Scuba diving has to be 2 things above all else… It has to be fun and it has to be safe.
The two tend to go hand in hand.
When you are diving independently then you have to assume that you will lack the backup and logistical support associated with larger groups. Yes, it is entirely likely that there will be other divers at the sites that you visit - but you cannot and should not rely on this.
Note: we would not endorse visiting remote sites unless you have the correct logistics and back-up - for us scuba diving independently means visiting recognised, established dive sites, popular with others.
What this means is that you have to know where the local hospital and hyperbaric chamber is, you have to know how to contact them, emergency services and the coast guard.
And you need to be able to tell them exactly where you are - so co-ordinates, not ‘we turned left at the large church near the square’. Coordinates are available freely on google maps so there is no excuse.
You must also be aware of language barriers. No need to be multilingual, but enough to communicate a potential emergency effectively.
So our top tips in terms of safety:
- Get an old mobile phone with a local sim card and hide it in your vehicle with the numbers for EMS saved in the menu;
- Keep maps of how to get to the local hospital and chamber in the car (together with contact details printed out in case the phone is not available);
- Keep a prepaid travel card in the car with, perhaps, 50 Euro saved on it or a suitable amount of the local currency;
- Have more than one driver insured on the vehicle;
- Rent an 02 kit if available (if not, hire an extra tank containing the highest percentage Nitrox mix you can get);
- Have pre-printed Q-cards available to overcome language barriers ("I need emergency help for a diver", etc.);
- Leave a scuba dive location and ETA with a local dive centre or at your hotel (you can always call them and extend if you decide to do a bit of impromptu sightseeing);
- Have an agreed and actionable safety plan.
Other aspects are to make sure that you have a good, bespoke first aid kit and that everyone is trained in, at least, basic first aid. Take plenty of drinking water and sun cream, especially in warm environments.
You also need to be able to navigate underwater and everyone should know the reciprocal heading for the shoreline.
The only other top safety tip is that the buddy check is absolutely integral to making sure everyone is comfortable and confident.
Where to begin...
If you decide that scuba diving independently is for you then you need to ease yourself in…
Always start with a dive site that you are familiar with and have a couple of ‘practice runs’ before venturing off the beaten path.
As we covered in our blog, Real navigation in scuba diving, if you have not navigated before then a top tip is to choose a site you know, but that you can dive in the opposite direction to the way you are familiar with.
It is surprising just how different a dive site can look when approached from a different angle.
Research your chosen sites well and from at least 2 sources, gain an understanding of the wind and currents and spend some time understanding how to get there and where to park.
Another key aspect is not to take on unnecessary responsibility for others. You are diving independently and everyone else in your group should approach the dive in the same manner - it is useful to ultimately have a final decision maker but never allow certified scuba divers to abdicate responsibility for their own dive.
Last bits to think about
Your vehicle - Is it a target? Yes. Have we ever had ours broken into? No.
We tend to leave the windows down but doors locked (if someone is going to break in then no need to lose a window in the process). We keep very, very little in the car and the only financial risk (beyond damage) is the pre-charged travel card and old mobile phone.
Key goes in a waterproof egg/dry box and joins us on the dive.
Ed: As an aside we recommend having the number of a tow truck ready, don't we @Phil?
Save a dive
We can’t stress enough that you are diving without the backup and support of a dive centre so it is, largely, on you. Make sure you have a good ‘save a dive’ kit with spare O-rings and basic tools. Most dive centres also bring along equipment that you never even see such as spare regulators, spare masks, spare fins and additional weights.
Do it twice - once before you leave your accommodation and then again, as usual, at the dive site. The first is not about safety, it is about making sure you arrive at your chosen scuba diving location with everything you need.
The Cathedral is a wonderful dive site in Gozo that has the one draw back of 100+ steps down to it - we personally know of a diver who got there with everything except his fins!
Scuba diving independently is not for everyone but it is certainly our most preferred way to get under the waves. It does require more planning, preparation and thought but is a magical way to spend enjoy scuba diving at the pace you want and with the people you choose.
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