Boat diving is likely the most common and convenient method of getting to a dive site.
On a boat dive, divers load up the marine vessel with their dive gear and are taken directly to the dive site(s).
The alternative to boat diving is shore diving, where divers enter the water from you guessed it, the shore, and do a surface swim to and from the dive site.
While both types of diving have their time, place, and perks, I wanted to write this article to help divers become more confident diving from a boat.
I remember when I was first getting scuba diving certified…
Between the adrenaline rush of a new dive experience about to begin, the thought of being watched by the boat crew, and the predive boat shuffle, I’d get anxious when it became time to dive.
For this reason, this guide will go over boat diving etiquette, the types of boats you can expect, dive boat safety, water entry methods, and much more.
Table of Contents
Why Dive from a Boat?
Divers would decide to do a boat dive for convenience or because it’s the only option available.
Depending on the geography of the area, accessing the site from the shore is either impossible, dangerous, or extremely exhausting.
For example, where I live, in Florida, the barrier reef sits miles offshore. Reaching the dive site would require a long surface swim, which is not only exhausting but also quite dangerous. Florida is almost exclusively boat diving.
On the other extreme, boat diving makes a lot of sense in desolate or remote locations such as Egypt or the islands of Indonesia. There aren’t always going to be accommodations close to the dive sites.
Boat diving is also the only way to drift dive. On a drift dive, divers entry and exit points are never the same, often far apart, and unpredictable. You simply go where the current takes you. In order for the boat to locate a diver at the end of a drift dive, divers fly a dive flag or surface marker buoy where the boat crew picks them up.
Types of Dive Boats
If you’re reading this article, you’re likely going to be boat diving from a day boat or a liveaboard. While there are a few other types of boats you’ll be diving from, their exceptions and not the rule.
Day boats are larger than the small inflatables or wooden boats and are made of steel, wood or fiberglass and hold up to 30 people.
You use day boats when you leave from shore and are doing two or three dives. You will go to the furthest dive first and work your way back using time traveling between sites as your surface intervals.
These are very basic boats, they usually only have a toilet, rinse tanks, some storage, and shelter from the sun. The most common water entry for these boats is the giant stride. You’ll typically reenter the boat from a ladder.
These are the big boats and have full living quarters, compressors for filling tanks, kitchens, and living spaces to hang out. The larger and fancier liveaboards may even have a small boat for shuttling you to the shore or dive sites.
Liveaboards can last from a few days to several weeks, and you do multiple dives a day.
Tips and Etiquette for a Boat Dive
Next, we’ll be outlining basic dive boat etiquette. Unless you’re on a luxury liveaboard, boat diving can be a bit congested. You don’t want to be that guy (or girl) with bad etiquette.
Bring Only The Essentials
Even on a liveaboard, dive boats have limited space.
Make sure you have everything packed and check that everything is there.
Having a dry bag and a dive bag is pretty helpful for keeping track of everything and keeping it dry.
Double Check Your Gear
Save yourself the trouble of going back to the land to get something or even worse, missing your dive. I’ve been on boats where a diver forgot a piece of gear either at home or in their car, causing the boat to run late.
Check your dive gear before you leave as well as after your dive.
If you’re using rental gear you should also make sure that it fits before you get on the boat. It may seem redundant, but the last thing you want is a gear malfunction on a liveaboard, or worse, during a dive.
I love mesh bags, dry bags, and old mask boxes, these things keep your gear together and dry. If you’re a more competent diver, a spare parts kit wouldn’t be a bad idea either!
You can hang these or stow them away with ease. On crowded or small boats things get mixed up, broken, or even can fall overboard.
On day boats and small boats you usually have a set area or box that is yours, stick to it, and if you have any issues speak to the dive instructors or captain.
Don’t be Late
You don’t want to be late for your boat dive.
Holding up the crew and other guests is rude and impolite. In the states, arriving one hour before departure is standard.
This also goes for setting up your equipment, holding other passengers up when they have they have their gear is not right.
When you’re on time you will have ample time to assemble your gear and avoid the feeling of being rushed. The more relaxed you are the less air you use.
Talk to the Crew
Be kind they are people too. It will be a better time for all involved when you ask questions about the dive and what to expect from it.
If you are in a foreign country learn about the local wildlife and customs. Other things to know are if the dive boat crew will assemble your gear for you when you should start getting ready, can you help out in any way.
Listen to the Crew
The captain, instructor, or guide will give a dive briefing before leaving and when you arrive at the site. You have to be cognizant and know what is going on. This is not only for safety but for your enjoyment.
The dive briefing is crucial and you will want to know about the dive site such as:
Hazards and emergency procedures
Changing currents and weather conditions
Dive plan and site topography
Know Your Surroundings
From confined spaces to misplacing your gear, know where you are and what’s around you. There are different rinse buckets on the dive boat for a reason, one for masks and dive computers, one for cameras, and usually one for dive suits.
Where is the ladder, the first aid kit, and most importantly the coffee? While you are taking off your gear and such, be mindful of wet and dry areas.
In the water when ascending know what your boat looks like and any obstructions that could be around.
How to Manage Seasickness
I rarely get seasick, but it happens to the best of us. My best tip to avoid seasickness is to avoid eating too closely before a trip.
If you’ve never been on a boat before or high seas are predicted take seasick medicine. The medicine is cheap, easily accessible, and comes in a variety of applications from patches to pills.
To prevent seasickness stay hydrated, get good rest, eat a solid meal, and avoid alcohol and other drugs. If you do get seasick or feel it coming on focus on the horizon, and get plenty of fresh in the middle of the ship.
Entering the Water
Next, we’ll cover how to enter the water when boat diving.
Before entering the water, it’s common to communicate to your dive buddies or crew whether you’ll be doing a negative entry or a positive entry.
A negative entry is when you deflate your BCD all the way and begin descent immediately. Negative entries typically occur on drift dives.
A positive entry is when you inflate your BCD, causing you to stay afloat on top of the water, where you’ll signal to the boat crew that you’re ok, and to sync up with other divers.
We’ll now cover the two main water entry methods to kick off a boat dive.
The first and most common method for water entry on a boat trip is the giant stride. On a giant stride, divers waddle to the edge of the boat, typically from the starboard, port, or stern side. When ready, lift up your lead leg and take a big step into the ocean.
There is a very overused joke in the scuba diving world that goes as follows:
Why do scuba divers roll backward off boats?
Because if they rolled forwards, they’d still be on the boat.
It’s a pretty poor joke, but the point stands that the backward roll is a common entry method.
Getting Back on Board
Once you’ve concluded your dive, it’s now time to get back on board. If it’s a drift dive, the boat will come to pick you up, and if not, you should surface and go back to the boat.
Most boats will have ladders for you to climb back up on. After reaching the ladder but before getting on board, take off your fins. There will usually be a dive instructor waiting to grab your fins from you, but if not but carry them around your wrist.
In high seas, certain ladders can swing back and forth, so be very careful when approaching. Hold on to the ladder with both hands, avoiding any pinch points or hinges where you could potentially get hurt.
Once on board, a crew member will typically escort you back to your spot while grabbing your tank.
That’s all we have for today on boat diving.
For most divers, boat dives are going to be the most frequent way you get to the dive site.
While every diver should try shore diving a couple of times in their life, you’ll need to know boat diving etiquette if you’re going to make it in the diving world.
My main advice is to just always be on time for the dive, be friendly to staff and other passengers, and be safe. Dive instructors, captains, and boat staff just want to get everyone home safe. If you’re a good customer they will take care of you.
Safe boat diving everyone!