Divers should know the policies in boat diving to ensure safety and enjoyment. Knowing diving etiquette helps divers maximize their diving time and enhances their diving experience. Some basics which all divers should know are discussed.

Dive boats are hot and the reasons are simple. From exotic tropical waters to the coasts of the United States, dive boats get you wet fast, safe and on the best spots.

Whether you dive from resort operated day boats or luxury live-aboards, dive boats are more mechanically sophisticated, offer more creature comforts and provide the benefits of professional crews. Dedicated to safety, your enjoyment and the protection of the environment.

Twenty-five years ago, the top dive boats touted on-board air compressors and a refrigerator to chill your bag lunch. Today the list of live-aboard amenities reads like a wish list come true. Private staterooms with bathrooms, gourmet meals, darkrooms, photo gear counters, hanging wetsuit drying/storage areas, wide, easy to board swim platforms and precision navigational equipment are now common. A diving vacation is no longer akin to camping in a tent without an air mattress.

With the shift from “animal farm” looking boats to million dollar entertainment centers has come some new age etiquette and dive practices. This article features typical practices on large boats that travel extended distances offshore on long one day or multi-day trips. Although specifics may vary from boat to boat, these basics will keep you from looking like a boat diving nerd.

Advanced diving boat etiquette

PACKING

Unload your dive bag at home and make conscious decisions about what to pack for a boat trip. If your dive bag is like most, it accumulates extra odds and ends. Take out the unnecessary items and lighten the load. You may still want to bring backup gear, such as an extra mask or regulator, but you don’t need to carry an abalone iron out of season or out of California.

All dive equipment, except your tank and weightbelt, should fit in dive bags. Most East and West Coast boats have racks for tanks, weightbelts go on the deck or in a box and dive bags go under benches. Canvas duffel bags work best for clothes, since they are easy to store in cubbyholes. Most boats do not have storage space for large, hard-sided suitcases.

Camera cases may stay in the salon or need to go to your bunk or stateroom. It helps to know what your options are in advance so you don’t get a nasty surprise once on the boat. I slept with two camera cases in a single bunk one very uncomfortable night.

While it’s important to have the things you commonly need, it is not necessary to take everything you will possibly ever need. It is sensible to take extra equipment straps, a back-up mask, spare O-rings or small parts that wear out, such as batteries. It is not necessary to duplicate everything that could possibly fail. It is one thing to go on a North Carolina one day wreck dive and quite another to go to the Arctic for a month – pack appropriately! This goes for clothes as well as dive gear. Use the layered approach to add or subtract clothes in order to adjust to the weather. If it gets cool between dives or at night, bring a jacket. Perhaps one jacket will work for both situations. Some divers arrive with a sweatshirt, fleece pullover, long jacket and foul weather gear for a one day trip – probably not necessary.

Don’t forget your personal toiletries, aspirin, decongestant and motion sickness pills. Important papers include your certification card and fishing license.

ARRIVING

Arrive at the boat with time to spare before departure. For overnight trips, this usually means you should be on board and stowing your belongings 60 minutes before departure. For resort-type half day trips, be at the departure point with all your gear ready to go at least 15 minutes early.

Boats have different policies on missed departures but most are you snooze, you lose. The boat cannot sell one of its spaces at the last minute, so you bought the spot whether you use it or not. Most resort boats run a tight schedule and any time spent waiting for a tardy diver eats into the diving time of other passengers. If you arrive late you’ll find your popularity rating pretty low.

When you board the boat, check with the crew members and let them know you are there. Most boats have a sign-in sheet. That is the control system so all divers are accounted for after a dive. If you are not on the roster, you may be left in the water when the boat moves. You will also need to list your dive certification number on most logs and waivers.

Some boats assign a number to each diver and your airfills and galley bills are tracked by that number. On many day trip boats there is an extra charge for air-fills and meals. On multi-day trips, these are typically included in the base fee.

On most day trip boats in California, bunks are not assigned. Tossing a jacket on a bunk claims it. Boats provide different amounts of bedding – some supply sheets, others just blankets and some nothing. Check when you book to see if you need to bring a sleeping bag. On multi-day trips, the bunks or staterooms are usually assigned. If you are extra tall, mention it when booking as some boats have a few bunks that are longer than normal.

GEARING UP

Tidiness is a big virtue. Space is limited on a boat deck and no one wants to walk around your stuff. If you have action-packed your dive bag, the things you need first are on the top and the items you use last are on the bottom. This is also sometimes called the “last-in, first-out” method of packing. Gear up out of your bag in order – put the BC on a tank, put the regulator on, then attach accessories to your BC. You might change into your swimsuit and wetsuit before or after assembling your tank unit, depending upon the boat and weather. When it is about time to enter the water, don your tank, do a buddy check and move toward the exit area with your mask and fins in hand. Once at the exit, don fins and mask and jump in.

Limit the time you spend on the deck wearing a tank. It is heavy and awkward for you and a hazard to others you may bump into. Be particularly aware that when sitting on the deck, your head is very vulnerable to being hit by a tank bottom. People are not used to judging their extra girth and may be unstable owing to the boat’s movement.

Don’t wear your fins and try to walk around on a boat. The only easy way to walk in fins is to shuffle backward and that is tough to do safely on a boat. Your tank dings the boat when you turn around in tight passageways to see where you are going. In addition, you are unstable and can fall, injuring yourself or others. Carry your fins to the exit, put them on and then enter the water promptly. Since divers enter the water one or two at a time, be considerate about not blocking the exit. When you are at the exit, you are departing the boat – not beginning to talk about a dive plan. If you want everyone to know you are a rookie diver, start adjusting straps while you are blocking the exit point.

Double check that your air is turned on and your BC is slightly inflated. With one hand, hold your mask in place and your regulator in your mouth. Place your other hand over your weightbelt buckle. Once you are sure the entry area is clear, step into the water.

UNDERWATER

Dive boats eliminate gear handling time and long swims, thus maximizing your underwater fun time. The anchorline is handy for making descents, so it’s easy to go down feet first. If you have hard to clear ears, a feet first – as opposed to a head down – descent is easier.

Live-aboard boats leave their generators turned on during the day and the sound carries underwater. It is easy to tell when you are moving away from the boat because the generator noise fades. In clear, tropical waters the boat hull is often visible at depth and quite a distance away. Navigation in an unfamiliar area is easier if you can look and listen to find the boat.

Many boats drop a weighted line off the stern as an alternate ascent line. If a large number of divers are in the water, a second ascent line thins out the traffic during safety stops. Boats with lots of photographers or videographers may also hang camera lines over the side. Hanging below the boat, camera lines offer a way to clip off your equipment, then reboard. Once on deck it is easy to retrieve the camera gear.

RETURNING TO THE BOAT

When approaching the ladder or swim step, give the divers ahead of you plenty of room and time to exit. People slip on ladders and tanks slide out of backpacks.

Grabbing a ladder that rises and falls in a swell can be tricky. The key is to time your approach and then execute your exit swiftly. You want to grab the ladder or slide up on the swim step when it’s at the lowest point in the water. Get your feet and hands planted and hold on as the boat moves up through the water. When it pauses on the high end, scramble up the ladder or farther up on the swim step. You want to be high before the downward plunge that could knock you off.

When the seas are rough the crew will give extra entry/exit instructions at the dive briefing. Listen carefully as each boat is different and the crew knows how its ladder moves in a swell. If there is an unusual danger point – such as a place you could get your hand crushed between the ladder and a brace, they will point it out. They will also announce changes of procedures. For example, in heavy seas, divers leave their weightbelts on and board the boat. In calmer seas, the same boat may encourage divers to remove their weightbelts and hand them up.

Crew members work the exit area and will be there to grab your fins, give a lift on your tank valve or steady you. Listen to their instructions and accept their assistance graciously. The crew is there for your safety and enjoyment. Lighten up, put your ego aside and accept their help as a courtesy, not an assault on your diving ability.

Once on the deck, go directly to the tank rack and remove your tank. Secure the tank in the rack, if necessary. Go back to the stern and retrieve your mask and fins. Then go to your dive bag and undress into it. When you take something off, stow it right away. Once you strip down to a swimsuit or wetsuit, it is easy to move around the boat deck. You can put your BC and regulator on a fresh tank, put a fill tag on your old tank or take whatever steps the crew has requested to get tanks filled.

Keeping your gear in a dive bag helps to prevent it from being lost, stolen or damaged. If you leave your mask on a boat deck often enough, someone will step on it and break it. If you leave yellow fins lying in a heap on the stern, they look like all the other yellow fins and someone may pick yours up by mistake. If you leave expensive electronics lying around, you test other’s honesty. While theft on multi-day trips is rare, expensive things have disappeared after the day’s last dive. Everyone is busy packing and the thief hopes the victim will not notice the loss until much later.

AFTER THE DIVE

Once your equipment is stowed, take time to log your dive. You never know when the data from a dive will come in handy. Several years after I made three Great Barrier Reef trips, a friend was planning an Australia holiday. It was fun to review my logbooks with her and use my records to help her make decisions about which boat to book. My friend learned about Cod Hole, Ribbons Reefs and the wreck of the Yongala from my logbooks and selected a diving area.

Be sure to sign in with the divemaster and do not re-enter the water without notifying the crew. Some boats check off their list as you come on board and then call the roll again before moving the boat. When the divemaster calls the roll, only answer for yourself and only answer once. An unnamed Southern California dive boat once left a diver named Johnson at a remote Channel Island, after another Johnson on the boat answered twice, thinking the crew member simply had not heard his first “here.” If you go below to take a nap, expect to come up for the roll call.

Rules are different on each boat about where you can go when wet. Wet swimsuits may be OK in the salon but dripping wetsuits are not. Be considerate about getting salt water on the carpet on the way to the bunk room to change clothes; also avoid leaving a pile of wet clothes and towels below decks. It is hard to keep below decks dry and smelling fresh, so try to contribute to the solution, not the problem.

After the last dive, pack all of your equipment, including your wetsuit, so it doesn’t blow overboard on the trip home. Some boats will fill your tank so you go home dive ready. Whether you socialize or nap on the way home, it is a time to relax.

Upon return to the dock, carefully check around your bunk for personal belongings. Dive boats have huge collections of mismatched socks, eyeglasses, brushes, towels and lens caps that get left behind. Look around your dive bag for any loose items.

Don’t forget to thank your crew members for their service by leaving a tip. There is no set rule, but $5 a day seems about right. If a certain crew member has performed special services for you or provided exemplary service, a personal tip for the individual is appropriate.

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