No Dive Flag? It'll Cost You!
Okay, let's start with the obvious. My birth certificate does not say "Curly". It says James. Scandals aside, let's talk about dive flags.
Why are dive flags required?
While getting your "props" is a good thing, getting propped is not.
Have you ever watched the video cassette series Faces of Death? We won't get into whether or not they are dramatizations or real (just like the professional wrestling debate). But if you dig deep enough, you will get the idea.
Why am I hinting at gruesome imagery? Because that is what the DNLR officer wanted to show me, right before he issued both me and my dive buddy separate citations for not having a dive flag. He actually asked me if I wanted to see the pictures of what happens to you if you get run over by a boat. I declined, because I already saw that episode of Faces of Death...
Why didn't I have a dive flag with me? Honestly, I didn't do a pre-dive check (BWRAF) and forgot it in my van. For the record, F is for 'final check' and not 'flag', but maybe it should be!! Not doing your BWRAF, apparently, is not a valid excuse. Neither is ignorance of the law.
Officially, boats (here in Hawaii, at least) are not supposed to make a wake within 200 feet of a flag. Additionally, they are not supposed to approach a flag at all (within a 100 feet) unless they are "conducting dive operations". Divers are required to surface within 100 feet of their own flag.
But the operative words here are "supposed to".
Here is a link of a freediver in Oz, with a dive flag, getting no respect in what could have been a much different situation.
And this link will take you to a clip of a scuba diver actually getting hit by a boat.
One of my boat captain friends, A-Train, has told me that one of his biggest fears is propping a diver. But he is clearly in tune with doing everything he can to keep that from happening. At Ulua Beach, we frequently have boats speed by directly overhead, and this is a known dive site. I don't really expect them to see my bubbles or worry about hitting me or my people but A-Train avoids that area completely, because he knows of the increased liklihood that a diver may surface farther from shore at that site.
Maui motorboats typically stay in certain areas that are not visited by divers but big snorkel boats do pull in close to shore to moor at popular dive spots. Most of the boats here are VERY noisy and you can hear them coming from a long ways away but if you have a hood on or even if you don't, some of the big cats are much more quiet and can sneak up on you. I know because I have been surprised by them. We also want to remember that motorboats are not the only ones that pose a problem. A six man outrigger canoe is hard, heavy and sneaky. I do believe that if an unfortunate diver surfaced right in front of one and got hit in the head/face hard enough, it could knock out the diver. I have not heard of this actually happening, but it is entirely possible, IMO. Kayaks and stand-up paddle boards? Those can hurt you too.
When I teach open water class, I talk about being aware of your depth by using the bottom as reference. I recommend all divers stay more than one and less than two meters off the bottom at our shore dive sites. SITUATIONAL AWARENESS is imperative so that you do not slowly creeeeeeep towards the surface. The more you creep towards the surface, the more likely you are going to lose control and pop up to the surface.
Going back to that Ulua Beach example: While the boats are typically in 30-40 feet of water, I also know that beginning SCUBA divers can lose control of their buoyancy and wind up at the surface, even in deeper water. What does that mean? It means if there is ANY chance that you might surface in the middle of the ocean, you should take your dive flag with you.
In the eight years I have been diving as a professional, I have only been questioned three times about flags by the "Flag Police". Once was by what I would consider an overly zealous officer at Ulua. I was teaching an Open Water class and had a flag in the water but we had drifted down the beach a little while we were at the surface and ??? the rest does not make sense to me but I apologized to the officer and moved on.
The second time, I ended up exiting one beach to the south of my entry (where my dive flag was) and the life guards got very upset. Fortunately for me, they only have the power to scold.
The third time, I was in one of the most remote places, ON THIS ISLAND, but for some reason, John Q. Law was there. He was waiting for me. It was a 2.5 hour dive and I have no idea how long he had to wait for me to surface. But he made it worth his while by issuing the two citations.
Why is it this MUST APPEAR in court offense? The best I can figure, it is because they want to have the ability to throw the book at you if you are a repeat offender. Does that make sense? No, but that really does not matter.
What was my experience in court? Well, after the judge suggested four times that I should REALLY get a lawyer, I started getting nervous. The maximum punishment is something like $1000 and 30 days in jail. But after I said FOUR times that I was sure I didn't want a lawyer, I was fined approximately $130, including court costs.
What was my dive buddy's experience? Well she didn't live on Maui, so she had to hire a lawyer to represent her in court, and it was very expensive. Not only that, but she was fined more money too.
So, what's the take away from all of this?
It is NOT WORTH the risk. Either to your life or to your pocketbook (not to mention the court time) Take a dive flag!
1. Always have a dive flag in the water - it's the law.
2. If you are still working on basic buoyancy control, pull the dive flag with you at all times.
(If you would like to have some help improving your Buoyancy Control, sign up for a Peak Performance Buoyancy class with us and we can help!)
3. If you are doing a one-way dive and are going to exit at a different place than you entered, take the flag with you.
If you've got a dive flag story to share, feel free to post it in the comments below.