The Critical Obligations of a Scuba Diving Buddy

December 22, 2023 @ 4:44 pm

Never dive alone: It’s the golden rule of both swimming and scuba diving. The directive is to always have a buddy—someone you can trust to help you if things go wrong. While it may imply a friendly partnership, the term “dive buddy” is actually a formal term that conveys certain obligations that each scuba diver owes the other. When you agree to be someone’s scuba diving buddy—or someone agrees to be yours—that partnership actually comes with legal responsibility. Let’s take a closer look to see what this means when things go wrong under water.

Hazards of Scuba Diving

Look at a list of scuba diving injuries and fatalities, and you’ll see just how easily accidents happen. Divers have been struck by surface craft, had dangerous encounters with wildlife or succumbed to elements in the natural landscape. They’ve become entangled in their own ropes or nets, suffered equipment malfunctions, made fatal errors in operating equipment, lost visibility due to silt, panicked in life-or-death situations, and even abandoned their buddy.

When diving tragedies happen, it’s often because buddies failed each other in some way. The fault may rest with one diver or it may be shared throughout the members of a dive team.

Obligations of a Scuba Diving Buddy

Buddies are often close friends or family members, but they can also be someone you’ve never met before. Regardless of the relationship, the role of a buddy carries with it a comprehensive set of responsibilities and obligations:

  • Equipment Checks: Buddies are responsible for checking all equipment before the dive and should continue to monitor equipment throughout the entire dive. Buddies must check, know how to operate and monitor not only their own equipment but also their buddy’s. This responsibility applies until the last diver exits the water.
  • Competency: Buddies must be qualified for the dive activities and expected conditions.
  • Proximity: Buddies must remain close to one another—close enough to communicate easily and close enough to give timely aid to the other diver. Time is critical while underwater, and separation can be fatal.
  • Air: A buddy must be willing and prepared to share air if it’s needed. Air sharing or buddy breathing is a skill every diver should be fully prepared to use—especially since low air is an emergency scenario. Air-sharing equipment should be ready and willingly offered.
  • Entanglement: Buddies must be ready to free their dive companion from debris, ropes, nets or other hazards. They must be able to assess the risks of challenging situations and act accordingly.
  • Rescue to the Surface: Buddies have an obligation to get their diving partner to the surface safely. A diver may have to operate a companion’s equipment or share their own.
  • Dive Plan: Buddies should create a thorough and comprehensive dive plan before every dive. “Scuba Diving Buddies: Rights, Obligations, and Liabilities,” a paper published by Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad College of Law, recommends that a dive plan should include the following elements to prevent panic in an emergency:
    1. How and where to enter the water
    2. What the course and destination will be
    3. Anything special underwater that either buddy may want to linger over
    4. Whether to use dive computers or tables
    5. How long to stay underwater
    6. What the maximum depth of the dive will be
    7. The air pressure at which to stop the dive
    8. What to do if buddies get separated
    9. Where and how to exit the water
    10. Procedures in case of an out-of-air emergency

Divers may also want to include some self-evaluation and assessments of a dive buddy’s abilities and fitness as well as the equipment they have versus what they may need.

The responsibilities and obligations of a diving buddy center on trust. In an emergency, will each person know how to act, and will they be willing to do what needs to be done to ensure that they both reach the surface safely?

The Four Elements of Negligence for Scuba Diving Buddies

When a scuba diving accident happens, establishing fault can be difficult because of the activity’s complex nature. However, fault still depends upon the four elements of negligence that a plaintiff must prove in any personal injury or wrongful death claim.

  1. Duty: Another diver or other members of the dive team had a duty to care for the person harmed as a buddy.
  2. Breach of Duty: The buddy or buddies failed in carrying out their responsibilities and obligations in some way.
  3. Injury: A diver was harmed or injured as a direct result of the buddy’s breach of duty.
  4. Damages: The diver’s injuries—or death—hold a monetary value that can be calculated.

A plaintiff must be able to prove all four elements of negligence to have a viable claim. For example, if someone did something wrong and it resulted in some terrifying moments but no actual identifiable harm, the elements of injury and damages are missing. Therefore, the case is unlikely to be successful.

How to File a Scuba Diving Liability Claim

Many scuba diving incidents do fulfill all four elements of negligence, but the plaintiff—the person harmed or their survivors—bears the burden of proving them. If that plaintiff is you, there are things you can do to improve your case’s chances of success.

  • Collect Evidence: Collect all paperwork associated with the dive, any medical care following it, and any dive company or team correspondence. Write down everything that you know, questions you have and all points of contact for the people involved. If you speak with or interview anyone associated with the incident, document the discussion and what you spoke about. If possible, take photographs of the site, boats, equipment and injuries.
  • Create a Scuba Diving Accident Timeline: Segment the event into pieces, and write them down. Subdivide timeframes, detailing the time before the event, the event and the time following the event. Within each of these, you can further detail each step or action taken. Doing this early on preserves the order of events and prevents later confusion and memory errors.
  • Compile Damages: Keep track of all financial expenses and losses caused by the scuba diving injury or death. This includes not only medical bills for past, present and future care but also financial losses associated with the loss of life, inability to work, losses of benefits, and pain and anguish, for example.
  • Contact an Experienced Scuba Diving Liability Lawyer: Scuba diving is such a high-stakes activity that divers must qualify for their certifications. Professional divers, instructors and dive masters, for example, are held to a higher standard than recreational divers. Nevertheless, a buddy’s duty encompasses a whole set of behaviors and expectations that fall within the realm of maritime law. Not every attorney is prepared to handle the nuances of a scuba diving accidents and may miss important details that could make or break your case.

Collecting and organizing the evidence and supporting documentation for a scuba diving accident may seem overwhelming at first, but each piece of information holds the potential of being the one that proves the case.

The Right Scuba Diving Liability Attorney for Your Case

If you think you might be in need of an experienced scuba diving liability attorney, reach out to the maritime specialists at Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett & Haik. You can schedule your free consultation through our website or by calling 800-655-4783. Our attorneys specialize in maritime law and are familiar with the intricacies of both recreational and professional scuba diving.

References: They%20are%20responsible%20for%3A%20(1,the%20event%20of%20an%20emergency. (pages 80-97)

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