Dive buddies can make or break a dive. Safety in recreational diving is based on the redundancy of equipment between two scuba divers; who your dive buddy is can determine whether or not you will enjoy your dive while feeling safe underwater. After 10 years of solo scuba diving trips worldwide, I learnt a thing or two about how a good dive buddy team works. And the truth is, it often starts with oneself.
You might be lucky to have your best friend or your partner as your dive buddy. Others will have to look for a like-minded friend to go scuba diving with, but for most single divers like me, we usually ask the dive centre to match us with someone. More than half of the time, I got paired with the divemaster, but I can understand it may feel daunting to scuba dive with someone you barely know. But I can assure you can quickly overcome this fear by learning how to become a better dive buddy yourself.
Like all skills in scuba diving, becoming a great dive partner takes time and dedication. It won’t happen overnight, but the more you practice, the better dive buddy you’ll become. In this article, I summarised the main areas you can focus on to improve the experience for everyone, so you feel more confident and have returning dive buddies!
1. Build rapport with each new dive buddy
Being a good dive buddy starts even before you dive. If you are diving with someone you already know, you will most likely have already shared stories and probably even went on diving trips together. You know their habits, their interests, and their personality. And most importantly, you already trust them. But what if you just met an hour before getting into the water?
If you are diving with someone new, get to know them the best you can. By building a rapport with your dive buddy, it will come in handy during the dive. After all, when you are comfortable with someone, it is easier to communicate with them. And communication is crucial to a fun and safe dive.
Be polite, respectful, and generous with your smiles. You can do this by using their names and making eye contact (without making the other person uncomfortable) when you are speaking to them. Ask questions in an engaging manner about what they love in scuba diving. Doing these shows that you are approachable and easy to get along with. Don’t be shy. You know you already have something in common: a passion for diving!
Get them to share stories of their diving experiences and a bit about their background. You’ll want to do this without sounding like you are giving a job interview. Be friendly and curious, but be careful not to sound nosey or condescending. Their reactions and replies can tell you a lot about how comfortable they are in the water. Here are a few examples of questions you can ask:
- What was their last diving adventure?
- What did they like most about it?
- Any favourite underwater stories?
- What did they find easy or difficult about this dive?
Share some diving information about yourself too. Obviously, bragging about your number of dives or how deep you already went is not something I would recommend. A good buddy puts their new buddies at ease.
However, experience level and expectations must match to avoid frustration. It’s ok to apologize and ask if pairing with another diver is possible. Personally, I don’t mind being paired with beginners. On the contrary, I love the opportunity to show new interesting things to new divers (divemaster one day, always divemaster!). But in the case I would have specific objectives for the dive (usually to take a picture), I will have to politely decline, explaining why (usually due to depths, sometimes currents).
2. Plan your dive as a buddy pair
A good dive buddy plans for each diving experience. Before your dive, you need to agree on how long your dives will be, the maximum depth, and the route you will take on the dive site. In most tropical destinations, you will be diving with a divemaster who has prepared this for you. In this case, listen carefully to the dive briefings. And make sure that both you and your partner understand the dive plan. If either of you is uncomfortable with the plan, you should address any concerns openly.
Aside from picturing your underwater route, it would be best to discuss how close you plan to be from each other while underwater. Some buddy pairs like being side-by-side, while others prefer a lead-follow approach.
Do your objectives for the dive match? It can be taking a picture of a certain marine critter or see the propeller of a shipwreck at a certain depth. If you decide to take your camera, discuss your diving habits while doing underwater photography.
Some underwater photographers can spend 10 minutes in just one spot (pleading guilty myself!). And it can be even longer if people are into videography. As it might not sit well with any diver (if you enjoy a faster-paced dive, it’s ok too), I usually ask if I can be paired with another photographer or someone super contemplative or passionate about marine biology. Make sure to let your dive buddy know what to do as you take photos: hover behind you? or modelling for you at some point?
As we can’t speak once underwater, clarifying all these points is so important. Make sure you are both on the same page before the dive.
3. Review hand signals with your dive buddy
After the dive planning and/or briefing, review hand signals with your dive buddy. A good dive buddy is a great communicator on land as well as underwater. Make sure you will understand each other once below the surface.
Long-term dive buddies may already know each other’s habits and facial expressions during the dive, making it easier for them to communicate with each other underwater. Some have even invented their own hand signals. A quick run-down of the most common hand signals could help ensure effective communication underwater with a new dive buddy.
Some signs are basic and internationally understood, like OK / not OK / end of the dive. However, some can differ from one country to another, especially everything regarding how much air you have left. I can think about at least about 3 different ways of communicating the number on your pressure gauge.
Make sure to check these signs in priority:
- How much air do you have?
- Pressure left in bars or psi
- Safety stop
As I enjoy more and more taking wide-angle pictures with my dive buddy modelling, I had to come up with my own hand signals to let them know what to do, where to go:
- Switch on your light (opening/closing my hand)
- Swim (flipping two fingers like fins) in that direction (pointing location)
- You (pointing diver) Look (two fingers pointing my eyes) in that direction (pointing location)
- Slower (flat hands towards the bottom)
Let me know if you have other interesting ones in the comments!
Take also the opportunity to discuss emergency procedures with your dive buddy. It will have the first benefit of leaving your dive buddy with the impression that you value safety. This way, both of you can enter the water knowing that you can rely on each other during an emergency. Make sure you know what to do in case you lose each other, for instance. The usual rule is to look around you for 1 min before making a safe ascent to the surface.
4. Always go through a buddy check
A good dive buddy never skips the dive buddy check. If you are doing multiple dives with your buddy, ensure that you check your dive gear before every dive. You must ALWAYS make sure everything is working as it should, before EVERY dive.
As everyone learns in the Open Water Course, you need to check BWRAF (I learnt “Bruce Willis Ruins All Films” to remember during my Open Water course, but I know people who use “Big White Rabbits Are Fluffly”):
- Final check
Pay attention as your dive buddy goes through the steps of the buddy check system. And make sure they pay attention when you do yours.
You need to familiarise each other with the dive equipment you are using. Equipment designs may vary. For instance, if you dive with a back-inflation BCD, make sure to show it to your dive buddy, who may not be familiar with these. In case of emergencies, it will be easier and quicker to help your dive buddy if you know where all the buttons and releases are.
5. Dive the plan
Now it’s time to get into the water and have some fun! Stick to the plan you set before your dive. Remember all the things you have agreed on during the briefing.
Suppose you are diving with less experienced people than you; remember to dive within their limits and not yours. For instance, your buddy could be an open water diver who can only dive up to 18 metres, while you are an advanced open water diver who can dive up to 30 metres. You should never ask your buddy to dive deeper than they should or to go venturing into places that were not part of the agreed-upon plan. It is better to be conservative and safe than going beyond one’s limits.
While some dives might not go as planned, always prioritise your safety over anything else. If things end up not going according to plan, don’t panic. Choose the course of action that you think is safest. If you are diving with a dive guide, take directions from him or her. They will know best what to do or where to go if a plan needs to change.
6. Listen to your instinct
Does your dive buddy look worried? Is their attention somewhere else? Do they seem nervous or distracted? A good dive buddy is sensitive and observant. If, at any point, you sense something is wrong, there is usually a good reason. Listen and trust your gut feeling.
Vigilance and honesty are the best policy. You need to address any concerns to prevent diving accidents decisively. Assure your dive buddy that they can cancel the dive at any time.
Meanwhile, if someone or something makes you feel uncomfortable, you should bring this up before doing your dive. If necessary or feel unsure, ask your dive guide for advice or request your dive centre to intervene.
You should always feel safe and comfortable with your dive buddy; and vice versa.
7. Stay close to your dive buddy at all time
New and even experienced divers use the buddy system for safety reasons. While underwater, you need to stay close to your diving buddy. How close will depend on the dive conditions, usually visibility and currents.
The general recommendation is to be at arms’ reach from your dive buddy. But others will be more flexible with this rule to give their diving buddy some space and freedom. The skill level and experience will dictate how this should be handled. A good rule of thumb if to check on your dive buddy about every 30 seconds.
Generally, you should always be close enough so that you can respond quickly if your dive buddy needs immediate help. You need to stay close to help your buddy in scenarios like getting low on air, equipment malfunctions, injuries, or even marine animal attacks.
In low visibility conditions, make yourself visible by carrying a dive light switched on throughout the dive. In some dive sites that can get crowded, make sure to spot something that helps you uniquely identify your dive buddy, like the fins’ design or colour.
8. Respect marine life
A good dive buddy respects the ocean and will protect it from harm. This is especially the case if the harm comes from a fellow scuba diver. As scuba divers, we have a responsibility to protect the ocean, and that starts with influencing your dive buddy to do the same:
- If you see your dive buddy kicking coral, gently make them stop and then make them aware of this by pointing at their fins. You can also suggest swimming to be higher above the reef by lifting your two hands flat.
- If you see your dive buddy’s octopus or gauge dragging on the bottom, help secure it for them (First, show them what’s going on before doing it).
- If you see your dive buddy harassing an animal, it is essential for you to “speak up” by waving a finger to say, “please, don’t do it”.
As it’s not always easy to communicate about these things peacefully underwater, check Green Fins’ slates. They will help you communicate about responsible diving practices underwater.
9. Handle bad behaviour diplomatically
Unfortunately, not all divers are made the same. Every so often, you may encounter someone who does not share the same values as yours. Such people often have little regard for safety, their own or anyone else’s. They will break the rules and will even violate local laws.
When you see your dive buddy doing something stupid, call them out on it and firmly tell them no by waving your finger. Some people mean no harm and might not be aware of their imprudent behaviour, so try to be gentle first. If it’s difficult to tell them underwater, make a mental note and tell them after the dive. You can also consider bringing a dive slate which helps to communicate in such situations.
A good buddy will never leave their partner. However, if you feel that your buddy is acting reckless, remember to keep yourself safe first. You should do everything you can to stop your buddy from putting both your lives in danger; if you are with a dive guide, go to him or her. Otherwise, you remember the sign for “End of the dive”?
10. Have fun responsibly underwater
There are many things any diver must keep in mind to ensure everyone is safe while scuba diving. But don’t forget that a good dive buddy also knows how to have fun!
If you see something that might interest your dive buddy, point it out. You might have seen a frogfish a hundred times before, but for all you know, it could the first time for your dive buddy. The same way around, if your dive buddy shows you something you see all the time, don’t look indifferent, “smile” with your eyes and show the OK sign.
Sure it’s fun to play underwater with goofy rolls or ring bubbles. Just make sure you’re in full control of your buoyancy and keeping an eye on your depth gauge or computer while doing it. Usually, if conditions allow, the safety stop at the end of the dive is the right moment to do so.
By the way, if you are a bit of a prankster, never play a joke underwater. Nothing good comes out of it as it would often lead to a disaster.
11. Get back to the surface safely with your dive buddy
After the dive, your role as a dive buddy does not stop. If all things run smoothly, you will be feeling high from what you may have seen underwater.
When resurfacing, be aware of your surroundings. Look up and make sure that you are in no danger while coming out of the water (boats, jellyfish, etc.). Getting back on the boat or the shore safely is just as important as getting in.
Help your dive buddy exit the water safely. You can also offer to assist your dive buddy in removing their gear and making sure the dive equipment is properly stowed away.
13. Share feedback with your dive buddy
Once back on the boat or at the dive centre, you may want to take time to talk to your dive buddy about any input on how your dive went. Make it clear that you are likewise receptive to your buddy’s thoughts. Nobody’s perfect…
If you encountered any problems with them underwater, it is a good idea to let them know, honestly yet nicely. A good dive buddy wants all their dive buddies to be good dive buddies for themselves and others in the future.
Did you observe something that could be improved? Did they do something that they should not have done? If they were not a great dive buddy, politely offer constructive feedback. The idea is to bring awareness about any problematic behaviour, not scold them.
Unless you are a dive professional, be careful about advising on any diving skills that they are struggling with. You might teach them the wrong thing; and inadvertently pass your own bad habits onto them, even if you meant well. Instead, suggest dive courses that might help their diving.
A good dive buddy also asks for honest feedback. This is a two-way process. If you did something that was not ideal, it is best to have it brought to your attention sooner rather than later. Be open to constructive criticism. We all make mistakes. I made mistakes. We can all thrive to become better scuba divers.
12. Log your dives
Don’t delay logging your dives with your buddy while the memory is still fresh. It is also a great way to assess your dive and share feedback.
Write down the highlights as well as the difficulties encountered. You may want to take note of any issues so you can prevent such things from happening in the future. Diving is always a learning experience.
If you or your dive buddy is thinking of getting more dive certifications, you will need proof that you did the dives with them. This would be the best time to have your dive buddy sign your logbook for verification. And you might even want to swap contact details or connect via social media, especially if they could potentially be a future dive buddy.
14. Share your underwater pictures
If you carry a waterproof camera with you while scuba diving, ask your buddy to strike a pose. They will love it if you capture the time they were near this large shark or this impressive shipwreck. It’s always fun to capture great moments of your diving adventure.
Sharing your dive photos will surely make them appreciate having you as their diving partner. Make sure to ask for their email to send the pictures after your dives or tag them on social media.
15. Keep learning
The more you work on your diving skills, the better dive buddy you will be. One of the most helpful courses–and one that will help you gain confidence in the water–is the PADI Rescue Diver Course.
As a rescue diver, you will learn to anticipate, prevent, and manage problems that may arise during a dive. You will be taught how to handle dive emergencies. And you will learn skills that could save yourself and others around you.
Right after the Rescue course, you may find yourself lacking practice. Personally, this is only when I went through my Divemaster internship that I finally became confident with all the first aid procedures. More recently, my solo diver training also gave me a new perspective on managing risks, and even if it sounds counterintuitive, while scuba diving with a buddy (Note for later, write a blog post about my solo diver course). This is also why I love so much scuba diving. There is always something to learn.
Diving with a buddy is an integral part of scuba diving. This is why you should work on how to be a good dive buddy. Of course, there is no guarantee that you will find a good dive buddy all the time, but this should not stop you from being the best one you can be.
At the end of the day, there is always a chance that you and your dive buddy had a great time together, and you will want to be future dive buddies, good for you! On the other hand, you might discover that you are not compatible. That’s fine too. After all, you might not like the same things in diving. And that’s okay. Learn from each experience and keep diving.
Do you want to learn more about travelling as a solo scuba diver and finding dive buddies on the way? Read these articles:
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