I don't have to worry on a dive as long as my buddy is there to look after me - right?

Scuba diving is a team sport. When you first start diving you are taught about the buddy system and told that you should never dive alone.

This is good advice. There are definite benefits to diving with another person or in a team. Human beings are social animals, after all. We like to share our experiences and we derive emotional security from the company of others.

But, the buddy system is a concept that is much misunderstood.

In the beginning, like many people, you probably found it reassuring that, when you dive, someone, your buddy, will be there by your side to help you if something goes wrong. You may not have considered that there is another side to this.

For the buddy system to function as it should, each diver, and this includes you too, has to be so skilled and capable that they can run their own dive on autopilot, while simultaneously giving their full attention to helping a buddy in difficulty. Not only must a diver accept complete responsibility for their own dive, therefore, they also have to be prepared to take some responsibility for their buddy’s dive too.

All new divers should make this their primary learning goal during their first 20 dives or so. They should aim to reach a level where they can take care of themselves with such competence that they can come to the aid of another diver in an emergency if required, without compromising their safety (or making the other diver’s situation even worse than it was before they arrived!)

You do not dive with other people so that they can take care of you in the event that something goes wrong. If something goes wrong, it is primarily YOUR job to deal with it.

This is why you were taught self-rescue skills in your first scuba class. You were told how to avoid and anticipate problems with the diving environment and your equipment. You were also taught how to manage these problems if they occurred and how to make sure they would not lead to you coming to harm. This is the most important aspect of every beginner’s course everything else is secondary.

After that, once you know how to deal with a problem like a broken mask strap or a free-flowing regulator, all you need to do is practice, both in further classes and outside class, to get yourself into a position where you are completely responsible for your own diving and not dependent on someone else to keep you safe.

You will not reach this level immediately. Nobody can. During your first 20 dives or so, you can be forgiven for still finding your way and needing a more experienced buddy, guide or an instructor to keep a watchful eye on you.

I always recommend that, once divers have 20 dives, they should sign up for a Rescue Diver course. This is the course that turns you into a thoughtful, independent diver, with your thoughts no longer focussed only on your own safety and survival, but also on the safety of those you are diving with. Many divers find that this is the point at which they realise what it takes to be “a good buddy.”