While working as a dive instructor, I used to ask customers I hadn’t dived with before to assemble their gear before the first dive. This was to accomplish two things: so that they could familiarize themselves with the gear, and to help me observe their comfort level and independence as a self-reliant diver.
Often, I noticed that customers — certified divers — were putting their BCDs on the wrong side of the cylinder, with the jacket facing away from the cylinder opening. They also frequently put their regulator on upside down, with the LPI hose on the right and regulators on the left.
This gave me a clear indication of how much assistance the divers would need during their dives. Sometimes divers think they’ll always be diving with a guide or a dive center, so they needn’t worry too much about skills or setting up equipment on their own. Other times they might just not have had enough time or opportunity to practice their skills. In any case, becoming a self-reliant diver is always a skill you’ll want under your (weight) belt.
During your course
Divers must remember that passing a diving course by meeting the minimum standards is not always enough; you must also be able to perform skills comfortably and independently. When you certify as an open-water diver, you are essentially qualified to go diving with a certified buddy, independent of a dive professional. This is what you are paying for, and this is the standard you should strive to meet before diving without a guide.
Further, a dive qualification is not something that you can buy — you must earn it. Divers in entry-level courses should pause to question whether they feel confident enough to dive without a dive professional as they approach their qualifying dive. If the answer is ‘no,’ then they should work in a bit more practice with their instructor or divemaster either before or directly after qualifying.
Becoming a self-reliant diver
If you are a qualified diver who’s uncomfortable diving without a dive professional, firstly, don’t feel judged. Get in the water and practice until you feel comfortable. Identify your weak skills and work at them until they stick.
Although you may always dive with a center and a guide — never just with a buddy — you should not rely on them exclusively to handle any situation that may arise. You may not know your buddy well and you may be placing your own safety, and potentially your life, in a stranger’s hands.
Even if you do some research and decide to trust your dive professional with this huge responsibility, you may still dive with a group of 10 other people — all of them also relying on the professional to keep them safe, check their air, and control their buoyancy, while also trying to navigate and point out interesting marine life.
While dive professionals are there to provide divers with a service and to assist and take responsibility, especially in the unlikely event of an emergency, it is important to realize that ultimately the responsibility of your safety lies with you.