The buddy system is a staple in most dive organizations. Diving this way is part of our sport’s DNA, and makes scuba both safer and more enjoyable. Your buddy is the ultimate backup — a completely outfitted diver, ready to assist if you run into problems. Ideally, buddies remain within touching distance of each other. But we know this is rarely the case as buddies explore dive sites, wandering outside each other’s immediate range. Many divers carry tank bangers just for this purpose. But of course when there’s an analog device, a new, electronic gadget will surely come along. The new Buddy-Watcher tries to be that gadget.
To use the Buddy-Watcher, you and your buddy each strap one to your wrist for the dive. If one diver needs the others’ attention, he or she simply presses the prominent button on the middle of the unit to activate it. The Buddy-Watcher then sends an underwater transmission signal to the other unit, making it vibrate, much like a cell phone. The buzz works day or night and in great terrible visibility.
What is the Buddy-Watcher like?
The unit itself is a bit bulky as it sits on your wrist. It’s quite comfortable, however, especially in the water. I easily located the button with my mask off and my thickest gloves on. It’s also easy to press the button, though not so easy as to cause a false alarm. I wore this device on a recent dive I was guiding. My assistant, who was bringing up the rear in a four-man group of clients, wore the other. The Buddy-Watcher’s range traversed that distance quite easily.
How does it work?
The vibration is fairly aggressive, definitely enough to catch your attention if you wear it on your skin. A 3 mm wetsuit was no problem either, but in my 7 mm the sensation was a lot less pronounced. I could see myself be distracted enough to not notice if, for example, I was taking pictures, a scenario infamous for causing buddy separation. Although I felt the vibration in my drysuit, it was somewhat fainter and it might have gone unnoticed. I fixed this issue by moving the unit from my arm to my wrist, so that only my glove was between the Buddy-Watcher and my arm, not the drysuit.
The devices charge with a mini-USB, standard in the mobile-phone and smart-device industry. The Buddy-Watcher is sold in pairs, and comes with a double charge cable, with a USB in one end and two mini-USBs in the other. The red diodes alert users to the charge level, and you can expect a full charge in a few hours. I accidentally left the test devices on overnight, but still had plenty of power for an hour-long dive in 65 F (18 C) water.
The main challenge with the Buddy-Watcher is that it only alerts you to the fact that your buddy needs you, not where he or she is. It’s best suited for a scenario wherein two buddies are within visual range of each other, but separated by some distance. If possible, the buddy who activated the system should swim over to the buddy he alerted. The system is similar to a tank banger in this regard, as you can’t place directionality of that noise either underwater.
- Easy to use
- Wears comfortably
- Good for contacting your buddy without alerting everyone else
- Buzzing may go unnoticed, particularly in thick exposure suites
- Of limited usefulness in an actual buddy-separation situation
An interesting product that we really shouldn’t need, but sometimes do. Some divers will find it useful for communication, but don’t let it take the place of good buddy skills.
All in all, the Buddy-Watcher is a good idea. It works well as a signaling device, but it’s no substitute for good buddy skills. As my guiding assistant and I discussed, it’s really best for a situation when two dive pros need to communicate without distracting the rest of the group. As the dive leader, I could simply buzz the other guide to help with a situation such as a loose fin or a leaking mask. With a longer range, the Buddy-Watcher would make a great call-back device, better than an underwater audio device. There are certainly potential uses, but less so for the situation it tries to address, the classic buddy separation.
Although it’s a clever idea, it shouldn’t lead to become complacent regarding buddy separation. You may be able to buzz your buddy from far away, but in an out-of-gas situation, you must be able to cover that distance on a single breath.