Part of any solo diving certification includes instruction on all the additional equipment that solo divers are expected to carry. Without a buddy to help you out underwater, you need to be completely self-sufficient throughout your dive. This means carrying a range of backup equipment. Top of the list, as one might expect, is a backup air supply.
Is it likely that you will run out of air? Not if you have prepared thoroughly for your dive. However, equipment malfunction can occur. You might experience a problem with your cylinder, regulator or pressure gauge, once you’re beneath the surface. You might miscalculate your air consumption rate, or forget to check your gauges frequently, and find yourself out of air. What do you do?
The first rule of solo diving is to remain calm. Yes, that’s easier said than done when you are twenty or more meters underwater and suddenly find that there’s no air coming from your regulator. However, keeping your sense of panic at bay is essential for your safety.
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1. Switch to a Redundant Gas Supply
If you have a redundant air source, now is the time to reach for it. This is typically a buddy bottle – a small cylinder of gas designed for such emergencies. If you planned a shallow dive then chances are that you opted for a compact self-sustained buddy bottle. A deeper dive requires a larger buddy bottle that comes with a redundant regulator and gauge. Another type of redundant air supply is independent twin cylinders. This involves two full size cylinders on your back, each with its own regulator. It is also possible to have a side-mounted configuration.
Calmly and slowly reach for your backup air supply. Remove your regulator, breathing out slowly, and swap to your emergency supply. The key is to work calmly and efficiently in this emergency situation. Once you are reliant on your backup air supply, it’s time to complete a normal controlled ascent to the surface. With a redundant backup air supply like this there’s no need to perform an emergency ascent.
2. Switch to an Alternate Regulator
Examples of a non-redundant air supply would be your octopus, or an additional regulator on a double cylinder valve. Here things get more complicated. You need to remove your regulator, breathing out slowly, and swap to your second regulator or octopus. If this solves the problem and you can breathe once more, you then need to complete a controlled emergency ascent to the surface.
However, this will only solve the problem if your primary regulator was causing the interruption to your air supply. What do you do if using your non-redundant air supply doesn’t help? Or in the unlikely event that your backup air supply malfunctions?
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3. Perform and Emergency Swimming Ascent
Hopefully you are on a very shallow dive where you should be able to perform an emergency swimming ascent to the surface. Remember to release all air from your BCD first. During your ascent, keep your regulator in your mouth and exhale continuously. If you are lucky, during the ascent you will gain a few breaths of air as the pressure decreases.
4. Last Ditch Option: Buoyant Emergency Ascent
If you are too deep to perform an emergency swimming ascent, it’s time for more drastic measures. This calls for a buoyant emergency ascent. Remove all your weights. Lie horizontally in the water with your arms and legs spread out to somewhat control your ascent rate. Again, breathe out constantly as you float to the surface. This is a last resort as your ascent rate will be uncontrolled and you face many medical dangers, such as decompression illness.
Obviously, You Should Be Carrying an Redundant Air Supply on Solo Dives
These procedures outline what you should do in the event that you run out of air during a solo dive. They clearly illustrate the preference for solo divers to carry a redundant backup air supply on all solo dives.