By now the vast majority of us have been in the water for at least a check dive to make sure our kit is still all in order. You may have even done a few skill drills, cleared your mask a few times, let off a couple of DSMBs to get back in practice but how were your dive buddy skills? The dive buddy system is touted as the best thing since sliced bread by the vast majority of recreational training organisations with good reason. All in all it makes diving safer to have someone next to you that can help you out should you get into a difficult situation. The only problem is... how reliable is that buddy? We've all been there, paired up with an unknown buddy on a trip, only for the buddy to wander off or pay next to no attention at all. So what can define a good buddy?
Fitness When diving I'd like to always think my buddy can get me out of trouble should the worse happen but unfortunately sometimes its not about how many times you practice a skill, sometimes it comes down to purely your physically fitness. Could you tow your buddy 100, 200, 300m+ back to the shore whilst performing life support? I'm not saying you need to be able to run a marathon before breakfast but there comes a point where low fitness levels pose a risk.
Communication – Before the Dive For both divers communication in and out of the water is absolutely key. It is important to discuss each others training and skills to give an understanding of comfort levels. For example I have known divers who will point blank refuse to penetrate into an overhead environment whether it is a cave, wreck or otherwise. If that sort of information isn't shared before the dive there is a reasonable chance that the divers could separate whilst one ventures into a wreck and the other waits outside....not a safe practice. Divers should also decide on important hand signals before jumping in the water, especially if the divers have come from different training agencies where signals may vary. Make sure to agree on a plan for the dive including depths, times, separation procedures, etc. Be as prepared as possible to limit potential problems when diving with an unfamiliar buddy.
Buddy Check A buddy check is never more important than when diving with a new buddy. Making sure you both know where your next breath is in an out of air situation is critical, you do not want to be searching for it at a time like that! Learn where everything is an how it works, it could be as simple as a different type of BCD clip but if you don't know how it works in an emergency it could make things worse.
Communication – During the Dive Unless you are both blessed with telepathy or an underwater comms system, communication is difficult and limited. Therefore dive buddies should actively communicate to ensure everything is OK, discuss change of direction, check air supplies, etc. Never assume that everything is OK and that your buddy is happily following you.
Awareness Awareness covers nearly everything but pay attention to gas consumption, position relative to your buddy, depth, navigation, signals, surroundings, currents. Don't fin around blindly, it only take a second or two to regularly glance over at your buddy to make sure he/she is OK and not trying to get your attention.
Actually Buddy Up Stick close to each other to make communication easier but also to speed up response times should a situation occur where you need to get together fast. The 'same ocean' buddy system doesn't work. If you aren't diving appropriately close to each other you are as good as diving solo. Knowing where your buddy is at all times is massively reassuring whereas having to constantly look around your your buddy is not. Decide on your positioning before the dive and stick to it, you'll both enjoy the dive more for it. Overall..be safe, pay attention, look after each other and enjoy your dive.