Scuba Buddy Check – The Ultimate Guide

Complacency is all too easy of a habit to fall into, especially if you’ve been diving for a long time. Once you’re comfortable with scuba, or any other hobby, things like preparing yourself and your gear becomes almost second nature. But complacency is the perfect opportunity for problems to arise, which is why we need to do the buddy check.

What is a Buddy Check?

A buddy check is one last check performed by a fellow diver before you begin your dive. You will inspect their gear, and they will do the same for you. This helps to avoid mistakes that can often be overlooked and is one of the most important things you can do before beginning a dive. You aren’t just keeping yourself safe, you’re keeping your partner safe, too.

Along with a general check for any abnormalities with gear, there are 5 points that need to be checked during any buddy check:

  • BCD/Buoyancy
  • Weights
  • Release
  • Air
  • Final Review

We usually represent these steps with the acronym BWRAF. This method was created by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).

Utilizing a buddy check before a dive helps to prevent accidents while in the water. Even small equipment failures can have devastating consequences once you’re underwater, and this final check is a great way to avoid these failures.

Scuba Diving Buddy Check Acronym – BWRAF

The acronym BWRAF refers to the steps of the buddy check: BCD/Buoyancy, weights, release, air, and final review. BWRAF is usually assigned the mnemonic device Begin With Review And Friend, but some divers have also assigned more amusing phrases to help with memorization.

How to Remember BWRAF

Everyone has different ways to memorize it, and as accurate as the Begin With Review And Friend mnemonic is, a lot of divers have created their own phrases to help them remember BWRAF.

If none of these stick with you, feel free to create your own for memorization. The phrase itself isn’t really important; what matters is that it helps you remember the correct steps for your buddy check.

Some divers refer to BWRAF by the phonetic pronunciation, but the acronym doesn’t lend itself well to use as an actual word.

Some of the more popular phrases to help remember BWRAF are:

  • Burger With Relish And Fries
  • Breathing Water Really Ain’t Fun
  • Be Wary Reefs Are Freaky
  • Because We Really Aren’t Fish

There is another acronym you may hear in regards to buddy checks, but it isn’t as thorough as BWRAF. This other acronym is ABC or Air, Buoyancy, and Clips and Release.

ABC Acronym for Buddy Checks

If you go to do your buddy check and forget the rather lengthy BWRA, you can turn to the other buddy check acronym, ABC. It is used by SDI, which stands for SCUBA Diving International.

ABC stands for air, buoyancy, and clips and release. It isn’t as detailed as BWRAF, but still hits the basic buddy check points to keep you safe during your dive. 

Here is a basic rundown of how to perform an ABC buddy check:

  • Air – Confirm that both your primary and backup air sources are functioning properly. Take a few breaths with your respirator to confirm that the gauges are working correctly as well. This is also a good time to show your buddy where your backup air supply, also called an octopus, is located, since they may need to use it in case of emergency.
  • Buoyancy – Confirm that your BCD, or buoyancy control device, is working properly and show your buddy where the dump valves are in case they need to use them for you during an emergency.
  • Clips and releases – Test all of your clips and straps with a tug to make sure they are secure. Ensure that your straps are wet when you preform this test, so they will have expanded to the size they will be during the dive.

How to Do a Buddy Check

scuba diving buddy check

Performing a buddy check requires that both you and your buddy are completely focused and in agreement on what exactly you are checking. Because the buddy check is the ultimate safety check that will happen before the dive, it’s imperative that you and your buddy are aware of what you’re observing about each other’s gear.

With the BWRAF method, we know we will be checking BCD/buoyancy, weight, release, air, and then performing the final check. Not everyone has the same setup, so it’s good to be familiar with your buddy’s setup before you begin your check, so nothing catches you off guard.

Let’s go over how to perform a buddy check according to the BWRAF method:

BCD/Buoyancy

During this part of the buddy check, we will examine buoyancy control devices, valves, and gauges to make sure that everything is functioning and that there are no leaks. At this time, you should test out inflator buttons and deflation valves, as well as making sure you are very familiar with your buddy’s BCD and how to adjust their buoyancy in case of emergency.

Weight

Check all forms of weight and make sure they are secure so they won’t fall out once underwater. Also, go over how to release weights on each other’s suits if necessary so you aren’t fumbling around with unfamiliar equipment at the worst times.

Release

Look over all releases on both your suit and your buddy’s suit, and guarantee that you both know how to undo these releases if necessary. Also, check the tank straps and make sure there are no straps in the way of other equipment that may need to be reached during the dive for any reason.

Air

Physically checking the cylinder valve is entirely open and taking repeated breaths while gazing at an SPG or air-integrated computer are all part of a proper air check. This allows you to double-check that the tank valve is open, examine how much air is available for the dive, make sure the air monitoring gadget is working, and taste the air.

This is also the time to check your backup air supply and inform your buddy where it is located. In an emergency, your buddy should be able to access your alternate air supply – octopus, so it’s important to always have it at easy access.

Final Check

The last part is the final check. At this point, you and your buddy will gather all of your gear and go over it one more time, including any gear you may not have checked earlier, like flippers or visual signaling lights. Confirm how the two of you will communicate once submerged and do one last glance over of each other.

Why Are Buddy Checks Important?

Buddy checks are important for several reasons, but at the most basic level, they are used to confirm that both your gear and your partner’s gear are functioning properly. Scuba diving is becoming more and more popular every year, and to keep up with the growing amount of divers in the water, buddy checks are more important than ever.

More experienced divers may not use buddy checks, but in reality, they are useful and almost necessary for all divers, no matter the experience level. It just takes one mistake, or overlooking one error, for disaster to strike. Two sets of eyes are always better than one.

Familiarizing Yourself With Each Other’s Gear

One of the biggest reasons to do a buddy check is for you and your buddy to familiarize yourselves with each other’s gear. If some part of your setup fails during the dive and your buddy needs to assist you, time is definitely of the essence.

Different divers will use different gear and set it up in various ways as well. By familiarizing yourselves with each other’s gear, you will be able to provide assistance without wasting any time. Nothing is more detrimental to a rescue effort than not knowing how to locate necessary parts of your buddy’s gear, especially the backup air supply.

If it’s your first time diving with your buddy, it’s a good idea to go over each other’s gear both before you put it on and after. This will give you a better idea of how all the gear fits and functions together, both on and off, and you can handle individual pieces before they are equipped.

Confirming That Your Gear is Working

With a buddy check, you will have peace of mind that your air, gauges, and valves are functioning properly. If there is something that has gone wrong with your gear slowly, you may not even realize that there is a problem until it is too late.

Having your buddy check your gear means that something like a dysfunctioning valve won’t slip through the cracks and cause problems later. We as divers become familiar with our gear, to the point that is it almost like an extension of ourselves, but this can be both a blessing and a curse. When we’re looking at the same thing day after day, it becomes easier to miss when small things go wrong.

This is where a buddy comes in. Your buddy won’t be as familiar with your gear, and therefore will be examining it with fresh eyes. They’re more likely to see things that have degraded or gone wrong over time than you are, and having two people checking gear makes it much less likely that someone will forget to check a certain part of the gear.

Is it Illegal to Dive Without a Buddy?

Legally, you can dive alone with no repercussions, but one of the first things divers learn is to never dive alone. The risk is just too great.

It’s difficult to plan your dives around another person’s schedule, and it can be tempting to dive solo, especially when you’re familiar with the area. But no matter how confident or familiar you are, I recommend never diving alone.

When you dive alone, you leave yourself vulnerable to any and all defects or problems caused by your gear or any environmental factors. Diving alone also means that there is no one to perform a buddy check with, and as I’ve discussed before, a buddy check is a vital part of a safe and successful dive.

Pre-Dive Checklist

Not all divers have a pre-dive checklist they use religiously, but a study published in Oxford Academic found that the use of a physical pre-dive checklist reduced the chance of mishap by 32%.

The buddy check is part of a pre-dive check, but it’s important to have your own pre-dive checklist too. This checklist needs to be the same each time to prevent things from being overlooked.

Most diver’s won’t use a physical checklist, though there are plenty to be found online if you choose to go this route. Instead, you can simply use the BWRAF or ABC method on yourself just like you would do during a buddy check. This eliminates any confusion that may occur from using different checklists.

One upside to a physical checklist is that you can also list the things you will need for your dive that you might not think of during a buddy check, like medication, a first aid kit, or electrolyte drinks for after the dive. Preparing for a dive can be complicated, and anything that can make this preparation easier and safer can only be a positive thing.

Final Thoughts

A buddy check might feel silly when you’ve dived so many times without a problem, but even the most experienced divers can overlook equipment issues. Performing a buddy check before entering the water should just be second nature, and the benefits of such a check are immense.

Of the multiple methods of buddy checks, I really like the BWRAF method, but any professionally approved method is better than nothing. So grab your buddy, check everything out, and happy diving!