Recreational diving and technical diving used to be a lot closer in the activities performed. Diving was done by a select few that were very well trained. They dove a lot and practiced their skills, including the emergency skills on a regular basis. One of the biggest myths in scuba diving is that you can run out of air underwater. As discussed in a previous blog, running out of air, unless done on purpose, seldom happens, and as I expressed, "you cannot run out of air." Please read the blog to find out why... Even so, basic scuba divers learn at least a couple of emergency techniques to deal with out of air situations. The emergency buoyant ascent and the emergency swimming ascent are two. A controlled emergency swimming ascent is part of every scuba diver's open water training. The question you have to ask yourself is, "do I remember how to do it?" Look up "s-drill."
As a NAUI dive instructor, I teach my students to be good dive buddies. Nonetheless, just because you are in the same ocean as your buddy, doesn't mean they will be in arms reach if you ever run out of air. Sharing air with a buddy is the prefered method to ascend safely to the surface.
Most certification agencies don't encourage "solo diving." As a diver with technical experience, I understand that a technical dive is a solo dive. Technical divers plan accordinly and often follow decompression schedules that means they are required to stop at different depths. That being said, each diver on a technical dive site may not be able to exit the water together, so sharing air to the surface is problematic. Technical divers also plan for the worst case scenario and bring what they need to resolve those issues at depth. Recreational divers plan that in a worst case scenario, they've got to get to the surface.
Until you are ready to start your technical training, there are things that you can do to better manage your gas. You can follow a "rule of thirds." This might not be your best option unless you are diving with a very large cylinder. Most divers want to get the most time out of every dive and leaving a third of your gas in the cylinder usually means shorter dives. You can learn to manage your air consumption. Yes, your air consumption usually gets better over time, but how much air you are consuming on your dive is only part of gas management. The time to a site, time on a site, and the time to return to the shore are also part of it. Those takes time to learn and lots of dives to master.
There have been divers that jokingly have asked me if I was going to run out of air. They see the extra cylinder I regularly dive with and wonder what that's all about. When I do dives, I don't plan on running out of air, and while I have never had an equipment failure nor an out of air emergency, it could happen.
Divers carrying redundent breathing system can develop a level of confidence beyond emergency skills. I've seen it. I believe that the diver should be as confident even without the RBS. Look at it this way, if your dive buddy isn't near enough and there is an issue, you can be your own buddy and make your ascent safely and slowly, breathing all the while.
If you don't dive with an RBS, have you been mentally rehearsing those skills and going over the maneuvers and procedures on a regular basis? One of my newest students demonstrated his confidence on a dive at Clear Lake. His regulator free flowed and he did exactly what he was supposed to. We shared air to the surface. He was totally cool during the whole procedure.
Likewise, one can't say that just because you have the equipment, that using it effectively is going to happen, either. Just like emergency skills, RBS skills need to be practiced. Ascents with and RBS have to be practiced. A few of my students have shared a confidence they didn't know before diving with their RBS. If they ever were on their own, they don't feel that the lack of a dive buddy is a danger.
So, are you going to fork out a couple hundred extra dollars (minimum) for equipment you'll never use? The purpose of owning it is for emergency purposes, but owning it alone might not reduce any of the risks of diving. In fact, I was recently made aware of a change in policy requiring an RBS on a particular dive site. This dive site had a regular policy that an RBS was required in order to participate. Being an instructor myself, the dive guide felt comfortable sharing some of what they saw. Untrained in its use precipitated to several divers actually running out of air. While no injuries occurred, they could have. The common mistakes included: the diver starting the dive out on the smaller cylinder; switching to the redundant cylinder to extend bottom time; and in one instance, even completing the dive on the redundant cylinder because they interpreted, "returning to the surface with 500psi in the tank on their back," meaning that at 500psi the diver must switch to their redundant cylinder.
If you want to learn more about the RBS and learn how to use it, let me teach you how.