By James Lapenta
Last month we looked at some basic tips for getting off and on the boat. This month we’ll take a brief look at safety equipment, etiquette, and site briefings. All of these are essential to having an enjoyable, fun, and most of all – safe experience.
Once you are on the vessel, a member of the crew should have everyone sit down (if possible) and pay attention while they point out the safety equipment available. Depending on the size and configuration, safety equipment could include life jackets, raft(s), medical kits, emergency O2, flares, radio, life rings, and any other item that the operator feels is essential to have on board. Some equipment may actually be required under local or national laws.
All of the equipment should be accessible, up to date, and in good working order. While the owner of the boat and the crew are responsible for making sure this is true, it is your responsibility to verify and if necessary, ask for a demonstration or explanation of its use. Not only are you a paying passenger, but in an emergency, you may be called upon to assist and you’ll need to know what, where, when, and how to assist.
BC’s are not life jackets. Get clear on that. In the US all commercial vessels must have enough personal flotation devices for all on board. On a dive boat, emergency O2, and a first aid kit capable of dealing with minor injuries should also be present. If you are not sure how to use the available items, it may be time to take that rescue class you’ve been putting off.
Other items it may have would be an AED (automated external defibrillator) and a back board for immobilizing a diver. A life ring with sufficient line to toss to a struggling diver may also be available. None of the safety related items should be hidden or take great effort to locate and make use of.
Keeping the deck of the boat safe for all is the job of everyone on board and dive boat etiquette is crucial to this. Etiquette is not just being a decent person and treating others with respect. Although that should be part of it when you have a group of people in close quarters with little room to escape a jerk. Etiquette is listening to the safety /site briefings and remaining quiet during them. Stowing your gear in designated areas, not spreading it all over the deck, the benches, and in areas of travel is critical to maintaining safe passage ways and harmony between the divers.
Few things are worse than a diver who decides that he/she can take up as much space as they want on a small vessel. In addition to being a safety hazard, it’s also just plain rude and inconsiderate. The other passengers paid the same rate and when one decides to ignore the rules and basic decency, they ruin the trip for everyone.
Etiquette also dictates that when a member of the crew is speaking and relaying instructions that affect the operation of the vessel, passenger safety, and safety of the crew, all divers should sit down, open their ears, and close their mouths. Even if you have been on the boat many times in the past, there may be those who have not. They have the right to be able to hear information that will affect their experience.
Joking with others, wandering around, loudly messing with your gear, and just being a distraction could have serious consequences if a new person misses a critical piece of information. One thing that is acceptable is for another passenger or crew member to tell someone they are interfering with the process. How they do that depends on the situation as there are times when diplomacy may not work and a direct approach is called for. I’d rather have one person be a little mad than have to come in with an injured, or worse, diver that was the result of boorish behavior.
Depending on the operating procedures, etiquette also dictates when the gear is assembled. Usually, at the beginning of the trip, it is done on the dock and loaded onto the boat, while tied up at the dock, or on larger stable vessels- while under way. The best advice is to follow the directions of the crew for this. Between dives, there may also be specific times that it is ok to start swapping cylinders and times when you really don’t want to.
During the permissible times, common courtesy goes a long way. Most day boats are limited in deck space, allowing the person next to you to get their work done before changing your cylinder will give everyone a little more elbow room and make the task easier.
Once you’ve arrived on site, it is very likely that a crew member will give a site briefing. The type of briefing, information included, and visual aids will vary with every boat. The briefing may be highly formal with the use of white boards, photographs, detailed information on depth, currents, hazards, entry and exit procedures, and emergency protocols. It may be informal with only general information if the dive is considered very easy. This can, however, lead to issues if someone is used to more detailed briefings and they start to feel anxious. It is up to each diver to clarify any item they are concerned about!
Lastly, if the site has a great deal to offer in a large area, don’t try to see it all! A common issue is divers running low on air due to swimming hard and fast to try and see everything. You simply won’t be able to. Pick a section, ask for more details, and make that your goal. Use the site briefing to your advantage. Plan your dive and dive that plan. The rest will be there for another trip.
About James Lapenta
James Lapenta from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, a Diver, dive Instructor, Author and owner of UDM Aquatic Services has been diving since 2004.
He is a Scuba Educators Instructor # 204, SDI/TDI Instructor # 16810, CMAS 2 Star Instructor # USAF0012000204
For more on basic skills and education pick up a copy of either of my books