Scuba Diving: All You Need to Know About the Buddy System


If you’re new to scuba diving, one of the first things they’ll teach you at diving school is the importance of having a dive buddy. Having a diving buddy is more of a requirement rather than a choice. Some people think that the buddy system is only for the novice; however, even seasoned divers benefit from having a scuba diving buddy. In fact, many veterans of the sport prefer journeying into the depths with someone rather than going at it solo, and for good reasons, too.

Why Do You Need a Diving Buddy?

Different divers may have different reasons why they love having a diving buddy. In general though, there are mainly two reasons why employing the buddy diving system is deemed critical for a successful dive.

Enhanced Safety

Although diving is generally not a dangerous sport, you’ll still want to be prepared for emergencies and other sticky situations. In any case, having a diving buddy will increase your chances of surviving any problem you may find yourself in. A diving buddy isn’t just a backup plan; your diving buddy is your life support system while you’re underwater.

Diving buddies are expected to look out for each other before, during, and even after the diving expedition. Before the dive, your diving buddy will help you check your diving equipment and make sure that everything’s fine. In the event that you find yourself running low on oxygen while underwater, your diving buddy can share his or her oxygen supply with you. Your diving buddy can even give you a quick leg massage if you get leg cramps while swimming (or just bring you back safely to the surface).

It’s More Funcolorful corals

Having a diving buddy allows you to share the experience with another person. For instance, sighting a shark and living to tell about it makes the whole experience more real. If you tell your diving group your tale, you’ll have someone to back your story.

Also, you can get some great underwater pictures of you taken for your Facebook or Instagram account (of course, you’ll want to return the favor). In addition, a keen diving buddy can help you spot marine creatures you may have otherwise missed.

Lastly, a great diving buddy can make your safety stops more entertaining. Safety stops usually last for three minutes or more, and you can make these few minutes fly by playing an underwater game of rock, paper, and scissors or by blowing bubble air rings.

Do’s and Don’ts of Being a Good Diving Buddy

Now that you know how important it is to have a diving buddy, you’ll naturally want to choose a buddy who is reliable and fun. But what about you? Have you ever thought about how good of a diving buddy you are? To make sure that your diving buddy doesn’t leave you for someone else, be sure to keep the following dos and don’ts in mind.

Do A Buddy Check before Diving

Your diving equipment may be working the last time you used it, but it doesn’t mean that it will be working just as fine today. The same is true for your dive buddy’s gears. Thus, it is important that you both check each other’s equipment before plunging into the water. Keeping the acronym BWRAF (Begin With Reviewing A Friend) in your mind will prevent you from forgetting this important diving protocol.

DO Plan Together

Before you take the plunge, take some time to create or go over your dive plan together. Talk about the maximum depth that you both would like to achieve and how much time you’ll be spending exploring the underwater landscape and its inhabitants. You also need to agree on some ground rules regarding your buddy relationship like communication signals, separation protocols, and others.

DO Decided on a Swimming Setup

One of the most common swimming setup for diving buddies is by swimming side-by-side. This way, both of them will be able to see what’s in front of them at the same time. It makes it easier to communicate as well since they only have to turn their heads left or right and tap their buddy on the shoulder if they want to communicate something.

There are also other diving buddies who agree on a leader-follower setup with one diver swimming in front of the other. This is usually used in cases where one diver is more experienced than the other. Here, the experienced diver takes the leader position so that the less experienced diver can follow along and learn.

However, some would recommend that the more experienced diver should be the follower so that he or she can keep an eye on the novice diver. Also, giving the novice a chance to lead gives them a chance to practice being responsible as they’ll have turn around every ten kicks or so to check on their buddy.

Whichever setup you choose, be sure to plan it well with your diving buddy. And if you choose to change setups or roles while underwater, discuss how you’re going to do it.

DO Communicate Often

Keeping a solid line of communication is important to a successful buddy system. Since you’re underwater, voice communication is almost impossible (unless you have a full face mask with voice communication capabilities). That said, you’ll have to do most of your talking with your hands. You can also use water-resistant slates and pens if you happen to have some.

Hand signals will allow you to exchange information with our diving buddy, and since this will likely be your main form of communication, you’ll both have to learn these hand signals and be thoroughly familiar with them. Many of the hand signals you’re likely to use are standard signals taught at diving school. For instance, most schools teach that if you want to tell your diving buddy that you’re oxygen tank is low on air, you simply have to run a slashing motion over your throat using your fingers. Still, you can both make up your own signals for interesting marine creatures that aren’t on the diving school’s list.

You should also make it a point to communicate regularly, since this will help to keep both of you alert while diving. At the same time, it will allow you to check your buddy. For instance, if your buddy is slow to respond, it may indicate the onset of nitrogen narcosis, in which case, you’ll want to end the dive and get your buddy safely back to the surface.

DO Stay Close to Each Other

Staying close together doesn’t mean that you have to hold-hands while diving. Instead, stay within reasonable distance so you can give each other some space to explore. As a general rule, it should take you no longer than two seconds to swim back to your buddy’s side. This is enough distance to allow you to check on your buddy regularly and at the same time enjoy the experience without feeling restrained. Besides, being close means that your buddy can easily signal you and show you interesting marine creatures they were able to spot.

DO Pay Attention During the Dive

It is easy to get distracted while diving especially if your diving spot is teeming with healthy and diverse marine flora and fauna. You simply can’t help but pull out your diving camera and take pictures of those colorful corals and schools of fish swimming in front of you. However, being distracted and not paying attention to your diving buddy can lead to diver separation. At worst, you may be so engrossed flirting with a sea turtle that you forgot to notice your dive buddy who’s entangled in a kelp forest or having leg cramps.

DON’T Turn It into a Competition

Your diving buddy is your teammate and not your competition. The goal here is for you to enjoy the diving expedition and return to the surface safely together. You can encourage (not challenge) your buddy to go deeper with you, but if they’re not up to it, don’t pressure them into doing so.

DON’T Pull Underwater Pranks

When you’ve gone diving with your buddy on multiple occasions, you may have developed a level of friendships that allows you to joke and pull pranks on each other. However, you may want to save the joking for when you’re both back up in the surface. Don’t ever try to play hide-and-seek while you’re diving since this may cause your buddy to panic and surface for help, leaving you alone underwater. Also, don’t startle or jump on top of your diving buddy. If they’re pretty jittery divers, you may find their diving knife pointed straight at you.

DO Continue Diving and Learning

The best way to hone your diving skills is by getting more experience, and this is done best by making repetitive dives. Not only will this help improve your diving, but it will also allow you to spend more time with your diving buddy, which in turn makes your buddy relationship stronger.

Also, don’t stop learning once you’re done with your basic Open Water Diving Course. Consider continuing your education with an Advanced Diving Course or even a Rescue Diving Course. These advanced courses will help equip you with skills and knowledge that you’ll need to help your buddy and other divers in danger.

Diving Emergencies

As mentioned earlier, dive buddies are supposed to look out for each other in case of emergencies. But what emergencies should you and your diving buddy be prepared for and how do you deal with them?

Separation Protocols

Buddy separations happen more often than you think. There are quite a handful of instances where diving buddies enter the water together and return to the boat separately. However, this scenario should be avoided whenever possible.

Diving schools teach that if you somehow lost your buddy down there, do a search for one minute. If you can’t find him or her until then, you should return to the surface quickly (but safely) to inform the ship captain or other divers of the incident so they can help you look for your partner.

However, you and your buddy can decide on a longer time-frame if you think a one minute search protocol is too short. A longer time frame will also give you more time to look for your buddy. Whatever time frame and protocol you agree on, be sure that you’re both comfortable with the terms.

“Out of Air” Emergencies

These kinds of emergencies can happen for a variety of reason, from spent oxygen tanks to malfunctioning dive regulators and others. In any case, diving schools will teach you how to do “buddy breathing”, a very important technique you should definitely learn and master (but hopefully never need to use).

Buddy breathing is simply sharing your oxygen with your diving buddy until you both reach the surface. In the past, this was done by passing the dive regulator back and forth between the two divers. The problem with this is that one diver has to hold his or her breath while the other is using the regulator. However, modern day diving equipment includes an ‘octopus’ or a backup regulator. This allows the diving buddies to have their own source of air as they ascend.

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As with many things in life, the best experiences can be made even better by sharing them with someone. This is why so many diving buddies, even though they are complete strangers and were only paired together by the dive master at training school (‘shotgun wedding’ – yep, it happens) often end up being very good friends after their diving expedition. But whether you’re complete strangers, husband or wives, or close friends, keep in mind that you’re responsible for each other’s safety before, during and after the dive. If in any case you feel that you’re scuba diving buddy isn’t holding his or her end of the bargain, why not drop him or her a hint by sharing this article, eh?

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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!