You know what part of a dive - any dive - is when problems are most likely to present?
We always train and plan and practice managing our resources and our procedures to get ourselves and our buddies home from the deepest/furthest/latest/closest-to-the-end-iest moment of the dive. Which is good and meet to the undertaking. Prepare for the worst, enjoy the best.
But the actual moment that problems most often happen, both statistically and anecdotally, is during the initial descent.
That’s when people suddenly develop a free-flow. Or discover they’re underweighted. Or realize that the stuffiness in their ears isn’t clearing and, suddenly, going deeper than 5 feet is painful. Or when people who haven’t done a proper predive notice that their hoses are routed wrong or that they don’t have their fins on.
So, in that moment, a couple of people - whether they just met on the boat, or they have been diving together for a dog’s age - have made an implicit contract to watch eachother’s backs. To be responsible for one another’s lives as they are about to drop down into a hostile, alien environment. As they got in the water it was with the understanding, “I got you.”
Something I watch all the time, somewhat flabbergasted. Everyone hits the deflate on their wing or BC or whatever. And they turn their backs to one another.
It seems almost automatic. Across demographics. Ages. Genders. Races. Sexual identification or orientation. Nationality. Married couples. Whatever.
As I watch cavern tours especially, it’s magnificent in a horrible way.
The moment when it is most likely someone is about to have a problem, in an unfamiliar environment. You can watch up to four people predictably all looking at eachother on the surface… just to all turn to the four points of a compass rose the moment their heads are underwater and start swimming directly away from one another.
If you move your feet, wearing fins, at all… you move forward.
When you are so used to, as the vast majority of divers are, having to move your feet to maintain vertical position in the water, then even as you’re descending, you are also moving forward. You kick to stay just here while you try to clear your ears. You kick while you’re waiting for your buddy to clear theirs. You kick because you don’t want to descend too fast. You kick because you’re just in the habit of always moving your feet.
Not wanting to swim straight into your buddy (who is also kicking and about to swim straight into you) you turn to the side, or swim past one another shoulder-to-shoulder, winding up with your backs to one another.
Instead of maintaining neutral buoyancy during your descent, facing your buddy/buddies, and maintaining a position to render aid. Or, at least, a position to be aware enough to not wind up on the bottom where you have to swim around in a circle saying, “Where the hell is Tony?” Without ever noticing that Tony never left the surface and is probably already back on the boat.
Buoyancy. It always boils down to buoyancy.
Fix it before you do anything else so that you can stop dead during any point of the descent (or dove, or ascent) to be a capable and globally-aware buddy and a more comfortable diver.
Sometimes it helps to think of it simply:
If you can’t see your buddy - you don’t have a buddy.
Stay with your buddy.