The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Diver Down Flags - Boating, Swimming, SCUBA Safer and Smarter

My father, some of my brothers, and I loved swimming together in a cold river in the northern United States. We enjoyed fun discussions treading water at the turn-around points. One day, a speedboat left the boating lanes and came at us. I stared dumbly at the fast-approaching boat, because why would anyone run right over you when he could plainly see you? Everyone knew that people swim in the water. The prow churned the water right over us. We corkscrewed underwater like five clams in a row snapping shut, to clear the propellers. It is an acoustics fact that words attempted underwater are distorted. Humor columnist Dave Barry once wrote that anything said underwater sounds like "b-mmoogle" but Dad's blue stream was pretty clear through the roil of bubbles

We listened underwater until the propeller sound deepened, showing it was going away. We surfaced, and looked, and saw the boat turn around and head straight back for us. I thought it might be checking if we were all right, but Dad pushed all our heads back under. The boat smashed the water directly overhead again. Maybe the boat came to "finish us" but with the benefit of the doubt, maybe he just wasn't looking where we he was going again.

We dodged trouble. We are divers and have and use diver down flags. Boats not observing them is another problem. Every year, boats hit swimmers and scuba divers, and injure, disfigure, dismember, and kill them. Know your flags and prevent tragedies:

Informal Recreational diving flag

The Diver Down flag has a red background with diagonal white bar. It is notice to boaters that scuba divers are in the area and to keep clear. It was designed in the late 1950's so that boaters would not suddenly find themselves running over divers surfacing in their path. The "Diver-Down Flag" may be attached to a floating surface buoy and dragged around by a diving group if they will be ranging far from the entry point, or used as a stationary line for descents and ascents. It may also be flown by a boat used for divers. Some states prohibit flying the diver-down flag if divers are not in the water at the time. In that case, the dive boat will (is supposed to) raise the flag during dive activity then lower after all divers and swimmers are back onboard

Bandeira Alfa ou Alpha Flag

A second and different diver flag designated by the International Code of Signals (ICS) was designed to protect the diving vessels. Technically, if diving operations restrict the boat's ability to maneuver, for example, attached scientific equipment, communication lines, air hoses, or other attached equipment, then a blue and white "ALPHA (alfa) flag is required. Not all dive boats are restricted so are not required to fly it, but may because it looks nautical and cool and is a diving symbol. The Coast Guard reminds, "The ALFA flag is a navigational signal intended to protect the vessel from collision."

If you are boating, keep your boat clear of Diver Down areas. Please watch the surface for those without diver down flags - swimmers and the slow moving manatee (sea cow). Every year, hundreds of manatees are killed in the state of Florida alone, by collisions with boats. It is their leading cause of death, contributing to rapidly dwindling numbers.

Enjoy your boating with attention and concern. Learn rules of the road and diver flags, don't drink and drive (leading cause of boating accidents). Care for others in the water.

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Diver Down Flag and IC Boat Alpha flad image via Wikipedia

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Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.