Boat dive safety – All you need to know
Most of the best dive sites around Australia and the world are only accessible by boat. It is therefore not surprising that most of all scuba divers frequently use dive charter vessels to dive. There are a vast variety of different operators, from dry charters, dive centres and live-boards but also diving from private boats is not necessarily unsafe. Here is a list of 11 important safety features that any dive vessel should provide to ensure best practice, legal compliance and most importantly your safety.
Safe access and egress to the water
Any vessel utilised for diving should be built to allow easy access to the water. More importantly, easy egress is a must have in particular in an emergency. Good dive boats will have specific ladders or platforms to enter and exit the water.
Secure storage for dive equipment
A tidy ship has a number of benefits, it fulfils legal requirements to have cargo secured, it minimises the risk of damage to your equipment during transport and it minimises the risk of injury during an emergency such as vessel capsizing or grounding but also in heavy seas. A vessel’s layout should also have diving in mind by making it easy to gear up and enter the water.
Make sure someone is in charge! There can be confusion around who is in charge of a diving operation in particular when groups of divers or clubs charter entire vessels resulting in assumed responsibilities. The appointed dive supervisor is not necessarily the skipper of the vessel. There can be only one dive supervisor in charge that ensures all safety requirements are met. If you are not sure who that person is, simply speak up and ask.
It is an absolute non-negotiable to brief all divers on a charter vessel on emergency procedures including life jackets, SMB deployment, surface signals, recall signals, lost buddy procedures and maximum dive times. Something simple as a recall signal is of extreme importance for example if an injured person need to be brought back to shore whilst other divers have 30-40min left on their agreed dive time. Under Australian law, the above-mentioned items are mandatory but also best practice for any boat charter operator. Other items that a safety brief should include are specific hazards around the boat and dive site, buddy teams, dive plan and the list goes on. If you find yourself on a boat that has not briefed you on the above items, speak up and ask for clarification.
Qualified Surface Watch
Common sense will tell you that a qualified and capable surface watch should remain on the surface whilst everyone else is diving. This person should be trained in first aid and CPR and should also have rescue equipment available including mask, fins and the vessels safety gear such as oxygen, AED and first aid supplies.
First Aid equipment
As mentioned under surface watch, minimum safety gear includes an F-class first aid kit, emergency oxygen and an AED. Should the boat be potentially wet, towels and rubber mats need to be available for AED use.
Dive Flag & Mermaid Line
We often like to complain about other vessels not respecting dive flags whilst diving however, many of us are unaware what a dive flag needs to look like and how it should be positioned on a vessel in order to be most effective. We can’t really expect other vessels to notice a tiny dive flag on a float or one that just hangs somewhere of the hull. To be make sure a dive flag maximises its effects, it should;
– Be at the highest point of the vessel with all-round visibility,
– Have minimum dimensions of 40cm by 40cm,
– Be at least 1.8m above the water.
A dive flag is intended to signal other vessels that divers are in the water and to steer clear of the area. It should be noted that a dive flag does not give anyone exclusive rights of an area whether we like it or not. We can only hope in other boat operators common sense and courtesy.
A mermaid line should be made available in rough surface conditions for divers to hold on to whilst on the surface. Some vessels will have lines along the side which is great practice as well.
A dive log fulfils numerous practical needs, first of all it documents head counts to make sure no one is left behind. By law, divers need to confirm their return to the vessel via signature. Diving regulations and best practice also require recording your dive details including bottom time, maximum depth, time-in, time-out, start pressure and end pressure along with any gasses used.
Refreshments & Courtesy items
A dive vessel should carry plenty of drinking water, snacks and hot drinks and jackets during the colder months in order to address hypothermia. Sunscreen is another courtesy item that is nice to have access to on a boat.
Make sure you dive with experienced operators that knows the local area and is able to accurately assess the conditions by having regard to marine sensitive areas on the ocean floor, currents and the dive plan. The operator should be able to accurately paint a picture of what to expect beneath the surface along with an recommended dive plan.
What about private boats?
Diving from your own boat with your friends is perfectly fine however, we recommend using the above list as a best practice guide to make sure your diving adventures are safe ones. Even though a Code of Practice does not necessarily apply to your private boat, there is no reason why you shouldn’t adopt it in order to thrive for best practice and maximum safety.
If you are invited to dive of someone’s private boat, use this list as a guide and ask the boat owner some questions beforehand. If you don’t feel comfortable, give it a miss!
We hope you find this information useful. It is intended as a guide only and does not claim to be a complete list of all required safety features on a dive vessel.