Boat Diving: Doing What Works Best at Home and Away

A little preparation goes a long way to more enjoyment

Boat DivingMy guess would be that the vast majority of our dream dive vacations involve boat diving. Certainly at this time of year, when some of us are dealing with frosty morning drives to the office, the appeal of any form of warm water diving is strong; short of actually having a bungalow on the beach with a reef break 20 metres from the water’s edge, boat diving is about the most straightforward and most satisfying diving around.

It’s easy to see why. Any way you look at it, a dive boat is the usual mode of transport – and often the ONLY mode of transport – to our preferred dive sites. For example, the best and most famous wreck dives – with the exception of a select few, such the SS President Coolidge, in Vanuatu – have to be done from a dive boat. Want great wall dives? You need a dive boat for almost all of them. Great critter dives? You need a dive boat for those, too.

Now, cave diving and dive boats usually do not go together, but there are even a few great cave dives that call for boat diving – Stargate Blue Hole, in Bahamas and Baltzell Spring, in Florida are two that come to mind.

Just like those two cave dives – which are about as different as chalk and cheese, and which demand very different “approach strategies” – dive boats come in every conceivable shape and size; from small bass boats and skiffs to 30-metre plus live-aboard fitted out with hot tubs, a wine cellar and flat-screen TVs.

However, regardless of whether you find yourself sitting in a RIB crossing the English Channel or lounging in a deckchair with martini in hand looking out over Truk Lagoon, there are a few tips and suggestions that can be applied to just about any boat-based diving adventure.

Here are a few you may find helpful.

  • Get the right baggage. Roller-bags are great for the airport but can be a royal pain for day-to-day service on a boat. Invest in two “boat bags,” one for stuff you want to keep dry and a mesh one for wet stuff. If you are on a live-aboard, you will want to keep your sleeping area uncluttered… and DRY! Getting the right bag is an essential first step to making this happen.
  • Space on dive boats – even big ones – is at a premium. Be sure to take just what you need and try to only pack things that will suit the environment – leave the Christian Louboutin heels at home. You might also take the time to label items that might get mixed up with similar “stuff” that your shipmates might bring along.
  • On just about every dive boat, each diver is allocated a spot/seat. Stick to your area and keep your clutter within the storage space associated with your area. Do not spread out, and be polite if your neighbor’s kit starts to mysteriously drift and mix with yours. Also – and this is important – return to the same spot after your dive. It’s likely the crew will have some set procedure for filling tanks and keeping track of whose are whose. One of the fastest, most efficient ways to upset the deckhands is to play musical chairs.
  • Listen. When you first board the boat, there will most likely be some sort of orientation from the captain, mate or dive supervisor. This little chat should cover safety tips – where first-aid and oxygen is kept for example – and some simple “need-to-know” info such as where the head is located and which areas of the boat are CREW ONLY.
  • Pay attention! When you arrive at the dive site, chances are better than good that someone will conduct a pre-dive briefing. If something is not clear – “did you say the current is six-knots! Really?” – ask questions. Not only is the pre-dive brief important from a safety standpoint, but the man or woman giving the briefing has likely dived the site enough times to know the must-see spots. If you do not listen, you’re likely to miss important stuff about what makes the dive special.
  • The crew will also deliver some tips concerning your entry and exit. DO NOT enter the water until told by a crew member it is OK to do so. Be aware that different boats may have very different procedures, and different dive sites and sea conditions can also have a strong bearing on the optimal way to get off and back onto a dive platform. Pay particular attention to the procedures for getting back on when there is a crop and the back of the boat (or the entry ladder) is moving up and down.
  • Do not be shy about asking for help if you need it. Some divers do not like any interference when they are kitting up for a dive (stay clear of CCR divers doing pre-dive checks for instance!), while for others a helping hand makes everything go much smoother. Do not make the mistake in thinking that only novice divers ask for help. From day-to-day, dive site to dive site, even the most seasoned old salts appreciate a hand now and then.
  • When you do get into the water, pay attention to how the boat looks. Boats do not look the same when you are at sea-level, and you want to make sure you can recognize it when the dive is finished. Do not assume that because yours was the only boat at the site when you hit the water that there will not be a half-dozen more when you surface.
  • Pay attention to how the boat is tied up and if the crew has put out lines to help divers get to and from the anchor line. Avoid getting lines wrapped around your tanks (or anywhere else). When you surface, follow the procedures outlined in the pre-dive briefing, and if there are drift lines use them while you wait for your turn to get back onboard.

Well, that’s a brief overview. If you are a new diver or new to boat diving, the best introduction to the full gamut of boat etiquette is to contact your local SDI Dive Facility and sign-up for a dive specialty course. Most SDI dive centers will bundle a boat diving specialty with wreck, drift or deep, which make for a fun-packed and very useful way to improve your diving skills and enjoyment.

To find a SDI Dive Center near you, simply visit While there, check out the great selection of on line e-Learning programs in preparation for your next adventure!

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