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Why do Scuba Divers Dive Backwards into the Water?

There are a number of methods to enter the water when you go diving. One of the most common ones is that scuba divers dive backwards into the water. That is only one of the ways to enter though and it is the one entry-method that is associated with an age-old joke though.

Why do Scuba Divers Dive Backwards into the Water

When wondering aloud why scuba divers dive backwards into the water, novice divers often find themselves in the position of hearing an age-old joke. It goes something like this:

Divers roll backward into the water because if they rolled forward, they would fall into the boat.

Very funny…

But why do scuba divers dive backwards into the water? Why is it that a standard method of entering the water is that divers fall backward instead of head first? Couldn’t we fling our legs over the side of the boat and roll in face first? To be sure, the idea of looking into the water as we fall into it is more comfortable than to roll blindly backward.

Well, there are a few explanations. And, becoming familiar with the rationale will prevent new scuba divers from having to hear the humorous, if not very informative, joke about tumbling head-first into the deck.

Basics of the Backward Roll​ for Scuba Diving

First, though, let’s review the basics of the backward roll. You’re going to use this method to fall backwards into the water only in boats that are less than three or four feet from the surface of the water.

Anything more than that and physics is going to get the best of you as you continue to roll. You enter the water tumbling too much and land with your head instead of your back.

Get your diving gear on

To get started, check your gear and make sure all equipment is working. Verify that the batteries of your dive computer and other pieces of gear are sufficiently full. You and your dive party are going to don all of the dive gear on the deck of the boat. Get ready for entry by sitting on the gunwale with your back to the water. 

Where are your hands?

Once you’ve checked (and double-checked) that the area is clear behind you, place your right hand over your regulator to hold it in place while using your fingertips to stabilize your mask. Your left hand can keep any other loose hoses in place. You can use it to keep your facemask on, secure the strap at the back of your head, or stay at your side. 

Roll away!

When you’re ready, tuck your chin in towards your chest and fall backward into the water. When you’ve made impact after your roll, give yourself a moment to get your bearings and then provide an okay signal to the crew on the boat. All said and done; it’s a simple and effective way to enter the water.

Diver entering the water through a backward role

Why do so many Scuba Divers Dive Backwards?​

Now, why exactly have so many scuba divers adopted to fall backward off the boat and into the water? Here are a few reasons:

It helps you have control over your equipment

When you’re facing away from the water at first impact, you’re better able to shield your gear and keep a hold of your facemask and hoses. Scuba divers who try entering the other way usually end up with water in their mask, if they can keep their mask on that is. Suffice to say. It only takes one attempt at a forwards roll to realize it’s not a good idea.

Falling backward is easier on your body

Scuba diver rolling backwards into the water

Even if you’re only falling from a few feet, water can be a pretty unforgiving element. Falling forwards with a heavy scuba tank on your back can be an uncomfortable experience, to put it lightly. You may also get a painful smack in the face from your mask as it collides with the surface. All in all, that’s not a preferred entry by any means.

It stabilizes the boat

The backward roll is the best option for scuba divers when you’re in a small boat like a RIB (rigid inflatable boat). Such a small boat may have a low or less-than-sturdy gunwale, preventing you from standing on top and stepping into the water. 

Another consideration for these smaller boats is the impact you can have stepping off of them. If your exit from the gunwale is going to cause the boat to rock dramatically, the backward roll minimizes the effect. For the safety of all aboard, you want to make sure that the boat does not rock to the point that it rolls over.

Alternative Entry Methods​

As you can see, the backward roll is usually a pretty safe and reliable option for divers. Of course, there are a few alternatives, as well. Of the many methods available, the giant stride and the seated entry are probably the most well-known.

The giant stride

Requirements for the giant stride entry method for scuba divers are a stable platform like a pier, edge of a pool, or one that you would find on a dive boat, and deep, clear water. Get ready by gearing up and standing at the edge of the platform with your fins hanging over the edge. 

Diver taking the great stride to enter the water

Some experts suggest inflating your BCD halfway to increase your buoyancy before diving into the water. When you’ve got a hand securely on your regulator and mask, you can do a final check that the water is clear and take a big step forward into the water off the boat. 

Scuba Diver entering the water

You step out far enough so that your tank and other dive gear don’t accidentally hit the side of the boat on your way down. Hold on tight to your mask and regulator with your right hand when you enter so they won’t come off or get dislocated.

And that’s it! You’re ready to go! Don’t feel like you have to jump!

You’ll enter the water feet first compared to the back roll where your feet enter last.

The seated entry

The seated entry is equally simple. You need a gunwale or platform that is close to the surface. Get on all of your gear and sit down with your legs dangling in the water. Check that the space next to the boat is free of obstacles. Verify that all of your equipment is working correctly. 

Lift your body over the edge with both arms and spin around so that you’re facing the boat. The spin will make sure that your cylinders or other dive gear don’t graze the side of the boat on your way into the water.

With this way to enter a diver goes in feet first vs. back first when divers roll backward. Make sure to hold on to your face mask and regulator with one hand so it doesn’t get unseated when you enter the water.

This method is perfect if you have a limited entry space due to a reef, or a somewhat unstable surface.

Scuba divers seated for entry into the water

Final Thoughts

And there you have it. All you need to know about safely entering the water without being the butt of the backward roll joke! Whatever method you choose when scuba diving and entering the water, be safe, and enjoy the dive!

Scuba Diver diving backwards into the water
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