Most divers these days should carry an SMB (Surface Marker Buoy) or “Safety Sausage”, which they deploy before they ascend to the surface. This alerts other boats in the area that there are divers below and to warn them to keep their distance. This also alerts their dive boat that divers will be surfacing (and where) and be ready to pick them up. It also helps the skipper spot divers in big swells.
As divers dive in buddy pairs, or larger groups, or with a Dive Guide who might have a permanent marker buoy that they can ascend when their dive is over; some divers do not need to deploy their smb as often as they should.
The result of this is that the skill required to deploy an SMB is not always as polished in some divers as it should be. This is a very important skill for all divers doing boat dives to know. Practise often, you never know when you might need it!
Which takes me to the point of this post – have you ever checked your SMB? Is it still intact? Are there signs of wear and tear along the edges?
After a number of years of wear and tear and sun exposure; SMBs can spring leaks when you least expect (and need) it. I’ve been on a number of dives over the past 15 years where SMBs have failed on the diver deploying it.
And it sometimes takes a while for the diver to realise why the SMB is not travelling upwards… they are so intent on getting the air in that they don’t always realise that the air is merrily gushing out of the top… This is another reason for every diver to have an SMB – if your buddy’s fails, you have a backup.
Unfortunately you can’t always spot the weak spots until they “go” or “pop” on a dive. Sometimes you will get the SMB deployed, it will start travelling to the surface but as the air inside it expands, it pushes on those weak spots, opens them up, the air escapes and the SMB floats merrily downwards.
On one dive, the SMB plunged slowly, right back down behind its owner who didn’t realise until he saw us all laughing our socks (or booties) off. He reeled it up, calmly tied a knot in the top of it and deployed it again (even though we all had SMBs too).
And on a final note, if you want to be a really great buddy, help your buddy deploy their SMB. It DOES make things easier. You can hold the SMB and fill it with air whilst your buddy holds the reel and releases the line as the SMB makes its way upwards. Forget trying to be macho by doing it yourself or watching (and laughing at) your buddy’s antics as they juggling SMB, Octo and reel – share the workload instead.
Happy – and safe – diving