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DIVE FLAG RULES
As divers, we are expected to share the water with boaters and this sometimes leads to conflict. The purpose of a dive flag is, basically, to warn boats to avoid the area where divers are underwater. Seems like a simple premise, but ignorance, confusion, and/or recklessness has resulted in many accidents and near-misses. The traditional diver-down flag was developed by divers in 1957. By 1997, nearly every state in the USA had laws requiring the use of a dive flag. Most states require the use of the traditional diver-down flag, some require only the alpha flag, and a few require both. Although federal statutes call for use of the alpha flag, some federal agencies (such as the National Park Service) insist on the traditional flag. Obviously, considerable confusion exists concerning the distinction between the two flags.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is that the traditional red & white diver-down flag is intended to protect divers themselves, while the blue & white alpha flag is intended to protect vessels from collision. The alpha flag is internationally understood to mean: "I have a diver down; This boat is restricted in its ability to maneuver, so keep clear and keep to a slow speed." Generally, only vessels to which the divers are physically connected by communication lines, air hoses, or the like in international water are required to display the alpha flag, but common sense suggests displaying both flags can't hurt.
Ultimately, individual state laws regulate the waters within its territory, unless federal law supercedes state law. I don't know when that happens, so maybe if would be safest to contact the Coast Guard before you go diving. Since Florida statutes regarding use of dive flags changed on October 1st, 2001, we will repeat the current requirements:
Report any violation of these rules to Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission immediately! If you are in Brevard or Indian River Counties, call 1-800- 342-9620 and 1-800- 432-2046 anywhere south of Indian River County.
327.331 Divers; definitions; divers-down flag required; obstruction to navigation of certain waters; penalty.--
(1) As used in this section:
(a) "Diver" means any person who is wholly or partially submerged in the waters of the state and is equipped with a face mask and snorkel or underwater breathing apparatus.
(b) "Underwater breathing apparatus" means any apparatus, whether self-contained or connected to a distant source of air or other gas, whereby a person wholly or partially submerged in water is enabled to obtain or reuse air or any other gas or gases for breathing without returning to the surface of the water.
(c) "Divers-down flag" means a flag that meets the following specifications:
1. The flag must be square or rectangular. If rectangular, the length must not be less than the height, or more than 25 percent longer than the height. The flag must have a wire or other stiffener to hold it fully unfurled and extended in the absence of a wind or breeze.
2. The flag must be red with a white diagonal stripe that begins at the top staff-side of the flag and extends diagonally to the lower opposite corner. The width of the stripe must be 25 percent of the height of the flag.
3. The minimum size for any divers-down flag displayed on a buoy or float towed by the diver is 12 inches by 12 inches. The minimum size for any divers-down flag displayed from a vessel or structure is 20 inches by 24 inches.
4. 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.
(2) All divers must prominently display a divers-down flag in the area in which the diving occurs, other than when diving in an area customarily used for swimming only.
(3) No diver or group of divers shall display one or more divers-down flags on a river, inlet, or navigation channel, except in case of emergency, in a manner which shall unreasonably constitute a navigational hazard.
(4) Divers shall make reasonable efforts to stay within 100 feet of the divers-down flag on rivers, inlets, and navigation channels. 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.
(5) Divers must make reasonable efforts to stay within 300 feet of the divers-down flag on all waters other than rivers, inlets, and navigation channels. 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.
(6) 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.
(7) 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.
(8) Except as provided in s. 327.33, any violation of this section shall be a noncriminal infraction punishable as provided in s. 327.73.
History.--ss. 1, 2, 3, ch. 74-344; s. 64, ch. 74-383; s. 1, ch. 77-174; s. 1, ch. 86-35; ss. 7, 8, ch. 2000-362.
Note.--Former s. 861.065.
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