We are all taught during scuba certification, that when we make a direct ascent back to the surface, we should raise and point one of our hands towards the surface. The reason for this is to clear the way for any obstruction or mark your presence in the surface where this practice is very important especially when you go diving in an area with heavy boat traffic. But what if you want to mark your presence even if you are still underwater or doing your safety. If this is the case, then you should equip yourself with a surface marker buoy or SMB.
In this article on finding the best scuba diving surface marker buoys we will show you:
- The best SMB: in depth
- How to choose the best SMB
- The benefits of owning your own SMB
The Best SMB for Scuba Diving: In Depth
Tube length: choose from 1 to 1.83 meters (3 to 6 feet)
Pros: effective oral inflator, has its own storage bag, comes in 3 modification
Cons: no silver reflective strip at the end
Packed in a yellow orange bag that can easily be attached to your BCD, the OMS Safety Set is composed of an SMB and a spool. It has 3 variations where you can choose the tube length and the length of the nylon in the spool. The OMS Safety Set I has a 1 meter (3 feet ) closed-end SMB and a 15.25 meters (50 feet) nylon line in a spool while the OMS Safety II has a 1.83 meter (6 foot) open-end SMB and a 30 meter (100 feet) nylon spool and the OMS Safety Set III has 1.83 meter (6 foot) closed-end SMB and a 30 meter (100 feet) nylon spool that is designed for rough water use.
Tube length: 1.83 meters (6 feet)
Pros: tall, with reflective silver strip on top, compact, line and reel included
Cons: needs weight at the bottom to stand on the surface
The Dive Smart Open Bottom Surface Marker Buoy has a high visibility design which includes a 6-foot orange colored signal tube that has a silver reflective band on the tip and a “Diver Below” marking. It is made from 210D Nylon fabric that is coated with TPU for added durability. It can easily be inflated either using manual inflation or with the use of a second stage regulator. Its accessories includes a 30 meter (100 feet) nylon spool with a double end brass clip for BCD attachment. It also comes with its own mesh pouch that has velcro locking mechanism.
Check price: Amazon
Tube length: choose from 1.8 to 2.2 meters (6 to 7 feet)
Pros: has an optional dive flag at the top, highly reflective at surface, high lifting capacity
Cons: line and spool not included, no silver reflective strip at the top
Instead of the traditional orange, the Carter Personal Float is colored neon green. This feature is highly reflective on the surface especially if you doing a night dive. It is primary made from a 400-denier polyurethane coated nylon material that has hook and loop strip at the bottom of the bag that holds the SMB when rolled and not in use. It has an optional dive flag that can be place on top of the tube. It is classified as an open-end SMB where it has a one-way flapper valve where you can add air from your second stage regulator, a separate oral inflation valve and overpressure relief valve to prevent accidental bursting due to overpressurization. It comes in 3 different lift capacities: the 35 pounder with a tube dimension of 1.8 x 0.1 meter, the 50 pounder with a tube dimension of 1.8 x 0.1 meter and the 75 pounder with a tube dimension of 2.2 x 0.13 meter.
Tube length: 1.5 meters (5 feet)
Pros: compact, easy to deploy, has a built-in dump valve
Cons: needs separate ties for non-Zeagle BCDs
Designed for use with Zeagle BCDs, the Zeagle Surface Marker Buoy QD Deluxe Signal Tube is an SMB set that is composed of signal tube, spool, line, brass snap and a pouch. Its main features is its Quick Deploy feature where you just grab the deploy strap from the pouch and the signal tube with the nylon and spool will automatically come out from the pouch. This open-end SMB can be inflated by adding air from your 2nd stage regulator or by manual inflation through its oral inflator valve. When fully inflated, the signal tube stands straight at the surface with a height of 1.5 meters (5 feet) and is highly visible through its dual yellow and orange color.
Check price: Leisurepro
Tube length: 1.65 meters (5.4 feet)
Pros: solid construction, easy to use
Cons: spool and line sold separately, large and bulky
The Dive Alert Deluxe Surface Marker is a closed-end SMB that features a one-way air inflation valve that prevents air from getting out when reaching the surface. It is made from 400-Denier polyurethane coated nylon material that has a Coast Guard approved SOLAS reflective tape that is highly visible and reflective even at night that is further enhanced through its yellow and orange material color. When fully inflated, this SMB measures 1.65 meters long and 0.2 meters wide. Although large and bulky when fully inflated, it has higher lifting capacity where it is rated to lift up to 18 kilograms (40 pounds).
Tube length: 1.98 meters (6.5 feet)
Pros: cheap, tall, easy to use and inflate
Cons: no reflective silver strip, thin material
If you want a tall SMB that really stands out in the surface, then we highly recommend you choose the Aqua Safety Sausage Marine Rescue Tube. Standing at 1.98 meters (6.5 feet) when fully inflated, this SMB will easily get the attention of anyone who is at the surface. But you have to be aware, that due to its thin material, its is recommended to be deployed only in calm waters and not to be used in rough weather condition.
Tube length: 2.13 meters (7 feet)
Pros: tall, with reflective silver strip
Cons: bulky when fully inflated
Built to withstand rugged conditions, the material of the XS Surface Marker is made from a thick urethane-coated nylon that is guaranteed to last for years. It is brightly colored (choose from neon yellow or orange) and has a vertical SOLAS reflective strip on both sides of the tip that gives maximum reflection. But what really stands out with this SMB is its size. Considered as one of the tallest and biggest DSMBs out in the market, the XS Surface Marker Buoy stands out 2.13 meters (7 feet) at the surface with a circumference of 0.6 meters when fully inflated. Given its size, be aware in advance that this SMB will be bulky when inflated and may require practice and experience to easily handle this surface marker.
Tube length: 1.8 meters (6 feet)
Pros: low price tag, compact, easy to use
Cons: no silver reflective strips at the tip, line and spool not included
The Scuba Choice Surface Marker Signal is a 6-foot orange colored surface marker buoy that has a diameter of 5.7 inch when inflated. It is made from a high-grade nylon material that is coated with TPU for maximum durability. It can easily be inflated manually through its oral inflation valve. You have to take note that this is a closed-end type of SMB and the only way to add or remove air is through manual inflation or deflation. While this feature seems to be a limitation for this SMB, it can be seen as an advantage as air is totally trapped inside and water virtually has no way in entering the SMB.
Check price: Amazon
Tube length: 1.3 meters (4 feet)
Pros: compact, easy to use, low price tag
Cons: no reflective silver stirp on the tip, line and spool not included
The Scubapro Marker Buoy is a compact surface marker buoy that is made from a durable PVC material and stands straight in the surface with a height of 1.3 meters (4 feet). This affordable SMB includes a tether, clip and a velcro system that enables you to neatly fold and secure in place the SMB after use. It has its own blue-colored storage bag that is equipped with a clip designed for D-ring attachment and easy SMB deployment.
Check price: Leisurepro
Tube length: 0.8 meters (2.6 feet)
Pros: highly visible on surface
Cons: no reflective silver strips, only stays at surface and cannot be brought underwater
Instead of standing straight out in surface waters, the SM SunniMix Surface Marker Buoy Float is designed to be horizontally positioned at the surface. Its 0.8 meter long and 0.2 meter tube diameter is highly visible on the surface that is further facilitated with a standing dive flag on top of the SMB. Just take note that this SMB is designed to stay at the surface and not to be brought underwater. This means that this SMB is great for marking your entrance and exit point.
Price check: Amazon
What to Look for in an SMB
Types: SMB or DSMB – there are 2 types of SMBs, namely: surface marker buoy (SMB) and the delayed surface marker buoy (DSMB). If you prefer that your underwater presence is already marked even if you have not entered the water, then we highly recommend you choose the surface marker buoy type. SMBs are constantly inflated and stays at the surface all the time. The only problem with SMBs is that it is usually anchored at the bottom and you cannot bring it underwater or hold it with a string during the entire span of your dive. On the other hand, DSMBs also called as a safety sausage (because of its shape and color), is deflated during the dive and will only be inflated on the start of your ascent or during your safety stop. DSMBs gives you the freedom to roam around your dive site and only mark your presence when you need to ascend where the boat crew can easily spot you.
Design: Open or Closed End – usually used in SMBs, closed-ended design are sealed at both ends and air can only be added by blowing in the one-way blow valve and can be deflated with the pressing of the said valve. Open-end designs are mostly used in DSMB where one end is sealed while the other end is open where the size of the opening fits the mouthpiece of your second stage regulator. The opening allows you to easily add air during inflation where the safety sausage will shoot up to the surface giving visual contact between you and your boat crew. While open-ended design allows you to easily deflate the unit, the large opening can sometimes be disadvantageous as water may enter at the surface causing the sausage to lie down instead of standing straight. Take note that some open-end DSMBs are self sealing especially when they are totally inflated. As air is concentrated inside the buoy, the lower portion of the DSMB will constrict causing it to have a temporary seal.
Attachment and Accessories – SMBs in general cannot serve its purpose if it is not attached to a string. Otherwise, it will just float and be drifted away with the tide and current. Typically, a nylon string or cord is attached to your SMB where you can hold to it until you reach the surface. The length of the string can vary where the old days of diving only uses a maximum of 6 meters (20 feet) which is just enough for the depth of safety stop. But modern SMBs are now equipped with a spool or reel that has a longer nylon length where some may reach as 100 meters (300 feet) long. The spool or reel will also help you in neatly reeling back the line without getting entangled.
Color, Shape and Size – all SMBs should have a bright color that can easily get the attention to anyone who is in the surface. Typically, orange is the color used in SMBs as this stands out in the blue backdraft of the surface waters. When it comes to shape, SMBs may take a flat circular form, but DSMBs are tubular in shape where they stand up straight in the surface when fully inflated. Size or length of SMBs can vary according to brand and model. If you are diving in calm waters, the 1 meter (3 foot) tube length is enough, but you may want a longer tube length when diving in rough waters. Regardless of length you choose, having a silver foil-like marking on the tip of the SMB will come in handy as this can reflect light and boat crew can easily spot your presence.
The Benefits of Owning SMB
While the possibility of surfacing all together at the same time in a group is doable and only 1 has an SMB to mark your presence, it is often not practice where most of us surface up on our own individual pace. Equipping yourself with an SMB gives you the liberty to maximize underwater time and will not be dependent on your dive group. Further, having your own SMB guarantees you that you are surfacing up cleared from obstruction or incoming traffic like boats and this situation is very important if you ascend first or if you are separated by your group.
Note: For non-divers or boat captain, you should be aware that spotting an SMB on the surface signifies that there is diver underneath it and you should not come close to it. In fact, there is an international standard for boats not to come at least 50 meters (160 feet) away from the SMB. However, the policy on the distance from a boat to an SMB may vary from country to country and it is highly recommended you ask about existing regulations that governs the dive site you are visiting.
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