The Buddy System – Should It Be Reconsidered

Dive BuddiesIMG_0099

March 3, 2013
Traditionally, recreational diving has been taught using the concept of the “dive buddy.” The idea is that you always dive with a buddy that stays with you and, should an emergency occur, your dive buddy will be there to help. Along with this we have incorporated equipment standards that include the “Octo” or the secondary regulator on a slightly longer hose used for sharing air. This seems to have been accepted as the standard for all divers to learn. However, there are several problems with this that concerns me and has been brought up by my friend and PADI Staff Instructor Carl Pennick as well as others. My concerns are:

  • Newly certified divers often dive together as inexperienced “buddies.”
  • Standards, such as hose length, are insufficient.
  • Training on “rescue” is not developed sufficiently in basic certification courses.

Incorporating a full-on rescue course into the basic certification course has obvious problems. New divers are not experienced enough with their equipment to attempt rescues (pointing out the problem with the “share air” training received in the open water class) and the added cost and introduction to potential hazards of diving would probably push many away from getting certified in the first place.

What An Alternative Must Incorporate

The “buddy system” is meant to provide all divers with a safety net. If followed all divers will have someone nearby that can assist in any situation that could overwhelm the individual diver. This includes out-of-air situations, entanglements, etc. It also has the benefit of having a newly certified diver “feel” safer while diving. Feeling safer and being more comfortable underwater is the necessary next step for all new divers before they consider progression to an advanced diver, rescue diver, and so forth. Most new divers will dive a few times, not feel comfortable, and soon stop diving all together. Additionally, I have seen very enthusiastic students go through the open water course only to have their enthusiasm squelched by a lack of support from the diving community (the isolation of not having a “dive buddy”).

An alternative to the “buddy system” has to incorporate safety and community if it is to be considered. So the factors it must have are:

  • Provide assistance in underwater emergencies.
  • Provide a structured organization that divers can follow.
  • Provide confidence and support for all divers.

Provide Assistance in Underwater Emergencies

The “dive buddy” system provides the concept of “assistance” underwater, however, as pointed out above, many new divers become certified with a friend and then dive together as “dive buddies.” Relying on a newly certified diver in an underwater emergency has many flaws that needs not be extrapolated.

In my experience, I was trained by instructors and then dove with those instructors most of the time. They became my friends. My dive group contained many different certification levels from advanced divers through very advanced instructors. When I dove I had a buddy and also felt assured that others in the group where also there and could respond in an emergency situation. This built up my confidence and allowed me to become a better diver.

Providing assistance must include the following:

  • Sense of Camaraderie
  • More eyes-on from experienced divers

Provide a Structured Organization

The “buddy system” provides a basic structure that is easily understood if not so easily implemented in real-world situations. The concept is simple and almost self-explanatory and is the strongest reason to use it. Task loading, especially for the new diver, is a paramount concern so simple is a must. Therefore any replacement or addition to the buddy system must be:

  • Easily understood.
  • Easy to implement.
  • and the concept must be simple.

Providing Confidence and Support

The weakest part of the “Buddy System” is the confidence and support areas. Not much confidence can be gained diving with a buddy that has the same amount of inexperience. Support in that situation is probably more harmful than helpful. However, incorporating a system that includes the factors above will undoubtedly enhance support and that alone can increase the confidence of any diver.

This can easily be explained with the following contrasting scenario. A diver encountering an underwater emergency relying on an inexperienced dive buddy or a diver with an underwater diving emergency knowing that several more experienced eyes are on him/her and can assist.

Final Thoughts

Diving off a boat just with the friend that you became certified with and a bunch of strangers can be intimidating. An inexperienced diver can question their abilities and put a kernel of doubt where it should not belong and need not belong. On any boat dive there is usually decades of experience sitting there. This includes the Dive Master(s), the Captain, and all the other divers – all untapped resources in the “dive buddy” system. There should be a way to tap into this that is simple and easily implemented and enhances the diving experience for all divers.


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