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Scuba Diving Buddy System
In early diver training, we can probably all remember how there was an emphasis on diving with a buddy and the pre-dive buddy check (BWRAF). Why is there so much emphasis on the buddy system? The main reason is safety. Diving with a buddy provides monitoring, back-up, and assistance in the case of emergencies like an injury, illness, accident, equipment malfunction, getting lost, running out of air, or panic. Secondarily the buddy system provides a partner to share and enjoy the event with, discuss it afterward, and make diving a part of an ongoing social context.
Who Makes a Good Dive Buddy?
When you show up at the dive shop with a batch of folks getting ready for a dive, the dive leader often looks everyone over, conducts a few interviews, and then puts together buddy pairs. Hopefully, partners are of similar enough experience that they are both fairly equally capable of looking after each other. The way to avoid this situation is to do your own interviewing and find your own buddy or have a buddy you already know well.
Requirements of a Buddy
Agree to and Dive the Plan – Listen carefully to the dive briefing if you are on a guided dive and make sure you and your buddy understand it. If there are questions, be sure to ask and discuss them. You need to be clear on depth, timing, the route of the dive, your positioning in regard to each other, that is side by side, leader/follower, etc. You should always be close enough to each other to be able to provide aid if needed.
Buddy Check – Buddies need to be aware of each other’s equipment regarding weight systems, alternate air sources, inflation systems, straps, time measurement, computers, lighting, knives, surface marker buoys, etc. The aforementioned acronym is still a useful device to help you remember which things to check: BWRAF – Begin With Review And Friend
- BCD – Inflate and deflate each other’s BCD using the button and orally. For some tips on selecting a BCD, please check out my buying guide: BCD Buying Guide
- Weights – If a weight belt is used, make sure it is securely fastened and able to be released quickly and easily. If there is an integrated weight system, be sure to know where the weights are located and how to release them.
- Restraints – Make sure all the buckles, clips, restraints, and zippers are correctly employed.
- Air – While checking the air gauge, breath through your buddy’s alternate air source. The needle should remain stable as you inhale and exhale. The air should not have a strange taste or smell. Listen for sounds of any leak in the system.
- Final Check – Are the fins and mask ready to go? In one final glance over all the equipment is anything out of place or missing? Do you and your buddy feel physically and mentally ready to go?
For a detailed review of the buddy check, check this out: Pre-Dive Safety Check Guidelines
Communication – During the dive planning process agreement should be reached regarding duration, depth, direction, and other logistical aspects of the dive. Before entering the water a review of hand signals is useful especially when you are diving with a new buddy. Make each other aware of slates, tank bangers, surface marker buoys, and any other attention-getting devices you are carrying. If you are using a full-faced mask, then direct talking can be implemented. Mutual understanding during the dive is essential for a safe and fun experience.
- Separation of Buddies – Before the dive, the two buddies should clarify how they will position themselves during the dive (side by side, leader/follower, etc.). During the dive, buddies should be within a few meters of each other and watchful. Poor visibility, current, and the use of specialty equipment like cameras can impede staying together. Under such circumstances, divers need to increase communication and be vigilant. In the event of losing sight of a buddy, the basic rule is to search for one minute and then abort the dive, ascend to the surface (or safety stop if it is absolutely necessary), and make the search from the surface. If you are diving in a group or guided dive, alert the others to the problem, communicate about it, and go from there.
- Entanglement – If a net, line, part of the reef, or something else gets tangled in equipment, buddies can calmly disentangle using a knife, if necessary.
- Illness or injury – Buddies can provide assistance to each other in a safe ascent to the safety stop and surface if one or the other is ill or injured.
- Panicking Buddy – When a diver panics irrational and dangerous behavior may follow like bolting to the surface. The best thing for panic is to prevent it by doing your best in preparation for prevailing conditions, like current, visibility, penetration, and amount of exertion that will be necessary. A good dive plan and communication before and during the dive is a good procedure to help ensure a calm dive. If you see your buddy is panicking:
- Get your buddy’s attention, make eye contact, and signal him to look at you with hand signals for “look at me.” That is done by signing the number 2 and placing the fingers pointedly on your mask.
- Signal to breathe slowly and deeply by putting your hand on your mouth and bringing it away and then back in rhythm to signify a relaxed pace of breathing.
- Hopefully, your buddy will calm down from there before long. After appearing relaxed, use signals (or a slate) to find out whether to continue or end the dive. If still uncomfortable, it would not be safe to continue. There is no shame in this. Safety is the priority. Back on the surface have a positive discussion about the circumstances of the panic.
- Out of Air – If a buddy is low on or out of air, the appropriate signal should be displayed and an alternate air source can be passed over. Divers these days should always carry a primary and a secondary 2nd stage. If you have only got one, you should make sure you and your buddy know how to do buddy breathing from one 2nd stage before the dive starts. This video by PADI shows how to do it.
Keep in Touch – After executing a great dive together, working and communicating as a team, all while getting maximum enjoyment from the fascinating subsea experience, you are off to a great start for an ongoing relationship. You can maintain contact after the dive for a meal, drinks, and tall tales, and hopefully for some fun in the water again in the future.
Feedback and Comments
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