May 2015

Boat Diving Etiquette

By Mike Waddington

Boat diving has many advantages over shore diving, such as being able to go much further afield than normal, therefore getting out to the better dive sites. Most beginner divers will conduct most of their dives from the shore, which takes far less planning than boat diving does. This scuba divers guide to boat diving etiquette will hopefully help you make new friends and lifelong dive buddies on your next boat trip, instead of alienating everyone else on board.

Listen to the Boat Briefing

Like me, you probably completely switch off when the cabin crew on an aeroplane gives the safety briefing. Unlike aeroplanes, boats are set up completely differently. When you get on the boat, the captain or a member of the crew should give a detailed briefing. Listen to this briefing and pay attention! It will include safety information, emergency recall procedures and tips such as where the toilet is, where to keep things dry or where you are allowed to smoke.

Be Mindful of Space

Dive boats are not always the biggest boats on the high seas. Usually space is limited, and it has to be shared between all the divers on the boat. You should take only what you need with you, in a small bag. The mesh ones are very good as they allow water to drain efficiently, which means the bag should have a longer life span. You should organise all your equipment before you go. The best way to pack everything is in the order you will use it. So BCD first, then Regulator, followed by exposure suit, mask and fins. This way you don’t have to spread your gear around the boat while setting up. Once you have set up you should find a way to attach your mask, fins any anything else you are taking with you, to your equipment, and then fold up the bag and put it away for later.

No Weights on Benches

Actually this doesn’t just apply to weights, but all heavy objects. Only keep heavy objects on raised areas if there is a place to safely secure them, such as how tank racks are designed to safely hold scuba cylinders. If it is choppy out there anything that is not properly stowed can move about, and a weight belt landing on your foot is rarely an enjoyable experience.

Note Dry Areas and Keep Them Dry

Dive boats will usually be drenched by the end of a day’s diving. But there will always be a dry area where divers can store their clothes, towels, food and anything else that shouldn’t get wet. Be careful that you don’t put wet items in the dry area. If you are soaking wet you should wait to dry off a little before entering any dry areas, so you don’t accidently soak the other diver’s possessions.

Don’t be Late

It may sound like common courtesy, but an annoying large percentage of divers seem to think that a 6 am start actually means 6:20 am. When you are shore diving, it rarely matters if you head off a few minutes later than you had agreed on, but when boat diving punctuality is important. Most dive boats have multiple departures throughout the day, and being late could slow down the entire operation. Take note of the meeting times and departure times when booking in for a dive trip. And you should be there BEFORE the meeting time. 5 minutes before is fine, and if everyone is 5 minutes early then the whole operation would run smoother and the boat may even get out a little early! If you think that you won’t be able to make an early start then don’t sign up for the trip. You won’t get a refund as you took a space that another diver could have used. Dive boats will usually not wait more than a couple of minutes for somebody.

Set up and Check Gear while Traveling to the Dive Site

Unless specifically told otherwise, you should set up your gear and test it while traveling to the dive site. This gives you time to fix any small problems you may have, such as a leaking O-ring. If you wait until reaching the dive site then you risk holding up the rest of the group, and as most dive boats need to be back at certain time, you also risk shortening the dive time.

Plan Visits to the Toilet

Did you know that on a boat the toilet is called ‘Marine Head’ or simply head for short? You can call it what you like, just don’t use it at the dive sites if there are still divers in the water. When flushed it will dump its contents into the water (do you see where this is going?). There are many stories and tales about unwelcome ‘logs’ landing on divers who are completing their safety stops. If you can try to hold it in until everyone is up, and if you can’t then just hold off the flushing until you know it is safe.

Be Ready to go Before Approaching the Entry Point

You should get kitted up and have done your buddy checks before walking up to the entry point. If you wait until you get there you will be holding up everyone else. This means your exposure suit should be done up, weights and scuba unit should be on, mask on your face and regulator in your mouth. Fins depend on water conditions. It can be very difficult and even dangerous to shuffle about in fins if it is choppy. You might need to wait until just before you jump in to put them on.

It’s Not a Competition

One thing that absolutely hate to hear on a dive boat is “What you only have 50 bar left, I have over 90!” No one likes a bragger, and for some reason bragging seems exceptionally annoying when it is to do with air consumption. We are all different, some people use more air, while others use less. Maybe you like to show off that you only used 100 bar over the dive when others used over 150 bar, but maybe it took you 15 minutes to descend with equalisation problems, and I’m sure you wouldn’t like it if the others divers started asking “Why did you waste so much time coming down?!”

The Captain is King

On any boat, no matter who it belongs too, the captain has the final say. If the captain says the boat can’t go somewhere because of conditions then guess what, it won’t go. The captain is in charge of safety off both the boat and all the people on it. Listen to them while they are talking, and follow their instructions. It is also customary in many places to tip the captain, so to avoid being unpopular if you are in a place when tipping is common place get this prepared beforehand.

‘Boat Diving Etiquette’ was written by Mike

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Mike Waddington

I first discovered diving in 2008 after going snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. After trying diving at a flooded quarry in England I decided to head out to warmer more interesting waters in Thailand where I ended on the Island of Koh Tao completing my Open Water course. Instantly addicted with money to spend and plenty of time on my hands I decided to continue until I became a Divemaster so I could live what seemed as the perfect life.

After that I headed to the Caribbean to an island called Utila to complete my instructor course, I spent several months out there completing the MSDT internship, teaching students and leading dives. This is also where I discovered my interest in the technical side of diving, taking part in equipment repair courses and learning about blending gasses and running compressors.

With all my new qualifications it was time to head back to where it had all started, Back to Koh Tao where I intended on living the dream. Once I arrived I quickly found a job and started teaching straight away. During my time on Koh Tao I took part in all many technical diving courses, learning how to dive with re-breathers, in caves and even going down to 90m/300ft!


PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
PADI/DSAT Tech Deep Instructor
PADI/DSAT Gas Trimix Gas Blender
PADI/DSAT Trimix Diver
TDI Intro to Cave Diver
TDI Advanced Wreck Diver
TDI Inspiration rebreather Decompression Procedures
PADI Professional Videographer
BSAC Compressor Operator
TDI Equipment Service Technician

Dream Dive Locations:

Silfra, Iceland
Cenotes, Mexico
Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia
Ice Diving in Russia