The Golden Rule

By Jed Livingston

What is the golden rule of diving? “Do unto your buddy as you would have your buddy do unto you.”

Of all the rules you learned during your formal diver education, this probably wasn’t one of them. Admittedly, it sounds corny and somewhat preachy, but I think the golden rule applies to diving more than in everyday life.

Diving is one of those activities that is shared by a diverse population. A love of scuba diving may be the single common factor in a group of divers aboard a charter vessel. It is entirely possible that you may find serendipitous pairings of a construction foreman and a heart surgeon or an actor and a high school student. When you find yourself diving with a stranger, you need to know how to make the partnership a more effective and better diving experience for each person. Now, the consideration you show your diving partner is that which you hope and expect to be returned.

If you drink alcohol, imbibe in moderation the night before diving. Drinking before a dive is incredibly inconsiderate of a dive buddy. Among other things, alcohol impairs alertness, coordination and judgement and is associated with an increased risk for accidents. Regardless of how good you may feel, anything that might reduce your ability to recognize a buddy’s need and provide assistance is not fair to them. Alcohol use and hangovers are associated with increased risk of decompression sickness (DCS), magnification of nitrogen narcosis, cold/
heat related illness and dehydration. Because of these risks, drinking before diving is obviously unwise. Because of the possible added demands on your buddy for your care, drinking before diving is selfish, insensitive and dangerous. Drinking alcohol after diving increases the risk of dehydration and may mask the signs and symptoms of DCS.

Once a buddy, stay a buddy. If you agree to partner with someone, it is important to complete the contract. This isn’t professional sports where a contract has become more of a suggestion than a binding agreement. If your buddy needs you, you should be there. It isn’t any fun to spend an entire dive searching for your buddy every time you want to change direction or share something exciting. It’s easier to stay together if you agree on who will lead in advance. Once this is decided, stay abreast of each other, within each other’s peripheral vision. It’s easier on the neck muscles. If you like to lead too, then switch roles at a time that has been predetermined during your dive planning. It’s also easier to make those plans when you’re dry and can verbally discuss it, rather than underwater.

Be considerate of your buddy’s diving experience. If you are the more experienced diver, avoid dominating the dive planning. Peer pressure is a powerful motivator. It is easy to persuade a novice or intermediate diver to try something he is unprepared to handle. In a new pairing it is as important to learn your partner’s interests and limitations as it is to share your own. Dominating a dive as the more experienced diver or the one with greater expertise can lead to frustration or tragedy for the less experienced buddy. If you carry advanced diver qualifications you have a responsibility to resist the desire to lead the less experienced diver into harm’s way.

Be considerate of your buddy’s interests. Sometimes it’s just better to find a different buddy than to pair a spearfisher with a photographer. If your buddy is the novice and is trying out a new activity, your experience can be either incredibly helpful or smothering. In other words, if you are the award-winning photographer, consider that your buddy may only be interested in collecting photographic souvenirs to remember a once-in-a-lifetime dive vacation. He or she couldn’t care less about the differences between Fuji film’s color saturation qualities compared to those of Kodak’s.

A dive buddy can make all the
difference in the quality of the scuba diving experience, whether it’s a
one-hour or 24-hour trip away from home. Once in awhile a scuba dive presents the unexpected. A good buddy can be a great help. Be observant and considerate. As a buddy, having a little empathy for your partner can sometimes turn a lousy day into a pleasant one.