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Basic Training: Boat Diving Basics

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Wreck diving adventures on Lake Erie

By James Lapenta

This month let’s take a look at some basic boat diving tips from your Open Water class, along with some that have been gained through experience. Some of which, at the time, were embarrassing but offered a valuable lesson down the road. 

Every basic class has a module on diving from a boat. How much time is spent on that is often dependent on location. Landlocked instructors will spend more time on diving from shore if that’s where the majority of local diving takes place. Those with an ocean or large lake nearby that offers access to boat diving will naturally spend more time on this area. Boat diving can encompass a multitude of vessel types, configurations, conditions, and entry and exit methods. Boats can be anything from a kayak to large liveaboard of 100 feet in length or more. Whatever type of boat is used there are two critical pieces of information that a diver has to know right off the bat. 

The first is, of course, how to get off the boat and into the water safely. The second, equally critical, piece of information is how to get back on it! This latter item is arguably even more important because let’s face it, anyone can fall off of a boat. Few can fall back on one. Entering the water from a boat is dependent on a number of factors. The vessel will often determine if you are using a giant stride, backward roll, controlled seated entry, or a variation of one of these depending upon its configuration and sea conditions. 

Getting in and out of the boat will also be dictated by the captain and crew. During the dock briefing they will cover the procedures for exiting and entering the boat. Following their directions is critical to your safety. So rather than moving around, setting up your gear, and talking to other divers, sit down, close your mouth, and open your ears.  

The giant stride is often the most common from a platform, side opening, or bow entry where the water is fairly calm and the drop is at a manageable height. Some are nearly at the water line, others will require the diver to drop 4-8 feet. While 8 ft. sounds like a lot, it is quite manageable if proper technique is used. Looking straight ahead, making sure that the back leg stays planted, and not trying to jump out will ensure a safe entry. Once the diver hits the water, it is crucial to get a hand up over the head so that if the current pushes you back towards the boat, your hand is what will make contact with the hard surface.

A backward roll is used from smaller boats such as dinghy’s and rigid inflatables. It can also be done from larger vessels when conditions are right. The key is to get your hind end far enough over the rail that when you fall backwards, your calves don’t come into contact with the rail. Another consideration is to bring the mask strap down father on the back of your head to avoid it coming completely off as you hit the water. It can then be put back into its usual position. The backward roll may also be used on a boat with a large number of passengers to speed up getting everyone in the water. Some will enter with a giant stride from the stern or bow and others go off of the side using the backward roll. 

This expedited method of getting people in the water seems to impart a sense of urgency, so it is crucial to do your pre-dive checks and make sure you are getting in with everything you need! Otherwise you may find yourself entering the water like one about-to-be instructor, who shall remain nameless (but his initials are JL), who did a perfect backward roll as a DM on a trip to Bonaire, only to have to swim to the back of the boat and ask for his fins. Thankfully, he wasn’t the only pro to do this once during the trip. 

The controlled seated entry is used when conditions are just about flat calm and you can sit on a platform at the water line and just turn and slide into the water. This is useful when entering the water with marine life that may be skittish and a big splash results in them leaving the area. It can also be used by divers who may find another method difficult. You sit on the platform and don your BC before entering the water. No standing, walking, or climbing a ladder with heavy gear. At the end of the dive, you remove the BC and your weights in the water, a crew member hauls it up and you get out of the water.

In some areas, modified entries are required because of the boat/conditions or amount of gear being used. In the Northeast U.S., a method known as a “Jersey Roll” may be used. Divers carrying multiple cylinders, from some boats, will rest a knee on the rail and just roll into the water. Other locations will have the diver slide into the water and don the BC while next to the vessel. Then they will exit the same way. Hand the weights up, remove the BC and perhaps tie it off to the boat, flop in over the side, and pull the gear up. In some cases, a crew member will grab the diver and haul them in like a big fish. Graceful it’s not, but it is effective! 

Next month we’ll look at some other aspects of boat diving that will include the site briefing, safety equipment, and onboard etiquette.

About James Lapenta

James Lapenta – Scuba Instructor, Author

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

SCUBA: A Practical Guide for the New Diver or SCUBA: A Practical Guide to Advanced Level Training on Amazon. Dive Safe. 

Dive Safe. JL