So there you are, assembled alongside your floating holiday home with your fellow-guests. Take a good look. One of them is destined to become your next dive buddy. The question is, how can you identify the best option from what seems to be a random group of deranged borderline psychopaths before you have to dive with any of them

The perfect buddy will expect to carry all your heavy equipment, make sure your kit is correctly assembled and change or fill cylinders as required. They will always get you back to the boat, or take the blame when things go wrong, and can be expected to deliver an early-morning cup of tea to your bedside.

The only realistic way to achieve this standard of buddying, however, is to train your own and take them on holiday with you. Otherwise some simple guidelines are needed to minimise the inevitable mismatching.

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Pay close attention to these. Dont worry that youre being obvious, the rest of the party will do the same. They want to ensure that nobody has been to better dive-sites than they have. Your objective is more specific.
 Exotic T-shirts mean a buddy with money. You get free beer in return for putting up with endless stories about far-flung dive-sites vastly better than anything you are likely to encounter on this trip.
 Plain T-shirts indicate an experienced but laid-back buddy who wont freak when you do something stupid, but will keep you alive in an emergency. Or a complete novice you can impress the hell out of.

As you yomp your kit aboard the boat you can identify them. You dont want to spend all week diving with somebody who wont do more than their fair share of heavy lifting.

As you set up your kit - and you will have to, not yet having identified a buddy to do it for you - see whats clipped to the D-rings of each BC. The more toys, the more you should avoid being buddied with their owner. If the BC is a tekkie item and the toys all new, this applies with double the force, as it indicates a terribly serious novice with delusions of adequacy.

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These are as important as computers and dive watches, in that their main function is to make the wearer look really cool. Size of knife is directly proportional to size of ego, and inversely proportional to size of brain.
 Big knives can be OK if they are attached to an elderly person, where they indicate long experience and respectability: When I learnt to dive you carried a bloody great big stainless-steel jobby with serrations and points and an edge you could shave with. In those days the sea life was a deal more frisky and you never knew when you would need to defend yourself.
Since the massed ranks of divers have made the oceans safer, it is now the sea life which legs it (metaphorically) when the bubble brigade arrives. Knives can come in all shapes and sizes and be affixed in unusual places.
 Some people dive without a knife. Either they know it will never be used anyway, or they have forgotten to bring it. Buddying with the former is fine, but if the latter can forget a knife, what else can they forget You dont want to spend your holiday sat on a reef while your buddy wanders round the boat saying: I know Ive forgotten something, I just cant remember what! Try to find a buddy with a little knife fastened somewhere you could reach if you had to.

Listen to the banter and note any bragging. Anybody who starts a sentence with So we was down at 63m when... is to be avoided. They clearly have no concept of safe diving practices, and their poor spoken English suggests that, if worst comes to worst, their statements to the media and police will need considerable editing. Also their logbook entries are likely to be badly written, even if they are accurate.

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Do not underestimate the importance of a well-kept logbook and a buddy who has dived the area before. Dave wasnt sure about doing one Red Sea night dive, but remembered having night-dived the site on a previous trip. His precise command of written English had allowed him to sum up the nuances and varied attractions of the dive perfectly, even on the cramped page of his little red book. The experience came back to him as vividly as a vindaloo after 12 pints of lager. He had written but one word, three consonants and a single vowel. He didnt do the dive, but I did, and can confirm the accuracy of his assessment.

An important activity at the start of any dive trip is completing the disclaimer. This absolves the organiser from any responsibility for anything, ever, even unto the fourth generation. You can see immediately who is qualified to what level.
 Highly qualified and experienced divers (dont assume one equals the other) and visiting instructors might make acceptable buddies. If they take all that stuff about buddy-diving and signals and dive-planning seriously they can be a pain, but can be blamed if your buddy pair gets lost or misses something.
 BT - dont ask what it stands for - was a PADI diver who dived with a  BSAC instructor in expectation of a safe and enjoyable night dive ending back at the boat.
We did indeed have a good dive. Unfortunately, my complete lack of compass skills and our consequent meanderings meant that we surfaced in the wrong place.
 I had forgotten that those on the boat could track our course by watching the light of the torches. I only just avoided being drummed out of the Brownies.

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This must also play a part in selection, though the cramped conditions aboard most liveaboards will make it of the theoretical sort. Slender, attractive and youthful are attributes valued by society, but dont assume that a shapely buddy will liven up a dull dive. Skin-tight neoprene may work wonders in some cases, but once a bottle, BC, weightbelt and fins have been added you would need to be a very determined fetishist to find the end-result stimulating! Far more important is the air consumption of fit young things, which is usually pretty good.

Most people like a buddy with good air consumption, which can be reassuring in a tight situation where you need more air. But high users are ideal if you want to work on the tan, get to the bar first or suffer from the cold. They are also perfect buddies if you would really prefer to dive alone. You go in together but they come up when they run out of air, leaving you free to continue the dive. And nobody will blame you.
 Air consumption might be difficult to gauge before the first dive, but there are useful indicators. Smokers, the very overweight, the very unfit and men all use more air. This description does however apply to many dive guides, and some of them surface with more air than they had when they entered the water.

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There is one type of diver you must avoid at all costs. They are easy to identify. Minor signs are a worried expression and a tendency to repeat obscure words and phrases, like a prayer. They mutter about stops and apertures and sync speeds and O-ring grease.
 If you ever see them sleeping, they move as though in the grip of a nightmare, occasionally letting out a little scream and moaning agonisingly of flooding.
 Most obvious will be the camera cradled in their arms like a baby, or the most precious of religious relics.
 In the water, photographers move so slowly that you will find yourself regularly bringing them to the surface in the mistaken belief that they have died. They only photograph things normal people need a microscope to see, or so big that it takes a wide-angle lens costlier than your house to get it in shot.
 They expect you to pose for them beside, behind, above or swimming through whatever has stimulated their creative juices, and if they see a new type of nudibranch they go into a cross between an orgasm and an epileptic fit.
 Back on the boat, you will discover that they ran out of film just before. Just before what isnt important, but they never have enough film for it and will remind you of the dive when they ran out of film every seven seconds they are above water.
 If, by some mysterious chance, they did have enough film, they will have had the wrong lens fitted. This is even worse. Not only will they tell you about it repeatedly, they will also explain, with diagrams, why it was the wrong lens.
 Under cover of following their subject they plunge to absurd depths on one dive, then spend four hours so near the surface they might as well have used a snorkel.
 Either that or they see a fish so common you normally have to shovel them out of the way to see the reef, and spend the dive seeking the perfect shot of a single specimen.
 If you ask why, they look at you as if you were a blithering idiot and tell you they had the wrong film, lens or flashgun for the schooling hammerheads, so had to concentrate on the goldfish.

 So avoid fit young divers with big knives, exotic T-shirts, loadsa toys and a compulsion to brag about depth, select a partner with air consumption which matches your idea of a good time and never, ever buddy with a photographer. Getting your early-morning cup of tea delivered to your bedside, I leave to you.

And remember, just as you are seeking your buddy for the week, so are your fellow-travellers. Be careful to give each of them the impression of you that you want them to have. Keep mum about your qualifications and experience levels until you have sussed them out.

Have a good trip.