What’s In Your Pocket?

Phil Wood

PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer (including SMB instructor)

What's in your pocket? DSMB

Sausages, balloons, bags, and blobs; I have heard all of these terms used to describe one of the most important pieces of safety equipment a diver can possess. So what’s in your pocket? Hopefully a Surface Marker Buoy (SMB) or a Delayed Surface Marker Buoy (DSMB).

These straightforward pieces of safety equipment have one very important purpose and that is to increase your visibility when at the surface. When used correctly they can be a lifesaver by indicating to surface boat traffic that there is a diver in the water, either on the surface waiting to be picked up or just below and about to appear. However, when they are not used, used incorrectly or ignored by surface traffic they can result in serious injury or even death.

What’s in your pocket? – Why have an SMB?

More and more dive operations are demanding that every diver has a reel/DSMB and that the diver is competent in how to deploy it safely. Usually, the first dive you do, if you are going to be doing a series of repetitive dives will be a check dive. This will include SMB use.

Diving is all about having fun but unfortunately, accidents do happen. Year on year incidents involving poor DSMB use appears in the annual BSAC accident report and diving magazines. Entanglement in DSMB lines and rapid accents due to poor technique feature regularly in reports. Conversely, correct use has resulted in divers being recovered from the water when they have become separated from a buddy or dive boat.  It really is that simple and the choice is yours.

As we approach the start of the diving season, I thought it would be helpful to remind divers about the safe use of DSMBs, encourage new divers to think about purchasing this important piece of equipment and the training available.

What's in your pocket? Surface Marker Buoy

What’s in your pocket? Delayed Surface Marker Buoy

Most commonly divers use a delayed SMB. The equipment is stowed in a BCD pocket or clipped to a D ring until it is ready to be deployed, usually when preparing for a safety stop. It is at this point most divers look around to see who else is getting ready to deploy and then wait. Once someone else has fired up their SMB everyone else gathers around smugly, knowing that they have avoided the task once again. But is this really good practice? Avoiding the job does not improve your competence or confidence. The day will come when YOU will need to deploy YOUR own SMB and YOU need to do it without unnecessary stress.

Several times I have also heard the following conversation between a buddy pair prior to a dive  ‘You carry the reel and I will carry the SMB’. Excuse me! This is like giving one hunter a gun, the other gets the bullets and they then set off on a bear hunt. What could possibly go wrong? Let’s be honest, buddy separation does happen so each diver needs to have their own reel and SMB.

The answer is simple. Learn to use one correctly and safely so that when the time comes you can deploy the SMB confidently.  Also practice, practice, practice. Take the opportunity to practice deployment during pool sessions or at the end of most dives, even if you are in just a few metres of water and you know there is no boat traffic around. The old adage of ‘practice makes perfect’ certainly applies to DSMB use.

What's in your pocket? Boat and DSMBs

What’s in your pocket? Checklist

I have put together a little checklist for you to consider. It might not be perfect but I hope it helps. Just in case you are wondering, no one is perfect. I have seen my SMB disappear to the surface due to a snagged reel, but at least I let go of it.

Things to consider before your dive trip

  • Before each dive trip check that the reel is working correctly and smoothly
  • Ensure the line is not bunched or snagged on the reel
  • Check that the DSMB itself is not damaged and still holds air when inflated
  • Does your SMB have your name on it and any other contact details (mobile number)?
  • Test deployment in the pool before you go on that expensive dive trip

Things to do before deployment

  • Signal to your buddy that you are going to deploy your DSMB (agree on a signal during your pre-dive planning)
  • Ensure the DSMB is securely attached to the reel line
  • Unclip the reel from your BCD. NEVER deploy an SMB whilst it is attached to you
  • LOOK up to check area above you before deployment

Things to do during deployment

  • Unroll the DSMB so that it is clear of you and your buddy
  • Put a SMALL amount of air into the DSMB in order to stabilise it
  • When ready, you or your buddy, inflate the DSMB from your alternate air source regulator (whatever you have agreed during your planning)
  • Release the ratchet on the reel to allow the DSMB to ascend to the surface
  • Be prepared to release the reel if there is a problem or snag with the reel
  • Reel in any slack line to avoid entanglement
  • After the dive, roll up the SMB and prepare everything for the next dive. Stow securely in BCD pocket or D ring

What’s in your pocket? Where to buy?

There are many DSMB models available, coming in a range of colours and inflation methods. Similarly, reels and spools come in different sizes and configurations. If you want advice on purchasing a reel and DSMB or if you are unsure about how to use them safely then New Horizons can offer you advice and the PADI DSMB specialty course.