The buddy sys­tem is one of the key­stones of safe scuba div­ing. Make sure your part­ner can de­pend on you.

Sport Diver - - Contents - BY PA­TRI­CIA WUEST

Tips for be­ing a good dive buddy and what to do when you’re paired with a to­tal stranger. Plus, DAN’S ad­vice on treat­ing urchin and stingray in­juries.

Most peo­ple find that the best things in life are even bet­ter when shared with some­one.

So it is with div­ing. While we firmly believe all divers should be able to take care of them­selves in and out of the wa­ter, we also believe the buddy sys­tem is a crit­i­cal as­pect of scuba-div­ing safety. From mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment and skills to pro­vid­ing sup­port in case of emer­gen­cies, a good buddy is in­valu­able. And like other re­la­tion­ships in your life, it takes work to make the buddy part­ner­ship a good one. Here are our tips.

Speak the Same Lan­guage

Plan­ning a dive is more than map­ping out your ba­sic pro­file. A buddy team should de­cide who will lead the dive, re­view hand sig­nals and dis­cuss emer­gency pro­ce­dures, such as what to do if you get sep­a­rated — and you should have the con­ver­sa­tion be­fore putting a fin in the wa­ter.

Hand sig­nals are the most com­mon way to “talk” to your buddy once you’ve be­gun a dive. If your buddy is new, ask­ing if he or she is OK by flash­ing the uni­ver­sal OK hand sig­nal can be a re­as­sur­ing way to let him or her know you’re pay­ing at­ten­tion. Ditto for ask­ing your buddy how much air he or she has re­main­ing.

“Be­yond hand sig­nals, bud­dies com­mu­ni­cate by stay­ing close and mak­ing eye con­tact,” says Karl Shree­ves, tech­ni­cal de­vel­op­ment ex­ec­u­tive with PADI. “We can tell a lot by ex­pres­sions, breath­ing pat­terns and body pos­tures, of­ten un­con­sciously. The more you dive with some­one, the more you learn each other’s lan­guage.”

Kell Leven­dorf, dive ac­ci­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tor for Dive & Ma­rine Con­sul­tants In­ter­na­tional in Florida, says the re­la­tion­ship that long­time bud­dies de­velop re­sults in a kind of “men­tal mus­cle mem­ory that dic­tates who leads and who fol­lows, and al­lows for com­mu­ni­cat­ing changes in the dive plan that need to be made on the fly due to un­fore­seen cir­cum­stances.”

Not every un­der­wa­ter con­ver­sa­tion

can be con­ducted with a sim­ple hand sig­nal or by glanc­ing at your buddy.

“Flash­lights, cam­era lights or glow sticks are not only good for night dives,” says Liz Parkin­son of Stu­art Cove’s Dive Ba­hamas, “but they also work well on reefs to point out wildlife or get your buddy to look in your di­rec­tion.”

If you find that you need to stop the dive be­cause your buddy is puz­zled by what you’re try­ing to tell him or her, make sure you’ve got some way to scrib­ble a mes­sage. “A good set of wet notes or a slate is a must on every dive, re­gard­less of un­spo­ken com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills,” says Leven­dorf.

Get­ting your buddy’s at­ten­tion can be tough when there’s a shark cruis­ing past or he’s pre­oc­cu­pied with the set­tings on his cam­era. “Carry some sort of au­di­ble de­vice, so if your buddy isn’t look­ing in your di­rec­tion, you can still get his or her at­ten­tion,” says Jo Miku­tow­icz, man­ag­ing part­ner of Grand Cay­man’s Divetech.

Wet Be­hind the Ears?

If you’re lucky, your buddy is your BFF — maybe a spouse, friend or fel­low dive-club mem­ber. You know each other’s level of com­fort in the wa­ter, ex­pe­ri­ence and skills, goals for the dive, and have per­haps made the same dive to­gether count­less times.

And even when a dive doesn’t go as planned, says Miku­tow­icz, “nei­ther one feels pres­sure to push your lim­its, and nei­ther one feels badly for mak­ing the other one miss out on a dive that you might not be com­fort­able do­ing.”

That’s a per­fect world, one in which you and your buddy share at­tributes that match as per­fectly as twins on the first day of kinder­garten. But we divers know that’s not al­ways pos­si­ble.

“One of the re­mark­able things about div­ing is that it’s one of the few ac­tiv­i­ties in which a very ex­pe­ri­enced per­son and a very in­ex­pe­ri­enced per­son can par­tic­i­pate to­gether and both re­ally en­joy it,” says Shree­ves. “But the more ex­pe­ri­enced and qual­i­fied diver needs to re­spect the less ex­pe­ri­enced diver’s lim­its. Fail­ing to do so at best can take the fun out of the dive, and at worst can lead to an ac­ci­dent.”

Make sure you and your buddy dis­cuss lim­i­ta­tions or is­sues that could af­fect how you plan the dive.

“Re­spect lim­its,” says Shree­ves, “and both divers can have a great time. My wife and I are look­ing for­ward to div­ing with my daugh­ter when she’s old enough, but the joy­ful ex­pe­ri­ences we en­vi­sion can’t hap­pen if we don’t stay within all three of our lim­its.”

Breathe Easy, Set the Pace

Pair­ing up with a buddy who runs out of air while you still have half a tank can be an­noy­ing. The same goes for a buddy who races ahead as if he’s run­ning the 40-yard dash at the NFL Com­bine.

Like skill level and ex­pe­ri­ence, sim­i­lar air-con­sump­tion and swim­ming rates will lead to a more-re­laxed dive, but it’s not cru­cial as long as you com­mu­ni­cate. “A good buddy team knows what to ex­pect from each other, in­clud­ing gas use, and they check gas to­gether rou­tinely, ” says Shree­ves.

What about the speed-de­mon buddy? “Div­ing is just like go­ing out to din­ner with a friend, and it makes it dif­fi­cult when one per­son is a veg­e­tar­ian and the other only wants steak,” says Miku­tow­icz. “Div­ing is some­thing we all do to en­joy our­selves and see things that in­ter­est us.” Sig­nal your buddy to slow down and stay to­gether.

Of course, finning along at a nudi­branch’s pace can also pose is­sues. If you’re a pho­tog­ra­pher and he or she isn’t, lin­ger­ing too long in one spot can also be a prob­lem for the buddy who’s hang­ing around wait­ing for you to take the per­fect photo. When it comes to pace, some bud­dies just may not be com­pat­i­ble. Be hon­est, and find a new buddy if that’s the case.

The Bot­tom Line

In the end it comes down to trust. “In my ex­pe­ri­ence, the bud­dies you can trust are those who stay close and com­mu­ni­cate,” says Shree­ves. “They stick to the plan. They’re not afraid to call a dive if they think it’s nec­es­sary, and they don’t ar­gue if I do. They stay at hand when I’m task-fo­cused, even though for the mo­ment, all they’re do­ing is es­sen­tially watch­ing me. It’s clear we have each other’s backs.”

Us­ing the buddy sys­tem is key for safe scuba div­ing, but it takes in­de­pen­dent ef­fort to be a good buddy.

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