Dive boat trips are exciting. However, they expose people to harsh environmental conditions that often result in serious discomfort or affect one’s health. Preparing a personal survival kit containing items which can prevent such problems can make trips more comfortable and fun.
Whether you are going for a three hour ride on a day boat or ten day trip on a live-aboard, there are certain essentials you should carry on every boat trip. These items will protect you from the environment and greatly enhance your comfort.
A Harsh Environment
Although it appears romantic and inviting, going to sea (aboard a boat) in a tropical area has its own set of problems. You will be subjecting yourself to a subtly harsh environment that could cause discomfort and long term injury to your skin, eyes or your overall well-being.
First and foremost are the effects of the tropical sun. The sun is stronger and closer to the earth at the equator than it is at northern latitudes such as here in the U.S. Add to this the well-known fact that our ozone layer is thinning and you have great cause for concern.
Traveling divers are subjected to far more and far stronger sunlight than most other outdoor enthusiasts. In addition to the direct rays of the sun, divers are subjected to additional rays reflected off the surface of the sea. This greatly intensifies the damage from tropical sun. Where it might normally take hours, you can suffer sunburn in minutes.
Tropical sun is just one of the environmental effects with which a diver must cope. There is also the possible discomfort and damage caused by strong winds, the wind created by a fast running dive boat and the effects of saltwater spray. This deadly trio can cause windburn, cracked lips and general discomfort from salt encrustation.
And, when the sun is not shining, there can be other environmental factors, such as a sudden rain squall or heavy seas, that cause salt spray. The best way to protect yourself from these harsh environmental factors is to carry a personal survival kit that contains all of the items that will make your day more comfortable and more enjoyable.
You can start your survival kit by obtaining a small carry-on bag that is large enough to contain all of the items you will need but small enough to tuck away under your boat seat or in a dry corner of the boat.
Broad brimmed hat: Select a hat made of a lightweight material that will not be too warm to wear in the tropics. The hat should have a broad brim that will shade your face, tips of your ears and back of your neck from the sun’s direct rays. Select a hat that has an adjustable tie that fits under the chin and prevents the hat from blowing off your head while riding in a fast moving boat.
The hat should also be washable as it will probably get soaked with saltwater spray from time to time. It should be made of a soft fabric that can be folded or rolled up and tucked into your carry-on bag. This type of hat is often carried by camping stores, large sporting goods stores or boating supply stores.
Sunglasses: Your eyes are just as vulnerable to the damaging effects of strong sunlight as your skin. The same is true for wind and salt spray. Select a pair of sunglasses that has a sturdy frame. Sunglasses take quite a beating when carried by divers on bouncing boats.
Select a pair that has large diameter lenses that cover your entire eye socket. Large diameter lenses help deflect saltwater spray and that unexpected wave that hits you right in the face. The large lenses also help to deflect the wind – another environmental element that can cause eye irritation.
Be sure the sunglasses you select are certified for protection from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. These sunglasses usually carry a sticker or tag that indicates UV protection.
You may wish to select a pair of sunglasses with Polaroid lenses. The Polaroid lenses filter out glare from the ocean’s surface. These sunglasses allow you to spot coral heads or shipwrecks that might be just under the surface.
Many veteran dive travelers carry a spare set of sunglasses in a suitcase, just in case they lose or break a pair while out for a day’s diving. This is one backup item that is highly recommended.
Full length dive suit: One hardly thinks of bringing a full length dive suit on a tropical dive trip. With water temperatures ranging from 80 to 84oF, it hardly seems possible you would need the additional warmth of a dive suit. Yet, veteran dive travelers always bring along a full length dive suit – not for warmth but for protection from the sun and stinging marine life (hydroids/fire coral/jellyfish).
A full length dive suit will protect your arms, legs, back and neck from possible sunburn. The dive suit should be worn on the boat while traveling out to the site, during the dive and on the return trip back.
The most popular dive suits for tropical wear are the lightweight Lycra dive suits that fit like a second skin. These suits are sufficiently lightweight so they won’t cause overheating while you’re sitting on the boat, yet provide enough protection to prevent sunburn. In cooler waters (76 to 80oF) you may wish to use a slightly thicker and warmer fabric dive suit made of the Polartec or Darlex 2000 material. These suits are quite comfortable to wear on the dive boat as well as in the water.
Sunscreen: It is no secret that strong sunlight can cause both temporary and permanent damage to your skin. While sunburn is the most immediate and visible type of skin damage, there are long term effects, such as wrinkles and cancer. While a suntan may make you look healthy, tanning of the skin is evidence of damage from sun exposure.
Traveling divers are at an especially high risk because they are subjected to the strongest possible sunlight. Every diver should use sunscreens to block the damaging effects of sunlight. Carry an ample supply for use several times daily.
Select a sunscreen that has been approved for both UVB and UVA protection. UVB rays are the part of the sunlight’s spectrum that cause sunburn, while UVA rays are the part of the spectrum that cause wrinkles and possibly skin cancer. The sunscreen you use must block both types of rays.
Select a sunscreen that has a very high SPF number. The higher the number, the more effective the sunscreen will be in blocking strong sunlight. Select a sunscreen that has an SPF rating between 36 and 60.
Select a sunscreen that is water resistant. Such sunscreens are often described as amphibious. This type of sunscreen will last longer than a water soluble sunscreen but is not waterproof. Despite the claims made by manufacturers, just about every sunscreen we have tried eventually washes off during diving. You can cope with this problem by reapplying sunscreen after every dive.
Another important point to keep in mind is that you will need to apply sunscreen to your face, tips of ears and back of neck – even if you are wearing a hat. The broad brim of the hat will shade you from direct sunlight above, but it cannot protect your face from the rays that are reflected off the surface of the water or the white deck of a boat.
Lip protector: Your lips require special protection from the sun, wind and salt spray. If you do not apply a protective coating, you are likely to suffer cracked lips, which can be extremely uncomfortable when using a regulator. The rubbing of the mouthpiece on cracked lips can be very unpleasant.
Select the lip protector that works best for you. Some divers like to use zinc oxide, a coating that completely blocks the sun’s rays, but looks a little strange. Others prefer to use a lip balm, sort of an invisible lipstick. Today’s lip balms are SPF rated so you can select one that has a high number and provides more effective sun blocking. Lip balms are also available in a variety of flavors that have a pleasant taste. As with the sunscreen, you should reapply lip balm after each dive.
Personal towel: Most veteran dive travelers carry a small to medium sized towel in their carry-on bag, even if towels are available from the boat operator. The personal towel comes in handy for wiping your hands after applying sunscreen lotion to yourself or your dive buddy. You want to keep your hands free of such lotions, so they do not accidentally end up on the inside of your facemask or on a camera lens.
The personal towel also comes in handy for drying your face after a dive or mopping the sweat from your face on a particularly hot day.
Tissues: Be sure to bring along a small pack of tissues or pack a handful of tissues in a plastic sandwich bag and tuck them into your carry-on. These tissues will come in handy for blowing your nose after the dive. Many divers experience sinus draining immediately after a dive, generally caused by the venting of air pressure in the sinus cavities during ascent. There is nothing more annoying than a dripping nose after a great dive.
Snack: Post dive snacks are an important part of the diving ritual. Bring along a small supply of crackers, cookies, candies or a piece of fresh fruit. This sort of snack helps clean the saltwater taste from your mouth and, in some cases, helps eliminate that cottonmouth feeling from breathing ultra-dry air.
Beverage: Veteran dive travelers frequently bring along their own beverages for post dive refreshment. These are such nonalcoholic fluids as sodas, fruit juice or non-carbonated sport drinks.
Why do they do it? Some people dislike drinking plain water, especially if it is lukewarm. Many divers dislike the taste of drinking water in foreign countries because it has a different mineral content than that of the water back home. In many cases we see divers bringing along their own brands of water, such as those familiar Evian containers. Whatever beverage you choose, make sure the container is unbreakable.
Windbreaker: Weather conditions in tropical areas are often unpredictable. One minute the sun is shining brightly in a cloudless sky; the next minute the wind is blowing and it begins to rain. Sudden rain squalls or changes in wind conditions can pop up unexpectedly, leaving you vulnerable to the unpleasant effects.
You should always bring along a lightweight windbreaker with hood attached, even if the weather appears calm and sunny. The windbreaker should be lightweight and capable of being folded and packed into a compact plastic wrapper or self-closing plastic bag. Such a windbreaker will protect you from the unpleasant effects of either rain, strong wind or salt spray.
If you are wearing a Lycra dive suit, you will find it very comfortable to slip the windbreaker over the top of the suit when you come out of the water.
Aspirin or aspirin substitute: We have observed one or two divers on every boat trip that complain of headaches after a dive. Such headaches can be diving related or simply a result of the open sea environment.
Bring along a small quantity of aspirin or aspirin substitute for such situations. You may not use it but at least it is handy should you need it.
Adhesive bandages: As with many other outdoor activities, it is not uncommon for a diver to be cut or scratched while on a boat. These minor accidents can occur in a variety of different ways, including being scratched in a collision with the coral reef or experiencing a skin abrasion on a toe from a rubbing fin or bootie. Immersion in seawater softens the skin, making it more vulnerable to abrasions and cuts.
In the tropics, any sort of scratch or cut should receive immediate attention. Pack a small quantity of adhesive bandages and a tube of antibacterial ointment such as Neosporin. The tube and bandages will easily fit into the small metal container the adhesive bandages are sold in.
There are probably a dozen more items you can think of adding to your personal survival kit. Try not to overload your carry-on bag – this will defeat its purpose. The survival kit is designed to provide easy and immediate access to essential survival items.
One more helpful hint that may make your day go better. Make a checklist of the essential items you should pack in your personal survival kit. The checklist will help you avoid forgetting an important item. Also, pack your carry-on bag the night before your day boat trip.
Have a nice day and a great dive!