Diving with a Ad Hoc Dive Buddy

Underwater shoot of a young couple diving with scuba in a tropical sea and showing ok signal

In the perfect diving world, You will always have a dedicated dive buddy. One that has trained with you, knows your diving style, has the patience for you to get that perfect macro-photograph and is always available when you get the urge to dive. The world is not perfect and we may find ourselves headed to a dive without a dive buddy. If you are diving in your local area, you might meet up with some other divers you know. You might not know them as well as your frequent dive buddy, but you might have a sense of their skills and if they are a suitable buddy. If you are certified as a solo diver, you might be allowed to go single. However, if you are traveling, you will likely end up with a randomly assigned dive buddy.

Since the accreditation agencies place high regard on the dive buddy programs, our own wishes are often over ruled. Most dive shops will require you dive with a buddy to limit their legal liabilities. Some dive destinations have even made having a dive buddy for recreational diving a legal requirement.

Even Squid Like a Dive Buddy Photograph by Via Tsuji

Look For A Dive Buddy Early

If you find yourself in a situation of needing a dive buddy, be proactive in finding one. Do not wait until you are on the dive boat to buddy up. Let the dive leader know as soon as you can, that you did not bring a buddy with you. Let the leader know your skill levels and what you would like to accomplish during the dive. This is especially important if you want to photograph underwater or accomplish some other task that might require your full attention.

While the other divers are gathering, try to determine who might be diving alone. Walk around and introduce yourself. Get a feel for the divers who might be without a buddy. You might want to not volunteer too early the point that you will need a dive buddy. Try to get a feel for a potential dive buddy before mentioning you will need one. Talk about what you both want from the dive, is there room to meet both of your goals. Can you accept any compromises? If you find a diver who you may be comfortable diving with, arrange to become a dive team and let the dive leader know.

If you do not get a chance to match up on your own and are assigned a dive buddy, what can you do to make the best of the situation? While we might be confident in our own abilities, we are making some sort of sacrifice when we dive with a buddy. How will you react when an assigned dive buddy has their own plan and do not care if it matches yours or not. Or if the dive is clearly beyond their ability once you are in the water.

Your Dive Plan

When you dive with the same buddy, a number items are already understood between you. It is not the same the first time you dive with someone new. Simple things need to be reviewed. While hand signals are supposed to be universal, sometimes we forget. I was reading an article a few days ago were divers had become separated. One diver was having some minor problems and felt it was best to terminate the dive. He gave his buddy a thumbs-up sign, and his buddy returned it. The diver stated to the surface. When he leveled out for his safety stop the buddy was not in sight, the buddy did not follow him up as he expected. Once both were back on the boat, the second diver said he thought the diver thumbs up was telling him he was doing great. Sounds like too much social media. However, it does point out that we may need to review the hand signs.

Once the dive leader does the site brief, carefully discuss your own dive plan. Many times the divers will use the site brief as the dive plan itself. If it is a follow-the-leader style dive, then the site brief likely does have the requirements of a dive plan. Still, you should confirm with the dive buddy you both understood the same thing. Go over your equipment configurations. If you or the dive buddy has integrated weights, is it understood how to release the weights in an emergency? In the case of an out-of-air emergency, what procedures will you use? Will one of you have a pony bottle? Will you pass your alternate air supple hose, the octopus? Or will you offer your primary?

How close is close enough as you dive and how close is too close? We are all comfortable with our own personal space and can get irritated if someone violates it. If you are photographing, you want them far enough away not to interfere with your shots. The other side of the coin, a dive buddy 50 meters away will not be much help in an emergency.

Pre-dive and Dive

The concept of having a dive buddy has been drilled into us since our first day of Open Water Diver training. We all know what a dive buddy is supposed to do, and how they will help make the risk of diving more manageable. Many times the reality is that the wrong dive buddy might make your risk greater. I do not want to make you paranoid, but pay close attention to your dive buddy as you kit up. Do their actions mirror what they told you? We can all fumble a little on any given day, but how does he react to a simple mistake? Does the buddy look stressed? Is the buddy also watching you? When we enter into this informal dive buddy association with someone, we are taking on a degree of responsibility. We are also taking on a formal legal responsibility. There have been many liability cases even a number of wrongful death suits involving the actions or lack of actions within a dive team.

Hire a Dive Buddy

I frequently travel alone and many times will show up at a dive without a dive buddy. Most the time, I am flexible and willing to adapt to a dive buddy. I also do not mind diving with a novice diver provided the diver’s viewpoint of their own skills are reasonable. There are times, however, when I want to ensure that I have a capable dive buddy. In that case, I might inquire of the dive shop ahead of times, if a private dive guide is an option.

If you find a good dive buddy early in your next dive trip, it might be possible to buddy up the next day.

Do you have any good or bad ad hoc dive buddy stories?  Tell us in the comments below.

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