Delayed Surface Marker Buoys

surface marker for ocean diving

Deep sea diving or should I say open water diving? In any cases divers will need to be able to signal their position and communicate with the surface by using a surface marker buoy aka SMB, DSMB, sausage or even  a bolb!!
At a beginner’s level, surface suport is just the boat captain and maybe his crew, just waitng in the drift to see ‘where’ the client-divers are going to surface from their dive. Pretty basic you’d say…
It should be, as long as it is agreed before the dive, that an SMB must be used and the boat crew know the type and eventualy color of the surface markers in use within that group of recreational divers.

But on the other hand, we’d have the more experienced diver, possibly a technical diver, even a sidemount technical diver 😉 who absolutely need surface support for his or her safety. During your technical diving class with Essential Scuba Training, you will learn how to deploy safely an SMB.

Surface Marker

On tech dives, it is common to have two Surface Marker Buoys (SMBs). One orange and one yellow.  It is also down to communication between divers and the surface.
Why two colors you’d say? Simplification of communication is key to avoid confusion. So there is a positioning SMB, the red one and an emergency marker that is bright yellow. Remarque that I don’t mention lift bag as a surface marker. If you use a lift bag it is because you are lifting something from the bottom of the sea, looting wrecks or salvaging something.

So if you think about the importance of communication and diver safety, you’ll realise how important this singular piece of diving equipment is!
When you are ready to buy your marker buoy, think about the type of diving you do and project to do in a near future so to make a sustainable choice. On a trimix dive for example, you must carry top of the line, life support equipment, consider your SMB as one of them. Be aware of the ‘surface marker buoy’ wannabees as they will sell you anything but the kind of marker you need or would need to use during your dives. And please, don’t go for the two-sided SMB with a red and yellow side…nothing worth to create confusion and brake the communication between you and your surface safety team.

Marker Buoys - red & yellow

There are different types of DSMB:

  • open ended (with small weight to keep the opening submerged to prevent the air escaping)
  • open ended self sealing buoys (as the buoy ascends it seals the neck at the bottom of the buoy, a funnel)
  • sealed, with an oral inflation valve and a pressure relief valve;
  • sealed, with a built in air supply and a pressure relief valve.
The safety buoy must be of strong construction, not plastic, no plastic suicide clips or anything that looks ‘fragile’. Keep it super simple! KISS principle applies all over your scuba diving activity, remember it. 
I hope this will help you decide what type of sausage you want to eat…sorry, it’s lunch time!! Ask any questions before purchasing your Surface Marker, it will be my pleasure to share any information with you.
In a future post, I will talk in detail about how to deploy safely a marker buoy.

About Jason

Essential Scuba Training is aimed at divers looking to better their skills in recreational and technical diving while using a holistic configuration. Be it recreational or technical and/or cave diving, Essential Scuba Training will put it's twenty years of experience at your service. View all posts by Jason

8 responses to “Delayed Surface Marker Buoys

  • Alejandro Fierro Vidal

    Don´t forget the sealed ones with oral inflation should be inflated according to total pressure, eg. at two atmospheres buoy should be inflated at half.

  • Jason

    Hi Alejandro, thank you for visiting and also posting a comment. 🙂
    If I am not mistaken, the sealed units have an OPV or over-pressure valve, a bit like on a standard BCD. So it does not matter how much air you put in it, all the excess will go through the OPV. When I teach SMB deployment, I insist on the right amount of air to be blown into the bag as a halfway filled SMB will not be really visible by surface support crew. Sea conditions can dramatically change from the time we descent and when we surface after the dive is completed. Too many times, the SMB is not filled enough and either does not go high enough above water line or actually sink back down.
    Does this makes sense to you?

    • Jason

      Well, it will serve me for next time! I went cave diving today and stopped by the Zero Gravity shop, GUE Mexico and to my surprise I saw oral inflation DSMBs without a OPV…I was stocked! The girl behind the counter didn’t know much about those but, again, it’s my opinion here, maybe these are to be inflated at the surface only… Time will tell as I’ll ask one of the GUE instructors there. I’ll keep you posted.

  • Alejandro Fierro Vidal

    Hi, Jason! Probably I wasn´t quite sure what an OPV was but now that I read through I realized which ones you were referring to. Are those the ones with an open ended self-seal?
    Now, I think the one I was giving my opinion about is like the one you saw at Zero Gravity Shop. Those are the cheapy ones that would burst easily when over inflating them in the bottom for deployment if, the volume-pressure principle is not followed. These ones don´t have an OVP but, they´ve been around for awhile already; they´re not the most reliable kind but maybe, they were designed, like you say, to be inflated at the surface unless the user is an skilled and/or professional diver. So, I´d say you´re right: Who would manufacture something that can be hazardous for newly divers?

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