Scroll Top

Training Fundamentals: Scuba Diving Etiquette

Scuba diving etiquette is important both underwater and topside to keep things flowing smoothly on a dive trip.

As recreational divers, we dive in teams, sharing space and responsibility both above and below the surface. There’s an unwritten dive code to make sure we all get along on the dive deck and on surface intervals, and common protocols ensure that we all stay safe underwater. But one rogue — or inconsiderate — diver can ruin an otherwise great dive trip by making some common blunders when it comes to scuba diving etiquette. Here are a few of the most common situations you might see on a dive boat, as well as some tips on how to avoid becoming “that guy” yourself.

Delayed Diver

Time and tide wait for no one. Trip leaders carefully plan dives to enter the water at the optimum time. This calculation often accounts for travel times, fuel, tides and currents, harbor exit/entry protocol, daylight hours and the movements of other boats in the area. When the delayed diver is late, it doesn’t just impact him, it impacts every other diver on the boat, potentially for the whole day.

For example, the boat may miss the window to safely dive a site due to tidal changes or, alternatively, may not be able to access a dive site until other vessels have left the area. The same rule applies to preparing for the dive. Often there is a limited window to dive the site due to tides, currents, travel time or daylight. A diver who’s late to the morning dive may turn a sunset dive into a night dive for everybody later that same day.

Solution: Allow plenty of time to be where you need to be. If you need to rent equipment at the dive center before diving, get there a little earlier to try it on. If the boat is scheduled to leave at 9:00 a.m., be at the harbor, ready to board, 20 to 30 minutes beforehand. And if the briefing is scheduled for 10:00 a.m., that’s the start time; it shouldn’t be your arrival time. If you’re slow and awkward with your new wetsuit, get halfway into it before the briefing. If you need to analyze a nitrox mix, do that before the briefing as well. You’ll be more relaxed and everyone around you will appreciate your consideration. 

Boat Slob

Space is limited on dive boats. Bring only what you need and respect others’ space. When you first board, the trip leader or boat captain will usually conduct boat briefing to explain boat protocols. This may include where you can set up your gear, store dry belongings, how the head works, where to dispose of litter, the location of safety and first-aid equipment and private/crew areas on the vessel. 

A boat slob will scatter dive equipment across various parts of the dive deck, simultaneously encroaching on other peoples’ space — both before and after the dive — while also losing track of his own equipment. The dive slob may dunk saliva-filled masks into rinse tanks reserved for cameras and computers or loiter around on the dive deck after the dive while other divers are trying to de-kit in the limited space.

Solution: The dive deck is a working environment, so keep your equipment in your allocated area. Clip items to your BCD that may move around as the boat moves, such as masks, torches and computers. Keep track of your weight system and follow dive protocols for rinse tanks and charge points. Post-dive, when you’ve stowed all your equipment safely, leave the dive deck to chat with buddies and compare photos. This allows subsequent divers to safely de-kit as they surface and gives the crew room to connect compressor whips and re-fill your cylinder to dive again. 

Oblivious Diver

As a certified diver, you have a responsibility to listen to the briefing, plan your dive and abide by local protocols. Oblivious divers disregard buddy checks and don’t enter or exit the water in the recommended manner. They don’t follow the guide and abandon their buddy and may barge into other divers on the dive deck, shot line, or reef. Oblivious divers swim deeper than the guide or ahead of his and blast through their gas supply and no-deco limit. They don’t monitor their gas supply or watch their computer, and certainly don’t advise the guide at the turn points as requested. Oblivious divers simply don’t perceive any of the above as a problem — they believe the guide will sort it all out for them.

Solution: Pay attention in the dive briefing. Local procedures and protocols are in place for a reason. Do your buddy checks; plan your dive; know your limits; communicate with your buddy; and be respectful of other divers’ space in the water.

Photo Junkie

The accessibility and affordability of technology is both a blessing and a curse for divers and dive operators. On the plus side, many more divers can share their memories with non-diving friends and family. On the minus side, an underwater camera in the hands of a novice diver can, in some circumstances, become dangerous. The photo junkie’s camera takes precedence over the dive plan, following the guide or even following his or her buddy. Above and below the surface, the photo junkie will nudge other divers out of the way or, conversely, hold up the group while adjusting his camera settings. The photo junkie lives in his own bubble, often completely unaware of his surroundings other than “getting the shot.”

Solution: A camera is a dive accessory, not a necessity. Dive safety takes priority. Follow the dive procedures. Be respectful of the other divers in your group and stay with your buddy. If it’s a challenging dive or your buoyancy and finning need some work, leave the camera out for the safety and sanity of those you’re diving with.

Billy Blowhard

A great dive boat can be like a floating community, a bad dive boat like a floating asylum. A Billy blowhard is next to you on every surface interval, bending your ear. Whatever dive you’ve done, Billy’s last one was better. Billy will insist on showing you his or her certification cards and tell you precisely how many dives he’s done, and brag about where. He’ll explain why his equipment is better than yours and force-feed you GoPro footage for extended periods when you’re trying to quietly read a book, rest or eat between dives.

Solution: We all love diving. We’re all enthusiastic about continuing education. Every diver has a range of experiences, memories and stories to tell. Being on a dive boat for an extended period is a lot like being on a long-haul flight — we’re all in it together. Be respectful of other peoples’ boundaries and personal space.

Reef Wrecker

Ask any diver about their pet peeves and this will be close to the top of the list: damaging the reef and aquatic life. Coral reefs and the animals that live there are very delicate, and we are honored visitors to the environment. The reef wrecker is either unwilling or unable to control his or her actions in the water. He may intentionally grab the coral to get the photo he wants. Or he may be blissfully unaware that he’s kicking the coral behind him, destroying decades of growth with a couple of misplaced fin kicks.

The reef wrecker may also intentionally touch or grab aquatic life, harass a passing turtle or prod an octopus resting on the reef. Whatever the scenario, it’s guaranteed to make everyone’s blood boil.

Solution: We’re all lucky visitors to the underwater world. Look but don’t touch — no exceptions. If you’re a new diver and your buoyancy isn’t great, practice. And in the meantime, leave some extra space between you and anything delicate. Many dive guides will even offer to let you ‘lean’ on them if there are small critters they would like to share with you, rather than risk damaging the reef.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you’re diving somewhere new, pay attention to local procedures. Respect the local environment and your fellow divers. It will help you, and the rest of the dive group, have a happier and more relaxed dive trip.