There are a lot of great ways to enjoy the open waters in the rivers, lakes, and oceans that are around you. Boating is an exciting pastime that many people love to take part in during the warm months of the spring and summer. Underwater adventures such as snorkeling and SCUBA diving are other hobbies that are enjoyed by many. Unfortunately, when these two pastimes meet, the result can be deadly. The key to keeping people safe while boating is to avoid snorkelers and scuba divers. The primary tool used by these divers to be seen and avoided is through the use of dive flags.
The standard American dive flag is a solid red flag with a white diagonal stripe from the upper left corner, across the center of the flag, and to the lower right corner. It was based on the solid red “Bravo” flag used to denote danger in the Navy. Developed in 1953, the dive flag has become a ubiquitous symbol for divers and diving culture. Its primary purpose, however, is still to indicate to other vessels on the sea that divers are present in the immediate area around the flag, and that caution should be to used to avoid the area to prevent hitting and potentially injuring or killing one of the divers present in the water.
Although the flag was originally developed for the use of divers, others who enjoy time in the water can benefit from the presence of a diver flag in the area in which they are enjoying the water as well. The presence of a diver flag is a highly visible and immediately recognizable signal that all boaters are aware of, and the message it delivers is clear: STAY AWAY. Because of this, the dive flag can be used any time that people are in the water, even if they are not necessarily SCUBA diving. Because the dive flag typically stands several feet high, it can be visible from a much farther distance than the other signs that a swimmer or snorkeler are in the water, such a snorkel tube or a head sticking out of the water. Such items might be mistaken for debris floating in the water. If so, a boater might not realize that they have put someone in danger until it is too late. A diver flag, on the other hand, has no such confusion attached to it. Its identity is unmistakable.
Almost as important as the safety of the swimmers and snorkelers accompanying boaters in the water is compliance with the law. Many states and municipalities require that anyone going into the water in an area where boaters might be present display warning signs such as the dive flag to alert other boaters to their presence. Although there is a responsibility put upon boaters to safely manage their watercraft, it is also the responsibility of those in the water to take steps to make themselves noticeable.
Most laws governing the use of dive flags require that boaters maintain a distance of at least 100 feet from any vessel or float that is displaying a dive flag. These laws also mandate that persons in the water stay within 50 feet of the vessel when on the surface of the water. It is also a requirement that the vessel be anchored while displaying the dive flag – a boat is not allowed to fly a dive flag while it is underway.
By following the rules of the water, swimmers, snorkelers and divers can safely share the water with boating enthusiasts. In doing so, our rivers, lakes, bays, and ocean can remain a safe place to enjoy some recreation for everyone.