Surface Marker Buoy - Mandatory or Not
Surface Marker Buoys (SMB) are often the ugly duckling for scuba divers. Particularly divers who do not have their own BCDs are often reluctant to add this bulky item to their kit. More experienced divers will get this relatively cheap item, clip it on their BCD and then never use it again - forgetting how to use it altogether.
We at Insider Divers always make it a mandatory packing item for every trip. The discussion is often "Do I really need this?" or "I have this really small SMB, is that sufficient?" and so on.
The short answer - yes you need it! And it needs to be the right type!
On location we insist that everyone practices SMB deployment at the end of our check dive. Big surprise - even experienced divers often have trouble deploying a SMB. It requires practice as there are a surprising number of steps to go through. Read about those at the bottom of the blog post.
"Why do I need an SMB?"
This is often the No. 1 question - here are the reasons why.
1) To mark the area where you ascend
Before ascending someone marks the group position. This is to make sure boats around you know that there are divers below. Even non-dive boats will understand this signal. If you ascend without a SMB you put yourself at risk of injury.
2) Provide visual reference from afar
If there is no boat around to pick you up, the SMB will help to gain their attention. Boats can spot a 1.5m balloon sticking out of the water much easier than just a wet head. If further away, you can also wave with a SMB (only closed type - see below).
3) Location & depth for your safety stop