Updated: Jun 12, 2022
Over the last few years I observed more and more frequently close encounters between scuba divers down and various watercraft, even though the divers were either in clearly buoy-designated areas or were floating their own buoy with the “Diver-Down” flag. Most of these near incidents involved rented leisure boats and jet skis, although there were some instances where kite surfers and windsurfers played their role as well.
Are these accidents-in-waiting happening because of lack of understanding on part of the watercraft users as to how potentially dangerous, or even deadly, ignoring the divers’ buoys could be? Is it because they were not properly briefed or trained, or is it just sheer ignorance or simply disregard for other people’s safety? It should not be so difficult to understand that the red flag with a white diagonal stripe running from the top left to the bottom right corners means “divers down”. This flag has been flown for nearly seventy years since it was invented in the 1950’s by Denzel James Dockery, who wanted a flag that would keep boats at a safe distance from dive boats. He combined the Navy's red 'Bravo flag' that was used to connote danger and a horizontal white stripe sewed across it. It is universally recognised as the sign for diving.
I expect that most professional and experienced skippers, windsurfers and kite surfers understand and respect the rules of the “diver-down” flag. The occasional equipment renters need to be made aware of the potential consequences of their actions and they need to be briefed to stay as far away from a “diver-down” flag as is reasonable and prudent for the circumstances. The suggested safe distance is of at least 300 feet (90m) from diver down flags and buoys in open water and at least 100 feet (30m) in inlets or navigation channels.
Based on personal experience, I am quite surprised that the issue of observing the diver-down flag varies considerably from country to country. I found that Australia and South Africa are generally the most respectful when it comes to scuba divers. Elsewhere, it seems inconsistent.
What is your experience? Please let us know. Let’s compare notes.