Does the Buddy System work?

Maybe Yes, maybe no. Am I putting my foot in my mouth?

All I ask you to do is read on and think this out logically.

I personally believe it's much better to be prepared independently for diving than to rely upon any "buddy system". Most experienced divers tend to be "same ocean" divers who have prepared themselves to be self reliant. This does NOT mean that they don't dive with other divers.

If the buddy system is taught to each diver to use it for the social enjoyment of diving, then it can work very well. But we hear over and over again that the buddy system is for safety. We seem to be relying upon a very old teaching concept that emphasizes, to some degree, reliance upon another diver. This is extremely questionable, and one that more and more divers have learned can get them into trouble IF they really need assistance.

You never really know where your buddy is.  On the boat dives I asked a bunch of divers (over 40 on 2 trips) this question. "How often do you look at your buddy on a dive?" About 90% said about once a minute. OK, I then followed up with, "So How long do you actually look at them?" The answers were varied with most saying only a glance, but NOT ONE said more than 5 seconds IF their buddy wasn't doing something unusual.

So let's go with what the vast majority said. You look at your buddy for about 5 seconds every minute or so. This really means that for over 90% of the time you're diving you only have a general idea of where they are or what they are doing. This is ALSO assuming that they haven't moved and are still in the same general direction that you last saw them.

If they have moved it takes you about 5-10 seconds to realize this after you begin looking for them. If you experience something that you really needed them to assist you with, like running out of air, the odds are impossibly stacked against you that you could find them right away, and more importantly, that you could get to them, that you could signal them that you needed assistance, or that your "buddy" could actually do anything to assist you!

Can they assist you? Let's keep going with this. Even IF you did reach them, and they knew you needed help. Are they prepared to assist you? I doubt it.

If two (or more) divers who have had the same level of training (or lack of training) get into a situation that neither of them have had any experience with or training on how to resolve the problem, why would you ever want them to assist you? They don't have a clue how to solve the problem. The problem simply multiplies and unfortunately this has been proven to be the case in far too many diving accidents.


When does the buddy system work? The buddy system can be VERY enjoyable if two or more divers regularly dive together, and share the same interests. This "system" doesn't have to be limited to two divers. We see this all the time on the boats when many divers return and all of them shared in the experience of seeing something unusual.

Notice I did not say RELY upon the buddy. Then it tends to fail a lot more after than it helps.

What's the answer? There are many.

1. Prepare yourself so your diving doesn't require dependence on upon another diver. They should ONLY be there for the enjoyment and "discovery" on the dive.

2. Take a rescue course. If it's taught well (and some are pretty crappy) you'll learn a lot and might be able to assist someone else without getting you in trouble.

3. Have lots of air and plan to use it wisely. If you dive deeper than the depth that you can't go to the surface if your air supply malfunctions, get a pony bottle. Dive shops rent them.

4. Look over your buddy and their equipment. Is everything secure and put together well? Air checked? Do you actually have a dive plan? Review a few signals with them, like low on air, come here, low often to look at each other, etc. Do they appear nervous? How many dives do they have?

5. Nothing teaches you more than dive experience. You can be told forever about currents, air consumption, marine life, critters, and diving techniques, but the diving light bulb illuminates very brightly only when you really get out and dive.


A response to this from a very experienced diver:

You hit the proverbial nail directly on the head. A friend of mine back in the states was a navy dive instructor and chamber operator somewhere in Florida. And over a few beers we always got around to talking about diving.

I had just gone through a divemaster course and was filled with the course "piss and vinegar" doctrine. Usually our conversation drifted towards what he called "hobby lobbing" dives, which in our diver speak translates to what we all do. Recreational diving, so I'll call it that.

He was one of the few at that time that didn't have a hard stand against it, but he would always rant against the buddy system that was (is?) taught to recreational divers. He said it simply didn't work, and used a bunch of chamber cases to reinforce his comments.

I don't remember all of them, but I think almost all were where a diver ran out of air, or stayed too long, or bolted to the surface and their buddy didn't know what to do. The bottom line to his ranting was that recreational divers should never depend upon a buddy for anything. His mantra was "lots of air and common sense pretty much cures everything."

I enjoy diving with others that have similar experience and interests, but I don't ever want to depend upon them, no matter what certification they had, to do anything other than enjoy the dive with me. The "buddy system" can work if the the divers agree on a dive plan, and stick to the plan.

In certain types of diving ; ie. cave and wreck diving it would be foolish to dive alone. Unfortunately, it isn't always easy to find a good dive buddy, especially if you are an independent diver traveling to different parts of the world to dive. Sometimes you can find competent dive buddies, but a lot of times you can not. For that reason each diver should be able to handle most situations on his own, whether or not he is diving with a buddy.

Diving alone?  There are now at least three certification programs specifically related to diving alone. It's about time as this is been going on for a  long, long time.  Whether diving with a buddy or solo each diver needs to be self-sufficient, you shouldn't ever be totally be dependent on your buddy.