On Solo Diving

I think it’s time we all face up to a an unpopular fact. Macro divers are solo divers, and it’s time that we start acting like it. In Singapore, almost all of us are solo, low-visibility divers in dive sites next to shipping lanes. The only saving grace is that most of the time we’re at 12 m or less deep and can do a CESA if we have an air supply problem.

Nobody else is going to be your dive buddy when you spend 30 minutes trying to coach a 5mm glass shrimp into focus. Even if your dive buddy is a macro photographer themselves, that just means that both of you will end up absorbed in taking pictures and completely unaware of what is going on with the other diver. You’re not really doing the job of supporting each other if one of you has an emergency. You just happen to be “same ocean same time” dive buddies which isn’t really dive buddies.

And then there is the problem of diving with other divers when you want to do macro. Even in a well-meaning group, you can’t really take any good macro photos while you’re trying to keep up with everybody else. You get frustrated and take along wide-angle gear on the next dive. In short: it’s impossible to do underwater macro photography with other divers unless they understand that the point of the dive is to not swim anywhere.

Now it’s not that I’m trying to give anybody a “guilt-trip” or say that you should stop doing macro dives. In fact, just the opposite. DIVE MOAR!!! What I’m saying is that all macro diving is solo diving and that our style of diving involves a higher level of risk and some additional training, gear, and techniques to deal with that risk.

It’s not just me, the dive training agencies and magazines have some thoughts on solo diving, although it’s a bit bipolar sometimes:

With all of this in mind, back in November/December I went through the SDI Solo Diver class with Dive Zone Tokyo. It’s more about the theory: better air management, solo navigation, risk assessment, risk mitigation, and understanding what and why you’re doing something. The knowledge was pretty good (although I harbor a humorous theory that it’s a gateway drug for tech diving), and then my practical application was to go on a drysuit solo macro photography dive. That was cool. I got dropped off at 12 meters near the entry point and hunted subjects through the boulder field while the rest of the group beelined out to the soft coral. Later on, I tried to find the blue-tipped pikachu nudibranch in the inner bay and almost got to the spot but spent too much air searching and had to come up to the surface.

Even if you don’t want to go the certification route, you should start carrying the gear to survive a solo diver emergency and know how to use it:

  • Spare air supply
  • Cutting device
  • Spare mask
  • Compass
  • SMB

Shrimp from my first official solo dive in Osezaki, Izu Penninsula, Japan:

And me on the same dive:

See you underwater!!

–Mike

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