Left at Sea


  • As the sun began to set, a group of divers surfaced and could not see their boat.
  • Four-foot swells in open water without a boat or GPS device.
  • Two divers deployed their surface marker buoys and the boat was able to locate them.

Reported Incident

We were on a dive trip at a popular destination in December. Our dive boat lost us at sunset at a popular dive site. We were floating westward in 4-foot (1.2 meter) swells in open water with no boat in sight and no GPS devices. One member of our group had a 4-foot (1.2 meter) surface marker buoy (SMB), or “safety sausage,” and I had a 12-foot (3.7-meter) SMB. We were in the water for approximately 30 minutes, and just before sunset the boat found us.

The only reason the captain found us was that right as the sun was setting, the light bounced off the reflective strip at the very top of my SMB. The boat owner brushed off the incident, denying the need for GPS devices, even for their dive leaders. Other dive operators at this destination always had their divers use GPS devices.


This report perfectly illustrates the need for proper safety equipment. What is proper will vary depending on the dive site. As an example, a 4-foot (1.2-meter) SMB is usually sufficient for smaller bodies of water such as quarries and small lakes. But in the open ocean, an SMB that is at least 6 feet (2 meters) is recommended.


Diving with other signaling devices is always a good practice as well. These include (loud) whistles and signaling mirrors. Waterproof GPS devices are increasingly popular and are great especially when diving in the open ocean where strong currents are common. When these are activated, the boat operator and/or a search team with a GPS locator can hoe in on the signal. These devices can save lives, especially in challenging conditions.  At a minimum, every diver should carry a six-foot (two-meter) SMB.