Social distancing. This term has been engrained into our language over the last few months and most of us have adopted it as a way of life for now, but for divers, this has long been something we’ve practiced as a way to engage more closely with the beauty and majesty of the marine world. Although we escape our terrestrial existance for brief and beautiful moments underwater we must still be sure not to completely isolate ourselves from safety and the ability to help or be helped from another diver should the need arise.
Of course all divers should be able to take care of themselves pre, post and during a dive but this is not a substitute for adhering to what we belive is a crucial aspect in diver safety - the buddy system. With this in mind, here are three ways to improve your ability to be a better buddy, and the better buddy you are the more people will want to dive with you so you’ll have more opportunities to dive too!
Always do your buddy checks.
Complacency is the forerunner of failure, never make assumptions about the functionality or even the presence of your gear. Just because you had it yesterday and there were no issues doesn’t mean that you haven’t missed something today. Also, the dive you are doing might have some different equipment requirements or required techniques that you want to be sure you are ready for, your buddy check, when done correctly, is your opportunity to identify any oversights. In the PADI system we teach you to follow your BWRAF acronym so you can consistently recover the critical steps. Check yourself, check your buddy. B - BCD, make sure it inflates and deflates effectively. W - Weights, be sure you have the correct weight for your dive(s) and that they are securely fastened or clipped in and that you can quickly release them if needed. R - Releases, is everything that can be fastened, fastened? Ensure all BCD/harness retainers are closed, equipment is streamlined and the cylinder is secured. A - Air, check your cylinder is fully open, your pressure gauge is reading full and that you and your buddy can both comfortably breathe from your primary and octo simultaneously without any erratic fluctuations of the pressure reading. F - Final check, do you have everything else required for this dive? You have your mask & fins, you both have an agreed dive plan, you have your gopro, camera, trash collection bag or anything else you need to take with you.
Maintaining buddy contact.
Do you remember the scene from Superman where the man of steel is holding Lois Lane as he takes her on a flight over Metropolis? We’re not saying you need to replicate this proximity but in the event you drop Lois then you need to be close enough to very quickly react - as he perfectly demonstrates moments later!
In the unlikely event that you or your buddy need assistance it is important to be in a position to provide it quickly so that any issues don’t unnecessarily escelate and levels of calm remain so.
Communication is a key element to maintaining contact. Using agreed hand signals or writing messages on slates for more complex communications are all considerations, your buddy check is your way of remembering to take this with you but actually using it is your in-dive responsibility towards eachother. Be sure to check in regularly throughout your dive with ‘okay’ signals, decide who leads and who follows to minimise the risk of seperation, always refer to your dive plan, do you have buddy seperation protocols in place (generally accepted as looking for 1 minute then surfacing to hopefully reunite if you didn’t find eachother underwater). Whatever you decide upon predive be sure that is what you implement - plan the dive, dive the plan.
At the very minimum you’ll be a SCUBA Diver if you’re looking to be a better buddy, so following the system of diver education is going to gradually expose you to new considerations and new skills that will improve your abilities to function as a good buddy. The PADI Open Water Diver Course will introduce buddy procedures like how to conduct a buddy check, how to stay close in water and how to communicate effectively.
Advanced Open Water will expose you to different environments such as depth and the extra considerations like gas narcosis and how to respond. Your Rescue Diver course equips you with a variety of tools to deal with a host of problematic situations involving a diver in various forms of distress, this is a huge boost to your confidence in your abilities and again better equips you to not only deal with a situation (hopefully before it arises) but to make more effective planning.
A Self-reliant diver course encourages a deeper look at gear preperations and considerations, as well as sharpening dive planning skills and gas management. Whilst many use the skills as a way to conduct solo dives this is not the overriding intention, in fact, these courses still strongly advocate the buddy system because despite any form of redundancy you might opt to take, the one failure you can not mitigate against is if the failure is ‘you’, you can’t take a back-up ‘you’ - but having a buddy means you don’t need to.
Theres no substitute to diving. As with most things the more you do it the better you get. Diving in a variety of conditions and environments as well as with different buddies will broaden your skill base and diving knowledge, thus increasing your ability to serve as a good buddy that others are happy to dive with.