Buddy System Has Basic Flaws

Since the very first scuba certifications were offered back in the Stone Age, teaching new divers the sanctity and infallibility of the buddy system has been mandatory fare. The message is that the buddy system is proven safe and one must dive in buddy pairs if one wishes to dive safely. But there are several logical flaws to this absolute rule.

Unfortunately, as equipment and training have evolved, the buddy system has become a crutch for many divers, rather than the safety net it was designed to be.

To begin with, the overarching assumption is that both divers are well matched in experience and orientation, and equally capable of helping each other. Sadly, this is rarely the case when one dives with a randomly assigned buddy, and the usual outcome is that the more experienced diver acts as an unpaid instructor for their less experienced dive mate. This constitutes a wonderful bonus for the new diver, but in the event of a real emergency, the inexperienced diver probably cannot offer appropriate assistance to his more experienced buddy without compromising his safety as well as that of his stricken buddy.

Another point to consider, given the cost of charters, price of gas driving to and from the dive site, lunch, and a nitrox fill, is that if experienced divers take their responsibilities in the random buddy sweepstakes seriously, their dive is unlikely to be the recreational experience they signed up for. Essentially, the more experienced buddy is paying for the privilege of coaching a perfect stranger, and probably doing so for no thanks at all.

The second flaw in the buddy pair logic is that the ONLY perfect team is two people and this configuration is easy for newbie divers to work within right from dive one. This is simply untrue. A two-person team IS one of many configurations that CAN work, but it is not intuitive to a newbie diver and requires skills that are by no means innate and that are seldom drilled thoroughly enough to stick in today’s diver-training classes.

Technical divers whose exposures are typically longer, deeper, and altogether more complex than a traditional recreational dive find that the optimal size for a dive team is three people or more, they refer to this as having redundant buddies and the benefits of this team configuration in real emergencies are legion. However, effective communications in multi-person technical teams requires that each team member enjoys a degree of awareness that allows them to expand their attention to things more than an arm's length beyond their body - the typical attention zone for many divers untrained in this type of diving. Each team member is also a capable and self-sufficient diver who would be able to complete the dive on a contingency plan without relying on any of those buddies if something separates them. In short, they have taken the time to develop and perfect skills that counter the most common instances of equipment failure and operational "malfunctions." Well-trained solo divers do the same thing.

Early dive training programs adopted the idea of a two-person buddy system because it made a lot of sense at the time since scuba gear was far less reliable then than it is today, and things like SPGs and BCDs were concepts for a future generation of divers. However, those pioneer divers were taught to be self-sufficient. Courses were tougher and more focused on water skills than today's typical certification class.

Buddy System Has Basic Flaws
Solo Diving and Risk Management
Solo Divers Make Better Buddies
When Not to Dive Solo