Why do Scuba Divers Dive Backwards into the Water?

When wondering aloud why we roll 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 forwards they would fall into the boat.

Very funny. But why is it that a common method of entering the water is on our backs? Couldn’t we simply 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 falling blindly backwards.

Diver entering the water through a backward role

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

Basics of the Backward Roll​

First, though, let’s review the basics of the backward roll. You’re going to use this method 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, causing you to land head first instead of back first.

To get started, you’re going to don all of your gear on the deck of the boat and get ready for entry by sitting on the gunwale with your back to the water. 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, help to keep your facemask on, secure the strap at the back of your head, or simply stay at your side. When you’re ready, tuck your chin in towards your chest and fall back into the water. When you’ve made impact, give yourself a moment to get your bearings, and then give an okay signal to the crew on the boat. All said and done, it’s a simple and effective way to enter the water.

Why is this Method used by so many?​

Now, why, exactly have so many divers adopted this method? 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 equipment and keep a hold of your facemask and hoses. 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 forward roll to realize it’s not a good idea.

Falling backwards is easier on your body

Even if you’re only falling from a few feet, water can be a pretty unforgiving element. Falling forward with a heavy 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.

It stabilizes the boat

The backward roll is the best option when you’re in a small boat like an RIB (rigid inflatable boat). These smaller boats 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.

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 this entry method 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. Some experts suggest inflating your BCD halfway to increase your buoyancy before diving in. 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. Don’t feel like you have to jump, just simply step out far enough so that your tanks don’t accidentally hit the side of the boat on your way down. And, that’s it! You’re ready to go!

The seated entry

This one is equally simple. As long as you have a gunwale or platform that is close to the surface, you can get on all of your gear and sit down on the edge with your legs dangling into the water. When you’ve checked that the space next to the boat is free of obstacles and that all of your gear is working properly, you’re going to lift your body over the edge with both arms, and spin around so that you’re facing the boat. This will make sure that your cylinders don’t graze the side on your way into the water. This method is perfect if you have a limited entry space due to a reef, or a somewhat shaky surface.

And there you have it. All the knowledge about scuba entry you need to avoid being the butt of the backward roll joke! Whatever method you choose, be safe and enjoy the dive!

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