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Boat Diving and COVID-19

As we define the “new normal,” many divers are eager to get back in the water. Boat diving and COVID-19 safety measures are one particular area of interest.

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt daily life, dive shops and instructors worldwide are putting new measures in place to keep clients and staff safe. Dive travel encompasses many different situations that could lead to a high-exposure level for COVID-19 transmission. Boat diving and COVID-19 safety measures are our focus here.

First though, let’s explain exposure levels, which vary depending on someone’s level of public exposure and interaction with others. Level 1 would include staying at home or walking around your neighborhood, up to a 10, which includes air travel, using public transportation, and visiting marinas, beaches, hotel buffets, boats, etc.

On the world stage, the flow of Covid safety guidelines and information is fluid, continually updating as there is much we still do not know. The age of COVID requires a scrupulous diver who is steadfast — not just while diving, but also in the preparation leading up to their trip. Let’s explore the steps we can take to achieve that.

Note: the information we offer here is tailored toward boat diving and may not include all recommendations and guidelines pertinent to diving everywhere but is still helpful in terms of making your next boat trip safe and enjoyable.

Pre-trip steps

The planning and information-gathering phase of your first post-COVID dive trip is key. Start with these steps.

  • Check state and local regulations regarding mandatory mask use at your destination.
  • Read any posted signage upon arrival to the dive shop and before entering the building. Some shops may only allow one household inside their shop at a time to maximize social distancing.
  • Fill out waivers and complete any check-in online to keep from doing so in-store on the day of your trip. This not only saves time and limits contact, but also gives staff a chance to review before the trip date.
  • Organize dive gear into two bags: one for the dive deck, and one smaller bag for a towel, clothes, phone, hand sanitizer and a spare face covering in case yours gets wet. Even if boats offer snacks and drinks, pack your own — again, it’s all about self-sufficiency.
  • Due to the current situation, it is highly recommended that divers purchase as much of their own scuba gear as possible to limit the need to rent gear. While this is not financially possible for everyone, some simple items such as a mask, snorkel, fins, boots, gloves, and mouthpieces won’t break the bank and will help reduce the risk of contact. If you do rent scuba gear, think about doing so for an extended period of time before and after your dive dates to ensure proper time for gear sanitization.
  • Review PADI procedures to limit unnecessary contact with other divers and dive crew.
  • It should go without saying, but only divers and staff members who are healthy should go diving. If you think you may be sick or feeling ill, postpone your trip.

During the trip

After you’re checked in, find a member of the crew for a run-down on gear setup onboard and the business’ operational procedure.

  • Some charter boats are only allowing one household to board and set-up gear at a time to limit contact. If there is space on the dock, you can always begin preparing your gear while you wait to board.
  • As boats put humans in close proximity, wear masks onboard to and from the dive site as well as in between dives. A small dry bag or plastic bag works well to hold masks.
  • Communicate with dive crew about how much (or little) help you need getting into your gear and the water. Crew will try to limit contact with divers but are always willing to help.
  • Clear snot and mucus from your face and from the inside of your mask before boarding the vessel after a dive. Bring your own defog and do not spit into your mask onboard.
  • Maintain social distance when possible. The bow of the boat is sometimes available for divers while motoring or in between dives; use this to your full advantage.
  • Try not to touch anyone’s gear other than your own and use hand sanitizer before boarding the vessel and several times during the trip. This goes for tank valves as well to limit contamination between the tank and regulator.

After your trip

When it’s time to head home, let the crew know if you enjoyed the trip and give them any feedback on new procedures. This is very important during this time of changing protocols worldwide.

  • When breaking down gear, be mindful of your surroundings and the surfaces your gear touches. For example, place each item into your dive bag or crate as you remove it from your kit as opposed to breaking down your entire set and then loading your dive bag.
  • Another thoughtful solution for limiting contact would be going digital on as many parts of the operation as possible, including a switch from a paper logbook to an online or cloud-based platform. Using services such as Venmo and PayPal to distribute any crew tips is also preferred to limit the physical contact between divers and crew.
  • Most divers include gear sanitization in their post-trip operations, but this step is now critical for ensuring the health and safety of the diving community. DAN has created a thoughtful and scientifically focused guide to gear sanitization.

Getting back out there

As we begin to journey back into our oceans, divers must adapt to the world’s new situation. The dive industry is working diligently to develop guidelines and contingencies to make sure we can all still enjoy everything we have been missing for these last months of lockdown. Again, it will take some patience and understanding to learn the procedures and policies that will arise on your first few boat trips, but know that each individual dive shop is working hard to create and implement a plan that will keep their divers safe and their business in operation and compliance.

Disclaimer: Although this article was written by a dive professional, it is in no way meant to be taken as the leading authority on information specifically related to coronavirus and scuba diving. This article was compiled from recommendations of the agency sources below along with new local boat charter COVID protocols within California that meet state and local guidelines.

Find individual agency recommendations regarding COVID-19, public health and/or dive operations here:

WHO recommendations

CDC recommendations

DAN recommendations

PADI recommendations