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September 2001 Vol. 27, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Losing Your Buddy in Inner Space

Bob Halstead says what you’ve been taught is STUPID

from the September, 2001 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

I was recently recertified as an active teaching instructor, thirtyone years after my first NAUI instructor certification. I’ve been teaching some friends to dive. Unfortunately, half failed their diving medicals — that’s something we do here in Australia so that our friends don’t die unnecessarily when diving — which shows the sort of people I hang out with these days.

I’ve read many up-to-date diving manuals. At first, I thought they were excellent both in presentation and content — and they mostly are. Yet I was shocked to see that they are still teaching the so called “lost buddy procedure.”

This recommends that if you lose your buddy underw ater, you should first look around. If you don’t see him after one minute you directly ascend to the surface, turning and scanning as you go. When you get to the surface , you are supposed to note your position relative to two points ashore and wait for your buddy. When the buddy surfaces, you get back together and continue the dive.

When I read such garbage, I tend to wonder whether the authors have actually ever dived. This procedure is stupid because it has far greater risk than the situation it is meant to remedy — losing your buddy! I intend to get my students to put a big red cross through this page in their manuals.

Here are several reasons you should never attempt this lostbuddy procedure.

• It requires a direct openwater ascent with no refer ence to an ascent line.

• It requires you ascend without a decompression stop.

• Any current will move the diver, and since there is no reference underwater the diver will not immediately realize that the current is moving him.

• Noting your position relative to two points when on the surface is ludicrous, unless it is to make you realize what a stupid thing you have just done as you drift out to sea — that is if you can see any thing over the waves.

• Even if you do meet your buddy again, the manuals encourage you to continue the dive (descend again with reduced air supply), and make multiple ascents (at least two) on the same dive.

When I read such garbage, I tend to
wonder whether the authors have
actually ever dived.

The surface away from boat or shore has proven repeatedly to be the most hazardous place for a diver to be. Unless there is a pick-up boat looking for you, you will most likely face a difficult, exhausting and perhaps impossible surface swim. If there is surface chop and you remove your mask to check those shore marks, you will most likely start to drown. Except in the most trivial of diving situations, e.g., shallow water with swimming pool-like conditions, this is extraordinary nonsense that could turn an inconvenience into a disaster.

Leaving aside my own preference for being alone underw ater, which means I do not have to worry about losing or finding a buddy, what should you do if you lose your buddy?

I should point out that even if you dive with a buddy you should be self sufficient. If you are still dependent then you should pay tuition and dive with an instructor.

As a self-sufficient diver you should know where you are relative to the exit point — usually the boat. If you lose your buddy and your buddy does not reappear after a minute or two, you should end the dive by making the ascent originally planned. This means you swim underw ater to the exit point and make the proper ascent, including decompression stops (safety stop is a common but incorrect term; stops are necessary on all sport dives).

Chances are if you followed this procedure, you will meet your buddy again under the boat. If not, you have made a safe ascent and can alert the boat crew to the possibility that your buddy is missing and probably drifting away somewhere on the surface .

One thing I cannot find in the manuals is a reference to the most important buddy — the one on the surface looking out for you. I cannot emphasize enough how important this person is. Not only should he be able to spot you if you surface away from the boat and pick up or rescue you, he should also make sure that you are safely aboard the boat before it returns to port!

Bob Halstead started his diving business in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in 1977; he began operating the live-aboard Telita in 1986, selling her to Mike Ball in 1996. He runs trips in PNG for two months a year aboard Golden Dawn. Bob and his wife, Dinah live on the shores of Lake Tinaroo about an 80-minute drive from Cairn s , where, he says, “wallabies wander on the lawns and platypus swim at the bottom of the gardens . ”

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