Tammy R. Schmitz, an experienced diver, was diving in Cozumel on February 19th when she wanted to abort the dive. A divemaster with her group escorted her without incident to the depth of a safety stop before rejoining the group, but later she was found dead on the bottom. We'll never know what happened or why, because nobody was with her when she died. (Undercurrent April)
It's common practice, when people learn to dive, for one instructor to take charge of six trainees, aided by a divemaster. In many parts of the world, a single dive guide or divemaster often escorts groups of six or more certified divers.
Often, solo divers are paired in an impromptu way with someone they have not met before, do not know, and have no real allegiance to. What is the responsibility toward that person, the buddy-of-convenience? What if a diver needs or wants to curtail a dive early? A blown tank O-ring or an inability to clear ears might happen, most likely at the beginning of a dive, but what if, later in the dive, your buddy feels unwell or simply runs low on air long before everyone else in the group?
When your 'Buddy-of-Convenience' Calls the Dive
Dives cost a lot of money, and our dive trips are usually fewer than we'd like. If you are paired with someone who wants to curtail the dive early, what do you do?
Whether you like it or not, if your buddy-of-convenience wants to abort a dive, you should do the same and stay together. Waving him goodbye as he heads toward the surface and then carrying on the dive yourself or rejoining the rest of the group, may not be good enough. But it happens more often than not, as many Undercurrent readers have told us when we asked for opinions.
The Varied Opinions of Undercurrent Readers
Our readers seem equally divided between those who would see their buddy safely on their way to near the surface and those who would without question escort them safely all the way to the boat, even if it meant attempting to rejoin the main group later.
Bill Shepherd (Satellite Beach, FL) is typical of many divers. He says he's handled situations where his buddy needed to terminate his dive before he was ready to finish. First, he becomes aware why he wanted to head up. If it's a safety issue, he joins him to ensure that both complete the dive safely and take care of any health or equipment problems. If it's an air problem or just wanting to finish up early, he'll maintain sight contact until the other diver reaches the surface and establishes contact with the boat. Then he searches out the dive guide, if one is underwater, lets him or her know his new status, and accompanies the dive guide for the reminder of the dive.
Pat Sinclair (Metairie, LA) says the same, unless there is no dive guide, in which case both divers ascend together.
The Errant Buddy
Jim Garren (Boynton Beach, FL) wrote, "When [my wife and I] started diving, we were not assertive enough to protest when DMs matched us up with 'the odd man out' on local dive boats. Since we were pretty green ourselves, I suspect those poor souls disliked it as much as we did."
Mark Webber (Northern Ontario, Canada) make a point, familiar to many of us: "There have been times when, despite my best efforts, I've been buddied with someone who swam twice as fast as I did and didn't look back. Or had disappeared into the depths, beyond the maximum depth set by the divemaster." He added that, under good conditions, if that happens, he is sufficiently self-confident or self-deluded [his words] to solo dive.
Harvey S. Cohen (Middletown, NJ) thinks, "If it's open water, you must stay with your buddy. If that's a problem, you can refuse to buddy with that person on the next dive."
It All Depends
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question and it depends, writes Marc Arnel (Port Chester, NY). "If conditions are difficult or dangerous, i.e., currents, low viz, unknown terrain, it may be more prudent to stick together and bail out together."
PADI Master Scuba Diver, Russell Wilder (Foster City, CA) reckons, "If they are signaling they are merely getting cold, I'll accompany them to any ascent/descent line or anchor line (if we've dived off a vessel) and make sure they are safely on their way up to the safety stop level. If the viz is OK, I'll remain at my depth so long as I can see them rising to the safety stop."
If you are diving in a group without defined buddies and only one dive guide, if one of the group wants to abort the dive, do all have to? Says Gene Tinelli (Jamestown, NY), "If one comes up, everyone should come up."
Underwater Photographers Don't Make Good Buddies
Many of us dive alone with our cameras. It's a risk we are prepared to take, and we certainly can't handle the distraction of a diver who needs constant attention. Some dive operations accommodate us, while others insist we sport a solo diver or self-sufficient diver cert card or pay for a one-to-one guide. Few of us want the discipline of staying within a tight-knit group of divers and/or want our dive to be dependent on the whim of another person, one whom we hardly know. Several readers wrote to that effect.
As Mary Wicksten (Bryan, TX) points out, "If you are an experienced diver, you may end up shepherding the newbie or the air hog left over among the buddy pool. I go up (regretfully), knowing that this person may well need to be reminded about a safety-stop, letting air out of the buddy's BC if he/she was over-weighted on the bottom, or even panicking. Usually you can opt out of diving again with this character."
On vacation, some certified diving instructors hide that fact lest they be paired with someone who needs looking after. Carlton Adams and his wife, both instructors from Fort Lauderdale, FL, have had so many dives hijacked after being assigned less-than-capable buddies, simply because they are instructors, that they now refuse, pointing out that they are underwater photographers so it would be too much task loading to look after another diver.
What is The Diving Instructor's Take?
What is your responsibility for a buddy of convenience, one you might have only met a few moments before entering the water?
"If my dive buddy feels compelled, for any reason, to call the dive, my response is an unconditional, no-frustration, OK," wrote Pat O'Connell (Colorado Springs, CO). "Back in 1981, my basic diving instructor hammered into us that it's never too early to plan a dive; it's always too late to abort a dive. Never wave good-by and abandon a buddy and continue to dive alone."
Some believe you take on a responsibility if you agree to be partnered with a buddy, whoever it may be. Ann Pennywitt, a PADI diving instructor from Fort Lauderdale, FL, says, "I would lay out the dive specifics, in detail, before we get in the water. The dive ends when one of us wants it to, regardless of the reason. Surfacing alone is never a good idea, and abandoning a buddy is a huge no!"
Master Instructor John Miller (Lubbock, TX) agreed, saying, "My answer has to be, you go up with the [other] diver and catch the next dive. There simply is no other answer."
NAUI instructor Doug DeProy (Nanaimo, BC) states clearly, "Of course you would accompany your buddy to the surface! Diving problems are rarely visible! As part of my course, I would always emphasize any danger, real or imagined, is real! Apprehension leads to increased respiratory activity, and that leads to overinflated lungs! Though it can be frustrating to be buddies with a diver with limited dive time, there's always another dive!"
Stay Safely Out of Court!
"If you are assigned a stranger as a buddy, and you agree, you are responsible for that person's safety. If he or she calls the dive early, you must accompany him or her to a safety stop, the surface, and the boat." That's what Suzanne Leeson and David Vickery (Hoboken, NJ) told Undercurrent.
They continued, "If, heaven forbid, you buddy up with someone, they abort the dive, and you let them surface unaccompanied, and they suffer injury or death, you will likely wind up on the witness stand in any subsequent legal action."
Which brings us back to the tragic case of Tammy R. Schmitz, who called the dive and was escorted without incident to the depth of the safety stop before being abandoned. Nobody knows what happened next -- only that she was later found dead on the seabed.
A Sad Postscript
Just as this item had been written, we heard of the sad case of Rinta Mukkam, a 40-year-old regional sales manager from Singapore, who died during a dive near Gili Lawa Laut, off Komodo, on July 13th. The area is known for its strong currents. Undercurrent has unconfirmed information that she asked to finish the dive early and a guide escorted her not to the surface, but to the depth of the safety stop, where she was left alone. The Indonesian rescue authorities coordinated with the crew of the Seamore Papua, from which she had been diving, but by July 15th, she had not been found. (Source: The Straits Times)