What is the Buddy System?

The buddy system is a procedure in which two people operate together so they are able to monitor and help each other before and during a dive. The main benefit of the system is improved safety. With buddy diving, each of the divers is presumed to have a responsibility to the other. The “buddies” are expected to monitor each other, to stay close enough together to be able to help in an emergency, to behave safely and to follow the plan agreed upon by the group before the dive.

Importance of the System

The buddy system may be introduced as early as your first confined water session. When properly practised, scuba diving with a buddy will enhance the safety and enjoyment of diving for both divers. It is important to never entrust your own personal safety to anyone else. Become confident in your own diving skills and abilities: be ready to render aid to other divers, and to rescue yourself should it become necessary.

Your buddy will do the following: assist you with things like donning and checking your equipment before a dive, remind you to check things such as your depth and time and provide emergency assistance in the unlikely event that you need it. You will obviously be required to do the same for your buddy. With a proper buddy system, you will both benefit in terms of peace of mind, safety and fun.

Diving with someone also adds to the fun. Together, you and your buddy share experiences and underwater adventures. It is also a great opportunity to make new friends!

How it Works

The buddy system does not simply mean that you dive alongside your buddy. There are steps that need to be followed to ensure that your dive is a safe and enjoyable one. You both need to agree on a dive plan (like maximum depth and bottom time); swim at the same pace; move in the same direction; share a similar depth; and share entry and exit procedures and an objective for the dive, e.g. night, wreck or deep.

You and your buddy have a responsibility to each other. For it to work, you both need to take it seriously and work at staying together underwater. Before each dive, run through each other’s equipment using the pre-dive safety check. You can use the phrase “Begin With Review And Friend” (BWRAF) to help you remember.

B – BCD

Check that the LPI is connected and that the mechanism is functioning properly.

W – weights

Ensure that you have a right hand release and that the belt is not trapped under the BCD, interfering with the quick release mechanism.

R – releases

Make sure that the cylinder band is secure and that you are familiar with your buddy’s releases in case you have to remove their equipment in an emergency.

A – air

Check that you have a full cylinder and smell and taste your air to double check that it is not contaminated.

F – final check

Make sure that you grab your snorkelling gear and weights, and locate your hard gear on the boat before departure to avoid the disappointment of missing out on the dive because of gear being left behind.

You and your buddy will then descend underwater together. While scuba diving, divers stick together and remain alert of the surroundings that can impact their buddy.

If you lose your buddy in a dive, remember to look no more than one minute. Ascend a few metres and look for bubbles and flashing fins. If your buddy is still not present, proceed to surface and make contact with the boat for further instructions.

When diving, make sure you and your buddy stay together at a reasonable and suitable distance: a distance where you can easily monitor your buddy, recognise any problems and easily respond to emergencies. It is also important to maintain eye contact, active communication and regular monitoring. Agree on and practise a set of underwater hand signals together.

Communication Underwater

Sound travels well in water, but voice communication is not an option underwater unless you are wearing a full-face mask. As a result, you need to do most of your talking with your hands – either by hand signalling or with the use of a slate and pen. You can also invest in an audible signalling device such as a shaker or air horn. One of the best visual signalling devices to invest in is a surface marker buoy that you deploy at the surface to notify the boat of your location in the event of you being separated from your group. This item is a must-have in dive destinations notorious for their strong currents.

Hand signals will allow you to exchange information with your dive buddy and even ask each other questions underwater. They can also be reassuring. Signalling to your buddy regularly during a dive will ensure that you remain in close contact and can easily notify each other of any problems that may develop. Repeat any sign that is not clear to your buddy and acknowledge every signal that he or she makes with an “OK” to show you understand. If your buddy is slow to respond to a signal, check that they are OK. If you are diving at depth, sluggish responses may indicate the onset of nitrogen narcosis, which impairs reaction times. Signals are not just limited to showing each other how much air you have left or highlighting problems, they can also be used to inform your buddy of interesting things that you see or to alert them to something you are both looking for. There are numerous signals for marine animals and you can develop your own within your buddy pair.

For hand signals to work, you need your buddy to look at you. As mentioned above, it is important for your buddy to be in close proximity at all times and so getting his or her attention should be as easy as a tap on the shoulder. Try not to startle your buddy when you do this.

Common/Basic, Fun and Personal!

There are a number of standard hand signals that are essential to all divers (okay, cold, low on air, etc.), but you can also improvise new and fun signals with friends. Always review signals at the start of a dive, especially if you are diving with a new buddy. Give signals to your buddy slowly and clearly, to ensure that they are understood. These signals can either be used underwater or at the surface.