Do You Know What This Flag Represents? - 02/04/2009

Two recent accidents have us wondering if anyone remembers what this is for -- or if it’s even being used. In one incident, a man had to have his legs amputated. In another, two women were hit. Both accidents had one thing in common. They involved divers. Were their dive flags handy or just ignored?

Divers Down
It has something to do with water, it could save a life, and you should not get near it.

The First Accident

Five divers were spear fishing offshore in Stuart FL. One of them, 26-year-old Robert Murphy Jr. was run over by a boat. He was struck by the boat’s propeller, and injured so severely that doctors were forced to amputate both his legs below the knee.

The Second

Two women in their 20s were struck by a boat while snorkeling in the Atlantic Ocean south of Florida’s Boca Raton inlet. According to a preliminary investigation, the women were snorkeling about 100 yards from shore and about 100 yards south of the inlet when a boat that had left the inlet hit them. Their injuries were not life threatening, and to the operator’s credit, he stopped immediately and called for help.

The Common Ground

What these two accidents both have in common, aside from happening in Florida, is that they both occurred in busy waterways. Since it’s January and I’m looking out my window in Massachusetts and see no boaters or divers on the water, the fact that this happened in Florida is of little surprise. What is surprising is that they both were in busy waterways. And since news reports are typically vague, we don’t know if a dive flag was being utilized in either instance. But, if not, then why not?

What Does a Dive Flag Mean?

This begs for a bit of a reminder of what the dive flag means and what it requires of a boater. Obviously, since it’s called a “dive flag” you can surmise that it means there are divers in the area around it. It is meant to effectively create a zone of safety around it. How far that zone extends depends on local regulations. It is typically between 100 feet and 100 yards. Frankly, if you are unclear on your area, the further the better. It’s not an envelope you want to push. The diver should surface within ½ that distance from the vessel displaying the flag.

But all this is academic if the persons in the water aren’t using one. If that’s the case, then it’s an accident waiting to happen, and that’s small consolation to the innocent boat driver that hit’s them because he/she never knew they were there.