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How Close is TOO Close?

As a diver there’s nothing more nerve wracking than being under water, just bubbling around, when you hear the disruptive whine of a boat somewhere overhead. With sound traveling a mind-boggling 4x faster in water (because the particles are packed more tightly than in air), you have zero clue where it’s coming from, and now you have to carefully monitor your proximity to the surface. 

In a recreation that’s supposed to be “stress-free” this is a situation that requires your full attention. 

So you set your flag…

…but what good does that do you? If your boater doesn’t know what it means, doesn’t see it, or ignores the message entirely then you’ve basically just given yourself one more thing to clean up at the end of your dive. All true. But on the positive side, you’ve taken care of your half of the safety agreement, which is something ALL divers should strive for. 

Now what? Do you know what’s up with the rules where you go down? On top of that, what can you do if they’re ignored, or to enforce them?

Washington State

While each county in the state can set their own, more stringent rules, there are some minimum basics in which you can trust. 

First and foremost, it’s the law. Divers are required to display a dive flag in the area where divers are “down”. Divers are REQUIRED to ATTEMPT to stay within 300 feet of said flag, and to TRY to surface within 150’ of the marker. 

On the boater side of things, the handbook states that they should not be within 200 feet of a displayed diver down flag or a boat displaying an Alpha flag (blue and white flag). They can, however, pass within this imaginary boundary while trolling, not under regular power.

Oregon State

Free to be you and me, that may as well be written on the state flag, the state constitution, and now your dive flag. 

In Oregon, boaters are required to take note of a diver down flag, and just try to be careful. Similarly, the presence of a dive flag does not, in-and-of-itself reserve use of that area of water for divers. It’s just a flag that says “keep an eye out”. 

If there was ever a more perfect time for a “meh” emoji, this is it! 😒 

Know the Rules Where You Dive

Regardless of your platform, boat, shore, or helicopter, you should familiarize yourself with the rules of the flag wherever you plan to dive. 

In addition, I’d recommend doing a “deep dive” on who to call in case you need to file a report. Washington rules say to call local authorities, but it really depends on where you’re diving, and who has boats in the water. Won’t do you a hill of beans to call the local Sheriff if they don’t have boats!

The Best Defense…

As an accomplished diver you should have and know how to deploy a SMB, surface marker buoy. If not, and you don’t, get one and start practicing. Don’t play around with the six footer, that’s a whole lot of up-and-down work that nobody needs to suffer. Instead, make a training SMB! 

Purchase a 36” SMB and CUT the bottom end off. Stich it up, if you’d like, add some grommets to make it look fancy, and then you can sit and pop your sausage over and over again to your heart’s content. If you want to see how I made mine, and where I got the supplies, click HERE.

Then, when you’re out there finishing your bubble therapy headed for the surface, and hear a boat overhead, or even worse, SEE one, pull out your SMB and let that freak flag fly! If nothing else the boat will know there’s a diver below and make the appropriate corrective action. 

The Reality

The reality is not one boater in the world wants to be responsible for an injury to someone under water, what’s more, clean you out of their prop! And the light beer swilling dudes out there fishing don’t want to hook you either! There’s no amount of seasoning and smoking that will make you and your drysuit edible. So what can you do?

If you’re below 30 feet, and you’re not diving in a major shipping lane, chances are you’ll experience zero impact from the noisy boat above. If they’re fishing, that may be an issue… a hook in the upper lip is gonna suck ripping out. But you’ll typically be deeper than what anyone is fishing for, unless it’s Cod. Then you may be screwed.

The other concern is netting. The tribe up in Hood Canal do this quite often. And from what I’ve seen they could give two copper pennies and a burnt matchstick about you being in their way. Best to just steer clear on these days. But in other areas netting is usually done in the open ocean, far away from your recreational playground above 60 feet.

What are your thoughts on boats, divers, and dive flags? Do you regularly practice with a SMB? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time, train hard – dive easy!

Doc Strand

An eight year Marine Corps veteran, Dr. Strand discovered Chinese medicine as a last resort when recovering from a military related injury. He has since dedicated his life to the practice of medicine; a doctor to all - a healer to many. In recent years he has turned to SCUBA diving as a meditation aid in his quest for ultimate peace. The desire to share that gift led to the creation of Spartan Scuba. Doc’s experiences and travels abroad impact not only his writing style, but his passion for life, scuba, and medicine.

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