Safer Dive Boat Operations

Among the primary responsibilities of a boat owner or operator are the safety of the vessel, passengers, crew and captain. Taking care of divers on board requires additional considerations. Here are a few tips to ponder and include in your interactions with your divers to help ensure trouble-free boat diving.  They are based on our experiences and include some often-overlooked areas. 

Boarding the Vessel

It is a good idea to designate specific areas of the boat for specific types of equipment. Point out the cameras-only bin as well as storage areas for spear guns and dry gear.

As any seasoned dive boat crew member will tell you, it is easy to spot who is experienced and inexperienced just by observing how they stow their gear and how they assemble it.  As divers are assembling their equipment, take a moment to see if anyone needs assistance and offer to help if needed.  

Dive Site Briefings

One of the most important aspects of a dive is a proper site briefing.   It is helpful to give particulars about the site, including depths, drop-offs, visibility, thermoclines, currents and known hazards such as certain marine life, overhead environments and entanglement risks.  Be sure to point out some key features that divers may want to look for on their dive. 

Of particular importance are entry and exit procedures.  Emphasize risk areas, such as the ladder or around the propeller(s) — these are of particular concern. If the boat is utilizing a “live boat” pickup of divers, be sure all divers know the procedures for your vessel. Also inform divers what the recall signal will be in the event of an emergency.

During the Dive

As you know, just because divers are no longer on the boat does not mean you can just sit back and relax.  There should always be a lookout monitoring the divers, especially when seas are rougher.   Ensure the dive flag and/or alpha flag are properly displayed.  This is also a good time to resecure any equipment that may have been left unsecured during the gear-up and entry process.

At the End of the Dive

The end of the dive can be one of the most dangerous times for the divers.  Moving ladders, heavy seas, spinning propellers and divers slipping back into the water on top of the next diver waiting to exit are examples of potential hazards.  As divers are ending their dive, help them get back on board using the method(s) covered in your dive briefing.   Encourage divers to keep their regulator in their mouth until they are safely back on board.  Assist with any accessories they may have, such as cameras, SMBs, fins and spear guns.  Help divers secure their gear as they are getting seated and removing their scuba unit.

It is essential to do a formal, recorded roll-call after all divers are thought to be out of the water to ensure you have everyone back on board. And this should of course be done before departing for the next site or returning to the dock. 

Returning to Dock and Disembarking

Assist divers with their gear as they are getting off the boat. This is not only courteous but also helps keep divers safe; engaging in strenuous physical activity after a dive may increase the risk of DCI, so help your guests avoid overexerting themselves.

In Summary

Diver safety is paramount for the dive operator during boat excursions.  The safer, more courteous and more enjoyable you can make the divers, is the sign of a good operation and will help grow your clientele. Take the time to prepare and look after your divers and they will look after you.

Download DAN’s HIRA Guide, Free of Charge

To help you assess risk and run a safer operation, download a copy of the DAN Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment Guide. This comprehensive guide provides detailed explanations of the most common risks dive businesses face. DAN is pleased to offer the digital edition of this guide to all dive businesses at no cost. You will find a detailed section dedicated to dive boat safety.  You can also take DAN’s free Dive Boat Safety Best Practices e-learning course at