By Sheri Daye
Safety At The Surface
One of the most dangerous risks to divers is being struck by boat propellers while at the surface. I have personally experienced more close calls with boats than any other hazard, and I’ve witnessed the results of some horrific accidents.
There are dive flag laws in place to protect divers. However, accidents occur more from lack of awareness, not due to anyone breaking laws on purpose. In any case, it’s worth reminding both boaters and divers of the rules. The laws are similar from state-by-state with a few variations. As an example, Florida law requires divers and snorkelers to display a “diver down” flag when in the water to caution nearby boaters. The flag is a red square with a diagonal white stripe with a wire stiffener to keep the flag extended and visible. If on a dive boat, one must ensure that the flag is visible from the boat’s highest point from all directions, and it must measure at least 20 by 24 inches. It must also be removed when divers are not in the water. If the dive excursion is from shore and not using a boat, a flag must be towed by the diver, and the flag must measure at least 12 by 12 inches.
Boaters must stay at least 300 feet away from dive flags in open waters and 100 feet away in rivers, inlets and navigation channels. Boaters who must approach a diver-down flag must slow to the minimum speed. Likewise, divers must take care to stay within the same distances to the flag.
Tips for Divers:
1. Avoid diving in high boat traffic areas.
2. The more visible you are, the better, so consider displaying a larger flag than mandated by law.
3. Consider wearing a brightly colored hoodie and/or towing something that will make you more visible
4. Consider carrying a backup marker, such as an extra reel and float, in case you get separated from your flag. Abort the dive if you do get separated, and deploy the backup immediately.
5. Listen for boat traffic before ascending. This won’t apply to sailboats, so always make a quick 360-degree scan as you come up.
6. As a last resort, dive down for safety.
Tips for Boaters:
1. Refrain from using auto-pilot in an area where diving takes place.
2. If traversing areas with dive sites, stay extra alert, watch for dive flags and maintain a safe distance.
3. Even if there are no dive flags, look for divers the same way you look for other hazards, as there can be instances of divers getting separated from their flags.
4. Monitor channel 18 (or whatever is used locally) for dive advisories or to communicate with dive boats.
If you make these tips a part of your float plan, you will minimize the potential for accidents. We all cherish our time on the ocean and want to come home with happy memories!
Sheri is a world-record holder, host of Speargun Hunter, and producer of “The Blue Wild Ocean Adventure Expo” in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Follow “Sheri Daye” and “The Blue Wild” on Facebook and Instagram.