We were taught this procedure during our Open Water training and it was hammered into us every time we geared up and prepared to jump into the water regardless of whether it was the pool or ocean. It's the Buddy Check, but how many of us remember to do it now that we're certified divers with a "wealth of experience". Have we become complacent or have we simply forgotten the steps to ensure that our gear and our buddy's gear is set up correctly, that hoses are not tangled or even disconnected.
The pre-dive buddy check, is a vital part of diving and is designed such that you’ll complete a final inspection of both your equipment and your buddy’s to ensure you’re both ready to enter the water.
The standard pre-dive safety check uses the acronym BWRAF.
- This stands for
- Final Okay
Following are some of the issues we most commonly see when it comes to buddy checks, and how to address them before getting into the water.
Issue: It’s easy to overlook that the toggle for the quick-release dump valve on your right shoulder is trapped under a shoulder strap. This can mean that the BCD won’t inflate fully and you might also struggle to stay positively buoyant at the surface when you enter the water.
Solution: Your buddy will double-check that your quick releases and toggles are free from entanglement. Equally important, you’ll locate your buddy’s low-pressure inflator (LPI) hose and see how it works as each manufacturer has a slightly different configuration, and you need to know how to help them in a hurry.
Issue: Many people simply double-check that their own weights are in place and secure. In an emergency situation, or simply when helping your buddy back onto a boat after a dive, this can leave either of you unfamiliar with how to help the other diver release their weights.
Solution: Modern BCD and weight systems come in all shapes and sizes. There are belts, integrated weight pockets, harnesses and trim weights just to name a few. During the pre-dive check, be sure you both know how to release each other’s weights. Show your buddy where your weights are and how to release them, then find out the same for your buddy’s set-up.
Issue: A loose cylinder or tank band can be potentially hazardous, as well as embarrassing however it's common to see divers with loose cylinders as they return to the boat or shore.
Solution: When you first arrive for your dive, your BCD may still be dry. Ensure you soak or moisten the band/release in some water in order to relax and expand the webbing before you strap in a tank. During your buddy check, stand up and ask your buddy to give your cylinder a firm tug to make sure it’s nice and secure.
Issue: Checking your SPG (Submersible Pressure Gauge), but not the cylinder and the regulator(s) can be an issue. Many divers take a quick glance at their SPG, determine that they’ve got appropriate tank pressure, and call it a day. Don’t forget to make sure the cylinder valve is fully open, then take a few normal breaths from both the primary regulator and alternate air-source. A cylinder that has been closed may still read full if the system hasn’t been purged of pressure. This can mean a partially opened tank still shows full, and you don’t want to discover that underwater.
Solution: Before you put on your scuba unit reach to the rear of the tank and ensure that the valve is fully open, rather than fully closed with a half-turn open. Breathe from your primary regulator while looking at your SPG then let your buddy try your alternative air source (or try it yourself). Show them how and where it’s clipped onto your BCD and be sure that the needle stays steady. In addition, when diving from a boat, never assume that the boat crew has opened your tank.
Issue: The final okay is your confirmation to the dive group and leader that you’re ready to dive and that all previous checks have been completed. Missing accessories and gadgets are a problem in the modern diving world so don’t be that person who arrives on the dive deck and then as you are about to enter the water or as the skipper brings the boat into position and with seconds to spare, discover that you’ve left your dive computer in the car or worse, at home. Or that you’re not set for the correct nitrox mix, or you haven't clipped your gear on correctly. Perhaps you’re missing your reel and SMB ... You get the idea.
Solution: Try to arrive at the dive site early and unrushed. Double-check that you have everything you need before gearing up. Make sure your computer is working, and set for the right gas mixture. Ensure your camera is ready, and that your mask is de-fogged, prepared and in place and that you’ve got all your accessories and that nothing is twisted or tangled.
Next time you dive, don’t skip that buddy check. As the old saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" and this is certainly true in scuba diving. By following these simple steps upfront, you and your entire dive group will have a safer, more relaxed dive.