When choosing a dive buddy there are several things you should take into consideration to make your dives safer and more enjoyable. A dive buddy who is safety conscious, has a willingness to learn, knows their gear, and has good buoyancy control are just a few things that makes a good partner.
I had made a mistake several years ago when choosing my dive buddy for an ocean drift dive. Several things compounded the issues I ran into such as being unfamiliar with the dive operator and dive sites. But the issue that caused the majority of my frustration for the dives that day was simply the dive buddy I selected. He, let’s call him Flip, was a relatively new diver with limited exposure to drift diving. In fact, I believe Flip had less than 50 dives under his belt when we ventured off the coast of Florida.
It wasn’t until recently that it occurred to me that his lack of experience impacted my dive so negatively. I dove with another individual I have known for over ten years and the experience was very different in some ways, yet similar in others. He held approximately the same level of experience as Flip, but communicated very well before and during our dives and he showed me he was willing to learn from others. It is safe to say it was his personality that made all the difference for me.
Safety is priority number one
Think about your last dive. You spent weeks or months planning the dive trip. You paid the dive shop and are on the boat ready to get underwater when you find your regulator or dive computer isn’t working correctly. You look to your dive buddy and let him know there is a malfunction. What do you do?
Any diver that goes through all this and yet is still willing to call off a dive due to an equipment malfunction is a good dive buddy. As frustrating as it is there is no dive on the planet that would make me unnecessarily risk my own life or my dive buddy’s life.
But when you do get underwater with no issues, check to see if your buddy is pushing the limits of the dive profile at hand. Did they dive too deep on the wall? Did they surface with too little air? All of these are things to keep your eye on when diving with a new buddy and would warrant a conversation back on the dive boat.
Ask “What do you want out of these dives?”
This question was asked of me days before my first dive with my new dive partner. He followed this question with a statement of how silly it sounded, but in all honesty, it was the best question a new dive buddy could ask. As a photographer my response was that I wanted to spend time taking photographs. This meant I would be stopping frequently and focusing in on aquatic life and waiting for the right time to take a shot. This would affect his dive as well since he now knows he may have to stop and wait for me while I shoot.
His response was to work on his fundamental skills like buoyancy, controlled breathing and managing the safety stop. This gave me an idea of his competency underwater and also keyed me in on some things I could help him improve. Having this conversation proved to be helpful to both of us.
One of the most frustrating things you can run into during a dive is a buddy who expends air much quicker than you do. With my new dive buddy this issue came up quickly (pun intended). I found his breathing pattern was much more rapid than mine and he consumed air twice as quickly as I did. While not a deal-breaker as far as buddies go, it is most certainly something we talked about during our surface interval.
Be sure to ask your new dive buddy how quickly they typically burn through a cylinder of air or nitrox. If your dive profile calls for a 60 ft (18 m) depth you should expect to hear your dive buddy say they can stay down for approximately 45 minutes and still have plenty of air for a safety stop.
Gearing up quickly and without incident is a great skill to have. And that goes for your dive buddy as well! I am sure you have seen a diver on the boat who can’t find their fin, screwed their regulator to the tank valve with the tank still strapped to the dive boat, or even forgotten their weights after their giant stride. The ability to gear up quickly is important as it shows the diver is experienced and in some cases courteous to other on the boat. Most divers like to be the ‘first in’ as it affords them the opportunity to descend to the reef and potentially see more marine life. You can’t do this if your buddy is still trying to find his mask!
Know who the diver you plan on spending the next few hours with well. You don’t have to be lifelong friends but you should know who their personality, how many dives they have completed, who to contact if there is a dive accident, and simply enjoy their company. Besides, who will drink a beer with you after the dive if you don’t like your buddy?
Willingness to pair up
According to DAN’s 2010 Fatalities Workshop 40% of fatalities took place during a period of buddy separation. My buddy Flip had one major flaw when we dove together; he decided to dive with someone else. I didn’t find this out until the middle of our first dive which was troublesome for me. Flip mentioned this ‘other guy’ was closer to his age and experience level so he ‘decided to dive with him’. Not only was my ego bruised (not really) but I was left without a dive partner. It was at that moment that I decided I will no longer dive with Flip.
On the other hand my new dive buddy mentioned he wanted to be at an arms length from me during the dive. While I wasn’t comfortable with such a close proximity to my dive partner, we had a small chat about how I prefer to dive and he did stay with me during our dives at a distance of about five meters.
Helpful on the boat
Don’t just help me gear up, help others as well. Help the crew by staying out of their way. Help new divers by handing them their fins. Help people to their seats after a dive. Help yourself by being attentive to the captain and dive master’s instructions. This type of karma goes a long way and earns you and your buddy respect on the boat.
Shows respect for all marine life and regulations
Inform your buddy to not harass turtles, nurse sharks, or other wildlife while diving. It’s tacky and potentially dangerous. If spearfishing, they should not be ‘shooting tropicals’ such as butterflies or small wrasse for the hell of it. Your dive buddy should be well educated on the area’s fishing regulations and must be able to properly identify the species of fish they plan on harvesting. Nothing frustrates me more than seeing a diver shoot a protected Nassau grouper while mistaking it for a Black or Gag grouper.
Good buoyancy Control
Is your buddy ‘swimming with their hands’? Do they look like they are waving to all the fish as they pass them by? Chances are they still need work on their buoyancy control. Having good buoyancy control limits the amount of air you consume and in general makes the dive more enjoyable. Good buoyancy also will help with safety stops.
Also, inform your buddy to stay off the bottom if you are photographing wildlife. Nothing is more frustrating than back scatter caused by a diver that ruins a nice shot.