Dive Boat Safety

WHETHER YOU’VE BEEN DIVING from boats for years or you’re looking forward to your first liveaboard trip, it’s an excellent time to refresh your knowledge about staying safe on board and evaluating your dive operator’s safety preparedness. The Coast Guard has established guidelines for marine safety, and DAN has adapted those recommendations into an e-learning course that helps dive boat operators, captains, and dive professionals prepare their vessels for dive activities. The information in the course can also help all divers identify safe practices — or potential concerns — when boarding a dive boat.

All boat operators should follow a checklist for necessary equipment, including having the required items on board and ensuring they are in working order. Some of these should be easy to spot — life jackets, fire extinguishers, and first aid and emergency oxygen kits should all be clearly marked and easily accessible. Less obvious preparations such as emergency action plans (EAPs), manual navigation aids (e.g., nautical charts, a compass), or tools and spare parts may not be visible when boarding. Divers should feel comfortable asking a boat crew about their safety preparations to determine if they have taken the necessary precautions.

The vessel should have all appropriate documentation — vessel registration, insurance, and training and certification information about the captain and crew — and the dive operator should be able to confirm that everything is in order as far as the necessary legal requirements. If you ever feel that an operator is not sufficiently attentive to matters of safety, it’s better to ask questions and speak up than end up at sea in a risky situation.

If everything seems normal with the vessel and the crew, the predive briefing is a perfect opportunity for another evaluation before you make your giant stride or back roll. The operator should inform all divers of their method of accounting for everyone after the dive, monitor all divers for thorough buddy checks taking place before every dive, assist novice divers with their predive checks, and go over entry and exit procedures. The divemaster should brief everyone on any hazards, review the dive site’s layout, and communicate the dive plan and all applicable safety information before anyone is in the water. Any deficiency in these procedures should be a red flag that prompts you to consider whether it will be safe to dive. If you think the potential exists for an unsafe situation, you might need to call off the dive.

Of the many DAN e-learning courses aimed at improving dive operation safety, two are especially useful for divers who want to learn or review essential knowledge for safe boating operations. Emergency Planning for Divers helps divers prepare an EAP for any area of concern, including general dive boat operations and fire safety. We designed the Dive Boat Safety Best Practices program with operators in mind, but all divers can gain a deeper understanding of the issues mentioned here by taking the 30-minute course. Both courses and our complete collection of e-learning topics are available at DAN.org/ELearning.