Why Do I Make A Bad Dive Buddy (Underwater Photographer)?

Alex Photo Moray Eel.jpg

When you train for your scuba certification, you are trained that a dive buddy is imperative. You’re taught that it is for safety reasons such getting caught up in kelp, or you get separated from the group, or you are low on air, or worse you run out of air.

Unfortunately, even today, I see this happening less and less is the pre-checking of their dive buddy before jumping in the water. Making sure their equipment is on correctly, not tangled, that their air supply is turned on, computer is set to the right type of setting (nitrox or air), etc. Too many divers just look at their buddy and say, ready and jump in and minutes later find out that something is wrong.

Dive Buddy 

Dive Buddy 

Lukas & His Dive Buddy

Lukas & His Dive Buddy

So Why Do Underwater Photographers Make Bad Buddies?

  1.  They are constantly looking for their next photo opportunity and not diving with you,

  2. They are not looking out for their buddy like they should be because they are distracted taking pictures,

  3. They don’t watch their dive computer as often as they should or at theirs or their buddy’s air supply,

  4. They are boring to be with since they tend to stay in one area and wait to take a picture of a critter(s) for what seems forever or they just keep taking picture after picture of the same thing,

  5. They tend to run out of air sooner than their buddy because they are moving around more and carrying a heavy camera while fighting the currents and much more.

Solution – I Hire a Private Guide!

Having said all this, I know I wouldn't dive with me, so what do I do?  I’d hire a private dive guide when I can afford it. I generally hate crowds and tour buses with lots of tourists. Solution: When in a country where I can afford to, I hire a private tour guide because they are reasonably priced - Google search.

Actually, I never realized you could hire a private scuba dive guide until I accidentally found one searching for a private tour guide when I was planning to go to Thailand. I saw one listing that said private scuba guide. I clicked the link and opened it out of curiosity and it connected me to Sharkey Scuba in Phuket, Thailand. I was amazed and the price was reasonable. Guess what, I moved my trip from Bangkok to Phuket to go diving. At the time, I actually wanted to do it, because I was tired of going on dive boats with 1:6 ratio of dive master to divers. Usually when you go diving with a group, there will be someone who will suck up all their air in less than 25 minutes and we will all have to surface and that is the end of the dive because the dive master has to surface so the others have to as well. To me, that was a waste of money especially if I had more than half a tank of air left and possibly another 30 more minutes of dive time left. Frustrated by these situations, I thought it would be nice to hire a private scuba guide for the first time and take some photos while getting my specialty underwater photography card at the same time.

I hired Oui, as my guide. She and her husband own Sharkey Scuba and man what a difference it made. Oui was great. First of all, she breathed like a fish, so I definitely ran low on air before she did. We could dive 60 minutes or more and she would still have about a third of a tank left. Second, she knew where almost every critter was. If you wanted to see a certain nudibranch, eel, ghost pipe fish, etc., she probably could find it for you. That’s the great thing about good local guides. You can give them a list and they know exactly where to go.  When you dive with a good guide, they are not distracted but they are watching out for you. They make sure you are watching your air and your computer. They are your safety line, although you still are responsible as well which I will give you an example further on. Next, a good guide knows the environment, starts to know you and recognizes when you are uncomfortable or not. They take care of you and are patient and have no problem waiting for you and will let you take a thousand photos of one thing if that is all you want to do and not get frustrated with you like some other buddy might which you can’t blame them. Like I said, I would not want to dive with me. And finally, she is a local Thai native, she speaks the language, knows the other divers and operators so if you have equipment issues or need something, she can help get it resolved or recommend solutions and act as an interpreter when necessary.

Actually, I am surprised how many underwater photographers actually dive by them self since they know they don’t make a good dive buddy. To me, not a good idea and here is why.

Don’t Dive Alone

I have a couple of regular dive guides that I use and good friends, Alli Manis and Jamie Gladwin of Asia Divers, when I go to the Puerto Galera in the Philippines. When Jamie dives with me, he is great, not only can he find great photo subjects, but he looks out for me. Several times I will be focused on taking pictures on a particular subject when suddenly I hear him screaming from his mouth piece, for a moment and I think he’s in trouble or I did something wrong, but when I look up, he has grabbed the fin of another diver who was about to kick my head with their fin because they were not paying attention at all. He did this while I was inside the hull of a wreck (100 feet down) which could have been very dangerous and at other times as well.

On another particular dive, I was diving with Alli, we always plan our dives and dive our plan before going in to the water, check our equipment, etc.  We knew that the currents could be strong which they were, and we planned to make two stops before our last stop which was where an old English anchor was located that is over 150 years old and about 100 feet deep. I was asked by another diver (Snake) who was not diving with us to take some photos for him and he was the one who had told me the history of the anchor so I wanted to see it and promised I would.

As we were fighting some currents and I was trying to get in different positions to get the full anchor in the picture with Alli as a model in the background (see Wide-angle Gallery & Divers Gallery); Alli was reminding me to look at my dive computer while she was pointing to hers. When I looked at my fairly new dive computer on my wrist, which I had mistakenly read, I looked quickly between taking photos while trying to fight the currents and holding my camera in a new position without trying to damage the reef life around me; tricky at the time with the currents. I gave her the okay sign.  

I thought I had 11 minutes before deco (decompression) time which meant I had approximately 9 minutes before I had to start heading up (I usually leave 2 minutes before it hits zero to be safe – it counts down to zero) to the surface to do my safety stops so that I would not have to go into a decompression chamber. If I stay too deep and stay too long without allowing time for the nitrogen to escape from my blood by decompressing at approx.15 feet for 3 minutes or so (safety stop), I could potentially suffer decompression sickness from staying too deep for too long and would have to be sent to a decompression chamber for hours or days depending on the severity and/or suffer worse; a life threatening situation.

Having read my dive computer wrong because I had looked at it too fast and it was fairly new to me and I was still learning it, it was actually saying I was already into 11 minutes of being required to do a deco stop and the worst part is that I did not have enough air for that much time at the safety stop level. I had calculated enough air for a normal safety stop of 3-5 minutes but not 11 or more minutes and by the time I actually got done taking pictures and looked at my computer I realized the 11 was not counting down in minutes like it should, but was actually going up in numbers which meant real trouble so I hand signaled Alli we needed to ascend to the surface. There was no panic in my face so we ascended normally and I slowed my breathing down as much as I could without holding my breath (never hold your breath) to save air. I have a Spare Air bottle that I carry for emergencies that I had never used since buying it, but I knew I was going to use it for the first time this time. We got to our safety stop of 15 feet when my air started to slowly stop flowing and then completely stopped after about 5 minutes into my 20 minute requirement (15 minutes left). I turned my back to Alli who was about 25 feet away at the same level and had my Spare Air out since I was too embarrassed to tell her I was out of air like an idiot. Then of course after thinking about it, that was dumb, she needed to know so I slowly turned around. I think the air lasted about 4 – 5 minutes (11 minutes left) because I was breathing as slow as possible too. When I was out, I blew small bubbles and headed to Alli and gave her the hand signal for out of air and she handed me her octopus (spare regulator). Then I reached for her air gauge to see how much air she had left which was 50 Bars. Now I use PSI vs. Bars so I did not know for sure if she had enough air or not and I honestly was thinking about heading to the surface and facing the decompression chamber or decompression sickness because the last thing I wanted was to use her air for my dumb a_ _ mistake and put her in jeopardy (not that I am trying to be a hero). But I also knew she had a very young daughter and the last thing I needed was that guilt trip if anything should happen to her and even if she didn’t have a daughter, I still wouldn’t put anyone in jeopardy for my mistake. But she kept signaling me that it was okay so I kept as calm as I could and breathed slowly until our full 20 minutes decompression safety stop was over and then we surfaced. Boy that was the longest 20 minutes of my life. In all my years of diving, I have NEVER, ever run out of air. I hopefully will never ever do that again. Thanks dive buddy Alli. Yes, I am a complete idiot. Yes, always have a dive buddy.

Spare Air.jpg

Lessons Learned & To Remember Even For Experienced Divers

  1.  Always dive with a buddy.

  2. Always know your dive computer and read it slowly and frequently.

  3. Even when you hire a guide, you still have the responsibility to check your air and computer.

  4. By having to use my buddy’s air, I still put their life in jeopardy so it is my mistake and my fault.

  5. Always be prepared, by having Spare Air, it would not prevent me from getting decompression sickness, but it would let me get to the surface if I had to from 100 feet had I ran out of air at 100 feet. Fortunately, it also extended some air time in this case and we were already at safety stop level.

  6. Always stay calm and keep your breathing calm. If I had gotten too excited, with my large size, I could have sucked my air and her air up fast and then we both would have been in real trouble.

  7. You’re never too old to learn even after you have hundreds/thousands of dives logged.

  8. No photo is worth you’re not paying attention to what could be you or your buddy’s life.

  9.  Remember, underwater currents have an impact on how much air you will use and you have to calculate that in your dive early on including depth which means the stronger the currents and the deeper you go, the more air you will use.

  10.  Have fun and be safe.


 (Back to Top)