In a perfect world scuba divers would hop into the water, do their dive, surface a few feet from the boat and climb back in. Life would be grand and we wouldn’t need to think twice about boat traffic, excessive swells or underwater emergencies.
But the reality is accidents happen, and when they do, time is most often of the essence. When you surface after a dive it’s important to be seen.
A surface marker buoy (or SMB) is a simple air filled device that floats on top of the water. It is used to attract attention and mark your place while submerged.
A surface marker can take many different shapes and forms, each one dependant on where they are being used and what they are required for. For scuba diving, there are two different types of surface marker buoys; a permanent surface marker buoy and a delayed surface marker buoy.
A permanent surface marker buoy is a buoy that is inflated at the beginning of the dive and remains on the surface of the water during the entire scuba adventure. While you are scuba diving, the buoy gets towed along the surface marking your position underwater and keeping boats away.
Permanent surface markers are typically red and white to stand out against the water and to match the diver down flag color. The marker can be round or torpedo-shaped, often with a ballast section that can hold some water to maintain stability.
A delayed surface marker is a marker that divers take with them underwater on their dive. Attached to the marker is a reel or spool from which scuba divers can deploy the marker, during the ascent, to indicate their positioning at the surface. Delayed surface markers are long and tube-like in appearance and come in a variety of bright, flashy colors such as orange, red, yellow.
Unplanned issues can occur on any dive and when they do, it’s important to be seen at the surface. Whether you use a delayed surface marker buoy or a permanent surface marker, both are very practical because they;
It’s one thing to have a surface marker on hand, it’s another to know how to properly inflate and use it. If you’re lucky, during one of your scuba diving courses, your instructor will have taken the time to teach you how to use and deploy a surface marker.
As easy as it is to read about how to deploy a surface marker both from the surface and while at depth, nothing compares to actually getting out in the water and actually trying it out. Remember practice makes perfect.
Having at least a rolled up delayed surface marker in your BCD pocket is a good thing for every diver to have, however there are some circumstances where having a surface marker just simply isn’t feasible.
For example, having a surface marker while diving in an overhead environment is not very practical. Cave diving or ice diving both typically have scuba divers enter and exit from a single spot, and more often than not there are no boats involved. In these instances, having a surface marker is counter intuitive and sometimes more of a hazard.
Use your common sense, when it comes to deciding whether to dive with a surface marker. Consider things like: What if a problem arises and you need to come up earlier than expected? What if the current picks you up and you are too far away from the boat? And above all, make sure you’re not compromising your safety by diving with a surface marker.
Surface markers are not the be all end all of scuba diving, but sometimes a dive just doesn’t go according to plan, and having a surface marker can be the difference between ending things unscathed or winding up on the 5 o’clock news.
Dive safe everyone!
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