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Scuba Diving Safety Protocols: Buddy Separation

by Andy Davis

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…

Team Roles.

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 reunite the team/pair. The other diver will remain static – observe and, where possible, aid discovery by highlighting themselves.

Being Visible.

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

Search Timing.

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.

Ascent Protocols.

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 flexible criteria, such as;

a) If less than 10min NDL do a safety stop / If more than 10min NDL don’t do a safety stop.

b) If more than 20min bottom time perform a safety stop / If less than 20min NDL don’t do a 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 on 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 reunite on the surface.  If that time is exceeded, then the buddy should raise an alarm and begin search proceedings 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.

About the Author

andy davis technical diving philippines

Andy Davis is a RAID, PADI TecRec, ANDI, BSAC and SSI qualified independent technical diving instructor who specializes in teaching advanced sidemount, trimix and wreck exploration diving courses across South East Asia.  Currently residing in ‘wreck diving heaven’ at Subic Bay, Philippines, he has amassed more than 9000 open circuit and CCR dives over 27 years of diving across the globe.

Andy has published many magazine articles on technical diving, has written course materials for dive training agency syllabus, tests and reviews diving gear for major manufacturers and consults with the Philippines Underwater Archaeology Society.

He is currently writing a series of books to be published on advanced diving topics.  Prior to becoming a professional technical diving educator in 2006, Andy was a commissioned officer in the Royal Air Force and has served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Belize and Cyprus.

Originally posted 2017-10-13 14:51:32.

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