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If any of my buddys could actually be arsed to look at it, I might have used it for communication. But it's more for putting down numbers & notes (multiple compass bearings, distances, checklists) before the dive, it's also good for training - during the dive if I discover that that I need to work on some skill/issue, I jot it down on my slate.
Most often, it's a pen & paper replacement on the surface, for phone numbers and such.
The little pencil that came with my slate sucked up water, expanded, losing all its paint, then disintegrated. I looked around for more or less standard pencils not made of wood and could not find any. So, I bought a bunch of cheap mechanical pencils made of plastic except for the lead. These work well, although the lead is too soft and usually smudges across a dive. I use a slate about once every 8-10 dives and then for specific instructions not easily communicated with hand gestures.
i find that the little half sized IKEA pencils work GREAT.
i put one in a sink and forgot about it for a few days, i pulled it out and it dried up in less than an hour. nothing has shrunk or expanded and it still works great.