Ten Ways to Be a Great Scuba Diving Buddy

It’s drilled into us from day one—never dive without a buddy. After all, diving in a buddy team greatly increases our safety underwater. But what isn’t always explained, is exactly how to be a good buddy. Part of it is knowing boat and dive etiquette, most of it is remembering what you’ve already been taught in your open water or specialty courses. The last bit involves communicating with your partner. And if you don’t quite know what to say, Jupiter Dive Center has some tips for you!

Plan Your Dive and Dive Your Plan!

Whether you and your buddy have been diving together for years or this is the first time you’ve met, planning your dive is important. If you’re on a boat, listen to the dive briefings as some of your planning will be done for you. If you’re shore diving, you’ll need to do some research to learn about the terrain, hazards, and local marine life. Your best bet is to stop into the local dive shop. No one knows an area better than the people who regularly dive it. 

A comprehensive dive plan includes the following:

  • Deciding the best entry and exit techniques considering the specific environment
  • Plotting the course you’ll dive
  • Reviewing hand signals (more on that in a bit)
  • Agreeing on the maximum depth and time of the dive
  • Determining when you’ll head back or ascend based on remaining air or time 
  • Agreeing on how close to remain to each other during the dive
  • Establish what to do if you become separated (more on that and the next point, too!)
  • Discussing emergency procedures
  • Deciding upon an objective – are you a photographer on the prowl for a specific nudibranch, or are you trying to see as much of the reef as possible? 

Divers who create plans are already well on their way to being good buddies. Here are a few more tips.

Buddy Checks

Remember these? Sometimes they’re referred to as a pre-dive safety check. Regardless of what you call them, they are a critical part of being a good buddy and can save a dive by catching something topside before it becomes a problem at depth. PADI suggests remembering the phrase BWRAF—a mouthful of letters that stands for BCD, Weights, Releases, Air, and Final check. 

You’ll want to make sure your buddy’s tank is secure. Does the low-pressure inflator work? Are the straps of the BCD properly adjusted? How about weight? Is it properly distributed? Are you familiar with your and your buddy’s quick-release mechanisms? 

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Make sure you each test breathe your regulators and check your air pressure, and then make sure you both know where each other’s alternate air source is and how to use it. For your final check, look for things that need securing, or are missing such as that extra flashlight on a night dive, or the safety sausage needed for drift diving.

Know How to Communicate Underwater

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The vast majority of recreational divers don’t have built-in comm systems to be able to talk to each other underwater, so to effectively communicate, divers use hand signals, slates, tank bangers, rattles, and the occasional yell. Slates need no explanation. Just write your message and show it to your buddy. 

Hand signals are different. Some are obvious, like crossing your arms in front of your body and rubbing your arms to show you’re cold. But some are a bit trickier. Making the okay sign by touching your index finger to your thumb signals you’re good. 

But if you give a thumbs up to indicate you’re okay, you’ve just told your buddy you want to ascend. So make sure you and your buddy agree upon some of the most important signals. And note: different countries may teach different signals.

Sound travels four times faster underwater making it nearly impossible to tell where it’s coming from, so if you use a tank banger or rattle to get your buddy’s attention, you’re going to get everyone else’s attention, too. Many divers appreciate the relative quiet of a dive, so please consider rattles and bangers a signal of last resort.

Don’t be an S.O.B.

And by S.O.B, we mean a Same Ocean Buddy. We’ve all been there. You hit the water, and your buddy turns into a terrier chasing a squirrel. Maybe your buddy is a hunter, or photographer, or just wants to see how fast the new fins will take him across the reef. (Or maybe you are the hunter, photographer, new fin owner. It happens.) Your best plan? Manage expectations topside. 

Underwater, you’ll have to catch up. This can be the most frustrating part of diving with an unfamiliar buddy because it’s usually the trailing diver who sacrifices their dive to keep the buddy team safe. 

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When you are both topside, you’ll need to have a frank discussion to make sure the next dive isn’t a repeat. If you completely lose sight of each other, search for no more than one minute and then ascend to reunite on the surface.

A Special Word About Drift Diving…

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Because of the depth off the shores of Jupiter, all our dives are drift dives. Drift diving is a wonderful way to cover a lot of ground without wearing yourself out, but it’s easy to get separated in a strong current. If you want to look at something, be sure to communicate with your buddy before you stop so they can stop too. Bottom line, if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself alone.

Remember, currents do not flow at a universal speed. The closer you are to the bottom, the slower the current is due to friction and drag. Sometimes the difference is so slight you might not notice it, but other times you can use the different flow rates to either catch up to or wait for your buddy. 

Oh, and a Bit More About Night Dives…

There are several additional things you need to discuss with your buddy in order to ensure you both know what to do on a night dive. How you are going to communicate? What if one of you becomes disoriented?  Because of the darkness, it is even more important to stay close to your buddy, and absolutely critical to know what to do if you lose each other. Discuss this with your buddy. It’s a much easier conversation to have topside than underwater.

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Respect the Locals…and by locals, we mean marine life

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Look, don’t touch. This should be obvious, but touching marine life is a big no-no, and in many instances, it’s illegal. Need another reason? Most animals are quite adept at protecting themselves.

Remember, too, that reefs are living organisms that support plenty of other small creatures that are fragile and easily hurt. Bouncing against the reef, kicking it with your fins, and dragging your loose equipment over the reef’s surface damages this slow-growing organism. 

Watch Your Lights and Strobes

Remember that time your buddy blasted you in the face with his flashlight during a night dive? Yeah. Don’t do that. (And please remember most fish don’t have eyelids, so be careful with them, too.) But even during the day, those flashlights can diminish your buddy’s vision if you are at depth or exploring a wreck. So how do you manage your light? Shine the beam to the side of your buddy or animal and let the ambient light illuminate your subject. This goes for the strobes on your camera as well. 

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What To Do If Things Go Wrong—Above and Below Water

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There are several certification courses that touch on emergency procedures starting with your open water class (and the Rescue Course is dedicated to it—plus it’s also a fun course to take!). The best way to deal with an emergency is to avoid it. That means being able to access when the conditions aren’t right for you or your buddy. It’s unfortunate to do all the prep work for a dive and then call it off, but if you think you aren’t up for it—for any reason—there is no shame calling off a dive. And if you decide before splashing, you may have allowed your buddy to partner with someone else.

But sometimes you can do everything right and something goes wrong. If you’re at depth, you need to have a cool head, a plan, and close proximity to your buddy. It’s why it’s so important to know about your buddy’s gear if one of you runs out of air or a hose blows. Having a plan can make the difference between confidently addressing the issue or panicking. If it’s something that can be resolved at depth, great. Otherwise, it’s time to ascend as slowly as possible but as fast as necessary.

Diving with Disabilities

Sometimes the key to being a good buddy is knowing how to adapt a dive plan to someone else’s needs. Every scuba diver must rely on specialized equipment and training in order to explore the depths. This is true whether the diver is able-bodied or has disabilities or health issues that make diving more challenging. But there are plenty of ways to overcome those challenges and Jupiter Dive Center is proud to offer SDI Scubility certifications for both divers and buddy divers.

Scubility is a highly personalized adaptive sport course and is tailored to the needs of the individual student with regards to equipment, teaching methods, and alternative options for completing critical skills. 

JDC Be a Buddy Scubility

The academic requirements are the same as the standard SDI open water course, although the manner of presentation may vary depending on student needs. These diver/dive buddy partnerships learn together and create personalized dive plans. As always, the key is communication. 

Finally? Have fun. Diving is an incredible opportunity to meet and make new friends who share your interests.  Put your best fin forward and be the kind of buddy you’d want to dive with! Call Jupiter Dive Center at 561-745-7807 or book your dive online and we’ll see you on the boat! 

4 Comments

  1. Joyce Osterman on November 28, 2023 at 9:40 pm

    Great article!

  2. Donna on December 8, 2023 at 3:28 am

    Thank you for this article.

    It’s very much needed, some people just don’t think about this anymore.

    You go on a boat, your paired up with a buddy and that buddy once your under water just goes where ever, and in our case last weekend on both dives we hit the water (3 divers) and he takes off never looks back and we had to call our dive because we couldn’t find him.

    Thank you again. I’m passing this link on hopefully this person will understand what he done wrong. ( yes we talked about things before entering the water, both dives no less. )

    • Gerald Carroll on December 8, 2023 at 8:23 am

      Donna,
      Glad you liked the article, buddy teams of three can present a whole set of issues if not discuss in advance, there is always the issue that who is responsible for who? Can work well if the responsibilities are clearly outlined in advance, it appears you tried to address this in advance and it didn’t work.
      Glad it all ended well.

  3. Kelly Uhland on December 23, 2023 at 12:16 pm

    Very good article. Thanks!

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