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Why you should take a Self Reliant Diver Course.

Annika Ziehen smiling underwater in mexico diving
Annika Ziehen smiling underwater in mexico diving

Can you scuba dive alone? Yes, you can but you should only do so if you are a certified self-reliant diver and have the right equipment. Doing a solo diving course will teach you to become self-sufficient underwater and with that to become a better dive buddy as well.

What is the Self Reliant Diver course?

As the name implies a self-reliant diver or solo diver course (the name just depends on the agency) teaches you the art to dive on your own. This is unfathomable for many divers as one of the most important rules of diving all new divers learn is to never dive alone.

Annika Ziehen sidemount diving in Koh Lanta

But during a Self Reliant diver course, you will learn the skill necessary to venture underwater solo if you care to do so. You learn how to plan dives on your own, practice how to set up and deploy an alternate air source and get familiar with the concept of deconditioning panic by repeating certain movements over and over again so you will instinctively know what to do in an emergency. This includes handling a free-flowing regulator, switching masks underwater, and deploying a DSMB.
You will practice your navigational skills with a compass and last but not least you have to put it all into practice.

Are you a little scared yet? Good, you should be! Chances are the Self-Reliant Diver course might just be the hardest course you will ever do (after your Open Water of course), but probably also the most rewarding.

Why you should get your Solo Diving certification

Sidemount diver in Koh Tao

As a recreational diver, you learn to never go anywhere without your buddy underwater. However, there are times when you might want to dive on your own. As a photographer, for example, your chances to get close to cool fish and critters are much better alone and on your own, you won’t keep your group waiting either.

For me, the more important reason was self-sufficiency. You cannot always rely on your buddy for help if something goes wrong. Even a certified diver might panic and if someone is fairly new, chances are they will not know what to do in an emergency.

While the Rescue course teaches you how to help your buddy, I also wanted to know how to help myself.

Do you have to go solo scuba diving afterward? No, of course not! For many, part of diving is sharing the experience with someone but becoming a certified solo diver will improve your confidence, make you a better dive buddy, and teach you valuable skills when it comes to dive planning, emergency procedures, and how to prevent accidents. You will also learn when not to solo dive, probably the most important skill of them all.

Prerequisites for the Self Reliant Diver certification

What certification agencies have in common for the solo diving course is an academic portion where you review dive planning and calculate your air consumption rate. You will also have to pass a small theoretical exam.
On and under the surface you will learn how to switch to your redundant air source, practice emergency procedures, navigate, deploy your DSMB (delayed surface marker buoy), and more.

Other than that the requirements and what is covered in the course vary only slightly. As per usual, I recommend you pick an instructor you trust rather than go for a certain agency.

As the name implies a self-reliant diver or solo diver course (the name just depends on the agency) teaches you the art to dive on your own. This is unfathomable for many divers as one of the most important rules of diving all new divers learn is to never dive alone.

SDI Solo Diver

  • Minimum certification: SDI Advanced Open Water Diver or equivalent
  • Minimum age: At least 21 years old
  • 100 logged dives
  • SDI Solo Diver manual

For the SDI Solo Diver, you will do an underwater skills lab in confined water, a 200 m surface swim in your complete scuba configuration as well as 2 open water dives. One of those is an actual solo dive!

PADI Self-Reliant Diver

  • Minimum certification: PADI Advanced Open Water Diver or equivalent
  • Minimum age: At least 18 years old
  • 100 logged dives
  • PADI Self-Reliant Diver manual

For your PADI Solo Diver, you will have to do 3 training dives where you will learn how to calculate your air consumption rate, switch to your redundant air supply, swim without a mask, navigate, and deploy a DSMB.

SSI Independent Diver

  • Minimum certification: SSI Advance Adventurer and Diver Stress & Rescue or equivalent
  • Minimum age: At least 18 years old
  • 75 logged dives

For your SSI Solo Diver, you will do 3 training dives and a confined session if you don’t know how to dive with a redundant air source yet (like a sidemount configuration).


Solo diver equipment

So how does solo diver equipment differ from regular scuba equipment? It really doesn’t except that you need to double up. When you are diving in the buddy system you can rely on your buddy to share their air in an emergency – as a solo diver, you are on your own!

That means that you need to have an alternate also called a redundant air source with you. That can be a pony bottle, a sling tank, or sidemount tanks. This way you are able to bail yourself out in case your primary air source malfunctions or you run out of air. While this shouldn’t happen, it is the most important part of self-reliant diving to have a backup air source.

Over the years I have seen plenty of self-proclaimed solo divers (usually photographers) who dive on their own without a redundant air source, saying they are self-reliant divers and experienced enough. They are not. Unless you are buddy diving you should not ever get underwater without an extra tank. Everything else is asking for trouble.

In addition, you will double up on other important equipment like a backup mask, a 2nd computer, and 2 surface signaling devices incl. a DSMB. This way you can get yourself safely to the surface if your primary piece gets lost or malfunctions.

This is the basic scuba gear you need!

Where to do your Self Reliant Diver course

Annika Ziehen diving Sidemount and yellow fish

I did my SDI Solo Diver Course with Fiona at Big Blue in Koh Tao. There are not too many Self Reliant Diver Specialty Instructors out there but those who are, tend to teach the course a lot. Fiona is one of them and an absolute gem. She is also a tech instructor and with that, any course with her will go above and beyond regular course requirements – something you want from a good instructor especially when learning to become a solo diver.

A guide to technical scuba diving

Unlike some agencies you will actually need to do a dive on your own for your SDI certification, something I was terrified of (as my friend Claire smartly remarked when I told her about my jitters ‘wasn’t the name of a course kind of a giveaway?!’).

We did our skills session and training dives together and after it was time to put my new solo-diving skills into practice – all alone. Just like a mother taking her child to school on the first day, Fiona took me down the buoy line to 25 m at Chumpon Pinnacle where my dive was supposed to start. She explained before that I was to simply swim off unless she would tell me otherwise due to unforeseen conditions. Clear visibility and no current meant that I was off without turning around.
I did feel like a kid on her first day of school. I hugged the sling bottle in front of me tightly and mustered all my courage to simply go and not turn around. Luckily there was a huge school of trevallies waiting for me which made it all better. I immediately felt back at home underwater and the lack of a buddy didn’t change that. Writing this post a few years later I still remember the excitement but also the confidence I felt after successfully finishing one of the hardest courses I ever did.

Book a self reliant diver course with Big Blue

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