Why Do Scuba Divers Dive Backwards?

You’ve probably seen this move on nature documentaries or television shows:

A scuba diver seated on the edge of a boat over crystal clear blue water, facing the inside of the vessel.

They have one hand over their scuba mask and the other hand on their belt.

Then ploop! Over they go, backwards into the water. 

It looks a bit clumsy and counter-intuitive. So why do scuba dive backwards? We usually dive into water head or feet first, right?

Isn’t it good to see where you’re diving?

This is a guide as to to why scuba divers fall backwards, plus some alternative entry methods that scuba divers can use to enter the water.

Reasons for Doing the Backwards Roll

There are several reasons as to why scuba divers dive backwards, and they all involve safety.

Scuba divers dive backwards to protect three things:

  • Your body
  • Your gear
  • The boat

Let’s look at these three reasons in more detail.

Your Body

Whether it’s a few inches or just a few feet, jumping into the water can take its toll on the healthiest of bodies.

Jumping feet first is hard on your joints, and you could injure yourself if you don’t hit the water right.

With all your scuba gear on, jumping in with your head means your facemask or regulator could also injure you.

Your Gear

When you dive back into the water, you’re not only protecting your body but your gear as well. How?

When you dive backwards, you have a hand on your headgear (scuba mask and regulator) and on your belt, which keeps your hoses from flailing about.

When you dive backwards, you protect these areas from the impact of the water. 

Diving feet first can damage your fins or cause them to fall off.

The same can be said for your mask if you dive in the wrong way; it could fill with water on impact or come off altogether. (Masks don’t float!)

The Boat

Diving backwards off the edge of the boat prevents your boat from rocking too much.

A fully-equipped scuba diver can weigh quite a bit, and diving aggressively off the side can cause the boat to rock violently, putting others still on the vessel at risk.

That’s why the backwards roll is so vital on smaller boats. But it’s good on big boats too.

How to Do The Backwards Roll/Tips

The backwards roll is a simple technique, but it takes a bit of practice to get used to.

It’s a bit unnerving to let yourself fall backwards into the sea when you can’t see where you’re going! Here is a step-by-step instruction:

1. Put on and Check Your Gear

Don your gear while seated on the boat on the deck. Check your batteries, regulators, and clasps with the help of a dive partner.

Once you’re all set and you’ve checked your gear, take a seat on the boat’s gunwale (the very edge).

Your face should be looking towards the inside of the boat.

Check and make sure the area behind you is free and clear.

2. Give Yourself a Hand

Put your right hand over your regulator to hold it inside your mouth when you enter the water.

Press your mask against your face with the fingertips of your right hand.

With your left hand, grab your weight belt.

In doing this, wrap your arm around your hoses to remain tight to your body as you enter the water.

3. Roll Into the Water

When you are ready to enter the water, tuck your chin into the chest and proceed to let yourself drop back into the water.

When you enter the water, take a moment to orient yourself with the boat. Give the boat crews the okay signal to let them know that everything is great! 

Note: The backwards roll is best for falls of a maximum of about four feet. Anything higher than that, and you’ll tumble too much, and you’ll hit the water in a jumble of arms, legs, fins, and hoses.

You’ll be disoriented and uncomfortable.

Alternative Entry Techniques

The backwards roll is a popular, simple, and effective method of entering the water when you are scuba diving.

However, it is by no means the only way. Here are some other options for taking the plunge:

Seated Entry

Use the seated entry when there isn’t much space to dive or the surface is particularly choppy.

Much like the backwards roll, you begin this maneuver sitting on the boat’s gunwale, with your legs dangling in the water over the side of the boat.

To enter, use your arms to lift yourself off the gunwale. As you push yourself into the water, flip yourself around so that you are facing the boat.

This method protects your gear and the vessel by keeping your tanks from hitting the side of the boat on the way in.

Giant Stride Entry

scuba diver giant stride

The giant stride is another alternative way to enter the water, and is a way to enter the water from a standing position.

It’s best to perform a giant stride entry when you are entering the water from the edge of a pool, a dock or pier, or a dive boat platform. (You’ll also need clear and deep water!)

After donning and checking your gear, stand on the edge of a stable platform with your fins hanging over the edge.

Much like the backward roll, ensure you have your right hand securing your mask and regulator and your left hand on your weight belt and hoses.

Then, take a giant step forward with one foot. Don’t jump!

Step out as far as you can to avoid hitting the boat or the pier with your tanks and gear.

The Backwards Roll: Final Thoughts

There are several ways to enter the water when scuba diving.

The backwards roll is a safe and easy way to hit the water. Remember to always check your gear and orient yourself when you enter the water.

Let everyone on board the boat or onshore know you’re okay with the okay sign. Be safe and enjoy your dive!

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