Training Fundamentals: Perfecting Your Scuba Back-Roll Entry

The scuba back-roll entry should be as easy as falling off a boat, but what’s the best way to prepare and enter the water using a back-roll entry?

The back-roll entry is inextricably linked with scuba diving. In the movies and on TV, it’s the entry every non-diver assumes we make every time we enter the water. In reality, there are many different ways to enter the water and we use the back-roll entry in a very specific set of circumstances. If you’ve ever dived from a RIB, zodiac or dinghy, you’ve likely made a back-roll entry.

A zodiac or dinghy is usually a crucial part of the main vessel’s standard equipment on most liveaboard trips. Dinghies can act as rescue vessels if divers lose their buddies, become lost or surface in the wrong area. Crew often uses them to check conditions or exchange goods with other liveaboards as well.

Those uses aside, divers love dinghies because they can usually get much closer to the optimum entry point for the dive than the larger main vessel. If you’re diving with a land-based resort, you’ll almost always dive from a smaller boat as well. Because you’ll use it so much, it’s important to perfect your back-roll entry. Here are some tips for the best way to enter the water from a smaller boat.

Be prepared

Diving from a smaller boat means that space is at a premium so take only what you need. Prepare your equipment before boarding the boat. If you have traditional fin straps, loosen them before boarding and be sure to adjust any accessories and secure them for the journey.

Make sure you have everything you need prior to boarding the smaller vessel from the main liveaboard. Often a dinghy will take passengers on journey of 5-20 minutes to the dive site, possibly more. If you travel halfway to the entry point to discover that you’ve forgotten your dive computer and the dinghy driver needs to turn around, you’ll be both unpopular with your fellow divers and possibly miss the best tide time to enter the water due to the delay.

Know what lies ahead. Listen to the local procedures during the dive briefing and understand how the dinghy driver will signal to enter the water. Buddy check thoroughly before boarding.

Getting to the entry point

Board the smaller vessel as instructed. The crew will usually help you and offer a supportive arm as you transition to the smaller boat. The crew will be considering the weight distribution of the dinghy so, as they help you to board, follow their cue as to where to sit. Once you’re seated, boat crew will typically pass fins and accessories to dinghy crew, who will pass them to you. Make sure you have some gas in your BCD in case you lose your footing and fall into the water.

Don’t begin to put your fins on until all divers are safely aboard — often less-experienced or agile divers may need assistance boarding or may bump you with their tank if you aren’t paying attention.

When everybody is on board put on your fins and mask on as soon as it’s practical. The main vessel will usually be anchored at a sheltered location and, as the dinghy travels away from that area, the conditions can become a little choppier. This can mean sea spray in your face and can make it tricky to put your fins on as the dinghy bounces along. Do your buddy check and ensure that you both have all you need, and nothing is loose, twisted or tangled. Finally, watch the horizon to avoid seasickness and scan the surface for any passing wildlife.

Entering the water

* The dinghy driver will slow down as he approaches the entry point to assess conditions and decide where to drop you. He or the divemaster will ask for final confirmation that everyone is ready to go. This means your fins are on, your mask is treated and in place and your regulator is in your mouth. Once ready, confirm with a hand signal.

* Hold your mask and regulator in place with one hand. To ensure nothing gets tangled, secure your alternate-air source and any accessories with your other hand.

* Shift backwards slightly so that you can safely clear the dinghy.

* Often there will be a countdown so be prepared to roll in on your mark. Tuck your chin to your chest and — literally — roll backwards into the water at the end of the countdown.

* As you splash into the water, relax and let your partially inflated BCD ease you back to the surface. Orient yourself and confirm you’re ok with a signal. Fin away from the boat, avoiding the dinghy’s stern.

* Meet your buddy on the surface and check all is ok. Wait for the signal from the dive leader before beginning your descent as a group.

Back-roll entries open up an exciting world of diving from RIBs, zodiacs and dinghies, allowing you to get to more varied dive sites and closer to the action. Becoming comfortable with the back-roll entry is a combination of following the correct steps, being aware of your procedures and your fellow divers and some common sense.