The 3 main reasons we practice the buddy system are for fun, to be safe and to ensure there is additional gas and equipment in the event of an emergency. As an instructor and dive guide, I often used to buddy people together who had similar diving experience. On occasion, however, I would do this and - other than diving - they had nothing in common. Some buddy pairs didn’t even speak to each other before or after the dive. That may have been a language barrier, but just because you see two Advanced certs or two cameras, doesn’t mean those people will be compatible as dive buddies or friends. Any relationship has teething problems, and that goes for the diving community too.
Sometimes people hit it off because they have the same love of marine life or because they do the same job and get chatting on the boat. Newly certified divers are often enthusiastic and not dive bores like a handful of those more experienced. Some of my favourite buddies have been newly qualified, and they are often willing to learn and take constructive criticism to become better divers. On the other hand, I have also seen them be pressured by more experience buddies into doing things they are not qualified to do.
I used to know a lot of divers who were afraid of getting an inconsiderate buddy and would therefore ask the Divemaster if they could buddy with them. Sadly, this is not always allowed due to liability issues, so be open-minded and take diving with a stranger as learning a new diving skill. You may find that you end up being pals for life and go on many underwater adventures together! See our list below of how to be a good buddy.
- Plan the dive or listen to a briefing together
An effective dive plan means we will conserve air, have a more pleasurable experience, and it gives us a purpose. We understand the direction we will take, learn about currents, points of interest and hazards. A common goal will help in the overall undertaking of a dive from start to finish and instils a sense of teamwork from the very beginning. It usually eliminates any misunderstanding!
- Share your objectives
Before kitting up, chat to your allocated buddy about what you want to see and get out of the dive. A photographer may ask if you mind being a model for them and explain the pace of the dive they like to take; a wreck enthusiast might have the urge to see the propeller or engine room; while the objective may simply be to enjoy it and absorb the marine life.
- Do a buddy check and review emergency equipment
You may be diving with someone who trained with a different agency to you, but they all have some form of buddy check. As well as the usual BWRAF checklist, don’t be afraid to ask the type of Alternate Air Source your buddy has and how it is released from their gear; are the mouthpieces and cable ties in good working order? Is your buddy wearing a wing or a standard BCD, and where do they keep the weights? I like to practice removing them in case there is an emergency or if my buddy needs assistance at the surface before exiting the water. If you were buddied up with a rebreather diver, would you know how to help them in an emergency, and what system would they use if they donated air to you? Finally, I like to know where my buddy keeps items like SMBs and reels and if they plan to use them.
- Review hand signals
Communication is crucial to a good dive and if you didn’t know your buddy until now, we suggest a quick signal review. Some technical divers have a set of number signals you may have never seen. If you are modelling for a photographer, you may need to know the hand signal for “hold” or “slow down”. If you have the same buddy all the time, chances are you can read their body language and would know if they were nervous, uncomfortable or wanted to end the dive. With a stranger, however, it is important to discuss those signals prior to getting in. Some divers like to get your attention with a torch or by banging something on their cylinder. If in any doubt about comms, carry a slate.
- Agree what to do in an emergency
God forbid the dive goes Pete Tong but in the unlikely event that it should, it is a good idea to discuss what to do in tense circumstances. While we practice low on air and equipment malfunction drills as a student, we hope we never have to use them in real life. A quick refresh with your local dive club or with an instructor upon arrival in your holiday resort is never a bad thing. Don’t feel that talking these scenarios through will scare off a potential dive buddy. If anything, they will respect you for being safety conscious. Other topics such as what to do when separated, caught in a current or how to get your buddy’s attention may well be discussed in a pre-dive briefing. If not, ask questions or discuss during a buddy check.
- Stay close, but don’t be a leech!
Does your buddy prefer to be side by side or at the back of a pantomime horse? Your proximity in the water will depend on current, visibility and if they have a wide-angle lens! Check where they are frequently and if they are OK. Don’t crowd them, poke them, kick them in the face or stir up the bottom with your fins. It’s a good idea to carry a compass in case you get lost or separated and remember - the general rule is to look for your buddy or the group for no more than a minute, then slowly ascend.
- Dive the plan
Don’t succumb to bad practice or peer pressure underwater. If depths, time and distances were discussed in a briefing, stick with those. If your buddy is more experienced and wants to carry out tasks you are not qualified to do – such as wreck penetration or diving in the blue– find this out before you start the dive. You can then find someone to dive with more suited to you. If you witness behaviour you don’t like underwater, tell the Divemaster. Touching (you or the marine life!), kicking corals and breaking local rules are not acceptable.
- Sharing is caring
Show stuff to each other underwater, and don’t be Captain Ignoramus! Diving should be a fun experience. A lion fish to you may be boring, but if your buddy has only ever dived in the UK they may have never seen one. Some people have better eyes for macro too, so if you see them, take the time to point out gobies and shrimp. Your buddy will thank you for it in the bar later!
- Check each other’s air
Does you gauge read PSI or bar? Take a few minutes before you get in to discuss how to communicate half a tank, low on air and increments of ten with your buddy. Don’t be afraid to tell them you are running low. Diving is not a competition! If you breathe more than they do, the guide can always swap buddies pairs around later in the day.
- Ascend safely together
Dive computers vary, but a slow ascent to around 5 metres is good practice for a safety stop. If one computer in a buddy pair gives a slightly longer stop, stay together until it has cleared. Some buddy pairs help each other to launch delayed surface marker buoys prior to ascending. Stay together at the surface if boat diving as it makes for an easier pickup and hand your buddy the drift line. Ask if they need assistance to remove equipment like fins and weight pockets.
- Log your dive!
You had a great dive together and have enjoyed chatting with the rest of the group about what you saw. Keep a record of it afterwards or back at the dive centre, dock or beach over a deco beverage! Being a total dive geek, I love looking through Fish ID books with my buddy and writing down latin names of the marine life. Get a fun dive stamp or put your social media account/email address into your buddy’s log book, so you can stay in touch in the future. Writing a log entry is a great way to get to know each other too.