Buddy Checks are for Tech Diving Too

By: Mark Powell

All new divers are taught to do buddy checks as an important way to check that they are properly equipped for their dive. Many divers stop doing buddy checks after a while as they think they are too experienced for that sort of thing. So, by the time we get to technical diving you would think that buddy checks would be completely left behind. After all, tech divers are too experienced, too cool, too infallible to need anything as basic as a buddy check. Except you would be wrong. While some new or inexperienced tech divers may think this, the fact is that the more experienced the tech diver the more likely they are to do buddy checks. Yes, you read that right. More experienced tech divers are more likely to do buddy checks than those with less experience.

More Equipment More Problems

The reason for this is, the more experienced divers have seen how easy it is for something to get forgotten. With more equipment there is more scope for forgetting to connect something, check it is working or turn it on. Equally the more challenging the dive the bigger the impact will be of even the simplest problem. The fact is that the very top technical divers are almost obsessive about pre-dive checks.

Many tech divers say that they have reached a level of competence that they don’t need to do buddy checks. Unfortunately, they are then leaving themselves open to complacency. I have seen very experienced divers who have jumped in having:

  • Forgotten their weight belts
  • Forgotten to turn on their gas
  • Forgotten to turn on their CCR cylinder
  • Forgotten their fins
  • Forgotten to turn on their CCR electronics
  • Left their drysuits unzipped
  • Forgotten to connect their dry suit inflator
  • Clipped their drysuit inflate over their long hose
  • Connected their harness waist strap over their long hose
  • Left their backup regulator dangling behind their back
  • Clipped their stage over their long hose
  • Clipped stages in the wrong places
  • Forgotten their dive timer/dive computer
  • Put their dive computer on upside down
  • Programmed the wrong gasses into their dive computer
  • Taken the wrong deco/bailout gas cylinder
  • Taken an incorrectly labelled deco/bailout gas cylinder
  • Not realised their CCR is not working correctly
  • Ignored the fact that their CCR is not working correctly
  • Ignored the fact that they do not have enough gas/diluent or oxygen for the dive

How many of these have you done yourself or seen someone else do?

I’ll be honest, I have to say yes to six of these but I have learned from my mistakes and I don’t intend to add to that count.

Any one of these can be enough to cause a serious problem, cause the diver to abort the dive or even just miss slack water while the problem is resolved. With all the time and effort that goes into a technical dive it’s well worth trying to avoid these sorts of problems. In conjunction with one or more other issues any one of these could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and makes the difference between a near miss, resulting in an entertaining story in the bar, and a much more serious outcome. With all the risks involved in technical diving it is essential that we minimise those risks by eliminating any obvious problems that can be resolved by a quick check.

Many diving incidents are caused by problems we take in the water with us.

What I mean by this is that the problem did not start in the water but was present before we even jumped in. Often these problems do not cause an issue or even get noticed until something else goes wrong. A problem with your backup/bailout regulator will not be an issue unless you have another problem which causes you to switch to your backup/bailout regulator. Now you have to deal with the original problem as well as the faulty backup/bailout regulator.

Smart technical divers have their own mental checklist so that they can ensure they are fully ready for a dive but then back that up by carrying out a final buddy check to make sure nothing is missed. When diving with a new buddy, the check is essential in order to familiarise yourself with your buddy’s kit. With standardised equipment, this might be very easy but there are always variations between divers and it is essential to know where each piece of equipment is carried and how it works. When diving with a regular buddy you will have less of need to explain the details of each piece of a kit as it is likely to be similar to the last dive. Instead the check can focus on anything that is new as well as checking that all the existing kit is in place and working. In addition, the buddy check will confirm the details of the dive plan to ensure that all members of the team have a common understanding of how the dive is going to progress.

There are many variations on the buddy check. TDI use the abbreviation START to cover the key points:

S – S-Drill (check air-sharing technique is clear and that regulator hoses are free to deploy, for an overhead environment check backup torches)

T – Team (confirm placement of kit, team positions and readiness to enter water)

A – Air (confirm turn pressures and contingency plans. Test each regulator)

R – Route (confirm entry and exit points and route for dive)

T – Tables (confirm maximum depth, dive schedule, depth of gas switches and contingency plans)

For CCR divers a buddy check or pre-dive checklist is even more important. CCR is more complicated and it may take longer for a problem to become apparent. If an OC diver’s gas is turned on off, then that should be noticed very quickly. However, if a CCR diver’s oxygen cylinder is turned off the diver may breathe from the CCR with no apparent problems for several minutes without noticing.

The TDI CCR checklist has the following steps

  • Turn cylinders on, check MAV, check pressures
  • Confirm ADV function
  • Verify Handsets/HUD
  • Pre-breathe, verify set point, check PPO2
  • Confirm BCD/drysuit functions
  • Check bailout

This is intended to show the main features of the CCR are working correctly, if there is a problem with the CCR the diver has buoyancy to get back to the surface and that in the worst case they have working bailout available. These 6 simple steps therefore show the vast majority of problems that can occur with a CCR have been avoided.

I see many divers going through their buddy check like a robot.

They have been taught to follow a set process and so they blindly follow that process as if it is the process that is the most important thing. The key thing about a buddy check is not to go through the process but to check all the equipment is actually there and is actually working. I have seen divers doing a buddy check and one diver will say “my drysuit inflate is here and is working”. They will point at their inflator valve then move on without checking if the hose is actually connected. The buddy will only be partly paying attention and will not spot that the hose is not, in fact, connected and is definitely not working. Here the buddy check has not detected the problem and has actually made things worse by creating a false sense of security for the diver and their buddy. A useful tip I teach all of my students is, rather than assuming your buddy’s kit is working and your job is to confirm it is working. Instead assume that there definitely is a problem with their kit and your job is to find that problem. It is their job to convince you that it is all present and working and unless they can convince you of that you are not going to start the dive.

Buddy checks of this type don’t have to be long draw out or formal affairs. In fact, they can appear to a casual observer as if the dive team is just having an informal conversation about their configuration and dive plan. Whether it is formal or informal a buddy check is still a worthwhile exercise no matter how experienced you are.

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