Once you have become a more experienced diver, an SMB or Surface Marker Buoy becomes part of your must-have scuba gear. It signals to those at the surface that there are divers making an ascent.
It is also one of the most important scuba accessories in emergency situations. The different colors of the SMB can signal to dive boats that there is a problem underwater.
How to Deploy Your Surface Marker Buoy
As with any dive gear, you want to make sure that you are avoiding marine life injuries which is why you need to learn how to properly use an SMB without it getting tangled to anyone or anything.
Read on to learn the safest way to deploy an SMB.
1. Start Well Before Your Planned Ascend
The SMB is an indicator to all the boats at the surface that there are divers coming up. By giving off the signal early you are providing them with enough time to adjust their position so the entire situation is safer for all parties.
This preparation time for the surface dwellers is also useful for when you are making an emergency ascend. By using the yellow surface marker buoy you are informing the dive boat that there is a problem and the crew can take the necessary precautions.
2. Check Your Surroundings
The most important safety precaution when using an SMB is making sure that no other divers, marine life, coral or seaweed can get tangled in the line.
So, the first thing you do is keep yourself neutrally buoyant and check that there are no obstructions in your surroundings. Make sure that your fellow divers are also aware of what you are about to do. This way you can both create a safe distance.
3. Maintain Neutral Buoyancy
This was already mentioned but deserves emphasis. You need to remain neutrally buoyant to avoid getting tangled yourself and to maintain at a steady safe position.
4. Prepare the SMB
Take the SMB and check that the spool is attached properly i.e. D-ring attached to a loop in the line. Make sure that you are no longer hooked on to the SMB to prevent the force of the line from pulling you away.
5. Check Your Surroundings Again and Prepare for Inflation
Again, making sure that the area is clear before you being inflating the scuba gear. Once you are sure, take the spool, line and excess SMB material and hold them together in one hand.
Using the other hand, start inflating the SMB. There are several ways to do this and the best inflation method depends on the type of SMB that you are using.
The easiest way is inflation using your secondary inflator hose so that you don’t need to remove your primary. Some models also have a mechanical way of inflating this piece of dive gear.
If it does require manual inflation, use the right technique i.e. don’t hold your breath and puff out air slowly. Don’t overdo it because you need enough air to clear your regulator right after.
With manual inflation, it is fine to repeat the step so that you don’t over exert yourself. However, at lower depths, only small amounts of air is needed to get the SMB to inflate enough so this step should not take long, either.
6. Hold the Reel While Letting Go
When you are ready to release the SMB, take hold of only the reel and let go of all other parts. Do not hang on to the line or the inflated material because this may pull you.
Make sure your buoyancy is steady. It helps to be slightly negatively buoyant as a counterweight to the upward pulling force of this safety tool. Remain in the same position until the SMB has reached the surface. Only then is it safe to begin your ascent.
7. Ascend Slowly
While keeping the line taut, slowly begin your planned ascension steps. So, as you are carefully moving towards the surface, fold in little bits of the line.
This should make sure that the SMB stays upright at the surface and it also avoids accidental entanglement. A taut line is very important because the SMB can move around more when the line is slack.
8. Keep the Signal Until the Boat Arrives
Don’t fold away the SMB as soon as you reach the surface but rather keep it floating upright until the boat reaches you and all the other divers have surfaced. You can do this by leaving out some of the line and pulling down with the reel.
9. Store Away the SMB
Before getting on the boat, fold all the SMB parts in the correct manner and store it away in a pocket or hang it on a D-ring on your BCD.
Here’s a short video of DSMB deployment by Garry Dallas, RAID UK & Malta. In very shallow water, here in 2.7m practicing skills will make any deeper dive DSMB deployment much easier. It’s all about the transfer of buoyancy.