There are new Dive Flag rules for Florida
On Friday June 13th Florida Governor Rick Scott signed HB 1049 into law in the state. This bill provides divers with additional choices for marking their position in the water by allowing either a traditional divers-down flag OR a divers-down buoy. This legislation was sought as a means of increasing diver visibility and diver safety on the waterways, and was supported by DEMA as a way to enhance safety and the diving experience.
The current law requires divers to display a "divers-down flag," a square or rectangular red flag with a white diagonal stripe, in the area where diving occurs. Divers are required to conduct their diving activities within a certain distance to the flag, and vessels are required maintain a certain distance from the flags, depending on the location of the activity. The new law allows divers to use a buoy in place of a flag when the buoy is a specified size and when the diver is diving independent of a vessel. Flags are still required when diving from a vessel.
According to the new law, "divers-down buoy" means a buoyant device, other than a vessel, which displays a divers-down symbol of at least 12 inches by 12 inches on three or four flat sides, which is prominently visible on the water's surface when in use.
Divers must make a reasonable effort to stay within 100 feet of the divers-down flag or buoy on rivers, inlets, and navigation channels. Similarly, any person operating a vessel must make a reasonable effort to stay more than 100 feet from the divers-down flag or buoy in these areas.
Divers must make reasonable efforts to stay within 300 feet of the divers-down flag or buoy on all waters other than rivers, inlets, and navigation channels. Any person operating a vessel on waters other than a river, inlet, or navigation channel must make a reasonable effort to maintain a distance of at least 300 feet from any divers-down flag or buoy.
In both locations vessels that approach within the required distance must proceed no faster than is necessary to maintain headway and steerageway.
Any violation of the law results in a noncriminal infraction punishable by a civil penalties and a requirement that the person appears before the county court. The bill also requires boater education and safety courses to include a component regarding divers-down buoys and diver-down flags.
The new law goes into effect on July 1, 2014.
Note the clause "independent of a vessel." You cannot use the buoy if diving from a boat.
Also, the float must have 3 or 4 flat sides to display the flag symbol. This means most inflatable buoys will NOT meet the new law as written.
Two of our customers were recently diving in Grand Cayman and ran into a local reef resident named Amigo. Amigo is a nurse shark, and oddly enough, likes interaction with divers. He hung out with our small dive group for a while and 45 minutes with another group earlier in the week.
Amigo even liked being petted. We didn't pet him, but the dive master did. I did catch some video, however. As you can see, Amigo is not shy at all and came right up to me and bumped me which was a bit of a surprise. I was told that earlier in the week he had a hook in his mouth and Amigo had allowed the boat captain to try to remove it. He must have loosened it up because in this video the hook is gone.
If you are familiar with the 7 mile beach area of Grand Cayman there are some big changes in the works. Major construction is underway for a new hotel. We heard dollar figures from $200 million to $350 million for the entire project. Traffic is even diverted off West Bay road for nearly a mile which forces you out to the Tibbetts Highway and a large new roundabout. On a positive note, 7 mile beach is still beautiful and large portions of it are still quiet and very family friendly.
The reefs we encountered while diving were a mix. Some were obviously struggling with alga while others looked good (this off the 7 mile beach area of the island). Lion fish are a big problem in the Caribbean and many of the dive masters very actively hunt them. We also chated with some divers who had spent the week on Little Cayman at Little Cayman Beach Resort and they told us Bloody Bay Wall was looking very healthy and the diving had been fantastic.