It could mean the difference between life and death.
No, I’m not talking about the breakfast accessory but what we divers call a Safety Sausage or more technically a Surface Marker Buoy (SMB). Basically a brightly coloured, balloon made of a thick canvas to withstand some punishment which is clipped to your BCD or in a BCD pocket. This is an essential piece of gear, no matter where you dive and should be something you have even for resort diving.
The ocean is a fickle mistress and unpredictability is something we come to accept as part and parcel of being so intimate with the sea. What you can see above water is only half the picture with currents being unknowns in diving. Currents can pick up during a dive or switch direction even in locations where there are generally well known prevailing currents. If you are not careful with navigation and air management you might not have enough to get back to a line, assuming there is one. On drift dives you could get separated from the main group which makes it tough for a boatman to follow your bubbles. The bottom line is that you could end up doing your safety stop and surfacing away from the boat.
It's a long way to shore from here
Speaking from experience, the sensation of surfacing after a dive to a grey sky and sea, without your boat in sight, can be to put it mildly, a stressful experience. One dive in particular comes to mind, a reconnaissance dive on a new part of Watiya reef in Colombo with Dharshana back in 2010. Swells were huge and the sky overcast as we descended and as we surfaced the current picked up. So much so in the time that we took to ascend and do our safety stop, around 10-15 minutes we surfaced surrounded only by mountainous waves. Luckily as we crested one of the swells, we spied our boat a good half a kilometer away. We quickly unrolled our SMBs, extracted our whistles and started blowing, hoping to attract Uncle Sumathi’s attention.
Deploying an SMB in heavy swell
Unfortunately as Sumathi’s eyesight left a bit to be desired, compounded by the fact that he was looking the other way, he failed to spot us as we continued drifting inexorably towards Australia. Luckily for us, our SMBs came in handy as a passing fishing boat spied us and informed Uncle Sumathi about our whereabouts.
More than a couple of times an SMB has come in handy and along with a reel for drift dives should be an essential part of every diver’s kit.