WHY? The diving buddy system is necessary

Imagine cruising along a vibrant coral reef, totally alone. No one else is around to pull on your fin, unintentionally kick you in the face and dislodge your mask, or cut your dive short because they are low on air. It’s just you and the deep blue sea. The appeal to experienced divers of diving solo is understandable.

But imagine you then swim into fishing nets and become entangled, or go too far into a narrow swim through and get stuck. Or maybe your equipment fails. Who is going to get you out of trouble? There is good reason for one of the cardinal rules of diving is that you never, ever dive alone.

Last year’s movie “127 hours” clearly illustrates what can happen when you take off alone pursuing a potentially dangerous sport. The movie tells the true story of Aron Ralston, a young, fit and experienced climber who takes off on a day of solo canyoning. A chance rock fall pins his arm to the side of a canyon and he gets trapped – for five days. Eventually he is forced to cut off his arm in order to stay alive.

Should something similar happen to a solo diver, his chances of survival are far less. He cannot call out for help, and nobody would know he was in trouble. And depending on his depth he probably has well under an hour before his air runs out.

While the dangers of diving alone are obvious, there are nonetheless those who argue that the buddy system is unnecessary, even dangerous. This is an argument put forward by experienced and capable divers who may have been put in a dangerous situation by a less experienced buddy. Imagine your buddy is hurtling towards the surface at speed – are you really expected to risk your life by chasing after them – especially if you met them just minutes earlier?

Buddy teams work best when the pair are buddies above water anyway, or at least well matched in terms of experience and ability. In a mismatched buddy team the more experienced diver may feel they cannot count on their buddy in an emergency anyway, so might as well be diving alone.

It is this line of argument that leads some highly experienced divers to choose to dive solo: they feel they are self-reliant and trust themselves more than anyone else to get out of a tricky situation and therefore do not need a buddy.

This is an arrogant attitude that does not take into consideration the vast number of unforeseen difficulties that could arise or their own capacity for error. The buddy system may have its weaknesses, but at the end of the day two minds, two pairs of hands and two air supplies are always better than one. Diving alone is simply unsafe. There is no good reason to do it. It can literally mean the difference between life and death. Not convinced? Then consider this: Of the 866 dive-related fatalities recorded by the Divers Alert Network between 1992 and 2001, in 821 cases there was evidence of a lack of, or separation from, a dive buddy.

Do the benefits of diving alone really outweigh the risk?