It was bound to happen. Solo diving has entered the diving industry, not just as an "in- the-closet" activity as Nitrox diving once was, but as a "real" diving certification. Articles about solo certification are appearing in many of the diving magazines and their websites. The recreational agencies are either jumping on the bandwagon, hastily writing solo course standards, or they are resoundingly condemning the practice of diving alone. But perhaps reality lies somewhere in between.
The truth is that I know who hatched the idea of solo certification. He is an avid underwater photographer who makes several trips a year. Let's call him Dave. Dave's wife usually makes the trips too. She loves to scout the reefs of the world's oceans looking for critters, large and small, but she couldn't be less interested in photographing them. So she has a Dive Alert Hammerhead, and when she sees something good she honks for Dave, who swims over with all of his camera gear and preserves the moment. Dave has a Hammerhead too. In fact Dave carries almost every safety device known to humanity, including a diving EPIRB. They have an arrangement that they enter the water together and they leave the water together. In between they are usually a "same day, same ocean" buddy pair. This works great as long as Dave's wife is on the trip. But when she stays home, Dave usually has to argue with the Divemasters about being sent overboard with an off-the-shelf, totally unknown buddy who, in addition to perhaps being a marginally competent diver, is going to be very upset when Dave spends the entire 40-minute dive sneaking up on a single field of garden eels.
Well, finally all the hassle got the better of Dave, and he
sent a letter to the head f one of the training agencies proposing a certification
that a certification that would tell resorts and divemasters that he was a
competent, experienced diver who was more than willing to take full responsibility
for himself (I saw the letter before it was sent). True, Dave's may not have
been the first suggestion sent, and I will not speculate that the agency may
have been acting from any other motive than to promote safety in a practice
that was already occurring if not widespread, but it was only a few months
later that the first Solo
Diver certification was on the market.
Where does NAUI stand on solo diving and solo diving certification? Nowhere is diving with a partner mandated in our Standards and Policies. Even teaching buddymanship is not required, but neither is teaching solo diving. Buddies are mentioned only where an exercise requires two divers, such as a rescue tow. The Scuba Diver Course standards require that our teaching will produce divers who "are competent to engage in open water activities without supervision, provided the diving activities and the areas dived approximate those of training." That's it; nothing about a required dive partner.
The 1999 edition of the NAUI Risk Management Handbook (page1.14) reads: "The following guidelines establish recommended practices for the supervision of certified divers by NAUI members: .A diving companion is required. Diving alone is not permitted and if allowed, jeopardizes your insurance coverage." In other words, buddies were mandated by our insurance (though not during training).When NAUI renegotiated its insurance program in 2000, that restriction disappeared. The new edition of the Risk Management Handbook will read: "A diving companion is strongly recommended. .Diving alone is a personal choice for which an experienced diver must agree to take personal responsibility, preferably in writing."
Truly, diving with another diver increases the enjoyment of the dive most of the time. Going to a museum with another person enhances the museum experience. Most of us are social creatures, and we enjoy sharing pleasurable experiences with others. Enjoy looking forward to shared activities; we enjoy planning them; we enjoy experiencing them; we enjoy reminiscing them. From a safety point of view, a good dive partner can be the ultimate redundant system - a complete redundant set of equipment, redundant lifting power when we carry gear, redundant brain as we plan and execute our dives. But it is also true that an incompatible dive partner or a stranger with whom we are partnered only by happenstance can spoil a dive. An incompetent dive partner can ruin a dive for us as well as increase the risk. NAUI promotes and encourages "good" partner diving.
Many well-trained divers in high-risk situations solo dive- cave explorers, scientists conducting research, working divers, technical divers. Most instructors and dive leaders wil admit that when they are diving with students or guiding clients on the reef, they might as well be diving alone. There is no one present whom they can count on to assist if they experience a problem. As described above, photographers are notorious solo divers.
In my opinion NAUI should not promote solo diving, nor should
we prohibit it. So, should NAUI offer a solo diving certification? The fact
is that we already do. If we train and educate our students well, the Scuba
Diver we certify is a comfortable, competent
Diver. He or she has been thoroughly trained to be self-reliant and is aware of, acknowledges, and honours both personal abilities and personal limitations. Does he or she need to acquire a special solo card that says this? No. When solo diving is an option, the diver will plan and execute a well planned, low-stress dive within the personal comfort envelope. Such a dive may well be safer than one with a buddy who is an accident waiting to happen.
An increasing problem today is not solo diving, but an apparently
increasing percentage of marginally trained, less than comfortable divers
who have to be hand-held during their dive vacation and even then are not
safe divers. Ask any resort divemaster. If general training is often so inadequate,
is there any reason why the resort should place any more trust in a "Solo
Openwater Diver' card? No. Mike Ball Expeditions has a special protocol to
qualify guests as solo divers. I suspect that if presented with a Solo card
by a new guest, they would say, "Very pretty. Now let's see if you can
qualify to solo dive with us."