Staying with your dive buddy is always the safest option but there are occasions where you might lose sight of each other. For example, when you experience vertigo whilst scuba diving or when you are too focused on how to use a scuba dive compass that you don’t notice your buddy swimming in a different direction.
Having the best dive compass for scuba diving may help with keeping your sense of place but once you lose your buddy a different safety protocol must be used.
What To Do if You Experience Dive Buddy Separation
Every diver should be familiar with the advised steps for buddy separation and both buddies should discuss and agree upon the steps before getting into the water. There might be some variation, depending on your dive center, but most instructors can agree with the following measures to take when separated from your dive buddy.
As soon as you notice that you cannot see your dive buddy, stop where you are. Whenever possible, get into an upright position with neutral buoyancy.
2. Slowly Turn 360°
Make a slow 360° turn and as you are turning around slowly, remember to look upwards and downwards to check whether your buddy has ascended or descended.
This angle might also give you a view behind any underwater feature like big rocks or a sunken ship. Also, remember to look for air bubbles. Even if you might not see them in entirety, air bubbles are a good indication of the general direction.
3. Use Tools That Draw Attention
Even if you might not spot your buddy, your buddy might spot you. After all, you should have agreed on what to do in case of separation beforehand so your buddy is likely going through the same steps as you.
There are two ways to draw attention underwater; light and sound. Flicker with your dive light as you are making your turn so that it creates a noticeable pattern, even for divers that are not necessarily looking for a signal.
There are several options to make a sound underwater so you can use whatever you have on hand. For example, tapping a pointer on your air tank or an audio buddy signaling device.
4. Start Ascension Process After 1 Minute
This is a step where there is some variance because the suggested amount of time waiting time differs. Overall, 1 minute is the most commonly recommended amount of time to spend doing your rotation.
After this minute, begin your regular ascension process and repeating the 1-minute turn with noise and light at every safety stop. The ascend may give you a better overview of the area so you might spot your buddy easier.
5. Use the SMB or Ascension Line
Make sure you both take the necessary precautions for low visibility diving such as using an SMB or ascension line since this is one of the causes of buddy separation. These visual markers help you orientate yourself underwater.
The SMB signals that you are coming up and anyone at the surface who might be looking for you should notice it, including your dive buddy.
6. Wait at the Surface
With ascension complete, do another 360° turn and look for air bubbles. In good weather conditions, you can wait longer than the 1 minute that was suggested for underwater.
In bad weather conditions, it is safer to return to the dive boat or get out of the water. If it takes too long for your dive buddy to surface, there might be an emergency situation and you should inform those that can help with a rescue.
7. Do Not Descend Again
Before going into the water, you and your buddy agreed on a maximum amount of time to wait before starting the missing buddy protocol. This means, that if you began this process, your buddy likely did too so you should meet at the surface.
However, if your dive buddy is taking too long to surface then there might be another reason other than simply diverging away from each other. There might be a dangerous situation underwater which is why you should think about your own safety as well and avoid descending again.
Instead, head towards the dive boat or dive center and inform them of what is happening so the professional rescue divers can assess the situation. In such situations, time is of the essence so you should also avoid spending too much time waiting for your buddy to surface.
As you noticed from these steps, buddy separation is a time-sensitive situation. That is why you should agree on a safe amount of time to be waiting for each other before starting your dive.
Listen to the more experienced crew and take note of how the weather conditions, currents, and underwater features might influence a safe amount of waiting time.