Diving as an Adaptive Buddy

In a previous article, we discussed adaptive training for scuba instructors. Here, we’ll examine what it takes to go diving as an adaptive buddy.

Recreational scuba diving appeals to people of all backgrounds. Recently, scuba diving has appealed to people with physical challenges and disabilities, due to the lack of constraints they may feel underwater and to the social aspects of the sport and lifestyle. Our previous article examined how dive professionals can qualify to certify divers with disabilities. Here, we’ll look at considerations for the recreational diver who dives regularly as an adaptive buddy.

Disabled divers may not generally need a dedicated guide unless conditions are quite challenging at a specific site. Often just having a buddy who understands a few specific procedures can be enough. Most people, while happy to help, might hesitate for fear of offending or saying the wrong thing to a disable diver. Usually, however, a certified diver with a physical challenge has been through rehabilitation. He or she is open-minded when it comes to assistance and how others perceive their injury.

A potential adaptive buddy can simply begin by asking if they need any additional assistance aside from the typical buddy check. Ask if their equipment differs in any way and how, for your own benefit as well. Here, we’ve outlined a few more things to note when it comes to diving as an adaptive buddy.

Surface assistance

On the boat or shore, a disabled diver will usually need the same or a bit more assistance as an able-bodied diver. They may need help gearing up or getting to the entry point to start the dive. They may also need a bit more time, so get ready in a shaded area and have lots of drinking water on hand, especially in warm, tropical locations. Divers with muscular dystrophy or paraplegics and amputees may prefer to don their gear at the water’s surface.

If there are strong surface currents they may need assistance to keep from drifting at the surface, on the descent/ascent, and on the safety stop. The diver may also prefer to remove his gear when exiting the water, so be prepared to take it. They may also need minor assistance in pulling themselves onto the boat or support on a shore exit.

Divers with hearing issues will struggle with verbal warnings and alerts. Make sure they understand potential hazards via written cues during the dive briefing. Be extra observant underwater.


Amputees, paraplegics, and divers with muscular dystrophy may have higher-than-normal air consumption rates if they need to work physically harder to swim underwater.  If so, keep an eye on their air, particularly in currents. Help the diver with trim or buoyancy adjustments during the surface interval to improve air consumption on subsequent dives.

Forget the reflex to use hand clapping or tank bangers as an audio signal for deaf divers. Rather, observe in awe as two deaf divers have a coherent conversation underwater.

You can learn more about how to be an adaptive buddy in various agency training courses. In late 2017, PADI launched the Adaptive Support Diver course. Other organizations such as Disabled Divers International (DDI) offer courses as well.

Utila Dive Center has integrated the PADI/IAHD Adaptive Instructor program into its Instructor development training and offers Adaptive Dive partner training with PADI and IAHD as well.