The Dive Otter

Insta-Buddy Checks

Wikipedia | PADI | SDI

WARNING - THIS DISCUSSION IS ABOUT RECREATIONAL DIVERS. TECHNICAL AND TEAM DIVERS HAVE OTHER PROCEDURES THEY TYPICALLY USE. THIS PAGE OPENS A DISCUSSION ABOUT THE CURRENT RECREATIONAL "BUDDY CHECK" SYSTEM TAUGHT BY EVERY DIVE AGENCY. I BELIEVE IT NEEDS TO CHANGE TO BE MORE EFFECTIVE. THIS IS MY OPINION ON THE TOPIC. YOU DO YOU DO.

All new open water divers are generally taught something like "BWARF" as the acronym for a formalized ceremony known as the buddy check...
B.uoyancy/BCD
W.eights
R.eleases
A.ir
F.inal Okay

The question / problem with the above is not that the theory is incorrect; that a pre-dive check of some kind...preferably based on a checklist...will avoid many (majority?) of dive accidents and near misses. This is absolutely true. The issue is...they are not generally done outside of a class. In my first ~50 non-class dives across probably 20 different dive buddies in two different countries and 6 different dive locations...NOT ONE initiated a buddy check. Let me say that again...NOT ONE.

This isn't merely a case of "people just need to start doing them"...there is a social and process issue with the implementation of the traditional buddy check concept that makes it not practical. This is often described in the world of Human Factors as "Work As Imagined vs Work As Done". Processes are created that in theory will work, but they are not actually viewed and tested from within the reality of the situation.

Where this REALLY breaks down is in the insta-buddy situation. Your normal dive group or buddy can pre-discuss much of this before hand and are more likely, because of pre-existing psychological safety, to be open to something more formal.

So is there a better way to put the concept of an Insta-Buddy Check into practice?
A couple factors that I think, through observation of reality, that must be accounted for:
If the above 4 realities are true then how does the traditional Buddy Check fail? We need to know this so we can propose an alternative that has less chance of failure (to be conducted).

Humans do not like formality

The BWARF, as taught by most agencies, involves stopping what you are doing...pulling your buddy group together and doing a formal "dance" around the circle. Find any other situation, outside of a professional setting, that such a ceremony is conducted. You won't find one. Then why do we assume it will work in scuba?

The buddy check should not be trained as a stand alone ceremony. Would it work best as a stand alone ceremony? Of course it would. Will the ceremony actually occur? No. Then determining which method is better is of no value. Work As Done will always trump Work As Imagined.

It should be integrated into the dive preparation activities within the step where it makes sense. Essentially, micro buddy checks for a particular tactical (for lack of a better word) reason that becomes fluid and socially acceptable as routine. If one of the micro checks is missed for some reason, not all of them are missed.

Humans will optimize for efficiency

Rarely do we have as much time as we would like for getting prepared to do anything, including scuba diving. Humans will naturally cut corners that have not historically caused an issue (known as Normalization of Deviance within Human Factors). Creating a singular moment in time that contains all the critical components of a buddy check, makes it too easy to be skipped in totality. Integrating the check (for safety) within the step that is already required and accepted by the diver as needing to be done is the optimal place to put something.

Humans do not like being the outsider

This one is very simple...if I am viewed to be doing something or requesting to do something that is materially outside social norms, no matter how right or better it is, there is social friction that requires considerable internal fortitude to overcome. Most individuals do not have a true "I don't care what other people think of me" mentality, though nearly all of them will claim they do. If I do not / have not seen anyone else on the boat or in the dive group using a checklist or using a buddy check...I am more likely to not do so as well.

The concept of "norm nudging" can be used in this context to create the space for social change without looking like an outsider or asking others to be outsiders.

What I am willing to do for me is not the same as what I'm willing to do for you

As much as we might like to believe about each other that we care more (or even the same) for the safety of the other person, that is simply not true. I strongly advocate the use of Checklists for personal preparation for MY safety...not the safety of others. If someone else gets the benefit of my use of a checklist, that is a fantastic bonus. But it is not the primary reason why someone would purposely slow down how they prepare (see optimize for efficiency above). If we ask someone to inconvenience themselves for the safety of others, we must influence the altruistic part of the self...which has a far greater hurdle to overcome than if we ask someone to inconvenience themselves for their own safety...which is the selfish hurdle and easy to overcome.

If we position the concept of a buddy check to be about my safety and not your safety, the willingness to do the check will be humanisticaly higher.

So what would a better Insta-Buddy Check look like

So what do I want to know about because of MY safety or simply because, as a human, I'm curious?
(* I'm not suggesting we use a 4 G acronym...the list just happened to turn out this way)

In the Moment

I believe there are several opportunities that naturally present themselves on virtually every recreational dive that make asking a question or discussing a topic a completely reasonable "in the moment" activity.

Those moments are:
You just conducted a natural and socially normative "buddy check". It didn't need to be formal, you learned and checked all the basics. And, if done without sounding like an ass or trying to brag, you created the initial steps of psychological safety. People like being asked about themselves...however, they do not like being judged because of their answers. People like being asked for help...however, they do not like being offered help.

In most cases I've come across, the above questions will elicit an identical question in return.
Notice I DID NOT ask questions or make comments like the below...they do not help...they only derail the psychological safety you desperately need for your safety: