The Buddy System: Smart Idea or Recipe for Disaster?
Are you always safer diving with another person or are you actually better off diving solo sometimes?
The Buddy System
The concept of the buddy system is that a pair of confident divers function as independent members of a two-person team with their shared experience, equipment and air supply making the team stronger than if its individual members were diving alone.
The perfect buddy team share similar interests and have compatible aims. They check each other’s equipment and stay close throughout every dive, adjusting their distance depending on the visibility and water conditions. They discuss and practice what to do in the event of various emergencies, equip themselves accordingly and keep track of each other’s air supply and decompression status as well as their own. They accept full responsibility for their personal safety as well as the additional responsibility for helping their buddy if necessary. Perhaps most importantly of all, they agree that if either of them feels uncomfortable for any reason before or during a dive then they will abandon or immediately abort the dive together. It is hard to argue that this is not a very safe way to dive.
Statistics show that a diver is more likely to come to harm if they are alone than if they are with another diver. Most divers who die diving, die alone. However, a closer examination of incident reports shows that, in many cases, the deceased diver did not actually start the dive on their own. Many dive accidents take place when one buddy has a problem and the team separates or the pair lose each other and continue the dive alone. This suggests that there are flaws in the system.
Flaws in Tuition
These flaws may derive from the way the buddy system is commonly taught. New divers are told that they should never dive alone so if they get into trouble they will always have someone there to help them. Instructors emphasize this aspect of the system in order to reduce anxiety among nervous students.
This is an understandable tactic these days when instructors are under pressure to certify new divers quickly, but it creates false assumptions and expectations. It allows divers an excuse to be dependent on others. It can cause them to panic if they suddenly find themselves alone in the ocean. It may also persuade them to dive in situations where they would not feel comfortable diving if they were on their own.
Instructors know they should be telling divers that they are responsible for their own safety on every dive and should never put themselves in a position where they are not able to survive a dive using their own knowledge and self-rescue skills. Not only that, they should only dive in situations where they are so comfortable in their own abilities that they can, if called upon, also devote their full attention to helping another diver in need. Sadly, there is insufficient time in beginners’ courses these days to bring all divers to this sort of level so these key elements in the concept of the buddy system are left by the wayside.
Flaws in Operation
Problems also arise from dive operators enforcing the buddy system on the unwilling. This produces one of two results. Either both divers deliberately and pointedly ignore each other once they are under water and go their own way or one diver follows the other around, unilaterally ensuring they stay together. Both scenarios create stress and resentment. In fact, the divers would actually be more relaxed, and therefore safer, if the buddy system had never been mentioned.
Conversely, some divers may actually seek out operations that enforce the buddy system because they lack confidence in their self-rescue skills or have been brainwashed in their training with the idea that if they ever enter the water alone they will die. This means that, when they dive, they are effectively entrusting their unwitting companion with total responsibility for their safety. If, as often happens, you have two people diving together with this mind-set, you actually have no-one capable or prepared to take responsibility for anyone’s safety, an excellent recipe for disaster!
When A Buddy is Better
There are definite benefits to diving with someone else. Human beings are social animals; we like to share our experiences and we get emotional security from the company of others. There are also occasions when having a buddy around can be of enormous practical value, for instance when you:
- Run out of air.
- Get entangled in fishing line.
- Become confused or anxious.
- Are badly bitten or stung.
- Suffer a major equipment failure such as a blown hose or o-ring.
When Solo is Safer
Diving solo is certainly safer if you want to dive a plan that is beyond the experience level of your available buddies. For instance, if you are a Technical Wreck Diver and want to explore inside a shipwreck but none of your dive team has overhead environment training, it is much better to ask other divers to provide support outside the wreck than to take them inside with you.
However, any dive can be undertaken safely on your own as long as you have the knowledge and experience to anticipate potential problems and you plan your dive and equipment accordingly.
Ask yourself before you decide to do any dive alone:
- Are you under the influence of ego or peer pressure?
- Have you identified all the potential risks?
- Do you have the right equipment to deal with anything that happens?
- Have you practiced what you will do if an emergency strikes?
- Do you have experience of successfully managing stress underwater?
- Do you have the discipline to stay within a dive plan?
- Are you prepared to abort the dive immediately if you feel ill at ease?
If the answer to all of these questions is an emphatic “Yes”, then you can do the dive.
The choice as to how you dive is yours. The important thing is to be true to yourself and those with whom you dive. Some training agencies now offer Solo Diving courses and these will certainly be valuable in helping you adopt the right mind-set to diving on your own. When you think about it, however, there should really be no need to have a specific course: every diver course should be teaching self-sufficiency rather than dependency.
Read more from Simon in his latest release Scuba Professional – Insights into Sport Diver Training & Operations and his bestselling book Scuba Confidential – An Insider’s Guide to Becoming a Better Diver, both available from Amazon in paperback and e-book versions.