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Solo diving - Let's have an end to all this buddy hypocrisy

by Colin Doeg

Reproduced from in focus 56 (Jan., 1996)

A lot of people do it but few will ever admit to participating in the practice. Mention just a hint of it in polite society and people around you fall silent. Jaws drop in horror. In the world of diving the subject is taboo. But why should it be?

If you haven't already guessed, the issue is solo diving. Of course it is a practice which involves a calculated risk. Indeed, it is frowned on so much in some countries that it is illegal.

Obviously it is not sensible to dive solo in every situation. The most important thing must always be to dive as safely as you know how. But if you can drive a car on your own as soon as you have passed your test or even fly an aircraft solo once you have the necessary qualifications what's all the fuss about diving on your own?

Surely it is more honest to do so and thus accept responsibility for your own safety than it is to slink into the water with someone else, disappear in the opposite direction and then finally emerge with them smirking like Goody-Two-Shoes because you have been clever enough to link up again just before you surface?

Have you ever stopped to think of what most buddies contribute to a dive? You have to wait while they get ready. They get bored and cold while you are taking your pictures and make it obvious they are fed up. They can't even find new subjects for you. They tug at your sleeve and want you to move on after you have patiently waited for twenty freezing minutes for a fish to re-emerge. They stir up the bottom while they flap about and give you nothing but backscatter. They frighten fish away with their bubbles and their presence. And then, when their air runs out, they expect you to go up with them when you still have six frames left.

Mind you, let me be the first to admit that on occasion buddies do have their uses. They can carry your spare camera for you. They can keep a wary eye out for any instructors looming up out of the blue. They are invaluable in shark infested waters as objects to frame your picture and give a sense of scale to the Great White cruising by.

Of course, there are some outstanding exceptions to this litany of complaints. Some buddies are a pleasure to dive with. Others know how to keep out of your way, amuse themselves but still hand you the other camera at the right moment or find something really good for you to photograph. As they sink into hypothermia they know the importance of not disturbing you until the thirty-seventh frame has been successfully exposed.

Mind you, being a fair-minded and tolerant person, I can see the dive operator's point of view. They don't want their operation tarnished by too many deaths and searching for a missing diver can be very time consuming. They cannot be seen to condone what are regarded as unsafe diving practices. Yet they smile benignly on all those who are seen to enter and exit the water together and don't care what those divers do once they disappear from sight.

Yet when you consider the subject of solo diving what else is technical diving? In that area, they are even beginning to say openly that technical diving amounts to solo diving and, therefore, every participant should be self-sufficient.

I have never objected to towing a surface marker buoy about. Indeed, I was using one regularly long before they became so popular. I don't mind signing a 'blood chit' to free the operator from responsibility for what happens to me if I would like to dive solo in an area I consider reasonably safe.

It took over 30 years before I ventured into tropical waters. I didn't want the hassle of getting my luggage on aircraft or of regimented diving. The Red Sea is fabulous and the other photographers I dived with were great. But there were a few occasions when I longed to be able to go in on my own. I still want to go back to one area for some quiet shore diving but I can't. Apart from the fact it is illegal even, though I would never be going deeper than five metres, I would soon be banned from equipment hire and air.

Of course, there must be some cunning ploys to get round some of these restricfions but why can't we go in the water to take pictures without all this buddy hypocrisy and deception?


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