Underweighted Diver Was Lost, Suffered Buoyancy Problems and Ran Low on Gas

Underweighted, lost diver pretended to have had a great dive

Reported Story

I made a solo dive in an unfamiliar location. I had a guidebook that described the site but it did not include GPS coordinates so I was unable to tell if I was at the place described in the guide. I was on a personally owned sailboat and the water was quite rough. The waves were about two feet tall. We tied up to a mooring ball at the site, however, it was not in the place described in my guide.

I descended on the line which was attached to one of the wrecks. I visited two wrecks in close proximity to each other, at about 85 fsw (26 msw) and expected the third one to be to my north, less than 100 yds (90 m) but I did not see it. Visibility was approximately 30 ft (9 m). I had been told by a dive shop operator that I would be able to see the next wreck just as the one I left disappeared from view. I never found the next wreck, but instead found myself on an empty plain. I tried to return to the wreck to which my boat was moored, but I could not find it, even using a compass.

I also expected to find a rubble wall, based on the description in the guide book. I finally found a rubble wall, but it was after about 20 minutes of fairly hard finning. I had to do a free ascent, and realized that I was underweighted. My tank was getting close to empty, which added to my extra buoyancy. I tried to fin hard downward to maintain a slower ascent and complete a safety stop, but I was unable to do that. I surfaced too quickly, without doing a safety stop. In addition, I was not in the area that I knew my friends would be looking for me. Luckily, I have very observant friends, who saw me almost immediately as I broke the surface, even though I was maybe 500 yds (450 m) away. They recovered me using a dinghy and I did not suffer any consequences. In fact, I told my friends what a great dive it was, because I was embarrassed to admit how badly it had gone.


Certification as a solo diver, (for diving without a buddy), has grown in popularity in recent years. To minimize the risks of drowning, trained solo divers carry a redundant air source and plan their gas consumption with extra care. This diver highlights why diving with a buddy is by far the safer option when diving with a single tank. Ascending with a near empty tank, with buoyancy problems, unable to make a safety stop or to safely control his ascent rate before surfacing far from his intended exit; this diver was lucky to suffer only a case of mild embarrassment.

Peter Buzzacott, MPH, Ph.D.