Tips for Effective Use of the Buddy System

Hand Signals

  1. Choose your buddies wisely.
    The ideal buddy should feel that the buddy system is important. If you are partnered with a random buddy on the boat only to find that he is a lone wolf and deserts you underwater, stick close to the divemaster and ask for a different buddy for the next dive.

    2. Discuss your dive plan with your buddy before the dive.
    Let your buddy know if you are likely to have any issues that commonly lead to buddy separation, such asear equalizationtrouble on descent (I frequently see one diver drop like a rock while the other is stuck at 15 feet attempting to equalize his ears). Discuss how you will deal with these situations should they arise.

    3. Talk about your dive objective.
    If one member of the team stops to take photographs and the other wants to race over the reef in order to cover as much ground as possible, a compromise as to the dive pace will need to be made.

    4. Pick a side.
    Choose what side of your buddy you will remain on, and then remain on that side. This might sound silly, but it is easy to become disoriented underwater and knowing where to look for your buddy is helpful.

    5. Pick a leader.
    Even if there is a dive master, decide who will make navigational decisions during the dive. One buddy swims to areas he finds interesting, and the other follows his lead. If the follower wants to check out a specific spot, he simply notifies the leader and they move together. This makes the dive more organized and more enjoyable.

    6. Discuss a way to attract each other’s attention.
    This could include underwater noisemakers, rapping on the tank with a metal ring or clip, or even shouting into the regulator. If you and your buddy know what to listen for, you are more likely to be able to get each other’s attention underwater.

    7. Familiarize yourself with your buddy’s gear and refresh emergency procedures together.
    This doesn’t have to take a long time, a simple “my weights are released here and my alternate air source is here” and a brief review of the gear you are using usually covers the equipment. A quick discussion of emergency air sharing procedures takes about 30 seconds.

    8. Communicate during the dive.
    Discuss hand signal communications and then use them. Ask your buddy if he is okay periodically, point out interesting aquatic life to your partner, and communicate your tank pressure. Divers who are in constant communication tend to stay closer together and more aware of their partners.

Scuba instructors teach the buddy system for a reason: a diver using the standard single-tank equipment configuration cannot solve all emergencies himself. Stay close to your buddy and stay safe!

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Mastering the Command Chain

Baro

In any kind of diving, the ability to react to problems with the right skills is paramount. Of course, a diver’s main focus should be on anticipating and avoiding problems in a first place, but when problems do occur, the diver should focus on diving basics (such as buoyancy) first.

Doing so will lead to a safer and more controlled solution.

What are the steps leading to a correct and controlled response?

The following protocol will help you achieve a deliberate, controlled, and safe reaction in a difficult situation.

  1. Check Your Breathing Rate

Breathing on land feels natural, and most of the time, we don’t think about it. However, underwater, the surrounding pressure and breathing resistance from the equipment will cause a diver to think again about something that is usually automatic.

When a diver is stressed or task loaded, the first thing that usually happens is that he either increases his breathing rate or holds his breath – and he usually does not notice that he is doing it! Not only does this affect his buoyancy, but it creates stress as his body builds up carbon dioxide. In the event of any task or problem management, first check your breathing and focus on long, slow exhalations. This will allow your body to get rid off carbon dioxide, allowing better mental focus, lower gas consumption, and reduced anxiety.

  1. Confirm That You Are Neutrally Buoyant

Before a diver takes any action, he should confirm that he is neutrally buoyant.

Neutral buoyancy requires the use of your BCD or wing and your breathing. As stated above, a diver who is hyperventilating or holding his breath will find himself ascending even with the proper amount of air in his BCD.

To check your buoyancy, the first thing you should do is nothing at all . . . just wait! There is always a delay between exhalation and sinking, and between inhalation and rising. Playing with this delay will allow you to find the buoyancy sweet spot – the pattern of breathing at which you rise and fall approximately the same amount with each breath, and return to the same depth with each breathing cycle.

The goal is to have the correct amount of air in your BCD so that you can breathe in a relaxed and consistent pattern while maintaining your depth. If you are exaggerating your exhalations or inhalations, adjust your BCD so that you may breathe normally. The incorrect amount of air in your BCD may affect your breathing rate, leading to stress! The worst part is that experienced divers often make these type of compensations unconsciously, so it is worth the small amount of time it takes to check your buoyancy and breathing rate before taking any action.

  1. Assess Your Trim

Trim refers to a diver’s body position. Many times, proper trim is horizontal but not always; it depends upon the environment. A diver’s body should be parallel to the bottom or the floor. This is very important in cave diving and wreck diving, where a silty bottom may not be horizontal!

Proper trim will help to reduce drag and the work of propulsion, as well as limit silt outs and damage to the environment.

Proper trim also gives a diver better control by offering greater contact with the surrounding fluid.

A diver in good trim will feel controlled and stable in the water – a diver out of trim will feel sloppy.

Achieving proper trim requires a bit of practice and equipment adjustments at first, as well as an awareness of the environment. Before taking any action underwater, check your trim to be sure that you are not struggling with an inappropriate body position. Doing so will allow you to focus on the task at hand, instead of struggling to maintain position.

  1. If Necessary, Consciously Choose Your Propulsion Technique

If the task at hand requires swimming, such as reaching a wreck or exiting a cave, choosing the most appropriate propulsion technique will help you to get to where you are going in an efficient manner.

Some good options include:

The Frog Kick

The frog kick propels water behind the diver (as opposed to downwards or upwards) creating a almost purely forward movement that prevents silting and damage to the environment. This kick is easy to match with your breathing, and it is the best technique for long swims and diving with bulky rigs.

The Reverse Kick

Trying to position yourself without a good reverse kick is like trying to parallel park a car without a reverse gear – it’s not possible. The reverse kick is used to manoeuvre in small places, reposition yourself without losing sight of your surroundings, or just to stop on a dime.

Flat Turns

Also known as helicopter turns, a flat turn in useful in positioning, allowing the diver to rotate around his center of gravity while keeping proper trim. Mastering flat turns will help to prevent dropping your feet (and all the problems associated with it) and allows you to manoeuvre in very tight spots.

  1. Consider Your Position

The next step to consider before taking action to solve a problem or complete a task is to choose your position relative to your dive team and the environment.

Be sure that you are not your partner(s)’ blind spot: your entire team should be aware of your presence thanks to your positioning.

In cave, wreck, and deep diving, this can also be achieved with your light beam position.

Choosing the proper position may involve more than just your placement relative to your team.

Considerations may include your position relative to a guideline or the current. Positioning is an art anticipating others’ movements and vice versa. Diving in a properly positioned dive team feels like being part of a team of jet fighters, and can be pure bliss once you master it.

  1. Finally, Take Action!

Once everything else is under control, analyze the situation and take deliberate action.

Consider what needs to be done, and plan your movements step-by-step before executing a task.

You have time (you are already in control) and thinking through a task step-by-step will help to avoid mistakes and the need to fix them or to start over.

The Command Chain in Practice

Putting these six steps together will lead to more controlled, less stressful diving.

For example, if a moment of stress leads to hyperventilation or over-breathing, your buoyancy, trim, and all that follows will be negatively affected.

Stop, and go back to the basics starting at the beginning of the list.

Calm your breathing, check your buoyancy, check your trim, etc.

Whatever action you wish to accomplish, be it swimming, laying a line, or inflating a surface marker buoy, will become easier and smoother.

Putting the command chain into practice helps to avoid additional problems, and increases your overall control and enjoyment of a dive.

One Final Tip – This Works for All Divers, Regardless of Level!

The command chain works equally well for recreational and technical divers. Divers who use the command chain will become more confident, relaxed and controlled. They are able to manage complex tasks, and generally proceed much more quickly through training.

Train yourself from now on that THE mantra to repeat to yourself in any circumstance is:

Breathing, buoyancy, trim, propulsion, position, action!

You will be a better diver for it!

Vincent Rouquette-Cathala is a technical diving instructor at Phocea Dive Center, Mexico

Underweighting can be just as dangerous as overweighting.

scuba diver in lotus position

Equipment and the Environment Will Both Affect Your Buoyancy

Wetsuits, tanks, and even accessories and tools will affect your buoyancy. Whenever you change one of these items, it is necessary to complete a buoyancy check to determine the effect of the new item on your buoyancy. The salinity of the water will also affect a divers buoyancy. The obvious example is buoyancy in fresh water vs salt water, but keep in mind that the salinity of the ocean may also vary in different regions of the world, and you may need slightly more or less weight depending upon your dive location.

Conducting a weight test before a dive can make the difference between a miserable dive and an enjoyable one.

 

Conduct a Buoyancy Check Before DivingScuba 2

Test your buoyancy in a new location or whenever diving with a new piece of gear. Most of the time, diver’s have a limited number of dives on vacation, and it is worth the effort to make every dive comfortable and safe.

In fact, most dive operators will be thrilled if you ask to wade into the ocean or hop of the pier before your first dive to double check your weighting.

 

The general rule of thumb for proper weighting is that with all of his gear in place, with a nearly empty tank, a diver who completely empties his BCD and holds a normal breath should float at eye level. When he exhales he should sink.

 

Remember!! As the tank empties, it will become positively buoyant.

If you can empty your BCD, hold a normal breath, and float at eye level at the beginning of the dive, you will not have enough weight to comfortably maintain neutral buoyancy at the end of the dive.

The problem here is that most dive shops are not in the practice of providing nearly empty tanks for buoyancy tests. There are two solutions to this:

 

  1. Conduct the buoyancy test with a full tank as outlined above, and then add the appropriate amount of weight to offset the buoyancy swing of your tank as it empties.
  2. Conduct the buoyancy test as outlined above with a full tank, but instead of checking that you float at eye level, check to see that you sink slowly while holding a normal breath.

 

Double Check Your Buoyancy at the End of a Dive

Once you have successfully completed a dive with enough weight to keep you comfortably below water the entire time, it is a good idea to double check your weighting at the end of the dive.

To do this, purge your regulator gently until you are down to about 500 psi or 30 bar. Then, on the surface, conduct a buoyancy check before exiting the water. Do you float at eye level and sink when you exhale?Scuba 3

Do you have to swim to get down? Float like a balloon on the surface? Add a little weight on your next dive.

Do you still sink while holding your breath? Remove a few pounds and try again on the next dive.

 

Adding a Small Amount of Air to Your BCD During Descent Is Good

Many divers seem pleased that they can descend and arrive at the planned depth without adding air to the BCD.

Again, this is not a desirable situation. Because most tanks become more positively buoyant throughout a dive, divers who do not need to add air to their BCDs during descent to establish neutral buoyancy are likely to be underweighted.

 

I Don’t Need to Add Air During Descent. I Am Fine at the End of the Dive!

These are the people who have exceptionally low air consumption rates, and surface with at least half of their air remaining. Yes, they can be perfectly neutral during their safety stops, and they don’t go flying to the surface like awkward buoys at the end of the dive. Their tanks have not become positively buoyant because they haven’t breathed enough gas to cause a buoyancy swing.

 

The problem with this habit is that it does not prepare divers for an emergency situation, when they are low on gas because they over-breathed a tank due to a stressful situation, surface with less gas than normal due to an unforeseen occurrence, or are forced to share air with another diver.

In these situations, such a diver will have trouble staying down, and of course, these are the situations when having enough weight can make a big difference between an annoying situation and an uncontrolled ascent to the surface.

Plan for the worst case scenario: a low tank and increased breathing rates due to stress.

 

Diving with less weight does not make you a better diver.

Diving with the correct amount of weight does.

Slight overweighting is correctable: just add a little air to the BCD.

To be safe on dives, proper weighting is key.

Take the time to get your weighting right and you can avoid many potentially dangerous situations and dive more comfortably.

What Is the Purpose of Flying a Dive Flag?

Diver-Down-flag---Florida-Spiny-Lobster-Regulations---FWC

Dive flags are used to alert boats that divers are in the area, possibly near the surface.  Dive flags also help surface support personnel track the location of submerged divers. 

What Do Dive Flags Look Like?

Two main styles of dive flags exist: the diver down flag and the alpha flag.

They have different applications, and the recommended (sometimes required) use of dive flags varies with location. Be sure to familiarize yourself with local diving regulations regarding dive flags before diving in a new location.

The Diver Down Flag

Diver down

The diver down flag is the well-known red flag bisected by a white, diagonal stripe. The stripe runs from the upper left corner of the flag to the lower right corner. This flag is used when divers are in the water to alert boats to the possibility of divers near the surface. In most locations, diver down flags should be lowered or removed from the water once the divers have safely exited the water. Legislation in many parts of North America requires that diver down flags be flown whenever divers are in the water, and the flag is recognized in most parts of the world. 

The Alpha Flag

Alpha flag

The alpha flag is white and blue flag, with a triangular notch on the free end. The left side of the flag is white and the right side of the flag is blue. The alpha flag is recognized internationally and serves a different purpose from the diver down flag. The flag is flown by a boat whenever the mobility of the vessel is restricted. Other watercraft should recognize that the boat can not move quickly, and should yield the right-of-way to a vessel flying an alpha flag. In the case of scuba diving, a dive boat must stay close to the divers it is tending, and cannot easily move from the vicinity of the people under the water. In many parts of the world, the alpha flag is recognized as an indication that divers are in the area, but the flag has multiple uses and it is advisable to fly both the alpha flag and the diver down flag to avoid confusion. 

When Should You Fly a Dive Flag?

Dive flags should be flown whenever there is the possibility of boat traffic at or near a dive site (almost all the time). Dive boats usually display both the diver down flag and the alpha flag. When diving from a boat, a dive team need not carry its own dive flag provided that it stays within a predefined proximity of the dive boat.

When shore diving at sites where watercraft traffic is a possibility, divers should float their own dive flag on the surface, and stay within a few hundred feet of the flag.  

How Close Can Boats Get to Your Dive Flag?

Boats and other watercraft should stay well clear of dive flags, and should decrease their speed when approaching an area where a flag is visible. The exact distance varies with location, and is usually between 50 to 300 feet of the dive flag. Realistically, however, boats can get just as close as they like to a dive flag. Distracted boaters might not even notice the flag, and some may not be aware of its meaning. It is important to visually check the surface and listen for boat traffic before surfacing from a dive, even when a dive flag is properly used. 

How Should a Diver Carry a Dive Flag?

diver_down_flag2

In situations that require a diver to fly his own dive flag, the diver should tow the dive flag above him during the dive. Commercially available dive flags usually come with a buoy or inflatable raft to keep the flag upright at the surface. The diver tows the flag using a line attached to a reel. The reel should contain a length of line several times longer than the anticipated depth of the dive. Never clip the reel to your buoyancy compensator (BC) or dive gear when it is attached to a dive flag, because you risk becoming entangled in the line or dragged along behind a flag snagged by a boat. Divers who are using a dive flag should also carry a line cutting device in order to cut the line in the event of entanglement. Finally, all dive flags should be stiff enough to remain unfurled and visible without wind. 

What Should You Do If You Have to Surface Far From Your Dive Flag?

Inflatable diver down marker

In an ideal world, divers would always surface just underneath their dive flags or very close to the dive boat. However, it is possible that a diver may become disoriented or have an emergency, and have to surface away from the dive flag. For this reason, it is a good idea to carry an inflatable surface marker buoy at any dive site where there is the possibility of boat traffic. The buoy should be attached to a reel, and should be inflated and sent to the surface before the diver attempts to surface.  

Mask Squeeze in Scuba Diving – By Natalie Gibb Scuba Diving Expert

Mask

Have you ever surfaced from a scuba dive with an indentation from your mask on your face? If so, you may have already experienced a mild mask squeeze.

Mask Squeeze is the condition that occurs due to incorrect equalization of the air pressure inside the mask causing the outside pressure at depth to push the scuba mask to a divers face resulting in bursting of the small blood vessels around the eyes.

Serious mask squeezes are rare in scuba diving, but when they do happen, they can be painful and horrifying to look at.

Thankfully, mask squeezes are completely preventable.

What Causes a Mask Squeeze in Scuba Diving?:

A diver’s mask traps a pocket of air against his face . During descent, the air trapped behind the diver’s mask behaves in the same manner as the air trapped in his other body air spaces. As a diver goes down, the pressure surrounding him increases with his depth. The increase in pressure causes the air in his mask and other body air spaces to compress in accordance with Boyle’s Law.

As the air compresses, it creates a pressure vacuum, or suction, on the diver’s face.

If the situation is not remedied, the suction can be so forceful that it damages the diver’s facial tissues and eyes.

 

How to Identify a Mask Squeeze:

Mask squeeze affects a diver’s eyes, cheeks, and forehead.

A diver with severe mask squeeze may have inflammation and raccoon-like bruises over his cheeks and surrounding his eyes.

Mask squeeze may also cause subconjunctival hemorrhages, or bleeding under the thin layer of transparent tissue covering the whites of the eyes.

A diver who has experienced a mask squeeze may have bright red blood spots in the white of his eyes. His eyeballs may even be completely red (like a zombie!).

 

Equalizing a Scuba Mask to Prevent a Squeeze:

Preventing a mask squeeze is simple.

A diver need only equalize the pressure in his mask as he descends by adding air to the mask’s air space.

To do this, a diver exhales into the mask from his nose, much as he would when clearing his mask of water. Many divers exhale small amounts of air through their noses without realizing it as part of their normal breathing cycle. These divers will not need to take any additional steps to equalize their masks.

However, divers who have mastered “mouth only” scuba breathing will need to exhale into their masks periodically during descent. A diver should equalize his mask air space anytime he feels a slight suction on his face from his mask. Of course, it is best to prevent any pressure build up whatsoever, so a good rule of thumb is to exhale into the mask after each ear equalization.

No special action need be taken to equalize a scuba mask during ascent. The air inside a diver’s mask will expand, just as the air in his other body air spaces. The expanding air will simply bubble out from under the skirt of the diver’s mask, and does not present a problem.

Is Mask Squeeze Dangerous? What Is the Treatment?:

Mask squeeze is not usually dangerous and does not cause permanent damage.

It is uncomfortable and embarrassing.

Divers who experience a major mask squeeze, particularly a mask squeeze involving the eyes, should seek the advice of a doctor familiar with hyperbaric medicine. Antibiotic drops may be recommended for the eyes to prevent infection. A diver with an eye squeeze should expect the bright red colour to slowly fade to green or yellow before disappearing, just as any other bruise would do.

Do I Need to Be a Good Swimmer to Scuba Dive?

Swim2

Participation in a high school swim team is not a prerequisite for scuba certification. Scuba certification swim tests are not timed, and participants can use whatever swimming stroke they desire to pass the test – even goofy ones.

Should All Scuba Divers Be Able to Swim?

This is certainly an interesting question.

People enrol in scuba courses for a variety of reasons. Some state that they want to learn to dive in order to overcome a fear of the water or to learn to swim. I would urge such people to become comfortable in the water by enrolling in swimming courses before ever considering a scuba experience program or entry-level certification.

Diver Confidence:Swim1

While the technique of swimming underwater in scuba gear is very different from the technique of swimming on the surface without equipment, confidence in oneself and one’s abilities in the water does translate to diving.

In many cases, this confidence and ability appear to be directly correlated with a student’s comfort level when scuba diving. Students who are completely certain that they would be able to survive in the water with out scuba gear are certainly much more comfortable using it.

• Basic Diving Skills:

Consider that even a scuba program that does not include a swim test will still require the student to put water in his mask and to remove a regulator underwater.

Students who are afraid of having water in their faces will not enjoy these skills, and would do better to increase their comfort level in the water before attempting to dive.

• Problem Solving:

Scuba diving is an equipment dependent activity, and the reliability of the equipment is extremely high.

However, the remote possibility exists that a diver will need to deal with an equipment-related issue by using emergency management skills such as switching to another regulator, even during an initial dive experience.

Scuba divers do not need to be expert swimmers, but a basic ability to handle oneself in the water without fear or stress is an absolute requirement in my opinion.

Knowing how to swim and float are a huge step in acquiring that confidence. Prospective divers who do not have the ability to stay calm on the surface without a floatation device or who cannot swim (however sloppily) for a short distance should first learn these skills with a professional swimming coach.

A diver who is not confident without his gear is one uncomfortable situation away from panic, and panic, as all scuba divers know, endangers both the person panicking and those around him.

Although knowing how to swim is not required for basic scuba experience programs, it is advisable.

Basic Shark Facts For Scuba Divers – By Monique Mancilla and Daniel Ponce-Taylor

Bull-sharks-with-scuba-divers

For many people, the word “shark” conjures the image of a dangerous animal, a killing machine out to attack humans.
This could not be further from the truth. In fact, a person is more likely to be struck and killed by lightening than attacked by a shark.
Worldwide, sharks only kill 4 – 5 people a year.
Instead of fearing sharks, divers should realize that sharks are fascinating animals that play an essential role in maintaining balance within marine ecosystems.
Here are some interesting facts that divers should know about sharks.

Are Sharks Fish?:
Although sharks, skates, and rays do not have scales, they are still classified as fish.
These creatures are all members the cartilaginous fish group; instead of bones, their bodies are supported by cartilage (like a person’s nose).
Cartilage is more flexible than bone, giving shark fins an almost rubbery appearance.
As migratory fish, sharks spend most of their time in open water.
With more than 400 types of sharks on the planet, shark species demonstrate great diversity in size, appearance, habitat, and behavior.

Sharks Frequently Lose Teeth:
One of a shark’s most recognized characteristics is a mouth of sharp, scary teeth.
As an apex predator (meaning that sharks are at the top of the food chain),
a shark’s teeth need to meet the challenge of eating the wide variety of animals below it on the food chain.
Without teeth, a shark would be unable to survive, so sharks have an interesting way of dealing with broken or lost teeth.
Shark teeth are embedded in the animal’s gums and can come out of a shark’s mouth relatively easily.
Rows of replacement teeth grow along the jaw and move forward when a tooth needs to be replaced.

Do Sharks Really Eat Humans?:
With a keen sense of smell, sharks can detect blood in the water in quantities as little as one part per million.
Sharks have very specific food preferences and humans are not at the top of their menu.
A shark will either vomit out an unfavorable food item or its stomach will turn inside out to eject it.
Of over 400 shark species, great white, tiger and bull sharks are responsible for the majority of (the very few) attacks on humans.

Sharks Have a Sixth Sense:
Sharks have a network of jelly-filled pores which are used to detect electromagnetic fields produced by other animals.
This can be though of as a sixth, “electromagnetic sense”.
A shark’s electromagnetic sensing cells are known as the ampullae of Lorenzini, and can help a shark to find its next meal.
Sharks are the most electrically sensitive animals on the planet, and are even capable of finding prey hidden in sand by honing in on the prey’s electric field.
Sharks can also sense the electric fields generated by ocean currents, aiding them in navigating the ocean.

Fun Sharks Facts and Trivia:

  • A shark on land would be crushed by its own weight. Sharks lack a ribcage to maintain body structure.
  • Most sharks have eight fins. Despite this, they cannot back up. Their fins do not allow them to move tail-first, which means they eventually drift over objects directly in front of them.
  • Despite its numerous teeth, a shark’s digestion is very slow.
  • Many shark species must maintain constant motion to keep water flowing over their gills. If they stop swimming, they do not receive sufficient amounts of oxygen to survive.

Reduce the Risk of a Shark Attack While Diving:
If you are worried that you are going to be attacked by a shark, here are a few tips to decrease the already tiny chance of being attacked by a shark.

  • Avoid diving in waters with poor visibility as it increases the chance of a shark mistaking you for something it normally eats.
  • Avoid diving at dawn and dusk, as this is when many species of sharks are most active.
  • If a shark is spotted, find your dive buddy and stay together. Sharks are more likely to attack solitary individuals than members of a group. Seals use the same defensive strategy with white sharks in South Africa.
  • If you are lucky enough to see a shark while diving, stay calm and keep an eye on it.
  • If you do not feel safe with the shark then slowly swim to the dive boat or shore to exit the water

The Take-Home Message About Diving With Sharks:
They are a beautiful but threatened group of species.
Instead of fearing sharks, divers should cherish swimming in presence of these amazing and increasingly rare animals.
Each year, up to 100 million sharks are killed for their fins, jaws, teeth, meat, or by accident .
On average, for every human killed by sharks up to 20 million sharks are killed by people.
Divers, and people in general, should stop fearing sharks and start protecting them.