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Lost or Missing Diver Procedure

Buddy separation underwater is stressful and dangerous. But, following some simple steps and practical guidelines can make it almost completely avoidable.

This guide explains the recommended procedure for finding a missing diver, such as in the unlikely event that they do not resurface as expected.

5 Reasons Why Dive Buddies Get Separated

To begin with, knowing what makes a good diving buddy is a significant part of the entire process.

You may even need to find a new dive partner, to make the experience safer and more enjoyable.

Here's the thing:

Students learn about the dive buddy system in entry-level courses, But buddying up isn't only for scuba.

Swimming with at least one snorkel buddy is an extra safety protocol.

Pro Tip: Another section explains how to get the PADI® Solo Diver Certification if scuba diving without a buddy is important to you.

How Do Scuba Divers Get Lost?

First of all, getting separated underwater is not a regular occurrence for dive groups. Nonetheless, it happens. So, what causes it?

Imagine this:

Staying together as a buddy pair is much easier if you agree on a course to follow. So, always conduct your buddy check procedures before entering the water.

Sure, getting lost or getting left behind at sea would be a scary situation. Even the recent scuba news reports have stories about some diver drifting at the surface - all alone in the middle of an ocean.

Pro Tip: What if you are looking for a missing diver who you do not believe has gone far from where the diver was seen last. Only you and your buddy are available to search, and you do not have a line and reel. Most likely you would use the expanding square search pattern.

Missing Diver Procedure

If you are unable to see your buddy underwater, you should stop swimming and stay exactly where you are. Then, after establishing neutral buoyancy, make a slow 360° visual.

Remember to look above and below in case they ascended or needed to descend. Also, spotting the bubbles from a scuba regulator is often easier to identify than someone in a dark coloured wetsuit.

Make a Noise

Rattlers and tank banger rods are useful devices for diver communications and getting heard underwater. Following the direction of the sound may get you reunited.

Furthermore, using a dive light in low visibility while you do the slow spin could do the trick (e.g. if they're behind a large underwater structure).

When to Ascend?

Once the agreed search time is over (no longer than one minute), you should start your ascent. After deploying a DSMB at five metres, you can repeat the previous steps during the safety stop.

While at your safety stop, deploy your delayed surface marker buoy (DSMB) or so that your buddy can easily spot you if he is searching for you at the surface.

But wait - there's more:

You should continue looking for the missing diver while you are at the surface waiting for the boat to spot you and pick you up (usually within three minutes).

There is no need to wait at the surface for your buddy and you should not go back down. Instead, exit the water in a safe manner and inform the boat crew, dive centre, or the local emergency services without delay. Tell them your dive buddy is missing.

Searching for a Lost Diver

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