As a novice or untrained scuba diver, you might have seen the fully kitted-out professionals going backwards over the sides, and wondered:
“Why do divers fall backwards off boats?”
There’s the old “dad joke” that’s done the rounds over the years - that if they’d roll forward, they’d land in the boat.
But honestly, why not just fling yourself over the side? Why not complete a perfect swan dive over the railing into the water? Also, why do some divers end-up doing what could only be described as a Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks waddle?
The Quick-fire Answer
That backwards dive roll is actually called the Backward Roll Entry Technique and divers use this method to protect the integrity of their diving gear and because it is an easier entry into the water for the human body.
This technique is usually used on small boats, such as RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats) or service boats (tenders), or from any watercraft whose gunwale is both close to the water or not particularly stable.
Just for your information, the funny walk we mentioned earlier is a technique called a Giant Stride. The Giant Stride is used when diving from larger boats and liveaboards (an example would be a yacht) with a stable platform.
If you can jump on the vessel without moving it, you’re probably clear to execute a Giant Stride. It’s also usually used when doing a deep-water dive, so it’s unlikely you’d have seen this done if you are an amateur diver.
Diving Backwards Keeps Equipment In Check
When you prepare for entry (see the steps below) it's important to position your gauges and regulators properly. If you were to dive forward, the force of the impact might knock loose this and other equipment.
By diving backwards, assuming you do it correctly, you ensure that you don’t enter the water without equipment.
Diving Backwards Is Easy On The Body
When prepping for a scuba dive, you’ll be surprised how much the equipment weighs.
Another benefit to falling backwards is that you're using your tank to make the first impact into the water, easing entry. If you dive in forwards, the tank would be an additional weight pushing into the water.
If you’ve ever done a belly flop, you’ll know that water can be pretty unforgiving, even if you are falling a few feet. So, imagine the impact with additional weight on your back.
The Backward Roll Helps Keep Boats Stable
As mentioned, backward roll entry is used on smaller vessels. While these boats may have a low center of gravity, a few divers standing on the gunwale will shake things up on board.
By entering the water with a backwards fall, you minimize this rocking motion for everyone else on board.
So now that you’re (hopefully) convinced about the technique, let’s go into the steps required to perform the perfect backwards scuba roll.
How To Nail Your Backwards Dive Off A Boat
To successfully dive backwards follow these steps:
- Assume the starting seated position.
- Before taking a seat, make sure that you have put on all your gear.
- Sit on the edge of the vessel and face inwards.
- Cross your ankles. This will help keep your legs together when entering the water.
- Now it's time to check your equipment is in order. Make sure that all gauges and hoses are securely fastened, especially around the chest area. Bite onto your regulator and inflate your BCD (Buoyancy Compensation Device) halfway, so you have positive buoyancy.
- Use the palm of your right hand to ensure your regulator is in place. Use the fingertips on the same hand to also secure your mask to your face.
- Using your left hand, make sure the mask’s strap is secure at the back of your head. This also ensures that the mask doesn’t come off and you don’t bump your head on the tank cylinder’s valve.
- Before launching into the water, make sure that the water behind you is clear of natural dangers and other divers. If you are in a large group and miss the count, you will need to wait for the others to swim out of harm’s way.
- And when you are ready, or on the captain’s count, put your chin on your chest and fall backwards into the water.
Before darting off to explore, you must resurface to inform the captain that you’re OK. Also, be a pal and wait for your buddies, only then you can descend.
Now It's Your Turn
Now that you know why scuba divers fall off smaller boats backwards, maybe it’s time you try it yourself. Scuba diving is an activity that will quickly become a passion. It reveals a hidden world full of wonder that can genuinely change lives.
See you under the waves!