Every experienced diver knows buddy diving is about much more than just pairing up with another certified diver on the boat.
A bad dive buddy will ruin what would otherwise have been an amazing dive. They can even put you into a stressful or even dangerous situation.
Choosing a dive buddy is one of the most important things you need to do to have fun and safe dives.
So, if you’ve ever wondered how to find and choose a great dive buddy, or how you can use the buddy system so that you are a great buddy yourself, then you’ll want to read on.
What is a dive buddy?
In SCUBA diving, one of the first things that you learn is that you always dive with a buddy. The purpose of the dive buddy is to increase your safety throughout the dive.
The idea is that by having a competent dive buddy with you that person in essence acts as a safety diver for you, and you in turn act as a safety diver for them.
By having two competent divers pair up you now have a redundant gas supply as well as an additional set of eyes, ears, and even a second brain to process what is happening and make good decisions underwater.
Your dive buddy is the person you dive with that provides redundancy, an added level of safety for you and even makes your dives more fun!
What is a buddy team?
Now that we know what a dive buddy is, you might be wondering “What is a buddy team”?
A buddy team is two to three divers that team up to dive together. A buddy team should never be any larger than three divers.
The reason why a buddy team should never be larger than three is that once your team becomes larger than three divers it becomes easier to lose track of each other and to lose a member of the team.
If you are diving in two as a buddy pair, then each diver is responsible for keeping an eye on the other diver throughout the dive. If one of the divers were to have an emergency, it would be easy for the buddy to spot it because they only have one person to look after throughout the dive.
Unfortunately, sometimes there is an uneven number of divers going on a dive and having just buddy pairs is impossible. This is when diving in a team of three comes in.
When diving in a team of three, each diver is responsible for keeping an eye on the other two divers in the team. As you can see, the more people are in a team the harder it becomes to keep an eye on everyone and manage an emergency should one arise. This is why we limit buddy teams to just three divers max.
If four divers are going on a dive together then two teams of two divers each should be established. Everyone can dive together, but the buddy teams need to be established before the dive.
How to Find A Dive Buddy?
There are many places to find a good dive buddy. Looking for a dive buddy depends on your specific needs. Maybe you’re going on a vacation and you want to slip in a few dives but the person you are going on vacation with doesn’t dive. That’s different than if you’re looking to do more diving in the long term and want someone to go on dives with regularly. Here are some places to look for a dive buddy.
Your local dive shop
If you live close to a dive center this is often a great place to meet other divers. The staff at the dive shop will often know who is looking for a dive buddy for a specific trip or even call people on your behalf to try to set up a dive. Additionally, if both you and the person they pair you up with both did your training at the same shop there’s a good chance that because of the similar training your gear will be similar, your underwater hand signals will be the same and you’ll have the same pre-dive buddy check procedures already in place. This makes everything simpler and smoother.
Your local dive club
Many cities have local dive clubs that meet regularly to dive, give presentations, and even share in meals and drinks. This is another great place to meet and find dive buddies. You can find out about local dive clubs through your local dive shop, local dive operators, social media searches and using google to search for local dive clubs in your city.
Online Forums & Facebook Groups
Another place to find dive buddies is the internet. Forums such scubaboard.com have dedicated sections for finding dive buddies. You can also try Facebook groups dedicated to SCUBA diving. There are entire web sites such as divebuddy.com which are dedicated to finding a dive buddy. If you are single and looking to date a SCUBA diver there are even sites such as singledivers.com for that.
Taking SCUBA courses is another way to find new dive buddies. The advantage here is that you will be finding someone who is local, is also interested in learning more about diving, and if the class is a specialty course the person will also be interested in the same type of diving that you are interested in.
Dive boat operator
It’s common for divers to show up for a dive without a dive buddy and to have the divemaster or captain pair up the single diver either with another single diver or with an established buddy pair. If you choose to go this route you should check first before simply showing up. Not all dive boat operators will pair you up with a buddy team if there isn’t another single diver, and some may insist you pay to have a divemaster guide you. Simply showing up to the dive boat and blindly being paired up with a dive buddy should be your last option since you have no idea what who you will end up with as your dive buddy.
Hiring a professional
Sometimes the best option is to have a personal guide. This may be especially true if you are vacationing and want someone who can show you all the cool spots to ensure you don’t miss anything. It may also be a good idea if you are traveling and don’t have a lot of experience. By diving with someone who is a professional you may get pointers on your diving technique and gain valuable experience as you build your confidence up. It also ensures you are getting a competent dive buddy should something go wrong.
Long Term Dive Buddies (what to look for)
It’s one thing to find a buddy to pair up with for a dive trip you’ll be doing on a vacation, it’s another to find a long-term dive buddy to go diving with often and to share your passion for SCUBA diving with over many dives.
If you’re trying to find someone to dive with over the long run here are some things to consider when finding that person.
Do they live close to you and have the time to go diving?
If a lot of your diving will be local diving, you’ll want your long-term dive buddy to live close enough to you and the dive sites you’ll be diving together so that it’s not an obstacle. Similarly, you’ll want them to have the free time necessary to go diving. What good is a dive buddy that never has the time to go diving?
Do they have similar experience?
While you and your dive buddy can have different certification levels and even dive experience, it is something you want to consider. If you have a lot more diving experience and training, you’ll likely be taking on the role of the dive leader within the buddy team more often than not. You may also need to cater the diving you do to the experience level of your dive buddy. If your dive buddy isn’t comfortable with a certain type of dive because of their limited experience you need to keep that in mind. You never want to push them to do dives they may feel uncomfortable with.
On the flip side of the coin, if you’re the diver with less experience or a lower certification level, you need to communicate what you are comfortable with and not comfortable with. The plus side of being the less experienced diver is that you can learn a lot from a more experienced diver.
Do you have similar dive objectives?
What do you like to do on your dives? Do you like to take pictures, capture video, or maybe just relax on your dives? What kind of dives do you enjoy? Do you like shipwrecks or reefs? Do you prefer night diving or maybe drift dives? The point I’m trying to make is that you and your long-term buddy ideally should want to go on the same kind of dives and partake in similar activities during the dive. If your buddy is always taking their time in one spot to get that perfect macro shot of a nudibranch and you want to swim and see as much of a site as possible it can become a conflict and neither one of you will enjoy the dive.
Are they significantly larger or smaller than you?
Part of being a buddy is being able to render assistance if needed. If your buddy is much larger or smaller than you then it will affect your ability to be able to tow them if the need should ever arise. Also, different sized divers usually have different breathing rates. All things being equal, a petite 100-pound woman will have a much lower breathing rate than a large 250-pound man. Using different tanks can, of course, make it so that gas doesn’t cut the dive short for the smaller diver, but it is something to consider.
What kind of gear configuration does your buddy use?
An often-overlooked part of being a dive buddy is that the gear your dive buddy uses will affect your diving. If your buddy always uses a smaller tank than you, you might become frustrated by a buddy that is always calling the dive while you still have plenty of gas to continue diving.
Similarly, if you use a dive computer with a very conservative algorithm and your buddies dive computer is more liberal, that can also become an issue with the diving you want to do.
Sometimes there are major differences in gear. Maybe you dive a traditional single tank that is back mounted, and your buddy always dives sidemount. Perhaps your buddy uses a rebreather, that too can be a consideration that can affect the way each of you wants to dive.
Does your buddy dive Nitrox?
If you are doing deeper dives this is especially important. You and your buddy should have similar mixes on the dives you are doing. Otherwise, the dive profiles and no-decompression limits for the dives you’ll be doing might be different. If you normally dive with Nitrox so should your buddy.
Do you get along?
SCUBA diving is a social sport. You’ll be spending time with your diving buddy. You’ll need to plan your dives, possibly spend time on dive boats getting to and from the dive site. You might also drive together to the dives and maybe even spend time after the dive sharing a meal. That’s a lot of time with your dive buddy. You want to make sure this person is someone you generally get along with and that you enjoy spending your time with them.
Different Dive Buddies for different dives?
Sometimes you'll want to have different dive buddies for different activities. Maybe one dive buddies loves shipwrecks but doesn't really like going on reef dives. A different dive buddy loves going on reef dives but doesn't particularly like shipwrecks. You like doing both. There's nothing wrong with having different dive buddies for different dives.
What are the responsibilities of a dive buddy?
Now that you know what a dive buddy is, where to find a dive buddy and what to look for in a good long-term dive buddy let’s discuss what your responsibilities are as a good dive buddy.
Before going on your dive, you’ll need to discuss several important elements of the dive you’re about to do with your buddy as well as perform some safety gear checks. You don’t want any surprises or confusion underwater, so this is when we clear everything up and get prepared for the dive to come. What follows are the minumum items to discuss and review with your dive buddy before every dive.
Getting to know a new buddy
If this will be your first-time diving with a new buddy there are several things you want to learn about them. First and foremost, you need to learn what their certification level and diving experience is. An advanced diver that’s only done 12 dives all of which have been part of a course is not the same as someone who’s been on a couple of hundred dives. You want to get a general feel for what their diving experience is so you can figure out who should lead the dive and also what your buddy may or may not be comfortable with.
Besides, understanding their experience you also want to know what hand signals they use for things like turning the dive, communicating air pressure, and emergency hand signals. Sometimes divers use different hand signals so it’s important to know how you and your buddy will communicate underwater. This is also a good time to ask if your buddy has a slate in case there is something you need to communicate underwater that can’t be expressed through hand signals. If you use a slate, you’ll want to let your buddy know that as well.
Another important topic that needs to be discussed with a new dive buddy is how to handle possible emergencies. These are some of the things you need to know:
- Does your buddy give away their octopus for buddy breathing or do they donate their primary?
- Where is the octopus on their dive rig?
- Do they know how much ballast they need? (Ask)
- How would you release their ballast in case of an emergency?
- Do they have integrated weights on their BCD or are they using a weight belt?
- How would you get them out of their gear in case of an emergency?
- Does your buddy carry a Delayed Surface Marker Buoy (DSMB) and know how to use it?
- What procedure do they follow in case of a lost buddy?
You want to know these things ahead of time, just in case the need arises.
Planning the dive
Now that you’ve gotten to know your dive buddy it’s time to plan the dive you’re about to go on. First, you need to communicate to your buddy what your objective is for the dive. If you plan to just relax and take in the sights let them know. If your dive plan is to take pictures or video, you need to let your buddy know this as well. Both you and your buddy must be on the same page regarding what you will be doing throughout the dive.
You and your buddy also need to decide on when you will turn the dive and how you will communicate that it’s time to turn the dive. Similarly, you should also discuss what your no-decompression limits are for the dive and how you plan to keep track of your limits. If you are using a dive computer, you might also want to discuss whether your computer is configured to be more liberal or conservative and how that may affect your bottom time.
This is also the time to decide on who will lead the dive. It’s best to have one person leading and the other following. If one diver has more experience with underwater navigation or simply has experience diving a particular dive site, they should be the leader. If you’re unsure as to who should be the leader because you both have similar experience than just pick a leader or take turns on different dives.
Finally, there might be special considerations your buddy needs to know before the dive. Maybe you take a long time to equalize your ears, or you prefer to extend your safety stops. Perhaps you know that you tend to breathe at a faster rate than most divers. If this is the case, you want your buddy to know before the dive so that there aren’t any surprises or any confusion during the dive.
The Buddy Check
Before going on the dive you’ll need to assemble your SCUBA gear and put it on. As you probably learned in your dive class this process should be done together with your buddy so that you can cross check eachother and make sure everything works properly.
Depending on the type of diving you are doing, you and your buddy may need to help each other to put on the SCUBA gear. If one buddy needs to lift the dive gear for the other buddy, the larger/stronger diver should put their gear on first. This is because they will need to hold the weight of their gear as well as the weight of their buddy’s gear for the longest amount of time while suiting up.
Once your dive gear is assembled and you’ve donned your gear, before entering the water you need to check your gear, as well as cross-check your buddies gear to make sure everything is in working order. This is also often referred to as a pre-dive buddy check.
At a minimum you should check the following:
- is the valve fully open?
- Does the first and second stage breathe properly?
- Is the SPG working and showing that the tank is full?
- Do you hear any hissing sounds that may indicate any sort of leaks?
- Is the tank strap tight and holding the tank in securely?
- Does the low-pressure inflator inflate and deflate properly?
- If the BCD has integrated weights, are they in place and secure?
- Does the BCD hold air when fully inflated? (make sure there are no leaks)
- Are all buckles and straps secure?
- Weight belt
- If one is being used is it on securely and also is the buckle easily accessible in case it needs to be ditched?
Different instructors and dive agencies have their methodologies and even acronyms to facilitate doing a buddy check, so the above list is by no means comprehensive. There are many different ways of doing a buddy check in the diving industry, so follow whatever system your instructor taught you in your class!
Diving the Buddy System
Now comes what you’ve been planning and anticipating: The dive! The good news is that most of the hard work is done. By communicating with your buddy, having a dive plan, and doing the buddy checks you’ve gotten most of the work out of the way. There are still a few points however to keep in mind when diving with a buddy.
Maintaining the correct distance
The entire point of having a buddy is to have someone there to assist you should you need it. Your buddy acts as a safety diver for you, and you do the same for them. For this system to work you need to be within eyesight of each other. This will of course vary depending on the visibility, current, the topography of the dive site itself and whether you are diving at night or during the day. The main thing to keep in mind here is that should something suddenly occur such as an out of air emergency you should be no more than a few seconds swim from your buddy and you should notice it immediately.
In addition to staying within an appropriate distance from each other, you and your buddy should also maintain the same relative position throughout the dive. If you are diving to the left of your buddy, you should remain there for the entire dive. This way you each know in what general direction to look to find your buddy.
Dive the Plan
There’s a saying in diving. You plan the dive and then you dive the plan. Now it’s time to execute the dive plan. Because you discussed any objectives you have for the dive you can now execute those objectives. Maybe your buddy is taking photos so you can help find cool critters to photograph. Or perhaps your buddy would like to spear some lionfish so you’re on the lookout for them. The point here is that you and your buddy are a team working together underwater.
Also, because the dive has already been planned you know what your no-decompression time limits are, what your maximum depth should be throughout the dive, and when the dive will be turned. There are no surprises here.
The person who will lead the dive has been chosen before the dive so that buddy is responsible for navigating the wreck or reef.
Because hand signals and communication were established pre-dive you can now communicate with your buddy about things like your tank pressure, when to turn the dive, and any other relevant information.
When it comes time to ascend you know if your buddy will be doing a deep stop, how long they like to take on their safety stop and what their ascent rate is like (some divers like to come up slower than others).
Finally, because much of the dive has been planned out you’ve eliminated many of the things that can cause stress. You can now relax and enjoy the dive. This is why you’re here after all!
One of the most neglected parts of the buddy system is the benefits it affords you after the dive. Just because you’ve successfully completed a dive doesn’t mean you and your buddy should go your separate ways. There are still several activities that great divers will do with their buddy’s post-dive.
Your gear still needs to be broken down, rinsed, and put away. Sharing in these duties with your buddy will make things easier, help to ensure you don’t forget anything and make carrying all the heavy gear less of a burden.
You should be keeping a logbook of your dives. Here, once again your buddy Is useful. By completing your logbooks together, you can compare notes. Did you think you had 70 feet of visibility or 90? What was the name of the site you did your second dive on? If you’re working on your diving performance, this is a good time to compare your Respiratory per minute volume or RMV. Who had a better breathing rate and why? How was your kicking technique, buoyancy, and trim during the dive?
You and your buddy can help coach each other so that you become better divers. What can you work on to make your next dive better? These are all things to discuss and document in your logbook so that you become a better diver each time you go diving.
Also, if you and your buddy were shooting photos or videos throughout the dive this is a good time to make copies of the photos or videos for each other.
How to Be a Good Dive Buddy
By following everything discussed in this article you will be a good dive buddy. These are some additional things you can do that will make diving with you even more enjoyable:
- Move at the pace of the slowest diver. There’s nothing worse than having a buddy that is swimming at a pace that you feel you have to keep up with. Not only will both of you go through your gas supply faster than needed, but you’ll also likely miss out on some of the cool things to see on your dive. There’s no shame in being a slowpoke. SCUBA diving is supposed to be a relaxing sport!
- Listen closely and take notes during the dive briefing. Two ears are better than one. It’s easy to miss some detail about the dive site or the dive in general. By listening closely and taking notes you ensure that if your buddy missed something you can fill them in.
- Communicate early and often. Your air pressure, time left on your computer, and when you want to turn are all just examples of information that your buddy probably wants to know. There’s never any harm in communicating this information early and often. Also, if you are having issues such as equalization issues, feeling cold, tired, or even narced you don’t want these feelings to build up until they are unbearable before telling your buddy. The sooner you let them know the better. They may be feeling the same and decide to call the dive. Communication is key to being a good buddy.
- Be on the lookout for equipment issues, even if they are small. Sometimes there’s a small leak coming from the SPG that wasn’t audible on the surface. Or perhaps your buddies fin strap looks like it’s about to break. Maybe a flashlight that’s in your buddies pocket accidentally turned on. These are all things your buddy should know about. The SPG hose probably needs replacing before the next dive, the flashlights batteries are being drained and might need recharging. Your buddy might need a new fin strap. These are all just examples of small equipment issues that sometimes aren’t noticed on the surface but become evident during the dive.
What about bad buddies?
Unfortunately, sometimes you’ll come across someone who just isn’t a good buddy. Below are some signs that they may not be someone you want to have as a long-term dive buddy.
- They constantly want to push things to the very limit. We all know the diver that gets back to the boat with barely any gas left in their tank. Or the diver that wants to say down until their computer shows that there is less than a minute left before they go into deco. If your buddy is constantly pushing the limits, they are not only putting themselves in harm's way, they may also be putting you into a dangerous situation.
- They have very poor buoyancy, trim, and kicking techniques. They may even be one of those divers that inadvertently damages the reef because they are touching it due to their poor diving skills. If they are new and open to suggestions on how to become a better diver, it might be ok to continue diving with them. If, however, they are experienced and unwilling to work on becoming better, you might want to look elsewhere for a dive buddy. These divers also tend to suck through their gas supply very quickly!
- They insist on being the dive leader no matter what! During the dive, you realize that they are not following the agreed dive plan and what’s worse, they have no idea of how to navigate the reef you are on. You might give them the benefit of the doubt, but eventually, you realize when the time comes to turn the dive that they have no idea what direction to swim in to return to the boat. Boat checks are now in order and if the visibility is poor or the currents aren’t cooperating you might have to do more than one before getting back to the boat. If this happens once or twice it might just be poor judgment. If it’s a pattern that’s a person you probably shouldn’t dive with.
- You just don’t get along. There are a million reasons why some people might just not get along. Diving is supposed to be fun. If the person you’re diving with isn’t pleasant to be around you might be better off finding another dive buddy.
What About Solo Diving?
With all that is required for buddy diving, you might be wondering if it might just be easier to do solo diving. Some agencies in the diving industry have even created a certification for solo diving. While solo diving has pros and cons which are way beyond the scope of this article it’s important to know that many dive operations will not allow you to solo dive. Because solo-diving requires you to have completely redundant systems in case of an emergency and a much higher level of training, some even consider it to be a form of technical diving.
One other drawback to solo diving is that you simply do not have someone to share the diving experience with. Diving is more fun when it’s shared with someone.
At the end of the day being someone’s dive buddy is a type of relationship, even if it’s just for a dive. It’s important that you pick someone you are compatible with, that you know is competent and that you will enjoy your diving with. Having the right dive buddy makes diving safer and more fun!
You also want to be the kind of diver that others want to pair up with. So knowing and using the buddy system is critical to attracting the right kind of buddies.
What do you look for in a dive buddy? Is there something we missed? Let us know in the comments below.