Boat Diving 101: How to do Boat Diving right
Boat diving is by far the most convenient form of diving: easy access to dive sites off-shore, and minimal walking around with your gear on your back.
Boats are used extensively in diving, and for good reason. While shore diving has much to offer, a number of dive sites can only be reached by boat. And while shore diving will often see you gear up a walk away from the water’s edge, and then wading into the surf. On a boat you simply jump or roll off it once you’ve kitted up, and you’re in the water.
But ask any divemaster and dive boat captain, and they’ll tell you that there are a few do’s and don’ts on board a boat. And sticking with these can make the whole thing run much more efficiently and comfortably.
Types of boats
A number of boat types are used in diving, from small there-and-back-again types to large multiday-trip liveaboards. The most commonly used ones are:
Known in the U.S. as Zodiacs for the most well-known producer, RIB stands for Rigid Inflatable Boat.
It is a durable inflatable boat with a rigid bottom, making them both lightweight and sturdy. They are powered by outboard engines, and can range in size from small 4-people versions to large, powerful 10 or 12 people versions, and even larger.
The ones with the most engine capacity can exceed speeds of 60 nautical miles an hour, or 100 kmh/60 mph.
Good for short trips, and easy to disembark from, as you simply roll out over the side, tank first. Exiting the water is typically done by removing your dive weights and BCD and handing them to the boat crew before half pulling, half swimming your way up over the pontoons.
These are larger, made of steel or wood, and can hold anywhere from 10 to 30 people, typically.
Accommodations onboard can range from the very basic, to the very comfortable, including showers, pantry, toilets, etc. They will not feature overnight capacity, though.
Here, you’ll often disembark using the giant stride entry, and climb back again using a dive ladder.
Large boats, often 100 feet or more, with full living quarters, compressor for filling tanks, room for 20 to 40 people with multi-day capacity.
With these, you live aboard (hence the name) for a longer duration, from a few days to several weeks, and dive with the boat as your primary living and excursion platform.
Read more about living the Liveaboard way
Do’s and don’ts onboard a dive boat
Do as the crew says. There may only be a crew of one. Or maybe there’s a small army onboard.
In any case, follow their instructions, as they’ll know not only how the boat works, but also be better at reading the conditions and adapt the dive plan accordingly.
Keep your dive gear in one place
Do keep you stuff stowed away. Boats are small. Even the big ones. At least, they’re small compared to number of people they cater to.
When you enter the dive boat, you’ll most likely be assigned a spot that is “yours”. Keep to it, and make sure you keep all your gear in your area and your area in an orderly fashion.
This prevents mixups where people grab the wrong gear, or get hurt because heavy weight belts drop on their feet. If you’re not assigned a space, ask where the crew prefers you set up shop.
Do button the hatches
An old nautical expression, but for good reason. Make sure you strap everything down or stow it away in the appropriate areas. Boat bounce when they’re at sea so things can fall down, fall overboard or fall on someone’s feet.
Bad for them and bad for your dive gear.
Don’t get in the crew’s way
This especially goes for when the boat is entering or leaving a harbor, or when it is mooring up at the dive site.
The crew may need to move around the boat quite a bit. So at this time it is particularly important that you keep to your designated area. Or any “lounging” areas that you may have been instructed to stay in.
Do lend a hand if you can, but let the crew run the show. They know what they’re doing. And remember, they’re there to work you’re just there for fun.
Do time your gear assembly
Often, not everyone can be fully geared up at the same time, especially in small boats where space can be limited.
Unless something else has been specified by the crew, assemble your scuba unit well ahead of time so it’s all set. Then wait with donning your suit until you’re at the dive site.
Just as it’s time to get in the water, put on your scuba unit and the remaining gear. Then go scuba diving.
Do take note of your boat
As you descend, note anything that can help you identify the dive boat you just came from.
This can be harder than you think, so make a note of any distinctive features. Do also look for any signs that the boat crew may have placed, such as snaplights, flags, or similar.
Do make your presence known
Make sure the crew knows when you’re back on board. Like a dive boat captain once told me: “captaining a dive boat is stressful, because it is one of the few types of vessels where the passengers habitually fall overboard!”
The boat crew has assumed the responsibility for your safe return. So any time you’re in the water, they’ll naturally feel just a tiny bit of stress until everyone’s back aboard safely.
You can make their lives easier by making them explicitly aware of when you return. And pay attention when the crew does any form of roll calls or head counts.
Your Boat diver experiences
Do you have any really good or really bad boat dive experiences? Something that you’d wish all divers knew, so a boat dive would always go as planned.
Great tip. Thanks.
Remind divers to keep a hand on the dive ladder in rough water while removing fins. It’s easy to get sucked under the ladder when the stern rises. It can really hurt on the way down.
@Dean Dvorak – That’s exactly why I’ve been diving solo for 31 years.
Something that seems to happen on the odd occasion is forgetting to open the regulator! I suppose it is as much the fault of the buddy though.
Here in South Africa we call RIB’s rubber ducks or just Ducks, and in the often chaotic gearing up part, it is easy to forget to check that the valve is open.
Great lesson to share, Thanks. Nothing worse then waiting fully geared and ready, on someone who’s not read yet. Though, I’ve seen gear malfunction even though it was setup and tested in time before the dive. These things sometimes happens.
A wrong decision of the captain, and not just sending the ones ready, off to the dive.
And I like the last part: Keep smiling and be polite. Thanks!
Recently on a drift dive, we went in small groups of three or four. After two of us entered the water, the third diver experienced a regulator malfunction while onboard and scrubbed. The captain waved us off to go as a pair.
At that moment, a totally unprepared (and newly certified) diver decided to join us. We waited on the surface for fifteen minutes while they suited up.
This was the wrong decision by the captain, politely trying to accommodate this latecomer, but it was also rude of the diver as it also held up two other groups that they could have easily dove with. Also at fault was the guy who didn’t test his regulator until just before stepping in.
Lesson learned: be prepared, ready to go and keep it moving. And keep smiling and be polite, no matter what!