Staying Safe Aboard

If you’ve never dived from a boat before, there are a few things you should keep in mind from the moment you step aboard. Even if you’ve been around boats all your life, a dive charter is a different beast altogether. Here are some tips that can keep you safe and relaxed.

First, remember that all the divers will be moving their own gear about in close quarters simultaneously. You need a relaxed awareness of your surroundings, very similar to the situational awareness you strive for underwater. Second, pay attention to anything the crew say, particularly their boat briefings. Third, be friendly. Make eye contact, introduce yourself, compliment someone on their colorful wetsuit. If you don’t have a buddy yet, the first few minutes are a great time to see who else is looking.

Keep yourself healthy. If it’s hot and sunny, choose a shaded gear-up spot if they’re on offer. If it’s windy, find a sheltered spot if you can. The spots closest to the entry (the gates or swim deck) are not necessarily the best, and they get a lot of foot traffic.

A good approach is to unpack and assemble your gear before the boat gets underway and starts rocking. This is where having packed your gear in the bag in the order you will need it (BC on the top, regulator next, etc.) becomes really useful. As you gain experience in boat diving you’ll establish an order and a rhythm. You can give yourself a head start on that by visualizing the process at home or in your hotel room, just before you pack your gear.

Boats usually provide the tanks, which should either sit in a depression which holds them upright or be bungeed to the rail. If bungees are used, be sure to take them off before attaching your regulator first stage, and then replace the bungees for the ride out. Once you have your BC and regulator on the tank, check that you have a full one. Then you can turn your attention to the small stuff–mask, snorkel, defog, any accessories you carry. If it’s crowded, you can place all of that gear on the bench, between your BC wings (or the cummerbund halves) so it’s ready for you when you start to gear up.

The boat should have a place to stow empty dive bags for the day (or the week, on a liveaboard). The rest of your gear can sit in front of your BC, or under the seat. It’s important to keep the aisles clear. You may find that a small plastic lidded container (like a Tupperware bowl) is useful to hold your defog and any other small items you need when gearing up but won’t be taking into the water with you. Most boats have lots of tools and some spare parts aboard, so it’s rare to see divers bring large save-a-dive kits with them on a day charter.

If you’re using the boat’s weight, don’t put that off to the last moment. The selections may be limited, the weights unmarked. Whether you’re using integrated weight pouches or a belt, it’s good practice to stow your assembled weight under the bench for the ride out so there’s no chance of it falling on anyone or anything.

Now look around for any low overheads, standing rigging, or other impediments to moving about. Make a note of them now, before you’re constrained by a mask and carrying your gear. The decks may be pitching when you’re at sea, so look for safe handholds (rails, superstructure) on the route from your tank seat to the swim deck. Smaller boats that are not dedicated scuba charters (a friend’s sailboat, for instance) may have stanchions and lifelines that can’t take the stress of an adult plus scuba gear.

To stay cool on a hot day, don’t put your wetsuit on until you and your buddy have assembled and checked your gear. Take your time. Follow your usual checklists and routines. Often you’ll find the deck crew are also checking that everyone’s air is turned on, once before leaving the bench and once before stepping into the water. Some crews are eager to help you into your BC as well–if that’s not your preference, just stop and tell them you’ve got it, they can help someone else. Be sure to remove any tank bungees before getting into your BC!

Moving back to the swim deck (or to any exit point generally), if the deck is swaying you should keep your knees flexed and one hand on a support as you slowly make your way. Decks should have non-skid surfaces, but mind your footing. Carry your fins to the exit point (unless the boat’s procedure is to stow them there for you) and put them on using your best stabilizing figure-four technique. Have a safe entry and a great dive!