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Scuba Diving Safety Protocols: Buddy Separation
Losing your buddy is an easy way to ruining a good dive. Being alone underwater can cause many divers apprehension. It often also ends in an aborted dive – which sucks when you’ve spent your hard earned money, time and effort in going scuba diving.
Buddy separation can be avoided by using effective diving procedures and maintaining a focused mindset (more about that another day). But that doesn’t mean that divers shouldn’t consider their contingency planning for the possibility of separation.
Here’s my view on designing an effective Buddy Separation protocol…
I teach my students that pre-designated ‘roles’ should be agreed before the dive (as part of dive planning). This is especially applicable for buddy separation scenarios.
If one diver is primarily lead/navigating the dive, then they will be the diver to retrace their steps and re-unite the team/pair. The other diver will remain static – observe and, where possible, aid discovery by highlighting themselves.
You can highlight yourself by; rotating a light 360 degrees, partially deploying a DSMB above your heads (with a very slight amount of air in it) etc
The team has a pre-set amount of time to re-united. The ‘default’ time is 1 minute, unless otherwise planned. When that time expires, both divers will begin a solo ascent whilst maintaining observation.
It is important to establish a protocol for the ascent in your contingency dive planning.
One big question is whether or not to complete a safety stop. This could be an easy ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Or it could be set against a flexible criteria, such as;
a) If less than 10min NDL do safety stop / If more than 10min NDL don’t do safety stop.
b) If more than 20min bottom time do safety stop / If less than 20min NDL don’t do safety stop. etc etc.
On the Surface.
Upon reaching the surface, the divers continue observation. Deploying DSMBs at the beginning of the ascent can aid this. Divers should expect a variation in the time that they arrive on the surface, depending upon how long it took them to realize the separation and engage the protocol for ‘missing buddy’.
Separation becomes ‘missing’.
Buddy teams should also pre-define a maximum amount of time in which to re-unite on the surface. If that time is exceeded, then the buddy should raise an alarm and begin search procedings for a missing diver. This would be a serious escalation in the severity of the scenario.
The whole drama of buddy separation is avoidable if appropriate diving techniques are used for the environment and both divers maintain good situational awareness and effective buddy procedures.