When to deploy a surface marker buoy (SMB)

The answer might seem obvious, but many divers neglect to shoot the bag early, and end up surfacing a long way away from their dive location and their boat. I’ve heard many stories of divers drifting for hours because of their boat crew could not locate them. Don’t let that happen to you.

I would always consult the diving conditions when deciding when to deploy my surface marker buoy. Generally, you should shoot the bag when you are starting the ascent in a normal dive, or whenever you are leaving the reef, whichever happens earlier.

However, if the conditions are bad, such as when there’s a strong current pulling you away from the reef, then you would need to deploy your SMB as early as possible before you get swept into the open ocean. Don’t delay getting the SMB to the surface!

Consider a situation where this wasn’t the case, for example, if the diver ascended to a safety stop before deploying the SMB, or in a situation where the spool wasn’t long enough to reach the depth the diver is at.

In these situations, the time taken to ascend to a shallower depth, coupled with the current, could mean that the diver drifts far away from the dive site. Given that the boat would be waiting for the diver to ascend near or on the dive site, this could mean the boat captain will not be looking out towards the ocean where the divers eventually surface.

Needless to say, it’s much harder for the boat captain to spot divers floating in the open ocean than next to the reef. Personally, I wouldn’t take it on faith that the boat captain will always know where to look for you when you surface. Do your part as well to guarantee that he can see you!

Finally, if you’re wondering whether to use an inflated SMB throughout your dive, read this article that discusses it in depth.

Leon Boey is a GUE, HSA and PADI instructor based in Singapore and Bali. He runs the dive education centre Livingseas in Singapore, Bali and Jakarta. Diving since 2005, he first fell in love with wrecks. He enjoys all sorts of diving, and loves being surrounded by fish.

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