Scuba diving is one of the most satisfying, adventurous water activities you can do. It requires certain training, skills, and fitness, and a sense of curiosity and wonder.

Before you head out to the waters for a dive trip, you need to gather some equipment, learn the local laws about diving, and understand safety rules and tips that could keep you out of danger while on the water.

One of the most important things to have on hand before going for a dive is a diver down flag.

What is a Diver Down Flag?

A diver down flag, also known as a scuba flag, is used on the water to indicate the presence of a diver in the area.

There are two common styles of diver down flags.

The Alpha Flag

The Alpha flag is the internationally recognized diver down flag. This flag is white on the left side, and blue on the right side. There’s a triangular notch on the free end of the flag.

The Alpha flag is flown by a dive boat whenever the boat is not mobile. Other boats around the boat flying an Alpha flag must yield to the slow-moving boats, as they cannot move quickly.

The dive boat has to stay close to the divers. This restricted movement hampers the boat from moving quickly, but protects the divers down below.

The Alpha flag is recognized internationally as an indication that divers are beneath the water.

The Scuba Flag

The diver down, scuba flag, or diver-in-the-water flag is a red flag with a white diagonal stripe running from the upper left hand corner to the lower right hand corner.

The diver down flag is used when there are divers in the water. This flag alerts boats that divers are nearby, and that they must use caution to avoid injury people in the water.

When divers have left the water, the diver down flag should be removed from the water to alert boats that they may safely make passage through the area again.

The diver down flag is not required by law in every state, but a number of states have passed legislation that does require the use of this flag. Florida, for example, has strict rules on the use of the diver down flag for safety purposes.

The scuba flag is generally recognized around the world as indication that a diver is in the water.

The Purpose of a Diver Down Flag

The general purpose of a diver down flag is notifying boats that a diver is below and may be near the surface of the water, even if not visible. This guides boats in the area to steer clear of the area so that the diver may continue in safety in the area.

When Should Diver Down Flags Be Used?

Dive flags should be in the water whenever a diver is in an area where there may be boat traffic. Dive boats usually display both the Alpha flag and the diver down flag, at least in North America.

If a dive team is diving from a boat that has these flags, the team does not need to carry its own dive flag, assuming the dive team remains reasonably close to the boat from which they dive. There are predefined proximities given for this rule.

When anyone is shore diving where watercraft could be running, divers should fly their own dive flag to ensure that boats know they are in the vicinity. Divers must stay within a few hundred feet of their flag, or drag the flag along with them to stay within the expected boundaries of protection around the flag.

Precise distances will vary from location to location, but within North America, divers must stay within 50 to 300 feet of their dive flag, depending on the type and location of the dive site.

How Close May Boats Get to a Diver Down Flag?

As the distance from the dive flag may vary for divers, boat drivers are responsible to understand required distances out in the water for different types of dive sites. Boat drivers should then obey these distances, and steer even farther around those areas than the expected possible location of the divers.

How Do Divers Carry a Diver Down Flag?

When divers are not with a boat, they are required to carry their own dive flags, and tow them along with them as they move locations within the water.

Dive flags usually come with a buoy or inflatable raft, which make towing the flags possible in the water. These floating apparatus also keep the flags afloat and visible, with little possibility of them capsizing and becoming hidden.

Divers tow their dive flags by a line attached to a reel. The reel contains a length of line significantly longer than the anticipated depth of the dive to ensure that the flag remains above the waterline.

Cautions for Carrying Your Dive Flag

Never clip the reel of your dive flag to your buoyancy compensator or dive gear when it is attached to the flag. That risks you becoming entangled in the line, which may cause issues. Flags also may be snagged by passing boats, and if you are clipped to the buoy, you may get dragged along by the boat.

Always carry a line-cutting device that could free you from entanglement in the dive flag line or other objects.

All dive flags should be stiff enough to be unfurled and visible even when there is no wind.

What Do You Do if You Surface Too Far from Your Flag?

Of course, we’d all like to think that when we go diving, we’ll end up right where we planned. Reality, however, usually brings us up a bit away from our target. Sometimes, we also have emergencies where a diving buddy might be disoriented, or injured, and surfacing had to take place in a less ideal position than our flags would indicate.

If you find yourself away from your flag, it’s important to have a backup inflatable market buoy that be inflated and raised when you do surface.  This flag should be inflated and sent to the surface before the diver attempts to surface, to help avoid possible collision with boats overhead.

Also, before you surface, be sure to listen for the sound of boat engines, and look around the surface for shadows or other indicators that objects may be on the surface of the water near your surfacing location.

Where to Find Diver Down Flags

You may purchase a diver down flag in any dive shop, companies that cater to diver’s needs, online retailers like Amazon, or even big box stores like Wal-Mart, depending on the location.

Diver close to his boat with a diver down flag

Other Safety Tips for Scuba Diving

Diver down flags are only one of the many precautions divers should take when diving. Some of the other major tips and requirements are included below.

1. Know Local Diving Laws

Certain seasons and locations bring about different restrictions and laws than just general laws might suggest. For example, the village of Islamorada in Florida bans snorkeling and diving within 300 feet of residential and commercial shorelines three days before the beginning of lobster mini-season in July, and for the last five days of the industrial lobster season in August.

2. Always Check Your Gear Before You Go Down

It’s important to check all your gear before you head out for a dive. If you’re taking a boat, double check your gear and supplies list to make sure everything you’ll need is present on the boat. If you’re doing a shore dive, make sure your gear is loaded up before you head to the shoreline.

Then, once you’re ready to dive, check for leaks, holes, punctures, corrosion, or any other damage to all of your hoses, mouthpiece, and other parts of the equipment.

Check breathing gas levels, test gauges, and be sure that everything is in working order within minutes of the time you plan to go down. Last night’s check is not sufficient.

3. Never Dive Alone

It may seem obvious, but diving alone is highly dangerous and should never be done by anyone, no matter how experienced a diver he might be. There could be any number of variable mishaps that take place on the dive, and if you’re alone, that mishap could knock you unconscious or worse.

Having a diving buddy present enables emergencies to be called in and dealt with.

4. Don’t Dive with a Cold

If you’ve got a sinus infection, cold, asthma, or other ailment that causes breathing issues, it’s dangerous to try diving. You may not be able to equalize properly, which can result in instantaneous vertigo, vomiting, nausea, or other symptoms that could lead to issues getting ashore safely.

Diver Down Flags: The Key to Diver Safety

Ultimately, the diver down flag is all about safety for divers where boats may come.

Be sure to always use a diver down flag, even if they’re not locally required by law, to ensure your safety, and the safety of those around you.

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