Boat Diving: What You Should Know that You Didn’t Learn in Scuba Class

Much, maybe even most recreational diving is done from boats that leave from the dock and return on the same day.

These are day boats (or night boats, if taken for a night dive).  Some are very small and offer no amenities.  Others are large, equipped for 24 divers or more with multiple tanks for each diver.  These boats often offer beverages, snacks, and sometimes even a real lunch.  Diving from a boat is really nice.  It usually requires less effort than shore dives, you don’t get sand in your equipment or your body, and having paid staff around to assist is a very nice thing.  However, the deck of a dive boat is a unique place, and there are some rules you need to know to enjoy diving off a boat and allowing others to enjoy it to.


Each of our books has an extensive chapter on rules of etiquette for divers on day boats.  Some are serious, some are tongue in cheek, some are funny, others sarcastic, but  all are useful to know and follow.   I want to share a few of the more important and useful rules for dive boats in this article, because there are things you were not taught in class.  Many divers are a little nervous about their first dive boat excursion, because they don’t know the protocol.   So here are some tips you probably never got in your scuba certification course.

One of the most important rules for boat diving is to use a boat bag to carry your gear. For those who don’t know, a boat bag is a soft mesh duffle bag that can be collapsed to the size of a shoebox or smaller.  It will hold all your gear, and it will not be in the way on the boat.  You should get one and use it on every boat dive.  Bulky hard cases or even luggage-type gear bags get in your way and the way of others on the boat. Leave them at the hotel or condo.  Since you don’t want your hands full of loose gear,  get and use a boat bag.  They are cheap.

Next, Remember to keep the aisles clear. If you are diver who practices proper diving etiquette, you have a boat bag and are using it. That boat bag and your fins and your dry bag and anything else should be put anywhere except the aisles that we all have to walk down  to get to the dive deck or other entry point.  Keep the aisles clear.  There is nothing funny about falling down because you tripped over someone’s stuff in the aisle.  Tripping and falling down with full scuba gear on is even worse, and could lead to injuries.

It’s also important to listen to the briefings on the dive boat.  To listen to the briefing means you are not doing anything else during the briefing.  You are not talking to other people, you are not taking a picture, and you are not setting up gear.

There may two briefings.  The first is usually by the captain, and is about the boat and safety features.  It is important.  The second will be a  briefing  on the dive site, conditions, and dive profile planned.  You need to be attentive to both.

Something important to note is that most (but not all) day boats will have a large bucket or barrel filled with fresh water into which cameras and nothing else are placed.  These camera buckets give expensive photo and video equipment a safe ride and keep them out of everyone’s way while on board.  Don’t put anything in it but camera and video gear.

When you are on a dive boat, whether it is moving or not, you need to move slowly and carefully.  This is especially true when you have your dive gear on.  Be aware of other divers, and avoid jostling or hitting them.   To do this, you should also avoid loitering in exit and entry areas.  Once you have geared up and moved to the dive platform or other entry area, jump in, signal the boat you are ok, and swim away from the entry area. If you need your camera handed to you, linger only long enough to receive it and then move out of the way. Moving off to the side is best.  When it’s time to get back on the boat, don’t crowd other divers while waiting on a line to re-board. When it is your turn, climb on the boat.   Once you re-board the boat,  immediately move away from the re-boarding ladder or dive deck.  If you linger in the re-boarding area, you create a hazard to yourself and other divers.  Move to your spot on the boat, get out of your gear, secure it out of the walk ways, and then talk about you terrific dive with others.

Finally, it is appropriate and customary to tip the dive boat crew.  Tip in local currency if you can.  Always tip in cash.  A useful rule of thumb is to tip the equivalent of  five to ten dollars per tank per diver.  That’s a fair range.  The tip can be on the lower end if the services provided are minimal, more if someone set up your gear for you, changed out your tank, gave you a beverage and/or snack and/or lunch.  You should tip more if the divemaster retrieved the piece of gear you dropped overboard, or saved your life, or did something else special like that.  Some boats have a tip jar. If there is a tip jar, put your entire tip in it.  Also, tip every day since the crew and dive masters may change daily.

            We have formulated many other rules of etiquette for dive boats, including those for liveaboards.  But following these few will help you and every one else on the boat have an enjoyable dive day on the boat. When your ready for the full list and illustrative stories, feel free to read both books! You will find the day boat rules in Chapter 3 of The Scuba Snobs’ Guide to Diving Ettiquette and Chapter 2 of The Scuba Snobs guide to Diving Etiquette BOOK 2.  Happy diving, everyone!

Divemaster Dennis