This past weekend, Navigating Phenom, I and another instructor were doing open water certifications in a local body of water that allows all manner of small boat traffic.
We witnessed a Jet Ski pass right over a group of recreational divers (we knew this from watching where the air bubbles were coming up). Fortunately nobody was injured in this incident. However, the divers did NOT have a dive flag with them as required by local regulations. Clearly the divers were not taking their own safety seriously.
These two events had me thinking about boat traffic and diver safety.
My initial reaction is that divers must be proactive about their safety. I do not know what happened in the tragic event with the diver in Florida and do not even want to start to speculate about the cause. However, in the case of the divers that I witnessed, it was clear that the divers did not take boat traffic into account when they started their dive (not to mention local regulations).
My second reaction is a question as to whether boaters are sufficiently made aware of what dive flags mean. Locally boat traffic is required to stay at least 150 feet (50 m) from dive flags. I am not familiar with what licensing is required to be able to operate a boat or a Jet Ski. From what I have heard it would seem that just about anyone can hop onto a Jet Ski and tear up the water.
Jet Skis are fun and I have absolutely no issue with people enjoying their boats and Jet Skis. My concern is that boaters and Jet Ski operators are not aware of what our dive flags mean, or give sufficient clearance to the area where a dive flag is.
Locally we are required to have a dive flag for every four divers. The dive flags that we use here in the USA are red with a diagonal white stripe (some other countries the dive flags are a different color and design).
Perhaps it is time for a dive flag education campaign by dive training organizations, SCUBA equipment manufacturers and other interested parties aimed at small recreational craft operators.
Please follow your local regulations concerning dive flag usage. Even if you do not have local regulations that require dive flag usage, take a proactive approach and use a dive flag or other signaling device that will make boat traffic aware of your position. For example if you will be surfacing or diving shallower than say 15 feet (5 m) in an area that is prone to boat traffic, take extra precautions.
Do not take any unnecessary risks or assume that boaters will see your dive flag and avoid the area that you are in. The question is not whether you can see the boat traffic, but whether the boat traffic can see you and know that you are in the water. Take your own safety very seriously.
An example of local dive flag regulations:
- Scuba divers must display a warning flag when
- The diver’s flag must measure at least 15 inches horizontally and 12 inches vertically. Both sides must have a red-colored background bisected diagonally by a three-inch wide white
stripe. There is also a blue and white diver’s flag authorized under the federal rules of the
- No more than four divers shall dive under one flag.
- Divers must remain within 50 feet (measured horizontally) of the warning flag.
- If a group of divers is using a contained area, the perimeter of the area must be marked. The area must be outside the normal area of navigation. These markings must consist of the official diver’s flag and must be placed around the perimeter of the diving area at intervals of not more than 150 feet.
- Do not place a diver’s flag where it will obstruct navigation.
- The diver’s flag may be displayed on a watercraft or float or be anchored to the bottom. The top of the flag must be at least 30 inches above the surface, however.
- Boats not involved with the diving operation must remain 150 feet away from a flag. Persons who dive at any time from sunset to sunrise must carry a diver’s light visible when above the water for a distance of 150 feet.