Snorkeling and diving are some of my favorite activities that I get to enjoy more often during the summer! The water is warm, scallop season has opened, lobster season is just around the corner and a perfect time for a lesson on dive flag awareness! Every year accidents occur that could be avoided if both divers and boater brush up on dive flag regulations. Identifying what a dive flag looks like, knowing which size you need, and knowing what reasonable efforts should be taken by boaters and divers alike are essential in avoiding mishaps that could result in loss of life or limb.
Dive Flag Rules And Regulations
A complete list of boating regulations can be found HERE but below are SOME points I believe most important regarding diving/dive flags:
- “The size of the divers-down symbol depends on whether the divers-down warning device is displayed from the water or from a vessel. On the water, the divers-down symbol must be at least 12 x 12 inches in size. On a vessel, the symbol must be at least 20 x 24 inches in size.
- When displayed on a boat, the divers-down warning device also must be displayed at the highest point of the vessel so that its visibility is not obstructed in any direction.
- If the divers-down warning device is a flag, the divers-down symbol must be on each face and have a wire stiffener or be otherwise constructed to ensure it remains fully unfurled and extended, even when there is no wind or breeze.
- Boaters must make reasonable efforts to stay at least 300 feet away from divers-down warning devices in open water and at least 100 feet away in rivers, inlets, or navigation channels. Boaters approaching divers-down warning devices closer than 300 feet in open water and 100 feet in rivers, inlets, or navigation channels must slow down to idle speed.
- Divers must make a reasonable effort to stay within 100 feet of a divers-down flag or a buoy within rivers, inlets, or navigation channels and within 300 feet on open water.”
When navigating around structures that may be popular dive spots (bridges, jetties, breakwaters, artificial reefs, nearshore live bottom), drive slowly and keep an eye out for dive flags and divers especially in rainy, foggy or low visibility conditions. Sometimes structures can obscure the view of dive flags and be an area where less experienced divers may start their journey into diving. Newer divers may not be as aware of the dangers/importance of being near the flag while diving, especially in those areas that may encounter higher rates of traffic. Strikes from not only boat propellers but also the boat hull can be deadly!
Always dive with a buddy. Avoid diving locations with high boat traffic or strong currents that may separate you from your flag, boat or buddy. Divers should avoid heading out in conditions that may affect above water visibility like fog, rain, or low light. If above water visibility deteriorates while diving, stay extra vigilant and keep an eye out for boats and your buddy. Even in clear conditions, don’t assume boats can see you or your flag, be ready to take evasive actions especially if a boat is heading in your direction.
Sound travels about 4x faster underwater than on air. Often you can hear a boat coming from far away although you may not be able to tell the exact direction. If you hear a boat getting louder as you are under water, avoid surfacing at that moment or if you need to surface while diving a bridge or jetty, do so as closely and safely to a structure as possible. Boats stay clear from boulders and bridge pilings and steer in the open water between them, don’t put yourself in that position. If you can’t visually see a speeding boat but hear a boat getting louder while on the surface and there are no above water structures available for cover, it’s a good idea to descend back to depth if on Scuba, or freedive to a depth that a boat’s hull/props can’t reach you until the boat passes. These tips are great habits to adopt regardless of boat traffic and the practice of which could save lives.
Although its popular to clip the flag to yourself, that may not be the best choice in high boating traffic locations. If a boat were to run over a dive flag’s line, it could easily get sucked into the propeller and yank the attached diver to the surface too quickly. If conducting a shore dive on scuba, done with your dive and need to swim back to shore, surface, use your compass to get a bearing for your exit and leave some air in the tank to swim underwater back to shore, its safer and you may see some cool things (like a brand new pair of sunglasses)!
Although the red diver down flag is the more widely used here in the United States, there is a more international symbol called the “alpha flag” that boaters should familiarize themselves with as well.
Divers may also deploy an inflatable buoy when ascending from depth to indicate their location and that they are about to surface. Keep an eye out for these surface marker buoys (SMBs) and steer clear!
If you’re partially or fully submerged in the water, you shouldn’t assume you’re untouchable because of a dive flag, a good amount of boat operators are not familiar with the symbol and it’s up to everyone to spread the word! You wouldn’t cross the street without looking both ways so always keep an eye out for boats! Stay safe and have fun!
More information can be found at:
Divers/ Boaters in Florida (Chapter 27, Florida Statutes 327.331)