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Buddy System

Ian Mitchell

I have strong feelings regarding the buddy system and pony bottles, especially in relation to deep dives.

I was on a 150 foot dive using air. Everything appeared to be fine on the bottom. However, on the way up I had problems at the 100 foot mark. I became entangled when transferring across a shelf to an upper ascent line. My buddy witnessed me failing to let go of the lower line and physically trying to drag it along with its anchor. Why I did not let go of the bottom line in order to transfer, I have no clue. All I can say is that I was only mildly perplexed at the fact that I was getting nowhere, and oblivious to the fact that I was actually becoming tangled. Basically, I was narked out of my skull at 100 feet and I did not even know it.

My buddy freed me and placed my hand on the ascent line. At this point I noticed that my regulator was in free flow. It was setup for warm-water and unable to function in the cold at that depth. I showed my buddy my gauge (down to 500 psi), he gave me his alternate air supply, and we did an emergency ascent to the surface. We had spent a total of about 3 minutes at 150 feet. It was essentially a bounce dive and luckily we had no DCI symptoms.

The best thing you can do after something like that is to try and learn the right lessons:

  1. I have to accept that I am probably more susceptible to narcosis than the average diver.
  2. I may have no awareness of narcosis happening.
  3. It pays to be extremely literal with stated equipment tolerances.
  4. Always dive with a cutting tool and at least one backup, ideally shears and knife (I almost had to be cut free).
  5. Always carry a completely independent redundant air system, with enough air to enable you to resolve a problem as well as get to the surface.
  6. On recreational dives, always dive with a buddy.

These days, my personal depth limit is 75 feet with a 5 foot contingency for buddy assistance. If there is any sort of task load (e.g. photography or mapping), or negative environmental conditions, then I will reduce my maximum depth further.

Certain technical and PSD dives are incompatible with the buddy system as we understand it. This is usually because buddies "get in the way" and may actually compromise safety in those special circumstances. But even then, there should be constraints or provisions in other areas to make up for the absence of a buddy and the task loading that may be associated with those technical dives.

For me, many of those issues were brought into focus during Lifegaurd Systems Rapid Deployment Search, Rescue, and Recovery program. We were taught not to use the buddy system because of limited visibility and the need to concentrate on feeling through the silt. However, the maximum depth limit is set at 50 feet with a possible 10 foot extension, after a suitable risk analysis, by the Incident Commander. Also, the diver will always be tethered to a surface tender, and there will be a backup diver on standby to affect an immediate rescue and a 90 percent ready diver in reserve.



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