The correct way to do a back roll

Here in Bali, we tend to dive from small boats that require a back roll entry into the water. Very often, we encounter divers who do not know how to do a back roll effectively. Some go headfirst into the water while others flip over completely and struggle to get their legs beneath them. While this can be a hilarious sight, there is a safety issue here that shouldn’t be overlooked.

When performing the back roll, the scuba tank should hit the water first. This cushions the diver from impact, and protects the neck from undue stress. Divers commonly mistakenly throw their heads back to initiate the backward roll, and this usually results in the diver hitting the water headfirst.

There’s more than one reason why this isn’t ideal. Firstly, by throwing the head back, you’re likely to hit the first stage with the back of your head. Obviously that’s going to be uncomfortable. The mask strap might also slip off the head upon impact with the water. If the diver isn’t holding the front of his mask and regulator, the mask might very well slip off and drift away. In truth, many divers have lost their masks this way.

Thirdly, if the diver isn’t able to get his legs under him quickly enough in a high current situation, then he might surface far away from the boat and the rest of the divers, or heavens forbid, near the propellers at the back of the boat.

Here is how a back roll entry should be safely and effectively executed. Before getting into position, ensure all your gear is in order: Fins securely strapped on, BCD fully inflated, mask and regulators in place.

Step 1 – Sit as far back on the edge of the boat as possible. Lean forward to prevent the tank from hitting the side of the boat as you enter the water.

Step 2 – Keep your head facing forward, and place your right hand on the mask and second stage. Check again that the BCD is fully inflated to be doubly sure.

Step 3 – Cross feet (stack one fin on top of the other) to avoid hitting anything or anyone beside you.

Step 4 – Keeping your back straight, slowly lean back, as if lying back on your bed. The weight of the tank will pull you backwards into the water. Let the weight of the tank lead the backward roll. Avoid rocking backwards forcefully as this might cause your body to over-rotate. Ideally, the corner of the bottom of the tank should hit the water first, and this should slow your entry into the water.

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A nice entry where the tank hits the water first

Step 5 – As you enter the water, keep your head, hands, legs and waist in roughly the same position as while you were seated on the edge. Avoid spreading your legs as your calves might hit the edge of the boat.


An over rotation, where the head is the lowest point on the entry

Step 6 – Once the tank hits the water, move your legs in a breaststroke kick to get them under you in the quickest time possible. This should also prevent you from drifting too far into the current.

Step 7 – Signal to the boat that you are okay.

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An advanced option: As you lean back into the water, turn and angle your body slightly so that it faces where the current is coming from. This brings your legs and fins around into a better position to push back against the current if the need arises.

Leon Boey is a GUE, HSA and PADI instructor based in Singapore and Bali. He runs the dive education centre Livingseas in Singapore, Bali and Jakarta. Diving since 2005, he first fell in love with wrecks. He enjoys all sorts of diving, and loves being surrounded by fish.

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