Buddy Systems & the deception of good viz

What's wrong with this picture...?
No, not the composition... What is wrong with the divers in the picture...? There doesn't seem to be a Buddy System in place, does there...?

This picture was taken in South Africa, and the situation is not the exception. A recent diving fatality has brought the importance of the Buddy System back into sharp focus!

Criticism is always easy, and we all make mistakes. Unfortunately, it is often only when an injury or fatality occurs that attention is drawn to a particular issue - and then frequently only passingly... We all teach Dive Buddy systems, but somehow we don't always seem to follow them - especially when the viz is good. Why not? What is behind this? Are we simply careless, independent or undisciplined...? Or is there more to the story...?

So the question is: 
Why do buddy systems fail - especially in good viz?
How close is close enough when the visibility is so clear?


We would really like to get your views on this. We don't want a simple "diver's should..." response. We would really like more of a "diver's don't follow the Buddy System because..." response. In fact, why not make it "why I myself sometimes don't..." Let's be real about this, so we can change... 

To contribute your thoughts, click here to give us your views.
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12 Comments


Arthur Coulter - March 26th, 2015 at 5:12pm

Divers don't follow the buddy system when the dive master guide has moved on from pointing out something interesting on the reef to the next one and now the divers are left to decide....do I follow immediately or do I stay and then fall behind? My buddy has seen it and being just below me has moved thinking I am within a few meters. The DM should shepard the group and not move on until everyone signals that they are happy to move. The DM may signal to divers constantly. ..where is your buddy? until it becomes or seems compulsary during the dive.

Jan Botha - March 26th, 2015 at 6:21pm

Diver's don't follow the buddy system because they get distracted by something they want to focus on - especially those who have cameras. When concentrating, and getting that one more shot or composition, the time seems to stand still. In the meantime the rest moves on or assume the buddy is where the buddy was a few seconds ago. It seems that a buddy does not swim away on purpose, but often gets stuck or left behind.

Gerard Cannoo - March 27th, 2015 at 2:07pm

After completing the survey I'd like to add a few thoughts... Yes, I've also done stupid things, dived alone, made my own equipment many years ago (a re-breather - without knowing how to correctly use it and oxygen closed system) and despite some very stupid things I've survived. Surprisingly or luckily?? I've also had some very bad experiences as a result... Looking at this and looking back, when navy diving and I was often the supervisor, the lone diver had a line attached and a code of 'pulls'. One pull - you OK? and the like... When doing hull searches divers were physically linked by a piece of cord around a meter long. These days I ask my dive buddy to ensure she or he is always within arms reach of me and if I'm unaware of his or her proximity I stop and find them. We tend to dive in a lead / follow or next to one another formation with the idea that both are equally aware of the near presence of the other whether in sight or not. While this is seen as 'paranoid' or 'too much' or 'overkill' by some friends; it is the condition I agree with my dive buddy or we don't dive. We also acknowledge we're no longer in our twenties and thus invincible! (We're late forties and early fifties). The couple of times I've been in a possible situation over the past few years, hand stuck in a hole, kit snagged, dropped or lost something and the like it has been clear, shallow, inshore or somewhere on the edge of "safe" and each time it could have ended in an incident or even badly - but because I was there my buddy didn't have an unpleasant experience and because he or she was there I didn't have an unpleasant experience! It's worth the bumps to know your buddy is in reach and as concerned for your safety as his or her own; and that any event will immediately be dealt with - you won't need to find or catch up... Hope this is of interest!

Bill Burstrom - April 4th, 2015 at 8:04pm

Too often Buddies are paired together who haven't dived together and established an understanding of what they expect. For instance, somebody who is used to a camera buddy will automatically bridge to the group and hurry his buddy along when necessary. There needs to be verbal communication on the surface about what is expected between buddies.

Tom Louw - June 30th, 2016 at 11:15am

On the topic of Buddy diving I would like to comment and also agree with the other divers. I have had the experience when diving in P.E where I did not have my regular Buddy with me(which is also a family member) .The DM has grouped us (About 12 divers) in pairs so each diver has a Buddy. Unfortunately I had an experienced diver who knew the diving environment.He went on his own and I had to try and keep up with him and not really enjoying the dive. The DM was in the front and I think that he assumed everybody is still in a group close by. I then decided to surface and return to the boat.End of my dive(Expensive)

Greg Lightcap Jr - May 18th, 2019 at 2:40pm

Divers don't follow the buddy system because it takes a level of discipline that is rare in the recreational diving environment. We have far too many deaths of divers who were alone when they died (86%). Whether

diving alone, seperated by carelessness, or seperated as a result of an emergency, the fact remains that relying on the buddy system as gas redundancy is unsafe. We need to either change the environment, change training, or require all divers have a dive buddy AND be carrying a redundant air source.

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