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I just got back from a wonderful vacation in Puerto Vallarta.
While diving with my buddy, who was also my ow instructor from back when I started diving, we encountered low vis at the safety stop and I couldn't see past my outstreched hand, much less my buddy.
It was an odd experience that I had never encountered before; a little creepy, felt alone. I basically relaxed, checked depth and gas, finished the safety stop and surfaced. My buddy was at the surface only a few feet from me and he was glad that I did not panic and finished my safety stop.
I have to say a big thank you to everyone on scubaboard. I thought about the lessons learned: to finish the safety stop and not stack one problem on top of another.
Is there a procedure that I should have followed different than what I did? Should I have tried harder to find my buddy even though I had a strong feeling that he was close but I just couldn't see him?
Sounds like you did fine to me, I would say that you should try to stay close to your buddy all the way through the ascent, if viz starts to go into the crapper then you and your buddy can get closer or even go to touch contact. One area of the buddy system that seems to fall apart quickly is staying together during the descent and ascent. The idea of " I'll see you on the bottom (or top)" doesn't take into account the numerous problems that can occur during your up's and down's!
You made it out of the pool with everyone safe and sound so that's always a good dive and you experienced another aspect of diving, learned from it so next time it won't be an issue- good job
Given the number of dives that you have (according to your profile) I'd pat myself on the back bigtime.
I loathe green water ascents/descents or anything else where I don't have a visual reference. It took me a long time to learn just to relax and let whatever happens, happen -- as long as I'm at 20 feet, who cares?
And it took much longer to learn how to stay in correct orientation and communication with my buddy in such circumstances.
The rule I was taught was -- if buddy separation occurs, search for one minute, then begin your ascent to the surface to regroup. If you are on the safety stop, you are already on your ascent. You might consider truncating the safety stop, depending on the dive you have just done -- if your max depth was 40 feet and you were down a half hour, you can almost certain do that safely. If your max depth was 100 feet for 15 minutes, you might decide the likelihood of a disaster occurring to your buddy during your safety stop is low enough that you want to complete it. You always have options, and it might depend on who the buddy was, how experienced they were, what the last pressure you communicated was, what surface conditions are (eg. kelp) etc.
The biggest thing about diving . . . you always have to keep thinking.
Bet you felt like you had a victory, a bit, yes? I had an experience recently where I was solo on a stop and for some silly reason started thinking about Tigers. It was a boogie man that only comes around when I am doing nothing, waiting, alone with an idle mind.
I wanted to come out of my skin there for a couple seconds but I just focus on shooting my marker, and getting okay with being alone and behaving rationally, maintaining my position with my breath. After you get this dialed in and have a handle on it.. you feel really great, really competent. I only get this challenge when the viz drops or I am in a confined space....so it is an opportunity to challenge yourself a little with the game of self-control. I often think people lost at sea must have hours and hours of those strung together moments.
If I had called 911 after one minute every time I surfaced without my buddy, I'd have had a red face quite a few times. Our viz is so challenging . . . If your buddy doesn't immediately appear, you have to consider the thought that he's thinking you're going to come find him, or he's doing something else (one time my buddy was shooting a bag to let me know where he was, but it took a lot longer than one minute, and I didn't see it when it surfaced, anyway).
To be honest and pragmatic and ugly, even if you alert 911 after one minute -- either your buddy is going to surface and be okay, or rescuable, long before EMS gets there, or your buddy is going to be a recovery project -- you aren't sure exactly where he is, and the viz doesn't permit a good visual search. In Rescue, we looked for a "lost buddy". It took ten minutes to find "him", even though we knew almost precisely where to look, and it was in ten feet of water.
The biggest utility of the "one minute" rule around here is that it gets both of you to the surface fairly quickly, where you can ostensibly SEE. That's assuming you both know the rule, observe the rule, and know WHEN to start the one minute.
One area of the buddy system that seems to fall apart quickly is staying together during the descent and ascent. The idea of " I'll see you on the bottom (or top)" doesn't take into account the numerous problems that can occur during your up's and down's!
I can attest on the above statement! Recently I was doing my AOW course (4 students), my buddy and the another girl (Girl A) from the other pair descended at their own pace and left me in the middle of my descent and another girl (Girl B)on the surface (have trouble equalising). my instructor was frantically trying to signal to them to slow down and wait. But The drift took my buddy and girl A off, I had to swim while I descend to stay close to my buddy.
To cut the story short, I manage to catch up with my bud and girl A, but 3 of us got seperated from the instructor and girl A. Visibility was prob 5m-8m. 3 of us hung on to a rock for abt a minute before ascending and boarding the boat. And 45mins later, my instructor and girl b came up raving abt the dive (not after the instructor lectured us on the imporatance of going down together)
I'd say you did just fine. You terminated a dive with the right procedure and fought down what could have escalated into a full-blown panic attack.
Low vis situations can be unnerving, especially alone. Sounds like you did just fine in handling the situation. The true test to how successful you were in coping with this situation will be if you can avoid it in the future by maintaining contact with your buddy. If so, then you can truly say that this experience was actually a success story. Have fun, and get back out there!
You did good. The vis you talked about is not unusual for Puget Sound. Many times I have hung at my safety stop watching the "Primordial Soup" [green gunk we dive in up here] float by my eyes with little critters in it. I just concentrate on my gauges or the afore mentioned soup to take my mind of it. Keep it up.