Lost Buddy Drill


The lost buddy drill is a vital safety practice taught to scuba divers of all levels to help manage situations when dive buddies become separated underwater. Diving with a buddy is a key safety principle in scuba diving, as a buddy can provide assistance in case of emergencies, ensure proper communication, and enhance the overall diving experience. However, despite the best intentions, divers may become separated due to factors such as poor visibility, strong currents, or distractions. The lost buddy drill is designed to address this issue, providing a standardized procedure to reconnect with a dive buddy. While the specific procedures may vary among different training organizations and circumstances, the fundamental principles remain the same.

Causes of Separation

There are several common causes of separation between dive buddies:

  1. Poor visibility: In situations with limited visibility, divers may not see their buddy, leading to unintentional separation.
  2. Strong currents: Swift water movement can make it difficult to maintain a consistent position relative to a dive buddy.
  3. Distractions: Divers may become engrossed in observing marine life or taking photographs, causing them to lose track of their buddy.
  4. Equipment malfunctions: An issue with a diver’s equipment may require immediate attention, causing them to unintentionally separate from their buddy.

General Procedure

The lost buddy drill consists of a series of steps that divers should follow if they become separated from their dive buddy:

  1. Stop and look: As soon as a diver realizes they are separated from their buddy, they should stop swimming, establish neutral buoyancy, and look around for their buddy for no more than a minute. This includes checking above and below, as well as using a dive light in low visibility conditions.
  2. Ascend slightly: If the buddy is not located during the initial search, the diver should ascend slightly (no more than 1-2 meters) and look around again. This is because divers often drift apart vertically due to differences in buoyancy control.
  3. Signal for help: If the buddy is still not found, the diver should use an audible signaling device, such as a tank banger or air horn, to alert their buddy.
  4. Surface: If the buddy remains missing after the previous steps, both divers should independently begin a controlled, safe ascent to the surface while maintaining proper buoyancy control and performing safety stops if necessary.
  5. Surface search: Once on the surface, divers should establish positive buoyancy, inflate their surface marker buoy (SMB) if available, and conduct a surface search for their buddy, communicating with the dive boat or shore support if necessary.
  6. Reestablish contact: Upon reuniting, the dive buddies should assess their situation, verify equipment functionality, and decide whether to continue the dive or abort.

Variations Among Training Organizations

While the general procedure remains consistent, specific details may differ among various training organizations, such as PADI, NAUI, SSI, and others. These differences may include the duration of the initial search, the preferred signaling devices, and the surface search pattern. Divers are advised to follow the guidelines provided by their certification agency and adapt their lost buddy drill as needed to the specific diving environment.

Adapting to Circumstances

The lost buddy drill should be tailored to the specific diving environment and conditions, taking into account factors such as water temperature, visibility, current strength, and the experience level of the divers. For example, in situations with strong currents, divers may need to deploy a delayed surface marker buoy (DSMB) and use a reel to maintain their position on the surface while searching for their buddy.

Preventing Separation

The best way to avoid needing to perform the lost buddy drill is to prevent separation in the first place. Divers should maintain regular visual or physical contact

with their buddy, agree on a dive plan before entering the water, and establish clear communication signals. Additionally, dive buddies should consider using buddy lines or distance lines to physically connect themselves during dives with challenging conditions, such as low visibility or strong currents.

Equipment for Lost Buddy Drills

Divers should carry specific equipment to facilitate the lost buddy drill and improve their chances of reuniting with their buddy:

  1. Dive light: A dive light is essential for searching in low visibility conditions or during night dives.
  2. Audible signaling device: Devices such as tank bangers, air horns, or whistles can help alert a buddy to your location.
  3. Surface marker buoy (SMB) or delayed surface marker buoy (DSMB): These devices make divers more visible on the surface, assisting in the search process.
  4. Reel or spool: A reel or spool can be used to deploy a DSMB, making it easier to maintain position during a surface search in strong currents.

Importance of Regular Practice

Scuba divers should practice the lost buddy drill regularly to ensure they are prepared to handle a real-life separation. Dive centers and training organizations often incorporate lost buddy drills into their training programs, but divers should continue to practice these skills independently. Regular practice allows divers to become more efficient in executing the drill, reducing the time needed to locate a missing buddy and minimizing the risk of accidents.


The lost buddy drill is a critical safety procedure that every scuba diver should be familiar with and practice regularly. By understanding the causes of separation, following a standardized procedure, and adapting to specific circumstances, divers can significantly reduce the risks associated with losing their buddy during a dive. By carrying appropriate equipment and maintaining good communication, dive buddies can further enhance their safety underwater and enjoy a more fulfilling diving experience.