The buddy system is a proven system for improved diver safety when used by all individuals. Unfortunately if the buddy skills of all divers aren’t up to snuff there is the possibility of diver complacency becoming the weakest link in the chain and dive accidents arising. Here are some simple skills that you and your dive buddy can practice before every dive to keep your dive buddy skills sharp and current:
A Pre-Dive Briefing
Too many divers simply assume that everyone knows why they are there, how long they will be in the water and how deep they will be diving. Stop the assumptions and talk to your buddy. Yes, actually talk to them with your mouth. At an absolute minimum you should discuss the following:
- What is your buddy’s objective on this dive?
- What is the hard floor for the dive?
- What is the time limit for the dive? This should be based both upon personal dive computer no decompression limits and your estimation of air consumption.
- What is the agreed turning pressure for the dive? Make certain that this leaves enough gas in your tank and your buddy’s to handle an out of gas emergency suitable to the conditions in which you are diving.
- Will either of you be performing any special tasks, skill practice, or gear checks at any point in the dive? If so, be certain to explicitly communicate this. e.g. I have a habit of breathing off my octo during the safety stop to check its functionality. If I don’t adequately brief my buddy prior to the dive, I could cause a bit of concern by switching to my alternate.
What is the plan of action for certain emergency situations. Talk or dry run the following situations to develop muscle memory of what to do when Murphy shows up for the dive.
- Out of Gas
- Low on Gas
- Buddy Separation
- Emergency Decompression
- Computer Failure
Yes good old BWRAF. You learned it in your open water course and probably don’t use it a lot anymore, but you should. Next time you are on a dive with a mixed group of divers watch the novices gearing up. They might still be doing the buddy check. Now watch the intermediate divers. They are probably too busy trying to look good and will often times skip the buddy check. Finally check out the seasoned divers, odds are they are doing a really good and thorough buddy check.
If you are a more experienced diver, set a good example and do your buddy check so the new divers can look at you as a role model.
Dive Position Protocol
This is simple but often overlooked. If you regularly dive with the same buddy it might not be necessary, but again, consider being a role model to the less experienced divers and let them see you talk about this. You should have an agreed plan ready to handle the following:
- Allowed buddy separation distance. Are you same ocean buddies or are you close enough to help each other in a dive emergency?
- Positioning. Will one of you always be on the left or right? Above or below? Explain and understand why that follow the leader is a poor choice of positioning for general recreational diving.
- Swim through protocol. What is the plan should you come upon a swim through. I understand that all open water divers are trained not to enter an overhead environment under any circumstances, but how many of you have gone through a 5′ swim through on a reef? What if one of you isn’t comfortable with that. Is it appropriate for one to go around and one to go through the swim through. Talk it out in advance.
Finally while not skills, please consider the following items in your overall growth plan as a diver:
A good diver is always learning. Taking an occasional class from a new instructor will expose you to new experiences and techniques. The way that an instructor handles the buddy system during his class is also a good indicator of what kind of instruction you might receive. Take an occasional class to broaden your diving experiences. PADI’s Rescue Diver Class is an excellent class that makes you a better buddy. Also consider DAN’s Hazardous Marine Life Injuries or Onsite Neurological Assessment.
Give Your Buddy Skills the Chance to Grow
Partner with a buddy of similar experience. When you buddy with a more experienced diver human nature is to let that persons skills carry you. Keep in mind you should not dive beyond your training or experience, but by slowly stressing yourself a little more each time your skills will grow.
Underwater photography has some special requirements as far as buddy care goes. Talk about these prior to getting in the water. Don’t assume anything. Discuss positioning when one buddy is taking a picture and discuss frequency of looking at your buddy. Then stick to these agreed upon items. Buddy separation is a real and serious issue on photography dives.