I’m starting to notice a big problem around here with people who only seem to know part of the rules. “300 feet…300 feet!” they yell as if it’s the only words they know. Usually they’re anchored right in front of an inlet or in the middle of a narrow channel.
Well, there’s a lot more to the rules in the state of Florida than keeping 300 feet from a vessel with a dive flag. And it’s not a strict 300 feet. If it was only a single boat would be allowed on most of the reefs at one time, because most of the moorings are closer than 300 feet together.
All of the rules for the diver down flag can be found in Florida Statute 327.331.
What The Florida Statute States About Distance
“Any person operating a vessel on waters other than a river, inlet, or navigation channel must make a reasonable effort to maintain a distance of at least 300 feet from any Divers-down flag.”
“Any person operating a vessel on a river, inlet, or navigation channel must make a reasonable effort to maintain a distance of at least 100 feet from any Divers-down flag.”
If you’re diving in a channel or inlet, vessels are allowed to come within 100 feet of you, not 300 feet. If you read that again, it also says “must make a reasonable effort.”
If your impededing navigation it’s well with a vessel operator’s right to come even closer than 300 feet in open water or closer than 100 feet in a channel, as long as they obey the following.
More About Distance
“Any vessel other than a law enforcement or rescue vessel that approaches within 100 feet of a Divers-down flag on a river, inlet, or navigation channel, or within 300 feet of a Divers-down flag on waters other than a river, inlet, or navigation channel, must proceed no faster than is necessary to maintain headway and steerageway.”
Depending on wind and waves, and inside of an inlet, tides, the speed needed to maintain headway and steerageway could be faster than idle speed.
Proper Display Of The Flag
“Any Divers-down flag displayed from a vessel must be displayed from the highest point of the vessel or such other location which provides that the visibility of the Divers-down flag is not obstructed in any direction.”
I often see boats with flags tied to a rail or the side of a bimini, and the people on board get upset when you come too close, at too fast of a speed, in their opinion. It’s not the fault of the other vessel, when you display your flag in a way that it can’t be seen until they’re right on top of you.
If you’re on a known snorkeling/diving reef, I’m going to assume you may have people in the water. But when you’re anchoring in the middle of nowhere, how am I supposed to know that you have divers down when you have the flag displayed in a way that no one can see it.
It Should Only Be Displayed When Divers Are In The Water
“The Divers-down flag must be lowered once all Divers are aboard or ashore. No person may operate any vessel displaying a Divers-down flag unless the vessel has one or more Divers in the water.”
I constantly see boats driving around with their flag up. If you’re underway with no one in the water, with your flag up, you’re displaying a false signal.
The first day of lobster season, I had someone give me attitude for coming too close. Flag or no flag I already tend to give other boats more room than the average boater down here.
This boat was nowhere near a reef, with no one in the water, and a puny sized flag displayed in a way that I couldn’t see until I was right on top of them. This boat was incorrectly displaying the flag as well as displaying a false signal.
More On False Signals
The other thing I often see is a diver down flag on anchored boats with no one in the water, with people fishing. Maybe they were snorkeling and forgot to take it down, but I don’t think so.
I believe these boats are purposely displaying the diver down flag, because they don’t want other boats to come too close when they have their hooks in the water. This is illegal!
Knowing all of these rules, not just part of them, along with a little common sense will go a long way in making everyone safer out on the water.