Why is the buddy system so important?

I've read a lot of arguments that certain individual divers are safer diving solo that in a buddy team because they are "better qualified/equipped" than potential buddies. This may be true for a very limited set of divers and potential buddies, environments, possible risks, etc. However, this argument has fundamental flaws, not the least of which is the fact that most accidents are unforeseen and can't be easily accommodated. Experience in diving develops our ability to foresee many causes of accidents but foresight never gets perfect. Lets examine some considerations.....

Quality buddies

1. Two really accident prone, foolish, and/or poorly equipped/trained divers do not always add safety to each other. One diver who makes a mistake may reduce the safety of the other.
2. One expert, conservative, safe diver combined with a buddy from above results in added safety for the accident prone diver, and may reduce safety for the expert diver. Proper selection of a buddy (as taught in OW) will eliminate this risk.
3. Two newly certified well-equipped divers add safety to each other because they are not likely to place each other at risk, assuming they remember their training and are deliberate in their execution of their skills. They are very likely able to help each other in the event of an incident.
4. Two expert well-equipped divers add safety to each other because they are not likely to place each other at risk, but are likely able to help each other in the event of an incident caused by neither diver.

How else does the buddy system add to safety?

Here are a few ways....

1. Additional resources - The buddy is carrying a completely redundant air supply. In the event of a loss of air supply, the diver can share his buddy's air while ascending.
2. Two brains - Two heads are better than one. We all lose IQ points while at depth. Two perspectives on issues like navigation, landmark recognition, etc. can eliminate errors. When the more conservative decision prevails, safety is usually enhanced.
3. Entrapment - Divers have drowned when caught in fishing line without a knife, or were trapped in a wreck.


One solo diver in Washington state is believed to have dropped her knife while cutting herself free from monofilament fishing line and drowned. A buddy could have helped, though I would have removed my gear, extracted myself from it and the line if possible, and surfaced.

I read about a solo diver who was plucked from the ocean miles away from his boat as a result of the local currents. Potential buddies on the boat declined to dive because of the currents. Had the conservative approach prevailed, nobody would have been lost because the solo diver would have stayed on the boat. This diver was lucky.

I met a diver at a rock quarry on October the 11th of 1998. He was a solo diver who had been certified that very day! We met at a buoy, where he announced that he was breaking SCUBA's first rule because his group all left to go home except him. He figured the risks were low that he would be entangled or entrapped. That was probably true, but the COST of an error in that assessment could be high. He asked if I ever dove alone. I told him that I never did. A short excursion from my buddy to place an object on the bottom for a search and recovery skill wasn't the same as being a solo diver where nobody knew of my whereabouts. I told him that he was poorly equipped in terms of experience to determine the probability of events occurring. He joined us on our dive until we surfaced, at which time he moved along. After we exited the water, a diver from another group asked if we had seen this solo diver. His group had seen him, and was worried about him. While we talked, the guy surfaced - all alone.

It never ceases to amaze me to see a newbie diver break the big rules right after the correct answer is written on the test. It is even more amazing that an instructor determines that diving solo isn't worth the risk, but the day-old newbie "knows" the risk is acceptable. I don't sky-dive. The probability that the chute won't open is indeed tiny, but the cost, if that occurs, is quite high.


As a former newbie Open Water Diver, I remember when I was more confident than my experience warranted - I had a "C" card!! As an experienced diver, I've read about errors in judgement that had fatal results. As an instructor, I've seen a lot of errors that can be attributed to inexperience. I always recommend diving in a buddy team so that injuries due to errors in judgement or accidents can be reduced by assistance from a buddy.

Perhaps there is a difference in experience, and appreciation of the cost of an error in judgement. I don't find the judgement of a brand new automobile driver, sky-diver or SCUBA diver to be more credible than the accepted standards for their activities. I'll err on the side of caution for what I consider to be obvious reasons.

Press here for the menu These are my opinions and are not those of any particular agency.

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Randall C. Allen
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visitor # 17105 since October 12, 1998