Boat-diving safety considerations are important, as diving this way often provides the easiest and most efficient access to dive sites, as well as opening up a world of magnificent reefs and wrecks that we might not otherwise have the chance to visit. Boat diving can mean a single morning spent on the ocean or an extended stint on a liveaboard charter. Whatever it means to you, there are several particular safety considerations to bear in mind when diving from a boat in addition to the normal ones applicable to all diving situations.
Diving from a boat calls for specialized safety measures, and it is imperative that the appropriate equipment is kept onboard at all times. Because boat trips often take divers some distance from shore, a full first-aid kit and emergency-oxygen breathing apparatus are essential. If a diver surfaces with suspected DCS, the swift administration of oxygen could mean the difference between life and death. Similarly, in the event of an emergency, those onboard must be able to call for help, perhaps to arrange for medical assistance on land or to send out a distress call. Depending on your location and situation, a cell phone, satellite phone or VHF radio may be the best option for communication.
Note the location of the safety equipment; if an accident befalls the crew or dive guide, you may be required to use it. Also check the condition of the safety equipment; whether or not it is well maintained is often a good indication of the operator’s repute. Gear that is poorly maintained or neglected may not be up to the job in an emergency. Empty oxygen cylinders, unreliable radios or first aid kits that have never been replenished could compound an emergency situation instead of helping to control it. Also be aware of the regulations in your area; for example, all dive boats should display a dive flag, but the recognized standard varies from place to place.
In terms of personal gear, make sure that yours is stowed neatly and securely in a place indicated by the boat’s crew. Purchase a dive bag or box to keep your gear tidy; this way you won’t have to worry about your belongings becoming a tripping hazard or becoming misplaced. Assemble gear when instructed, and make sure that it’s secure at all times while traveling. Although the mechanisms might differ, all dive boats should have tank racks of some kind to help keep cylinders upright and stationary. Unless otherwise directed, weight belts should be stored on the floor to prevent them falling and causing injury to your fellow divers or damage to the deck.
Listen to the captain and crew!
Always wait until a crewmember gives you permission to board. If you do not, you could get in the way of pre-departure preparations, like loading gear, warming up the engines or refueling. Follow instructions as to where you may or may not go onboard; dive boats sometimes have off-limits areas. These instructions may vary hugely depending on the situation and type of boat, but they are always issued with your safety in mind. Pay attention to the boat-safety briefing just as you would to a dive briefing. This will include important information like the location of safety equipment, emergency procedures and particular considerations to bear in mind when launching and getting in and out of the water. This information will change depending on the type of boat, the conditions and your location, so don’t assume that because you’ve heard one briefing, you’ve heard them all.
Entries and exits
Because there are usually a lot of divers getting into the water at the same time from a boat, always make sure that your entry is clear. Use the most appropriate deep-water entry for the situation; typically, you will use either a giant stride or a backwards roll. If entering as a group, make sure to synchronize yourselves in order to prevent divers hitting one another with their cylinders. Upon exiting, similar caution is required: keep a constant eye on the boat to ensure that current, waves or wind do not cause a collision, and always allow other divers the space to exit. If waiting your turn to climb a ladder, make sure not to crowd behind the diver ahead of you in case they slip and fall on top of you, cylinder first.
Be aware of both your own boat and others nearby. Always watch and listen for boat traffic while on the surface and during descents and ascents. If you are drift diving, it’s a good idea to dive with an SMB or delayed SMB so that boats are continuously aware of your presence. Before entering and exiting the water, make sure that your boat’s engines are switched off and that you have the crew’s permission to do so. Propeller blades are exceptionally sharp even when they are still, so steer clear of them at all times. Roll call procedures are important, particularly when divers enter the water in buddy pairs rather than under the supervision of a dive guide. Let the crew know when you are getting in, and sign back onto the boat upon your return; in this way, you will avoid the nightmare scenario of being left at sea.
Personal safety considerations
Many of the safety measures associated with boat diving have more to do with the length of time spent at sea and the distance from land, rather than with the boat itself. These measures include staying sufficiently hydrated; boat dives are often full-day trips that add up to a lot of time spent in the sun. Find out when you book your dive whether they’ll provide refreshments or if you should bring your own. Similarly, take appropriate precautions against exposure to extreme weather. Wear sunglasses, hats and sunscreen in hot climates; in cooler places, bring wind protection and warm clothing.
Because dive boats are often far from shore, also consider packing equipment spares. Something as simple as a snapped mask strap can force you to forgo a day’s diving if you don’t have a replacement. If you’re prone to seasickness, take medication before you set sail to reduce the likelihood of illness. Seasickness is not only uncomfortable and miserable, but it can also be dangerous, leading to accelerated dehydration.
Spending time on a boat is about much more than convenient transportation; it is an escape back to nature and the beauty of a day spent on the ocean. Make sure that your boat experiences are always positive ones by looking after yourself at sea, and ensuring that you are suitably equipped to deal with an emergency should one arise.