to ascend more slowly than these bubbles.

Another method of estimating an ascent rate is to ascend along a fixed anchor line or ascent line.


Why Is Ascending Slowly Important When Scuba Diving?:Wreck

Quick ascents can lead to decompression illness.

During a dive, a diver’s body absorbs nitrogen gas.

The nitrogen gas compresses due to water pressure following Boyle’s Law, and slowly saturates his body tissues. If a diver ascends too quickly, the nitrogen gas in his body will expand at such a rate that he is unable to eliminate it efficiently, and the nitrogen will form small bubbles in his tissues.

This is known as decompression sickness, and can be very painful, lead to tissue death, and even be life threatening.

In a worst-case scenario, a diver who ascends quite rapidly may rupture small structures in his lungs known as alveoli.

In this case, bubbles may enter his arterial circulation and travel through his body, eventually lodging in blood vessels and blocking blood flow. This sort of decompression illness is called an arterial gas embolism (AGE), and is very dangerous. A bubble may lodge in an artery feeding the spinal column, in the brain, or in a host of other areas, causing loss or impediment of function.

Maintaining a slow ascent rate greatly reduces the risk of all forms of decompression illness.

Additional Safety Precautions — Safety Stops and Deep Stops:

In addition to slow ascents, scuba diving training organizations also recommend making a safety stop at 15 feet/ 5 meters for 3-5 minutes.

A safety stop allows a diver’s body to eliminate additional nitrogen from the body before his final ascent.

When making deep dives (let’s say 70 feet or deeper for the sake of argument) studies have also shown that a diver who makes a deep stop based on his dive profile (for example a 50-foot stop on a dive with a maximum depth of 80 feet) as well as a safety stop will have significantly less nitrogen in his body upon surfacing than a diver who does not.

A Diver’s Alert Network (DAN) study, measured the amount of nitrogen remaining in a diver’s system after a series of ascent profiles. The study measured the nitrogen saturation of tissues that become quickly filled with nitrogen, such as the spinal column. DAN ran a series of tests on divers who ascended at a rate of 30 feet/minute from repetitive dives to 80 feet. The results were fascinating:

A diver who ascended at a rate of 30 feet/minute without stops surfaced with his “fast saturation tissues” 60% saturated.

  • • If the same divers made a safety stop of 5 minutes at 18 feet, these fast saturation tissues decreased to only 35% saturation.
    • If the same diver made an additional deep stop of 5 minutes at 48 feet, he surfaced with his fast saturation tissues further decreased to only 25% saturation.

Making deep stops and safety stops, even on dives within the no-decompression limits, will significantly reduce the amount of nitrogen in a diver’s body upon surfacing.

The less nitrogen in his system, the lower the risk of decompression sickness. Making deep and safety stops makes sense!

 The Final Ascent Should Be the Slowest:

The greatest pressure change per a foot of depth is near the surface.

The more shallow a diver is, the more rapidly the surrounding pressure changes as he ascends.

A diver should ascend most slowly from his safety stop to the surface, even more slowly than 30 feet per a minute.

Nitrogen in a diver’s body will expand most quickly during the final ascent, and allowing his body additional time to eliminate this nitrogen will further reduce the diver’s risk of decompression sickness.

Take Home-Message about Ascent Rates and Scuba Diving:

Divers should slowly ascend from all dives to avoid decompression sickness and AGE.

Mastering a slow ascent requires good buoyancy control and a method of monitoring the ascent rate.

In addition, making a safety stop at 15 feet for a minimum of 3 minutes during every ascent, and deep stops when appropriate, will further reduce the amount of nitrogen in a diver’s body upon ascent, which reduces his risk of decompression sickness.

(Further reading and source: Diver’s Alert Network (DAN) Article, “Haldane Revisited: DAN Looks at Safe Ascents” by Dr. Peter Bennett, Alert Diver Magazine, 2002.) Read article.

Underweighting can be just as dangerous as overweighting.

scuba diver in lotus position

Equipment and the Environment Will Both Affect Your Buoyancy

Wetsuits, tanks, and even accessories and tools will affect your buoyancy. Whenever you change one of these items, it is necessary to complete a buoyancy check to determine the effect of the new item on your buoyancy. The salinity of the water will also affect a divers buoyancy. The obvious example is buoyancy in fresh water vs salt water, but keep in mind that the salinity of the ocean may also vary in different regions of the world, and you may need slightly more or less weight depending upon your dive location.

Conducting a weight test before a dive can make the difference between a miserable dive and an enjoyable one.


Conduct a Buoyancy Check Before DivingScuba 2

Test your buoyancy in a new location or whenever diving with a new piece of gear. Most of the time, diver’s have a limited number of dives on vacation, and it is worth the effort to make every dive comfortable and safe.

In fact, most dive operators will be thrilled if you ask to wade into the ocean or hop of the pier before your first dive to double check your weighting.


The general rule of thumb for proper weighting is that with all of his gear in place, with a nearly empty tank, a diver who completely empties his BCD and holds a normal breath should float at eye level. When he exhales he should sink.


Remember!! As the tank empties, it will become positively buoyant.

If you can empty your BCD, hold a normal breath, and float at eye level at the beginning of the dive, you will not have enough weight to comfortably maintain neutral buoyancy at the end of the dive.

The problem here is that most dive shops are not in the practice of providing nearly empty tanks for buoyancy tests. There are two solutions to this:


  1. Conduct the buoyancy test with a full tank as outlined above, and then add the appropriate amount of weight to offset the buoyancy swing of your tank as it empties.
  2. Conduct the buoyancy test as outlined above with a full tank, but instead of checking that you float at eye level, check to see that you sink slowly while holding a normal breath.


Double Check Your Buoyancy at the End of a Dive

Once you have successfully completed a dive with enough weight to keep you comfortably below water the entire time, it is a good idea to double check your weighting at the end of the dive.

To do this, purge your regulator gently until you are down to about 500 psi or 30 bar. Then, on the surface, conduct a buoyancy check before exiting the water. Do you float at eye level and sink when you exhale?Scuba 3

Do you have to swim to get down? Float like a balloon on the surface? Add a little weight on your next dive.

Do you still sink while holding your breath? Remove a few pounds and try again on the next dive.


Adding a Small Amount of Air to Your BCD During Descent Is Good

Many divers seem pleased that they can descend and arrive at the planned depth without adding air to the BCD.

Again, this is not a desirable situation. Because most tanks become more positively buoyant throughout a dive, divers who do not need to add air to their BCDs during descent to establish neutral buoyancy are likely to be underweighted.


I Don’t Need to Add Air During Descent. I Am Fine at the End of the Dive!

These are the people who have exceptionally low air consumption rates, and surface with at least half of their air remaining. Yes, they can be perfectly neutral during their safety stops, and they don’t go flying to the surface like awkward buoys at the end of the dive. Their tanks have not become positively buoyant because they haven’t breathed enough gas to cause a buoyancy swing.


The problem with this habit is that it does not prepare divers for an emergency situation, when they are low on gas because they over-breathed a tank due to a stressful situation, surface with less gas than normal due to an unforeseen occurrence, or are forced to share air with another diver.

In these situations, such a diver will have trouble staying down, and of course, these are the situations when having enough weight can make a big difference between an annoying situation and an uncontrolled ascent to the surface.

Plan for the worst case scenario: a low tank and increased breathing rates due to stress.


Diving with less weight does not make you a better diver.

Diving with the correct amount of weight does.

Slight overweighting is correctable: just add a little air to the BCD.

To be safe on dives, proper weighting is key.

Take the time to get your weighting right and you can avoid many potentially dangerous situations and dive more comfortably.

What Is the Purpose of Flying a Dive Flag?


Dive flags are used to alert boats that divers are in the area, possibly near the surface.  Dive flags also help surface support personnel track the location of submerged divers. 

What Do Dive Flags Look Like?

Two main styles of dive flags exist: the diver down flag and the alpha flag.

They have different applications, and the recommended (sometimes required) use of dive flags varies with location. Be sure to familiarize yourself with local diving regulations regarding dive flags before diving in a new location.

The Diver Down Flag

Diver down

The diver down flag is the well-known red flag bisected by a white, diagonal stripe. The stripe runs from the upper left corner of the flag to the lower right corner. This flag is used when divers are in the water to alert boats to the possibility of divers near the surface. In most locations, diver down flags should be lowered or removed from the water once the divers have safely exited the water. Legislation in many parts of North America requires that diver down flags be flown whenever divers are in the water, and the flag is recognized in most parts of the world. 

The Alpha Flag

Alpha flag

The alpha flag is white and blue flag, with a triangular notch on the free end. The left side of the flag is white and the right side of the flag is blue. The alpha flag is recognized internationally and serves a different purpose from the diver down flag. The flag is flown by a boat whenever the mobility of the vessel is restricted. Other watercraft should recognize that the boat can not move quickly, and should yield the right-of-way to a vessel flying an alpha flag. In the case of scuba diving, a dive boat must stay close to the divers it is tending, and cannot easily move from the vicinity of the people under the water. In many parts of the world, the alpha flag is recognized as an indication that divers are in the area, but the flag has multiple uses and it is advisable to fly both the alpha flag and the diver down flag to avoid confusion. 

When Should You Fly a Dive Flag?

Dive flags should be flown whenever there is the possibility of boat traffic at or near a dive site (almost all the time). Dive boats usually display both the diver down flag and the alpha flag. When diving from a boat, a dive team need not carry its own dive flag provided that it stays within a predefined proximity of the dive boat.

When shore diving at sites where watercraft traffic is a possibility, divers should float their own dive flag on the surface, and stay within a few hundred feet of the flag.  

How Close Can Boats Get to Your Dive Flag?

Boats and other watercraft should stay well clear of dive flags, and should decrease their speed when approaching an area where a flag is visible. The exact distance varies with location, and is usually between 50 to 300 feet of the dive flag. Realistically, however, boats can get just as close as they like to a dive flag. Distracted boaters might not even notice the flag, and some may not be aware of its meaning. It is important to visually check the surface and listen for boat traffic before surfacing from a dive, even when a dive flag is properly used. 

How Should a Diver Carry a Dive Flag?


In situations that require a diver to fly his own dive flag, the diver should tow the dive flag above him during the dive. Commercially available dive flags usually come with a buoy or inflatable raft to keep the flag upright at the surface. The diver tows the flag using a line attached to a reel. The reel should contain a length of line several times longer than the anticipated depth of the dive. Never clip the reel to your buoyancy compensator (BC) or dive gear when it is attached to a dive flag, because you risk becoming entangled in the line or dragged along behind a flag snagged by a boat. Divers who are using a dive flag should also carry a line cutting device in order to cut the line in the event of entanglement. Finally, all dive flags should be stiff enough to remain unfurled and visible without wind. 

What Should You Do If You Have to Surface Far From Your Dive Flag?

Inflatable diver down marker

In an ideal world, divers would always surface just underneath their dive flags or very close to the dive boat. However, it is possible that a diver may become disoriented or have an emergency, and have to surface away from the dive flag. For this reason, it is a good idea to carry an inflatable surface marker buoy at any dive site where there is the possibility of boat traffic. The buoy should be attached to a reel, and should be inflated and sent to the surface before the diver attempts to surface.  

Should You Start Solo Diving?


Ideally, a diver should only solo dive when it is necessary for a specific dive objective or safety concern.

If you are considering starting solo diving, be sure that you meet all the criteria in terms of mental and technical preparation, and take the necessary training and precautions to be a safe, informed solo diver.

What Is Solo Diving?

Solo diving refers to self-reliant scuba diving without a buddy. Solo diving was once considered a form of technical scuba diving, but is slowly becoming an acceptable practice for responsible and experienced recreational divers.

Why Solo Dive?

Solo diving is not appropriate for every diver or dive plan, but there are many situations in which solo diving is arguably advantageous.

  • Photography: Underwater photographers and videographers often prefer to solo dive. Solo diving allows photographers to minimize disturbance to the environment, such as sand or silt being kicked up into the water. Diving alone allows photographers sufficient time to capture the ideal images and footage without being rushed. Finally, removing the responsibility of a buddy gives photographers the ability to focus on their craft, rather than being distracted by caring for a dive partner.
  • Solo Travel: A diver who arrives at a dive site without a buddy is often randomly assigned one. This buddy is a stranger in terms of experience, responsibility, and personality. Many divers prefer to dive alone than to be paired with someone they don’t know. An incompatible or mismatched buddy in terms of experience and skills can constitute a potential safety risk.

Why Is Solo Diving “Riskier” Than Buddy Diving?

Solo diving has an added level of risk compared to diving using the buddy system. By ditching his dive buddy, a solo diver loses not only the buddy’s redundant equipment, but his redundant brain and judgement. A solo diver should be self-sufficient, experienced, and responsible, as well mentally prepared to dive on his own. Divers must mitigate the risks of solo diving as much as possible through proper training.

Why Is It Important to Offer Solo Diver Courses?

Solo diver training courses have existed in their current form since 2001. Although the existence of solo diving courses is still a topic of debate, advocates of offering solo diver training have some good points. It’s better to offer courses for these individuals than allow them to dive solo without the proper gear, techniques or training. In addition, many dive scenarios (including working dives) require solo diving.

Prerequisites for Solo Diver Training

Most solo diver courses require a minimum of 100 logged dives to enrol in the course. Solo diver courses start with a rigorous testing of  basic scuba diving skills. The goal of these prerequisites it to ensure that only experienced, confident divers are certified to dive solo.

What Do You Learn in a Solo Diving Course?

  • Gas and Emergency Management

Solo divers must be able to calculate their air consumption rates in order estimate their planned air consumption for a dive. It is important to have an effective gas management plan, including an additional, independent source of breathing gas containing sufficient gas for the diver to reach the surface in case the diver’s primary source of breathing gas is compromised. This is essential because a solo diver does not have a buddy with a second regulator to donate gas to an out-of-air buddy. Along these lines, a solo diver must learn how to rig, carry, and use an effective bailout system.

  • Dive Planning:

Solo divers learn to develop dive plans within the limits of their training, experience and equipment. This prevents a solo diver from diving outside his comfort zone, which could lead to panic or unforeseen hazards.

  • Additional Dive Gear:

Solo divers must carry additional dive gear, including an additional air source and redundant emergency tools such as line cutters to mitigate the potential risks associated with diving alone. A solo diver course trains divers in the configuration, assembly and use of the additional dive gear required to solo dive safely.

  • Training Dives

Training dives in a solo diver course are rigorous. In addition to detailed dive plans and advanced navigation patterns, solo diving students are presented with a range of emergency scenarios. These simulations occur without prior warning and must be solved on the fly. This might seem tough, but such training is necessary considering the risks of solo diving.

Torben Lonne is the Editor in Chief at online magazine.