Incident Report:

DIVERS: Sven (AOW, 100-plus dives), Morris (OW, 20-plus) and Olivia (OW, 30-plus)

SITE: Tropical shore dive, entry into 12 feet of water, 45-degree slope to 50 feet with spur-and-groove coral rising 8-12 feet above a sandy bottom

CONDITIONS: Slight chop, 60-70 feet visibility, 80°F, no current

Making a third dive on a resort’s house reef, the most experienced dive buddy, Sven, planned to lead the other divers to a wreck at 48 feet. They descended, with Sven in front, following the reef’s irregular shape. After a few minutes, he realized he’d lost Morris and Olivia. Reversing course and unsuccessfully searching for a minute, he ascended to the surface. Meanwhile, down below, Morris signaled, “Where’s Sven?” to Olivia, who shrugged in response. They continued the dive, eventually stumbling upon the wreck. After exploring it, they retraced their route, made a safety stop and surfaced. They found Sven organizing a search. He was relieved to see them but angry they hadn’t come up when separated. Morris and Olivia explained that Sven was an experienced diver, so they figured he was OK.

As a more experienced diver, Sven should have realized he might outpace them. Morris and Olivia didn’t follow dive buddy separation procedures. They should have surfaced to regroup with Sven.


Aside from contact loss, Sven’s actions were appropriate, including organizing a search when they didn’t come up shortly. Morris and Olivia stayed together after losing Sven.

Five Tips from This Incident

1. If one person in a three-person team gets separated, follow buddy-separation procedures, even if the other two divers are still together.

2. Follow this general guideline if you become separated: Search for up to a minute, then ascend and regroup on the surface.

3. If this isn’t an appropriate response, such as in situations with a strong surface currentplan an alternate procedure, such as stipulating that everyone returns to the mooring line.

4. Always let the slowest diver set the pace.

5. Buddy separation happens even when you can see each other, if you’re too far apart. A rule of thumb: Be no farther from your buddy than you can travel in two seconds.

By Karl Shreeves June 8, 2015

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