The goal of scuba diving is the enjoyment and discovery of the underwater world. To achieve this goal certain safety measures are put in place, as with a good safety plan divers can focus on fun rather than frantics. One of the key methods used in scuba diving is the buddy system. Through mutual safety this technique ensures the enjoyment of a scuba diving pair, making sure there’s always someone watching your back at all times.
To have a good buddy is to be a good buddy. Leading by example you can make sure your buddy is as serious about safety as you are. Here are some of the best buddy behaviours to be a primo dive buddy:
Fail to plan, plan to fail
Pre-dive, it’s important to come up with a plan with your buddy that both of you will stick to. It should refer to the duration of the dive, the sites to visit, depth, safety stops and minimum air before heading to the exit point, as well as any other discussion points for your individual scuba habits or needs. Knowing the dive site features is imperative to making a plan. The plan will also be based around the pre-dive orientation given by the dive guide.
Double check your buddy’s equipment pre-dive
Another set of eyes over your equipment set-up is a good idea to make sure that everything is working properly. You and your buddy should do this pre-dive.
Give your buddy a hand with their equipment
Getting in and out of some scuba gear may be difficult to do alone, a buddy is there to assist. For any heavy equipment to be brought along during the dive, both parties should divide the load between them.
Be in tip top condition
Not being sick is as important for you as it is for your buddy. You’ll want as much energy as possible to dive and you’ll need to stay hydrated, so hangovers are a no-no too. Getting some energy from food a couple hours in advance and drinking plenty of water will give you what you need. Some people like to take sea sickness pills to build up their immunity but this will not be for everyone.
Maintain active communication
Clear lines of communication are important to always keep open with your buddy throughout the dive. This is done using hand signals. Communicate actively so that both parties are aware of the other’s status at all times.
Know the common hand signals
Following from above, to communicate you need to use and understand the hand signals used in diving. Some could be confusing to the un-trained, like the OK signal versus the “end the dive” signal. These essentials are taught in the open water diver course.
Here some key signals to memorize and practice:
- The most common to see in photos is the OK signal, in which the thumb and index finger create a circle and the other 3 fingers are extended. It can be used as both a question and an answer – if your buddy does this sign you should respond the same if you are indeed OK.
- The thumbs up signal actually means to end the dive. The thumb points up toward the surface. When giving the thumbs up your buddy should respond with the same.
- To signal a problem there is a two-part sign. First, a flattened hand is rotated side to side. Then, point using the index finger to the problem, whether it be in the water or on the body. One use of this is for an ear equalization problem.
- At the surface, the problem signal is used to call for attention from a boat and is made by waving an arm over the head. It is basically like one would wave “hello”, so greeting in that manner while scuba diving is not good practice.
Close is comfort
Excitement could lead us to get overzealous with our exploration of the dive site, while forgetting our proximity to our dive buddy. Being aware of you buddy’s location and resisting the urge to wander off is the responsible thing to do. Always stay close to your buddy as you would be surprised at how easily we can lose sight of one another.
Stay within your comfort level
Your skill and training will have provided you with a certain level of comfort and ability. By going beyond that you put both yourself and your buddy at risk if you were to panic or get hurt. If you start to feel uncomfortable, even if that depth was part of the plan, don’t be afraid to communicate to your buddy that you have gone far enough for that dive. Get more comfortable from more training, not from taking more risk.
Respond effectively to emergencies
While full emergency response will be the work of the dive guide and team, you need to be prepared to help your dive buddy get out of sticky situations, both big and small. Entanglement, immobilization and injury can happen and you need to be ready to respond using your training.
Refrain from buddy breathing
Breathing from a single regulator is a skill that should be practiced before daring it in the deep. Don’t buddy breath unless both of you have practiced it before, as the common mistake for newbies is to forget about controlling buoyancy.
Liveaboard teams and dive guides provide another layer of safety protection as well. They will be there to help in the case of an emergency to support both you and your buddy.
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