Your safety stop at 15 feet is accompanied by the scream of boat engines? Here’s how to surface without being sliced and diced.

STEP 1: Don’t panic

Discounting submarines and super tankers, you’re safe at 15 feet. Listen for a while to the engine and propeller noises, and wait for a relatively quiet time. Good news: Noises carry farther under water, so you can hear them from farther away. Bad news: You can’t tell which direction they’re coming from. If the noise is getting louder, the boat is approaching; if it’s fading, the boat is leaving. If there is the anchor chain of another boat, the edge of a kelp bed or shallow water nearby, go there to surface. Otherwise, when the coast seems relatively clear:

STEP 2: Kick up

Empty your BC and ascend against slightly negative buoyancy by kicking. Stay negative in case you have to make a quick dive. Because of the refraction of light in water, you can’t see much of the surface, but rotate as you go so you can look in all directions and see the earliest sign of danger. Have your compass in your hand, ready to take a bearing.

STEP 3: Take a bearing

When you break the surface, do a quick 360-degree scan. If all seems safe for a few minutes, take a bearing to the dive boat (or your shore exit), set the bezel of the compass and return to a safe depth–15 feet or more. Navigate by compass to your exit, surfacing as close to it as possible. Never swim across an area submerged at less than 10 feet, even if you see no boats. One may appear at any moment. Sometimes you’ll see a safe but circuitous surface route. You might follow a chain of anchored boats or the edge of a kelp bed, for example.


If you surface to see a boat heading toward you, do a head-first surface dive. Pull up with your arms while tucking your legs and curling forward, then throw your legs as high in the air as possible so their weight drives you down Kick down as soon as your fins are under water. The boat operator may see your fins and veer away. If he doesn’t, you’d rather he hit your legs than your head.


Whenever possible, follow a line or the bottom contour to the surface. Do not surface at the stern of a vessel, even the one you are diving from–rather surface at the anchor line or nearby.


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