Solo Diving Survey Results

Solo Diving Survey Results

Among the most surprising results of our July survey on cave diver behavior was the fact more than half of respondents say they solo dive in caves, at least on occasion. This is undoubtedly way out of proportion to the number of solo divers in the general diving population. We decided to take a closer look.

To do so, we created an eight-question survey aimed solely at those who solo cave dive. Still, we got more than 110 responses. Most of the results were what we expected…with the exception of question 7. And there was an aspect of question 8 which causes us concern.

This article summarizes the responses to each survey question. At the end, there is a button you can use to download the complete survey report as a PDF.

For the most part, we are not making any judgments. Just reporting what divers tell us.

1 Where do you make most of your cave dives?

  • 50%: USA
  • 24%: Western Europe
  • 10%: Mexico
  • 16%: Other

Eight of the respondents listing Other put down the UK as the site of most of their cave dives. When you add this to those listing Western Europe, it makes 31 percent of the total..

2 What percentage of your cave dives are solo cave dives?

  • 31%: Less than 10%
  • 15%: 10%-25%
  • 19%: 25%-50%
  • 16%: More than 50%
  • 19%: Nearly all of them

A little over one-third of respondents say they make most or all of their cave dives solo. A little less than one-third make fewer than ten percent of their cave dives solo. The remaining third fall somewhere in between.

3 What is your primary reason for cave diving by yourself?

  • 39%: No buddies available when I need them
  • 28%: I prefer to be by myself
  • 33%: Other

Lack of available buddies is a leading reason open-water divers drop out of diving altogether. This fact doesn’t appear to stop many cave divers. A further 28 percent simply prefer to cave dive by themselves.

Of the one-third of respondents who answered Other, many pointed out the nature of the caves they dive makes solo diving necessary, preferable or even safer. You can’t fully appreciate the latter response until you find yourself in a tight, dead-end tunnel you can only back out of.

4 Do you generally feel safer cave diving with a buddy or without?

  • 46%: It makes no difference
  • 32%: Safer with a buddy
  • 25%: Safer without a buddy

While roughly one-third of respondents acknowledge they would feel safer with a buddy, nearly half say it makes no difference. Fully one-fourth see a buddy as a potential liability.

5 How do you guard against catastrophic loss of breathing gas?

  • 49%: I sidemount
  • 25%: I carry additional open circuit bailout gas for CCR
  • 14%: I carry a buddy bottle
  • 9%: I turn the dive long before reaching Thirds
  • 3%: I don’t do anything

The fact nearly half of survey respondents tell us they sidemount should be no surprise. Backmounters solo cave diving with a sufficiently large buddy bottle are essentially doing the same thing.

While many feel no one should solo cave dive in a CCR, at least one-fourth of respondents do and deal with potential rebreather failure by carrying additional O/C bailout gas. CCR cave divers in teams typically carry at least 150 percent of their perceived O/C bailout gas needs. It would be interesting to discover what the typical solo CCR cave diver considers an adequate safety margin here.

The scariest response of all is the three percent who do nothing to prepare for catastrophic gas system failure and just trust to luck.

6 In the area where you do most of your diving, are there sites which prohibit solo cave divers?

  • 43%: Yes
  • 57%: No

It’s interesting to note the number of respondents who dive in areas where some sites prohibit solo cave diving is roughly the same as the number of respondents from the USA. Nearly all USA respondents dive in Florida, where the state parks prohibit solo cave diving. This does not appear to be an issue in most other places.

7 Have you ever been in a situation while solo cave diving, such as getting stuck in a restriction, where you felt having a buddy to help you might have proven essential for survival?

  • 98%: No
  • 2%: Yes

This is perhaps the most profound response to any survey question. Almost none of the respondents appear to feel solo cave diving puts them at any greater risk than they would encounter if diving with a buddy. Some even consider buddy diving a greater risk.

8 When you were learning to cave dive, how did your instructor(s) and/or course materials treat the subject of solo cave diving?

  • 46%: They implied that, with the right equipment, the risks inherent in solo cave diving might be manageable
  • 31%: They acknowledged it was something some divers choose to do, but at the cost of substantially increased risk
  • 9%: They were adamantly opposed to solo cave diving
  • 15%: The subject never came up during training:

It’s interesting to note fewer than ten percent of cave instructors appear to be adamantly opposed to solo cave diving — at least according to their students. What’s disturbing, however, is the fact 15 percent of respondents say their instructor never even broached the subject. Given the fact as many as half or more of all cave divers solo dive at least occasionally, this is not a topic instructors should ignore.

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