Do I really always need a buddy?

This is a question that is frequently debated when scuba divers gather - are you always safer diving with another person or are you sometimes actually better off diving alone?

The Perfect Buddy Team

The perfect buddy team consists of two divers who share similar interests and have compatible aims. They stay together throughout every dive they do, adjusting their distance from each other according to the visibility and water conditions. They keep track of their air supply and decompression burden and regularly keep their buddy updated on their status. They have discussed and practiced what to do in the event of various emergencies and each accepts full responsibility for their own personal safety as well as the additional responsibility for helping their buddy if necessary.

They have also agreed that if either of them feels uncomfortable for any reason before or during a dive then they will abandon or abort the dive together.

This is a very safe way to dive and statistics agree that a diver is more likely to come to harm if they are alone than if they are with another diver. It is a fact that most divers who die diving, die alone.

However, a closer examination of incident reports shows that, in many cases, the deceased diver may have ended the dive alone but actually began the dive with a buddy. Many dive accidents take place when two buddies separate during a dive for some reason, but continue to dive on their own.

Flaws in the System?

This suggests that there may be flaws in the buddy system and these may derive from the way it is commonly taught. Nervous new divers are assured that in an emergency their buddy will always be there to help them. This can lead to false expectations and encourage divers to dive in situations beyond their skill level.

If you have a pair of people diving together who are both beyond their comfort zone and relying on their buddy to bail them out if they get into difficulty, the result can be disastrous.

The fact is that you, and only you, are ultimately responsible for your safety on every dive. You should never put yourself in a position where you are not able to survive a dive by trusting your own knowledge, equipment and self-rescue skills, whatever happens. Problems also arise from dive operators enforcing the buddy system on the unwilling, which results in divers only paying lip-service to the concept and ignoring their “buddy” completely once they enter the water and are out of sight of the “authorities.”

When A Buddy is Better

There are definite benefits to diving with someone else. We human beings are social animals. We like to share our experiences and we get emotional security from the company of others. There are also occasions when having a buddy around can be of enormous practical value, for instance when you: -

Run out of air

Get entangled in fishing line

Become confused or anxious

Are badly bitten or stung, or

Suffer a major equipment failure

When Solo is Safer

Diving solo is certainly safer if you want to dive a plan that is beyond the experience level of your available buddies. For instance, if you are a certified Technical Wreck Diver and want to explore inside a shipwreck but none of your dive team has overhead environment training, it is much better to do the dive alone than take an unqualified diver inside the wreck with you.

However, any dive can be undertaken safely on your own as long as you have the necessary knowledge and experience to anticipate potential problems and you plan your dive and equipment accordingly. Before you decide to do any dive alone, ask yourself: -

Are you influenced by ego or peer pressure?

Have you identified all the potential risks?

Are you equipped to deal with any eventuality?

Have you practiced your emergency responses?

Do you have experience of successfully managing stress underwater?

Do you have the discipline to stay within a dive plan?

Are you prepared to abort the dive immediately if you feel ill at ease?

Final Word

Some training agencies offer a Solo Diving course and this can be valuable in helping you assess your abilities. But, just because you are a certified solo diver does not mean you always have to dive alone. Confident, capable solo divers make the best buddies!

Learn more in Scuba Confidential - An Insider's Guide to Becoming a Better Diver