“Japanese self-defense grabs, guns and knives resemble safety harnesses used for working at great heights. Note: only inexperienced youngsters use such a harness. An old-timer never. The belt provides the illusion of safety. It is enough to forget once – and you are done for. Those who do not use the belt have no illusions, are constantly aware of danger and are on guard. Constant belaying weakens vigilance (…)”
/W. Suworow, „Akwarium”, dom wyd. Rebis, Poznań 2007, str. 153/

After the course

Diving with partner rather than solo certainly is preferred way of diving. It is described as a safe form of practicing this type of sport. But is this certainly the case?

Very often, people who have little experience or who have just finished a scuba course prefer to perform practice dives together with their instructor or another trusted person with much higher skills. Such behavior is understandable from the point of view of one’s own psychological comfort and sense of security. With someone more experienced by our side, we feel safe, and confident that we will be helped if a dangerous situation arises. However, is such thinking correct? In the initial period of gaining experience, undoubtedly yes. Mental comfort, especially in such a hostile environment as the underwater world, is extremely important in terms of the process of learning and acquiring new diving skills. An inexperienced diver under stress, thinking only of possible danger, will make much worse progress than a diver who is devoid of such thoughts. This is also confirmed by the fact that most people who dive prefer the “friendly”, warm and clear waters of the Mediterranean to the Polish dark and cold lakes (despite easier access to them).

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A dangerous habit

However, continuing such practice for too long carries certain dangers. Humans very easily get used to comfort and security, making it difficult for them to leave this zone later. Imagine having to move again to unheated caves or shacks, and getting food by hunting or gathering what the earth has birthed. Few people in such conditions would feel comfortable and maintain the level of spirit they currently possess. The same is true of scuba diving. The constant supervision of an instructor (already out of the course) or more experienced group mates is something that is very easy to get used to. It’s a kind of “release from thinking,” pure relaxation and enjoyable to make even more difficult dives. However, in the long term, once the diver has gained experience, this habit becomes undesirable and very dangerous. It is a kind of illusion of safety that dangerously inhibits, and in some cases even reverses, the development of one’s own diving skills.

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The illusion of safety

Constant counting on a partner deprives us of two important qualities necessary for safe scuba diving: rescue skills and the will to fight. Entering the water with the idea that “in case of danger, I have a partner” causes us not to check our own equipment, not to repeat in practice, or at least in thought, self-rescue procedures. We simply become a passive participant in the events occurring underwater, and if everything goes well, we come out alive. The problem arises when something starts to go wrong. According to the principle of escalation, mistakes generate more mistakes, until finally we reach a place where no one can help us anymore. Unrehearsed procedures and bad reflexes take revenge on us, and even the presence of a partner can’t change anything in this situation. Another factor mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph is the will to fight. Living in a world of comfort (whether above or below water), we don’t have to fight for ourselves. We try to avoid danger, and our first subconscious reflex when we encounter one is to run away or give up. Underwater, this reflex has another name – panic. Sudden start of emergency situations at a time when we have counted on our partners and instructors throughout our underwater career makes our psyche – and therefore us – unable to pick up the gauntlet and start fighting. We choose to escape, and the chosen route, regardless of our skills very often is the same – up to the surface. A peculiar paradox: while counting on a partner, we run away from a partner.

The will to fight

Having the will to fight is very important in extreme sports. It is this part of the psyche that gives us precious seconds to master the situation and helps overcome the primal, instinctive reflexes developed in us by nature. In addition, emergency situations most often happen suddenly (loss of visibility, scuba regulator malfunction, flooded diving mask). A “fight, don’t flee” attitude then allows us to go into action despite unfavorable conditions, or if action is impossible to keep cool until help arrives. However, these two factors – rescue skills and the will to fight – are impossible to develop if all the time we dive with the attitude of “as if what, I have a partner who is experienced – he will help me”.

My buddy

The last mistake in such thinking is precisely its main pillar – the partner. This may be the most experienced person in the world, with the best skills, poise and proven mentality, having all the necessary equipment with him. All this will be of no use if this person can’t swim to us. The reasons for this can be various: poor visibility, loss of contact by buoyancy or currents, too long distance between us, entanglement in various ropes or nets, or the aforementioned panic. All of these can make it simply impossible for a partner to swim to us and provide us with assistance. What happens to us then, when we are unable to help ourselves – is already known.

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What should I do?

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So how should think a diver who wants to fully develop his skills and have the right mental attitude to practice diving? First of all, he should be confident that he can plan and execute a given dive on his own and help himself in case of an emergency. In addition, this confidence is not just an empty figment of one’s imagination or ego, but is built empirically from the results of self-rescue or improvement exercises with a wide degree of difficulty performed underwater as well as above water on shore. A conscious diver never claims to know something flawlessly. There is always some element to improve, remind or conduct training in more difficult conditions. Shooting a buoy, changing a mask, s-drill, v-drill are the same elements of any dive as gathering equipment or putting on fins. They simply always occur in the diving of such a diver. Even on a subconscious level, they are already in his dive plan. Such a person, of course, also knows his own equipment, takes care of it and practices with it. However, the most important feature of the mentality of a conscious and confident diver is the following thought: “I am the one who takes care of my partner and can keep him safe. I check if my buddy is swimming with me, not because I am afraid to be left alone, but to make sure that everything is “OK” with him too. Developing self-reliance and initiative is an extremely important trait in gaining diving experience at every stage of training, while fear for oneself or other mental blocks can effectively stop our proper development of a diving career, or even alienate us from practicing this wonderful sport.

SOLO diving

Of course, this probably raises a fundamental question. “Since a good diver is someone who is independent, perhaps the best way to dive is SOLO diving?” This type of diving makes the diver always aware that he can count only on himself. In addition, it forces him to practice self-rescue procedures and proper equipment configuration, and reduces to zero the risk of accident to his or her partner (because he or she simply doesn’t have one). Well, in the author’s opinion, the answer to this question is “no”.

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The reason for this answer is, not only safety in diving, but also its philosophy. However, let’s start with the second one. SOLO diving is like eating a delicious cake by yourself. We can then tell everyone how great it tasted and looked and show others pictures of it. Delight in the composition of flavors, visual qualities and craftsmanship of preparation, but these are just stories. No one will fully understand or feel what experience we really had. Eating this cake in two or in a larger group makes these people experience the same sensations, be in the same place and feel the same, share this moment. This brings people together, allows them to get to know each other better and share with joy the same passion that is diving. And this is the main goal and essence of this wonderful sport. To share the same underwater joys and excitement with someone together in the safest possible way.

However, it is important to remember that diving partner is a huge added value to the safety of any dive. After all, there are situations in which we would not be able to help ourselves. Gas narcosis, oxygen toxicity attack, heart attack or fainting are problems that can happen to any of us. In such circumstances, the help of a partner is even essential to get out of such a situation unscathed, and it is our “to be or not to be”.

About the author:

Daniel Popławski is an experienced IDF Master Diver Instructor from Masuria region. He is the author of many training presentations used by IDF instructors. With MSc in chemistry, Daniel applies his knowledge to the more scientific aspects of diving, such as gas blending. Privately, he enjoy a healthy lifestyle and all physical activity related to water (not necessarily in a liquid state). With his responsible and enthusiastic attitude he infects new diving students.