Staying safe should be every diver’s top priority. Unfortunately, it’s not only yourself that you need to worry about – passing boats can present a major hazard to any diver near the surface.
A fast-moving boat’s hull or propeller can potentially cause serious bodily harm. Displaying a dive flag signals to passing boats that one or more divers are in the vicinity – and they should slow down and avoid the surrounding area.
You should always display a dive flag when you’re diving. Not only will it keep you visible – but it’s also the law in many countries and most US states.
Quick Answer: 5 Best Dive Flags & Floats
Why do you need a dive flag?
So, why do you need a dive flag?
A dive flag is one of the most critical parts of diver safety. It signals to passing boats that people are diving in the area.
It can also be useful if you run into trouble. In an emergency situation, a dive flag or float would make it easier for a rescue boat to spot your location and provide assistance.
Unfortunately, some boaters act carelessly on the water – and won’t slow down even if you’ve got a dive flag visible. You still need to be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye out for nearby watercraft. Boat licensing is generally not very thorough when it comes to boat/diver interactions – many boaters never even learn what a diver-down flag signifies.
Besides being a good safety protocol, displaying a dive flag is the law in many places. In many states, boats must keep a distance of 300 feet from a diver down flag or buoy. They must also proceed no faster than is necessary to maintain speed. Divers must make reasonable efforts to stay within 300 feet of their flag. In inlets, rivers, and channels the distance is reduced to 100 feet.
There is no federal law that governs flag usage in the US. The rules vary from state to state. Consult your state and local authorities to check on the applicable rules and regulations.
5 Best Dive Flags and Floats
Dive Flag Types
There are two main dive flags used to indicate that divers are operating in the area.
In North America, the flag used is red with a solid white stripe running diagonally across it. It’s commonly known as the ‘Diver Down’ or ‘Diver Below’ flag. Over the years this flag has become a widely recognized symbol for diving – you’ll often find it displayed outside dive shops or other businesses catering to divers.
The story of how this flag became so widely used is rather interesting.
In the 1950’s inventor and entrepreneur Denzel James ‘Doc’ Dockery was looking for a way to alert boaters to keep a safe distance from where he was diving. Having been in the navy, he was familiar with the Navy’s “Bravo flag” used to signify danger. He asked his wife to sew a similar flag, but changed the white strip from vertical to horizontal. The only problem was it happened to be the same flag as Austria’s!
He eventually settled on a diagonal white stripe and started selling and promoting his design. Shortly afterward, his home state of Michigan officially recognized the flag, followed by the federal government and almost every other US state.
The other dive flag you should know about is the internationally recognized Alfa/Alpha flag. This flag originated as the international maritime signal flag Alpha (signifying the letter ‘A’). It’s blue and white with a triangular cutout in the blue section. While not typically used in US waters, this flag is used regularly in Europe and British Commonwealth countries. A boat displaying this flag is indicating that divers are in the water surrounding it and its movement is restricted.
If you’re in doubt about which flag to display, flying both dive flags is a safe bet.
Dive floats are a convenient way to display a diver down flag, especially if you’re shore diving, spearfishing or freediving without a boat. It’s extra important to have a dive flag visible when you’re diving without a boat – otherwise passing boats won’t know anyone is in the water.
In general, you want a float that stays upright, is highly visible from a distance and can be seen above any waves or chop. Many floats have a ballast system built into the bottom. This allows you to add weight into the bottom of the float for extra stability.
When spearfishing, a float serves multiple purposes:
- It signals to nearby boats that a diver is in the water.
- It can be rigged to your speargun butt with a line. This allows you to shoot a fish, release your speargun and swim to the surface to pull in the fish.
- Larger floats can be used as storage areas for extra gear, spearguns, pole spears, and drinking water. You can also store your catch on one of these floats – keeping any curious sharks from stealing your dinner!
If you’re looking for a spearfishing float, look for one with a streamlined hydrodynamic design. This will allow you to move through the water without too much drag.
If you’re using a float for scuba diving, a larger float will allow you to store extra gear and equipment, as well as serving as a platform to rest at the surface.
Scuba divers will often use a smaller dive float called a surface marker buoy which enabled their dive boat to locate them in low visibility conditions.
Be sure to rinse off your flag and float with fresh water after every use. Store them in a dry place (such as a dive bag) away from direct sunlight.
Dive flags may sustain sun damage over time causing the red color to fade away. If your flag is starting to fade, get a new one. They don’t cost much and you want the flag to be as visible as possible.
If you secure the float with a line, make sure to check it frequently for any worn or frayed spots and replace it if necessary.
Q: What’s the best way to tie a dive flag to your body?
A: Attaching a dive flag to your body is generally not a good idea. If you need to attach a line from yourself to a dive float, use a lanyard with a quick release buckle. That way if the float were to get snagged by a passing boat you could release the line and prevent getting dragged upwards.
When spearfishing, many spearos prefer to attach a line from their float to the butt or handle of their speargun. That way, if you happen to run into trouble, you can release your speargun and swim unencumbered to the surface.
Q: What does a diver down flag look like?
A: The diver down flag is a red square or rectangle with a diagonal white stripe across it. The white stripe should be 25 percent of the height of the flag.
Q: What are the two types of diver down flags?
A: The dive flag used predominantly in North America is a red square or rectangle with a white diagonal stripe through it. This flag is called the ‘diver-down’ flag. The other dive flag used internationally is blue and white and known as the ‘Alpha’ or ‘Alfa’ flag.
Q: Boats should maintain what distance from a diver down flag?
A: The rules vary in different locations. But in general, boats should maintain a distance of 300 feet from dive flags in open water, and 100 feet in inlets, rivers, and channels.
Q: What are the dive flag regulations in Florida?
A: Florida regulations require dive flags to be either square or rectangle, and have a wire or flag stiffener to keep the flag upright.
Flags on buoys must have a minimum size of 12” x 12”. Flags flown from boats must be a minimum size of 20” x 24”, and must be displayed from the highest part of the boat to ensure visibility from all sides.
A dive flag must be displayed at all times while divers or snorkelers are in the water (including beach entry diving), and must be lowered when there are no divers or snorkelers in the water. The distances required for boats and divers are the same as written above.
A boater “Buzzing” a dive flag is considered a first-degree misdemeanor and is punishable by up to a $1000 fine and/or six months in jail.
I’ve loved being in the outdoors for as long as I can remember. I grew up fishing, canoeing, and camping throughout the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. It’s what lead me to start this site and share my passions for fishing, diving, kayaking and more. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or (preferably!) preparing for my next outdoor adventure.