How Can I Stay With My Buddy On A Scuba Dive?

Divers use a buddy system for safety and survival. However, low visibility and strong currents can make it difficult to stick with a diving buddy. In some cases, the diver will be swept away from the group entirely. If you’re worried about this happening to you, you’re probably asking, how can I stay with my buddy on a scuba dive?

In this post, we will answer this question together with important advice in case you get separated from your diving group. Take note that this information can be a life-saver, especially for newbie divers who are yet to experience adverse underwater situations.

Why the Buddy System is Very Important in Diving

how can I stay with my buddy on a scuba dive

The buddy system is a simple practice of pairing divers before the trip. Buddies are intended to watch over each other in case unexpected scenarios occur during the dive.

Whether you’re a professional diver or a beginner, the buddy system remains important. Take note that even the most experienced diver can encounter life-threatening accidents underwater.

Buddies also ensure that their fellow divers aren’t diving beyond their training level. With that being said, a diver who wishes to perform a solo dive needs to be trained and certified for such a level of underwater activity.

Aside from that, the buddy system can be a learning experience, especially for beginner divers. Advanced divers can partner with newbies, so the latter can learn the ropes of diving firsthand.

Most of the time, beginner divers will have buoyancy issues and air supply problems. All of these can be easily fixed with the help of a buddy.

As they say, two heads are better than one. This holds true for divers.

Situations That May Cause Buddy separation

The ocean can be very unpredictable, which is the reason why the buddy system is made. But sometimes, no matter how hard you try to stay close to your buddy, there are instances where you’ll get separated.

Here are a few scenarios that may happen:

  • Strong currents. Strong currents can easily sweep diving buddies in opposite directions. Rips, or sudden and localized currents, are often the culprit to this situation. For beginner divers, rips are very dangerous since it can sweep them out of sight in a matter of seconds.
  • Distractions. Is that rock formation breath-taking? Before you know it, you’re already hundreds of yards away from your diving buddy. This is why communication is necessary if you want to explore underwater. Diving groups together with a divemaster will plan the route underwater to ensure that these distractions won’t occur.
  • Obstructions. You can be easily separated from your diving buddy when entering an underwater cave or exploring a wreckage. Since the spaces in these areas are limited, pre-dive planning is necessary to ensure that divers won’t get lost underwater.
  • Poor communication. Dive hand signals are made for a very critical purpose. It’s intended for underwater communication, so divers won’t lose their buddies. Underwater flashlights are also used to communicate with fellow divers. Most divers are trained to utilize these tools to ensure proper communication underwater.
  • Panicking. Despite their training, some divers end up panicking underwater. They may swim away or ascend without their buddies. This is why training and conditioning are necessary so divers don’t end up having a panic attack underwater.
  • Gear malfunctions. Sometimes, a dive buddy may fail to communicate or receive communication about gear malfunctions. In the process, the other diver may end up getting lost during the dive.

How to Stay Close to Your Diving Buddy

During your dive, it’s crucial to stay close to your diving buddy. Here are a few pieces of advice you should keep in mind:

🤿Be involved in the pre-dive planning

how can I stay with my buddy on a scuba dive

If you’re diving in groups, the divemaster will have a pre-dive plan. This will serve as the dive’s itinerary, so each diver knows where to go. It will also avoid any dive member from getting lost underwater.

With this, you should be actively involved during the pre-dive planning. If the divemaster has a set plan already, make sure that you’re actively listening during the briefing.

Make sure that you know the route, maximum dive depth, dive duration, buddy assignment, and other information. Never descend underwater until you’ve clarified this. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to raise them to the divemaster or your dive buddy.

🤿Watch your distance

Overall, dive buddies should be within 3 to 4 meters of each other. This gives enough visibility underwater, so you can communicate with your buddy properly.

If you plan to explore a certain area, you should communicate it to your buddy. Both of you should go to that spot and not just you.

Also, if the visibility is low, you should stay closer to your diving buddy. From 4 meters, you can stay closer at 1 to 2 meters for proper communication.

🤿Check your buddy every 3 minutes

During the dive, you should check your buddy every three minutes. You should be able to locate your buddy three minutes, otherwise, you should assume danger and start communicating with other dive members.

Aside from looking for your buddy’s whereabouts, you should also check his or her behavior. If your buddy is behaving weirdly or seems to be struggling, you should approach him right away. Your buddy might be having air problems or experiencing the bends. In this case, an emergency ascent is needed.

🤿Be careful of blind spots

Before the dive, the divemaster will inform all divers of physical obstructions and blind spots underwater. You should spot these first hand and communicate them to your diving buddy.

It could be a rock formation, a wreckage, a coral reef, or anything that could obstruct your view of the surroundings.

🤿Consider using buddy lines

During strong currents or low visibility dives, divers often use buddy lines. These are tethers that will connect two divers to each other. That way, when a rip sweeps them off, they will be swept together. This makes it easier for both divers to recover from the strong current should any of the two experiences gear problems or disorientation.

Overall, buddy lines are sometimes mandatory for drift dives and conditions where the current is quite strong. Take note that using buddy lines must be part of your training. Otherwise, you shouldn’t push through with the dive.

🤿Come up with a separation protocol

Divers always have to assume the worst-case scenario while diving. With that, they have to come up with a separation protocol so both divers know what to do in case of separation.

This will take the guesswork out, especially during low visibility and strong current dives. Overall, a separation protocol can be life-saving information for divers across skill levels.

🤿Avoid three-diver buddy teams

While a group of three may sound safer, it may not always be the case. In a three-diver buddy system, one of the members could neglect his or her responsibility.

Also, it becomes hard to focus since you’ll look after two divers. Your attention will be divided, which makes the system a bit inefficient.

Moreover, in the event that two out of three divers experience difficulties, the one left will be pressed to perform a rescue operation. In the long run, both three divers may end up in harm’s way.

With this, it’s best to stick to a one-on-one buddy system. If your dive team insists on a three-diver buddy setup, ask if you can buddy with the divemaster instead.

🤿Know your buddy

You must establish rapport with your diving buddy. This way, he or she can help you underwater better.

For example, you can tell your diving buddy if you have a previous decompression sickness history. You can also declare any problems you had while diving. This way, your diving buddy will know what to expect. It also adds a sense of preparedness for the two of you.

This is why it’s highly encouraged that the buddy system be maintained for subsequent dives. It means that you’ll have a dedicated dive buddy for all your dives. You can also have several dive buddies that you can partner with during your plunge, one at a time.

What to Do if You Got Separated From Your Diving Buddy

In the event that you got separated from your dive buddy, here are the things you need to do:

🤿Follow your separation protocol

When you got separated from your buddy, you should start performing your agreed separation protocol. In most cases, this means meeting each other at the surface. Make sure that both of you will carry out the same procedure.

🤿Use your dive light

If you got swept away, try to slow down and stop. Next, make a 360-degree turn to try to locate your dive buddy or dive group. You should turn on your dive light while doing this, so your buddy can easily locate you.

You can also make a blinking pattern on your dive light to catch the attention of fellow divers. For divers trained for Morse code, the dive light pattern is an excellent means of communication.

While trying to stay visible, you should also try to locate other divers; bubbles. It doesn’t have to be your buddy. The goal now is to locate the rest of the team, so you can seek help to search for the missing diver.

🤿Use your tank banger

Many divers carry tank bangers with them, especially during drift dives. A tank banger is a stick made of an aluminum alloy, which can be used to create noise underwater. This will help catch the attention of your diving buddy, so you two can locate each other.

Aside from tank bangers, divers also carry other noisemakers to make them easier to locate underwater.

🤿Start ascending

If it has been one minute and you can’t locate your buddy, it’s best to start ascending. There’s a high chance that your buddy is looking for you from the surface.

Don’t forget to take your safety stops to prevent decompression sickness. And while you’re taking stops, you should deploy your surface marker buoy. This will let others on the surface know that you’re safe and is about to reach the surface.

Aside from that, you can continuously use your dive light and tank banger while ascending. You should also take 360-degree turns to see if your buddy is anywhere near.

🤿Wait at the surface

Once you reached the surface, stay submerged and continue looking for your buddy’s bubbles. You should also keep using your dive light for added visibility.

If your buddy is nowhere to be found after this, you should proceed to the next step.

🤿Inform the dive crew

If all your effort is in vain, you should go back to the boat and inform the dive crew that you’re missing a buddy. Never descend back because your buddy might be on the boat and waiting for you to ascend.

In case your buddy isn’t on the boat, the dive team can be dispatched to look after the missing diver. Since more are looking, it will be easier to spot your buddy underwater.

🤿Notify the coast guard

If you’re shore diving without a crew, you should inform the coast guard straight away. They will look for your missing buddy by deploying more divers. Take note that you should inform the authorities as soon as you reach the shore.

Buddy separation is a time-sensitive situation. Every minute that your buddy isn’t ascending increases the risk of injuries and even death.

🤿Do not head back

Experienced divers have a rule that if a buddy gets missing, the other diver shouldn’t go back alone to search. The diver should inform the coast guard or the crew for a bigger search.

Take note that going back will just expose you to danger, much so if the cause of buddy separation is harsh underwater conditions.

How to Find a Dive Buddy

Are you still looking for a dive buddy? If so, the following methods can help you out:

  • Ask fellow divers. You can ask your diving instructor if he or she can refer a diving buddy to you. You can also ask your friends for recommendations.
  • Go for a dive trip instead. Dive trips are the easiest way to find a buddy. NAUI and PADI Dive Centers host dives with a full crew. Through this, the divemaster can buddy up the divers. It’s a great choice for single dives over the weekend.
  • Join a dive club. If you plan to dive regularly, it’s best that you join a dive club. Aside from finding a dive buddy, a dive club will also introduce you to other activities like underwater photography, wreck diving, and so on.
  • Try ScubaEarth. ScubaEarth is a one-stop resource for everything related to scuba diving. They have maps and logs of dive centers, dive sites, dive clubs, dive events, and more. It’s a great place to start for a diver who can’t find a buddy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do you need a buddy to scuba dive?

A: Buddy diving is done to ensure the safety of both divers. Unless you’re certified as a solo diver, you should never take the plunge alone. Solo diving is a very dangerous activity and only a few are certified to do it. Even if you’re confident with your diving skills, you’ll never know when accidents will strike.

Q: How do I find a diving buddy?

A: Dive shops often organize groups, so each diver will have a buddy. You can also tag along with a friend if you’re planning to dive for leisure. If you don’t have a friend who knows how to dive, you can contact your local PADI center and they can recommend a diver who’s willing and has the proper certification to go with you.

Q: How far away should you stay from your buddy?

A: Diving buddies should stay within an arm’s distance. This way, they can assist each other should problems occur on the gear. Also, this distance is crucial much so for low visibility dives as it will be difficult for divers to see hand signals at a distance.

Q: Can you share one dive computer with a dive buddy?

A: It’s never wise to share any diving equipment with your diving buddy. This increases the risk of errors and accidents underwater. The only exemption is your gear malfunctioned underwater and you need emergency assistance to proceed with the dive or to ascend.

Q: Can you dive without an instructor?

A: If you have proper training and license, you can dive without an instructor. However, you still need a diving buddy to ensure your safety underwater. For beginners, simple dives are ideal to prevent potential accidents.

Final Words

How can I stay with my buddy on a scuba dive? Pre-dive planning is the key to ensuring that you won’t get lost underwater. Being prepared for unforeseen conditions will also keep you and your buddy safe during the dive.

If in case you got separated and can’t find your buddy, it’s always best to involve the crew or the authorities immediately.