Diving with charm and discretion
Etiquette for ... BOAT-DIVERS BUDDIES REEF-DIVERS DIVE-GUIDESYou can dive, sure, but are you confident that you can behave with decorum on a boat, acquit yourself well with strange buddies, disarm the inhabitants of a reef, and cut it as a dive guide without causing offence Diver offers some useful tips in its own Etiquette Guide ETIQUETTE FOR ...   BOAT-DIVERS  Divernet

by Louise Trewavas
Never mind, worse things happen at sea! Thats a phrase some people use to reassure themselves when everything appears to be going tits up. So if you are going to sea, its probably best to observe a few niceties or you might find out what those worse things actually are. A bit of boat etiquette might mean the difference between a top dive experience and being forced to walk the plank with all your dive gear.

ARRIVE ON TIME: Boat skippers invented the saying Time and tide wait for no man. If you saunter up to the departure point later than expected, youre likely to find the boat gone.
If you are on a club dive, you are going to make yourself hideously unpopular with the dive marshal, and with the other divers who have been waiting on the RIB in their drysuits.
The departure time has been lovingly calculated around when slack would occur, and how long it will take to get everybody out to the site and ready to dive.
Your dive is now likely to be spent clinging to the wreck, trying to stop the mask being ripped off your face by the tide.
The plans for everyone to come back up the shotline will have to be abandoned, unless everybody fancies doing human flag impersonations. Youll have to bag off and drift while the boat-handler tries to keep track of everybody. And all because you couldnt haul yourself out of bed on time!

HELP OUT OR DROP OUT: Sauntering on board, snaffling the best position for yourself and your kit, then watching with amusement while everybody else loads the O2 set, shotline, toolkit, flares and so on is considered very bad form.
Diving is a team sport, and that includes helping to load and unload the boat. If you dont help your fellow-divers, youre likely to find no one there to give you a helping hand when youre struggling to get back on board after your dive, or that while everybody else gets a hot mug of tea, the skipper has mysteriously overlooked you.
One of my favourite dive buddies, John Barry, has superb boat etiquette and is always mega-helpful, sometimes above and beyond the call of duty.
Weve been standing waist-deep in the water holding the branch RIB, and now we have to haul ourselves on board, not the easiest or most dignified of tasks.
Dont worry, says John, Ill stick my knee out and you can use that as a step.
Fantastic! Except that its either a smidge deeper than anticipated or Im a tad heavier than expected, and when I stand on his knee he completely disappears beneath the water...

THERES ONLY ONE CAPTAIN: Being out in a small boat on a big sea is not the time to start holding democratic debates about what to do. If the boat captain asks you to do something, do it. Right away.
Theres usually a very good reason for his request. An invitation to move further up the RIB is designed to get a more even distribution of weight and stop it from flipping over as you accelerate away - good fun for onlookers but embarrassing for those on board; and youll have lost all your dive gear.
A request to move out of the way of that bit of chain is actually an invitation to avoid doing a re-enactment of Holly Hunter in The Piano: being dragged overboard and plummeting to the depths attached to a heavy object.
Skippers who make their livelihood by taking divers out usually know more than you do about locating wrecks and diveable sea conditions. So even if you have just completed your diver coxn qualification or your charts and navigation speciality, trying to tell the skipper how to handle the boat is unlikely to endear you to him. You could end up being asked to go and retrieve the anchor. By free-diving.

LISTEN TO THE BRIEFING: Each boat has its own system for stowing kit and where you place items that need to be kept dry (car keys, mobile phone, collection of Chanel lipsticks, etc). Do pay attention or risk the wrath of the skipper and your fellow-divers.
If the boat has a cabin, it is not a good idea to drag your wet dive kit in there to dry it off. If it has a toilet, pay attention to how to use it and ask if unsure. Blocking it by using half a copy of the Sun will make everybody very unhappy, especially if it is the only loo available on a six-hour round trip.
Getting separated from your boat at the surface is a major diving hazard, so listen carefully to what the captain tells you about surfacing procedures. Dont cause grief by suddenly deciding to go for a prolonged solo drift when the rest of your party is staying on the wreck and using the shotline to surface.
If the skipper or marshal asks everybody to use a delayed SMB, dont wait until youre on the seabed before discovering that youve left your reel on the boat.
If you have a passion for doing really long dives or loads of deco, its good manners to check out your diveplan with the skipper or marshal first, or you might surface to the sound of rescue helicopters performing a search pattern overhead, and end up explaining yourself to less-than-amused Coastguard.

GETTING OFF AND ON: My number one concern on a boat is usually: How do I get off Closely followed by: How do I get back on Diving off a RIB is as easy as falling off a log, but getting back aboard means de-kitting in the water and passing your kit up to someone. So tell whoever is helping you about the idiosyncrasies of your kit - eg: Be careful, my weightbelt is very heavy - before handing it over. Or that your torch is still clipped on, before they attempt to haul both you and your kit aboard by your torch strap.
Hardboats are a different kettle of fish, and most skippers will tell you whats required. Entry can be anything from: Stand on that platform and take a giant stride off when you hear my signal to: Cock one leg over that rail, wait till were in position and then fall over sideways.
Getting back onboard can be equally farcical. Dive ladders seem to have been designed by sadists with a warped sense of humour. Particularly critical is the moment when you reach the top, exhausted, and then have to transfer yourself safely back on board. So do check in advance on what youre going to grab hold of. Launching yourself fully kitted at the skipper is to be discouraged.

Falling off the ladder has an etiquette of its own:
1) Keep your reg in your mouth unless youre fond of the taste of seawater
2) Try to fall away from the ladder so you dont get tangled or caught.
3) Falling on top of someone else is generally regarded as their problem for being daft enough to hang around underneath the ladder, but avoid wherever possible
4) A hearty scream for the benefit of your fellow-divers, who are likely to be awarding points for dramatic interpretation, is considered de rigeur. Helium in your mix and extra large twinsets that make a huge splash can earn you top scores in the memorable dive cock-ups league

If, like me, you love a bit of pampering, book a boat with a hydraulic lift on the back. Graham Knotts Wey Chieftain II operating out of Weymouth is worth booking just for the pleasure of using the lift. Or dive somewhere with at least four burly boat crew to grab you fully kitted out of the water, strip your equipment off, and deposit you neatly into a sun-lounger, cocktail in hand... dream on!

THROWING UP: Boats, sea, waves... I can see some of you turning green at the very thought.
If you do have to throw up, there are polite and not-so-polite ways to do it.
The courteous method is to deploy yourself downwind of your fellow-divers, lean over the side, and empty your guts neatly and silently into the sea. Unfortunately, when youre feeling like death, manners tend to be the first thing to disappear.
Vomiting on the deck, on other peoples kit, and on other divers is bad form. Chucking up on the skipper is unforgivable and you are likely to find the boat booked when you plan your next dive trip.
On a similar note, a few moans and a bit of gagging is understandable but full-blooded retching, excessive swearing, and death-threats against your buddy for encouraging you to come along are a definite no-no. Likewise your offers to sell your kit for a fiver to the first bidder should be politely disregarded by other divers present.
If they are well-behaved, they will be offering you water, clean tissues and calm words. Holding a buddys hair away from her face during throwing up will earn you extra goodie points. Laughing, pointing, and swaying backwards and forwards in unison is just plain naughty.

CANCELLING THE DIVE: If you cannot make a dive that youve booked, it is polite to phone and let the dive organiser know. Its likely that you will lose your deposit and you may end up getting charged for the dive anyway, but informing in advance means they might be able fill your place. Imagine a boatload of people waiting on the slipway and cursing your name, in the mistaken belief that you are still coming.
If you think conditions are too rough to dive, dont just turn round and head for home, consult the skipper. He might have listened to the forecast and know its about to ease off, or that once you get round a particular bit of coastline it will be sheltered.
If he thinks its OK but you decide to cancel anyway, you will be expected to pay. If he agrees that the conditions are undiveable, and calls off the dive, you shouldnt be charged. Not that skippers are mean, but you might need to call his bluff by loading your kit and looking as if youre up for it before some will finally break down and admit that not even Atila the Hun with gills could safely dive in a 10m swell.

BIG THANKS: If you have had a good dive, it is probably because the person in charge of the diving took the time and effort to plan it well and provide you with the appropriate information and instructions. So dont just grab your kit and leg it off to the pub. Make sure everything is paid up, all the kit is unloaded, and everything is sorted before you leave.
A big thanks costs nothing, and will endear you to the sternest boat-handler or the rufty-tuftiest of skippers.
A big snog is not advisable unless youre on familiar territory - but thats a completely different article...!


by Graham Sands
Perhaps Ill ask the tekkie-looking guy, the one with the bullet head and the mean kit. Or then again, perhaps not; he looks like a member of the solo-on-air-to-the-abyssal-plains brigade, and now turns out to be a she. Ill just busy myself assembling my own kit while I suss out who to approach.
This tends to happen a lot on these holiday dives. At home, with the club, its obvious who to ask and who to avoid, and we soon buddy up, if only to frustrate the dive marshals neurotically calculated list. But out here in sunny Santa Ammonia, were a boatload of strangers puttering out from harbour, past guide piles where pelicans preen, towards an indigo horizon.
Swell up theme tune from Gilligans Island: A three-hour cruise...

Theres safety and compatibility to consider, obviously, but then theres buddy etiquette. Who is it polite to ask, or wise to refuse
For example, on no account will I approach those two prickly lovebirds. In the disaster movie that this might yet become, theyre the warring young couple whose spats and misunder-standings will occupy many a lightning-streaked tropical evening. Hell think Im muscling in, and all his underwater mental energies will be devoted to this perceived threat, like a male cuttlefish splaying its tentacles at every other passing male.
The opposite problem is that I might need tactfully to decline Rocky, who admits hes a tad rusty (or is it Rusty, whos a tad rocky) It all depends how rusty or rocky or taddy he is.
What I would like to help him achieve is that, come next Monday, he will be striding back to his real estate office in Baton Rouge with a broad grin, great memories and 10 solid dives in his logbook.
But if Im not confident about my ability to do that, then its the dive masters job, not mine, to get near-drowned.
The dive master can complicate the situation if, like the average dive outfit, his is two instructors short today and running on borrowed engines. Say, youre Briddish, thats neat, and youre real experienced... What he means is, surely I can escort his least-wanted student, as the smell of my logbook suggests Ive done thousands of dives. Lie it here in the sun, and it reeks of oil, gull puke and squashed chip butty, the authentic Conradian tang of UK inshore navigation, but hes too polite to say so.
Im tempted to ask that nice Dutch woman who doesnt admit to understanding English, if only I can work out a hand signal that doesnt look like a lewd proposition at a deaf-mute social event. Get it wrong and itll be like that long, lonely walk back across the dancefloor, when the wallflower at the other end spurns your offer, only this time the floorboards really will be heaving.
Get it right and well descend into a world where our language differences will vanish, which is why I believe strongly that all the worlds politicians should be forcibly submerged.
No, on reflection, Ill ask that property developer and his wife, from Hypotenuse, Georgia. Make it a triangular affair.
(Later) Well, the dive was fine, but towards the end of it, I became aware that suddenly we were four. A mystery woman had attached herself to me, as they do in dreams and anti-perspirant ads: Were heading back to the boat now - OK I signalled. OK. You and me better buddy up, then. OK, on we go.
Safety stop at 6m, drift upwards to 3m and join the queue for the boat ladder. Surface, masks off. Hi, I greeted her. She looked at me, screamed, and plunged back into the depths.
Now I call that downright rude.


by John Bantin
The dive boat reaches the site, and more than a dozen divers crash into the water. This is no disciplined military team on a synchronised mission, but a group of individuals, possibly loosely grouped in buddy pairs, all resolutely pursuing their own interests. Some just want to get through the dive. Others want to loiter and study the minutiae of life on the reef. Some want to take photographs.
Women are usually better at making themselves part of the scene, whereas men are more likely to want to inflict themselves on it. What all divers must remember is that their freedom ends where the next divers begins.
For example, it is not polite to do a three-hour rebreather dive which leaves everyone else sitting up at the surface in the sun aboard the boat waiting after one hour on open-circuit.
Neither is it courteous to spoil another persons dive, for whatever reason.

We no longer think it clever to ride on turtles or mantas, make pufferfish inflate or take lumps of coral home as souvenirs. Gone are the days when the most common question about wildlife was: What was it before you trod on it
Nevertheless, there are still plenty of incompetent divers who are unable to look at something without being drawn onto a collision course with it.
They often have a particularly strange attitude to animals which hole up during daylight hours. Insist on dragging a whitetip reef shark, however small, from under an overhang and dont be surprised if it bites you. Mediterranean octopuses start looking very forlorn by July - many had been brooding eggs until clumsy divers decided they wanted to play with them.
The Antennariidae family rue the day they were discovered and became the focus of the game Spot the Frogfish. Moray eels have learned to bite back. And the most genteel, well-educated people on land can turn into mindless vandals under water when a lobster is in their sights.
Looking but not touching is the fundamental rule, but reef etiquette is designed not only to protect marine life but to enable you to appreciate it to the full. So whats the difference between a rhinoceros and a thresher shark Less than you might think!
To get close to a rhino in the wild, you must approach quietly from downwind, taking cover behind bushes or trees. If you just rush up, the rhino will either run away or charge you.
Its the same with most animals, such as fish. Those that hang around passively usually have something horrible to share - like a venomous sting.
Most of us see rhinos only at the zoo. They are used to being gawped at and know the rules. Fish in aquariums are the same. They dont swim off, but then, they have nowhere to go.
Scuba-diving allows you to meet animals in the wild, but with or without a camera you must be stealthy, especially if you want close encounters with pelagic animals.
Exhaled bubbles do little to help you get close, although even rebreathers, with their reduced amount or total absence of bubbles, wont make you invisible - they simply give you more time in the water.
However you are equipped, move cautiously across the backside of those coral-covered hillocks, trying to breathe as gently as you can. In this way you can stalk those big fish that browse in the blue water just beyond your cover.
Dont put yourself between your quarry and the light, or betray your presence by revealing it against a bluewater background. Keep your movements fluid and neat. The sudden appearance of a limb from a slowly moving shape can startle the most passive creature.
Stay close to the topography. Be as still as a rock and any animals might just think you are one.
Photographers should present the smallest profile in the water to your quarry by approaching head-on and horizontal, keeping your fin-strokes short and hidden behind your body. Swing your camera slowly in the direction of your subject, to avoid alarming it. It takes patience to become part of the scenery.
Of course, all this reef etiquette is worthless if you have to share the space with divers for whom etiquette is an alien concept. Your ears are suddenly filled by the roar of other regulators, and the wide blue spaces are occupied by a mass of joyfully undisciplined holiday-makers, flapping, tumbling, and even cartwheeling along.
If they spot your quarry they will inevitably want to give chase, even though the slowest fish can outpace the most proficient diver. The creatures take one disdainful look and move off with hardly a swish of their tails.
You watch the unsynchronised group of humans move slowly and collectively back along the reef wall in less than silent mime; a lot of beaters on a tiger shoot. There will be no more big game left for you to watch on that dive, but they, at least, can go home with the story of their fleeting shark encounter.
They might well be passengers from your boat and have paid good money to be there - to them youre just an anti-social weirdo who doesnt move much under water. Their dive guide must explain how they should conduct themselves on an underwater safari, if they want to see anything more than rapidly receding anal fins.
Try to be as sympathetic to other divers as you are to the wildlife. It might be fun but its definitely bad form to crash through a shoal of fish within which a photographer has just spent 10 minutes insinuating himself.
Flapping about out in the blue when everyone else is trying to flatten themselves against the rocks wont win you any popularity prizes either. Master your buoyancy, relax the fish and they will repeat their performance.
Finally, resist the urge to smash your way to the close-up position with your camera just because you think it wiill win you first prize in the club competition. Scaring off wildlife will win you neither photos or friends. Slowly slowly catchee monkfish.


by Tim Ecott
Dive guides and instructors are not unlike air hostesses. They stand at the back of the boat and give their customers/passengers a safety briefing while their audience pretends not to be listening. And, like the air hostess, the dive guide fixes a grin on his or her face to keep up the appearance of enjoying talking into thin air.
Its part of the job. The customers are paying good money to dive with you and in the end its their own responsibility if they dont listen. Being a dive guide is about power. Being a good dive guide is about showing that you are in control without becoming Napoleon - taking charge without being bossy.
In a club situation, the dive guide needs to use friendly authority to get his point across, but in a foreign diving resort the boundaries of power are less clear.
Often, one does not know exactly how experienced the divers are, or how good they will be under water. Where does the dive guide draw the line between taking charge and being a pain in the neck Good manners and good business go hand in hand.
Can the dive guide reprimand a diver for not listening On many boats, the problem can be solved by making a joke out of the dive-briefing scenario: Dont forget, Ill be testing you on this afterwards and anyone who gets it wrong has to buy me a beer.
Sometimes it works. Sometimes you need more subtle psychology.
Flattery often goes a long way. Jim, you dived here earlier this week, you know what I mean when I say theres a strong current when we get to the edge of the reef. Jims chest swells with pride and he nods wisely, proud to be remembered and recognised as a veteran of this dive spot.
I once lost my temper with a diver who persisted in trying to hitch a ride on a turtle. But we used to do it all the time in Mozambique and South Africa, he explained when we got back on the boat. Yes, I snapped, you used to shoot elephants in Africa too, but that doesnt mean we should do it now!
Fortunately the diver in question saw the funny side of my remark, though he was also humiliated by being singled out above water over the incident.
However, I decided it was worth losing a customer for the sake of protecting the turtle.
Dive professionals know when and where they can expose their buttocks. Thats because some of the foreign diving associations include diving etiquette in their instruction programmes. Particular care must be taken, they warn, not to undress in front of students or customers.
Guides and instructors are also warned about abusing their authority. They must take particular care not to make sexual advances to trainees, who, it must be remembered, could be in awe of the experienced divers ability.
Its the ski-instructor syndrome. Masterful individual in an exotic and exciting setting, with interesting gadgets dangling from various parts of the body dazzles and then seduces trainee. Of course, sometimes such encounters are the start of something beautiful and permanent.
Just as a good hostess knows how to arrange a dinner-party seating plan, a good dive guide will take care that his divers are comfortable on the boat.
Stowing equipment so that no one gets hurt by a falling cylinder is just as important as knowing on which side of the plate to place the soup spoon.
Its not always possible to have your divers arranged in a neat boy-girl-boy-girl pattern, and scarcely necessary unless you intend to include a little post-dive ballroom dancing.
However, it is probably a good idea to put any Germans nearest to the dive ladder. They will get there first anyway, so why not make life easier for everyone in advance
A tactful dive guide will also find a way of locating and losing the French divers knives en route to the dive site, thus avoiding unnecessary anguish about mutilated shellfish.
Japanese divers might insist on wearing gloves under water, and while this undeniably demonstrates an admirable approach to hygiene, it should be discouraged as it encourages inappropriate touching under water.
Consider including a list of dos and donts in your briefing. Do use the rinse tank for cameras but dont use it to wash gob from your mask. American divers are particularly alert to inappropriate body fluid exchanges. National stereotypes dont always apply, but a good dive guide will generally find that a degree in social anthropology comes in useful.
It might be worth considering introducing a dress code on the diving boat. Set an example. Not everything in ones outfit needs to match, but a little attention to colour combinations will make you feel more confident and might even affect your mood. Blue is calming, while black tends to say I am a ruff-tuff combat diver. And remember the old adage when selecting a mask and fins - blue and green together should never be seen. Im not sure why.
I always feel that thin lycra bodysuits, or skins, should be avoided by divers who are particularly obese, as when damp they tend to both cling and droop just where they shouldnt, and this may cause offence.
Dive guides should also pay particular attention to personal hygiene. If one absolutely has to pee in ones wetsuit, have the courtesy to shampoo the neoprene occasionally.
Regular visits to the dentist are also a good idea. It is never nice to share a regulator with someone with just a few stained teeth dotted about their gums.

  1. Do I put my dive kit at the pointy end or the blunt end
  2. There was a rusty old bit of chain at the back of your boat so I chucked it overboard - you didnt want it, did you
  3. Your paintwork is rubbish! I just dropped my cylinder and a huge lump came off...
  4. So when do I get to meet Seaman Staines and Roger the Cabin Boy eh eh
  5. Please stop driving over the bumps, youre making me feel a bit urghh... sorry! Im sure thatll come off your jumper next time you wash it.
  6. Do you actually know where this wreck is Ive checked my handheld GPS and your course appears to be at least 0.8Â in error.
  7. Someone appears to have dropped my handheld GPS down your toilet - can you rescue it for me
  8. I know were nearly back in harbour but Ive just noticed that my dive buddy isnt on board
  9. No I cant tie that rope on for you, Ive already broken two fingernails today
  10. What do you mean, we cant dive in a force 7 Just drive the boat, you big girls blouse!

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