The boat ride was only 15 minutes, approximately ½ mile offshore. The group of four divers was briefed and entered the water for a deep drop onto and a gradual swim up along the sloping reef.
After the dive, the group took a 5-minute safety stop and surfaced. The boat was nowhere in sight. No one realized that during the safety stop, they had drifted with the current far from the entry point. It was breezy and the seas started kicking up. After 60 minutes, a sport fishing boat passed nearby without stopping. Later, a small plane passed overhead. The group was unable to attract its attention.
Wind drove waves to 3 and 4 feet. They decided to swim toward shore to offset some of the current drift. As they tired, they ditched weights, then their tanks.
About 5 hours later, just before dusk, a boat doing a grid search spotted the safety marker buoy, pulled up, and took the cold but relieved divers aboard.
Every diver should have a surface marker buoy. Never go into the sea without one. If you carry a bright dive light, at night you can put the light inside the bottom of the tube and it will light up the whole tube.
Waves can easily conceal divers at the surface. Boat personnel will concentrate their attention to the areas of water where they expect divers. If waves and spray confuse the view, spotting divers can be difficult. When divers drift away from the expected exit point, it becomes especially important for them to be as visible as possible.
Surface marker buoys (SMBs or safety sausages) are designed to add visibility to divers at the surface by:
Adding a bright orange or yellow color that stands out in contrast to the water
Providing a structure that stands up enough above the surface to be spotted from a distance
Additionally, a reflective strip may be placed near the top or along the edges to add high visibility with lights or with radar.
Many divers also carry a finger spool. Especially on a drift dive, but in any situation where there are boats nearby, they can inflate the signal tube before ascending, reel their way up to 15 ft depth for their safety stop, and hang under the tube. This way the boat can see where divers are making their safety stop, and if they are drifting, follow along at a safe distance.