Boat diving can provide some of the most fun and memorable diving you will ever have, as long as you do a few things to prepare yourself before you go. There are all manner of dive boats out there, from inflatable Zodiac boats that hold a few people, small Panga style or “six pack” boats, large day boats, and even larger “live aboard” dive boats. As in other parts of the world, many of the dive sites around Puget Sound are sites that you just can’t access from shore, they are only accessible by boat. That means sites you access by dive boat will usually have less dive traffic and often a greater variety of marine life. Boat diving is also some of the easiest diving that you will ever do. Basically, once you gear up, you only have to move to the exit point on the boat in order to get in. You do your dive, and then when you surface, the boat is there to pick you up. In order to make sure all your boat trips are good ones, here are a few simple things to think about, and a few rules of boat diving etiquette to follow.
Boats typically do not have a lot of extra space. There isn't room to spread your gear out all over the place. Be courteous about your use of the available space. If you’re a typical PNW diver, you probably have one of those large plastic bins with wheels on it from Home Depot that you keep in the back of your car or truck. Although great for shore diving, it is not a gear bag, and does not belong on a boat. Invest in a good gear bag. The size and kind you select might differ, depending on where you dive. For warm water, I pack one of those Halcyon mesh duffel bags that can easily hold my gear. It also has large carrying handles so it can be carried back pack style if needed, and folds easily for storage or packing into your luggage when you are traveling. For diving around here, I use the same type of bag to stow my dry suit, fins, mask and gloves. I then assemble my basic kit at the car and then carry the gear and the bag to the boat. If you pack only what you really need, all of your gear should fit in one bag.
Put together a save a dive kit that fits into your gear bag. This doesn't have to be overly complicated and shouldn't replicate the giant Sears style mechanic toolbox save a dive kits that many of you carry in your cars. Just pack the basic things you need to replace an o-ring, a fin or mask strap, extra LP inflator hose, etc. If you’re packing with a dive buddy that is going with you, consider what each of you is planning on bringing and consolidate when you can. Think “compact”. Consider contacting the boat ahead of time, many boats carry extensive save a dive kits complete with tools and spare parts. You might not even need to bring your own kit. If you really think you need all the tools and parts for a full regulator overhaul… Perhaps you should have your regulator serviced prior to getting on the boat.
Plan ahead. Make a list so you don’t forget anything. Lay out, assemble, check, and inspect all your gear before you pack it. Don’t plan on doing this on the dock or on the boat. Do you get seasick and need medication for it? Need sunscreen? How about a jacket? Once the boat leaves the dock, the Captain isn’t going to turn around because you forgot something. Make sure you have everything you need to go diving.
When you do finally get to the dock, ask the boat Captain or crew if you can come aboard. (You don’t want to be mistaken for a pirate, they tend to get shot.) Asking to board is a simple maritime courtesy. Sometimes the boat just isn’t ready yet. Once aboard, you will probably be told where you can stow your gear and where your seat will be. If not, just ask. Also, there will probably be a few forms to fill out.
Pay attention to any briefings the crew gives. They will tell you their names, the name of the boat and any safety procedures you may need to follow. Listen to where the head (aka the toilet) is located and how to use it. Nothing will piss off the crew more than you plugging up the toilet! Most boats have similar rules and procedures, but your day will be a lot more fun if you follow the rules for the boat you are currently on.
Listen to the dive site briefings, even if you've been on the site before and no matter what your experience level is. The dive site briefing provided by the crew is for your safety and helps ensure you have a good dive. I've been on dives on the same site many times and always discover something new or learn something different. Pay attention to the entry and exit procedures. Will you back roll into the water from your seating area, or giant stride off a swim platform? It depends on the boat. Pay attention. Will the boat be anchored, or not? Pay attention. The briefing might include a compass heading out from the boat and back. I’m sure you want to surface at the boat and not a half a mile away because you got lost and couldn't find your way back underwater… Don’t be that guy. Pay attention.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the crew or to ask for help. Diving should be fun and safe, and the people running the boat want you to have a good time and be safe doing it.
Until next time, good diving!