How Not to Rock the Boat

Published in Diver Magazine (North America) September 2015

Photos by Jim Catlin


What is wrong with people today? It might just be me, but as the human race charges deeper into the digital age, it seems that common sense and good social skills are plummeting in to extinction. With the earth’s population hurtling towards critical mass, we should be more concerned about those that share the ever decreasing space around us. But as we communicate more and more virtually through digital channels, so we seem to lose the ability to maintain harmony with those in our close proximity. The problem with common sense, like good social skills, is that they are becoming less and less common.

Being on a dive boat can put this idea under a magnifying glass. As a general statement, divers are a pretty good bunch, normally friendly, welcoming and up for a laugh. But from time to time they fall out and when that happens, the first thing I notice is that the dive boat suddenly becomes a really small and uncomfortable place to be.

Getting along shouldn’t be difficult, but having seen dive trips go sour in the past, I feel the need to spell a few things out.

An Example of Bad Behavior – Decorum

I was once doing a two tank trip on a 26’ RIB, space was a premium. At any point during the time spent topside, I could have reached out and touched five different people. After the last dive a guy stood up, took his wet suit off leaving him totally naked and stood very precariously on the rocking boat. As he bent over and rummaged through his bag looking for his underwear there was a stunned silence throughout the boat, the diver that was sitting behind him almost lost his breakfast over the side. No one, captain included, could believe what was happening.

Some Tips to Avoid Bad Decorum:

  • Don’t be that naked guy! Not everyone is as liberal as you may be, most would prefer not to see what lurks in the depths of your wetsuit. If you need to totally change your clothes then go somewhere private or cover up with a towel. An appropriately-sized towel.
  • Watch your bad habits – Most boats will not allow smoking on them nowadays, remember it’s a small space and many people do not want to even smell smoke let alone have to inhale other peoples’ exhalations. If you pee in your suit then flush it before getting on the boat – it stinks.
  • Nose full of jellyfish? Think about where you are expelling those critters, if you are doing it when on the ladder getting back in then chances are someone is behind you who may well catch them.
  • Swearing or even talking loudly about something inappropriate can also bother people – save that for the bar later just in case of sensitive souls.
  • Don’t take up more than your fair share of space. Think about where you are putting your gear as you take it out of your bag as well as where you put your non dive bag. It may help to pack things you need last so they are at the top of your bag.
  • Don’t talk over the briefings. Whoever is giving them should have lots of useful information that will make your trip either safer, more enjoyable, or simply run smoother, even if you are not interested, other people on the boat should be.

Another Example of Bad Behavior – Time Management

I used to dive with a couple that had an incredible ability to annoy everyone else around them. That included the captain, crew, fellow passengers and even me. The main issue was that they were always the last people to do anything. They would wait until the rest of the group had finished an activity before starting it themselves. When everyone else was on the boat waiting to take off, they were on the dock rummaging through bags. When everyone had their kit on sweating in their heavy wetsuits, they were assembling their gear and fiddling with lanyards. When everyone else was bobbing around on the surface in the swells wrestling with nausea, they were putting their gear on, laughing and joking without a care in the world. The only time they managed to demonstrate good time management it seemed, was either when hitting the showers (there was only a finite amount of hot water) and hitting the bar!

Some Tips to Avoid Causing Delays

  • If it takes you longer to set up your gear than everybody else, start earlier.
  • If you don’t like being the first in the water then position yourself on the boat furthest from the part where people jump in the water (usually the back).
  • If you like to do a long healthy buddy check then get it started before people are jumping in.
  • If your computer needs programming or gear needs tweaking, do it before you get on the boat.
  • Once your equipment is ready, ensure the following before getting into your BCD: that your gear works properly; nothing is leaking; your tank is full and disconnected from the bungee; your weights are attached; that you have everything you need like fins, mask and computer at hand. In short, have everything ready so that when the time comes to splash you don’t find something that will need five minutes of playing around with before being able to get in the water.

A Further Example of Bad Behavior – Underwater Conduct

There have been times watching scenes unfold underwater when I have been left truly astonished, it amazes me how some people can be so stupid with only one head. Once, I had the…… ahem…. pleasure of diving with a group of ten who would come to be known as “the underwater rugby team”. If you have not watched a game of rugby, imagine American Football but without the padding and helmets. Now picture this underwater but with scuba gear on. I am not exaggerating, the only thing missing were the cheerleaders! Descents were carried out bottom first, coming to a stop as they crash landed on the coral or in the sand nearby. As soon as the divers had managed to wrestle themselves right side up, they scattered in every direction ricocheting off each other like sub aquatic fireworks. As soon as someone found something of interest he banged his tank like crazy until the rest of the pack all charged at him descending on him and ending up in a big mess of sand, fins, coral and bubbles. I never did find out what he had seen. The dive lasted around 25 minutes, miraculously everyone made it back on board.


Some Tips to Avoid Bad Underwater Conduct

  • Poor spatial awareness can lead to kicking people in the face, smashing them on the head with your tank and crashing in to coral. Try to be aware of how far away things around you are. You can check by reaching out with your hand to make sure you are arms distance away from something.
  • Avoid unnecessary movements like sculling with your hands as this can lead to pawing at peoples mask or regulator.
  • When diving with a group, keep a good distance away from others except, of course, your buddy. Think about the visibility on the dive, i.e. do not be so far away from the rest of the group and the guide that you can’t see them. In clear water, you can easily be 20 – 40 feet away from others, stay in visual contact and avoid physical contact.
  • Buoyancy is the square root of so many things in diving. To name a few, good buoyancy means good control, better air consumption, safer profiles, less damage to the environment, seeing more, looking cooler and just generally having more fun. Thinking your buoyancy is good is sometimes different to having good buoyancy. If you are unsure then just stop, don’t move your arms or legs and watch what happens. Are you ascending, descending or hanging in the water column? Adjust accordingly.
  • Look with your eyes and not your hands. Don’t poke, prod, touch, stroke, lift, shake or pocket marinelife.
  • Noise annoys! Clickers, quackers, bangers and rattles are great for those times when you see something really cool that is only going to be around for a short time. They are also great when you really need to get people’s attention. They are annoying as hell when the whole group wants to use them constantly on the dive creating a cacophonic orchestra.
  • At the end of the dive, if the boat you are diving from has a ladder then this will become a bottleneck as people surface around the same time. Try to avoid hanging out on the ladder talking to people about the dive etc while there are others behind you wanting to get on the boat


Final example of Bad Behavior – Cameras

Recently I watched a young healthy guy using a 100cf tank in tropical water burn through his air in 26 minutes. He spent the dive with his eyes glued to the screen of his camera which I estimate would be valued at around $5,000. This guy’s buoyancy was so out of control that at 80 feet he was pretty much upright having to fin like crazy in order to maintain his depth. Upon finding something to take a picture of he would stop kicking which gave him enough time to get one shot at the subject before he dive bombed in to it. Following a brief period rolling around in the fire coral he’d pick himself up and do the exact same thing again and again not touching his LPI once.


Some Tips to Avoid Being a Nuisance Photographer

  • Become proficient in the basics of diving before bringing a camera in to the mix. Don’t let the camera become a higher priority than buoyancy, gas consumption, no deco limits, buddy skills, location and spatial awareness.
  • Avoid chasing off marine life by trying to outswim it to get a photo. Camera stretched out in front and blowing through your air in minutes, you’ll always end up with bad pictures and short dives.
  • Don’t move or break things, lie on the reef or other fragile marine-life so you can get what you want in the picture. The camera is also not an excuse to pick things up so you can position them how you like them to be photographed.
  • Don’t hog the front row seats. If somebody finds something cool (even you), don’t spend more than a few minutes in the only point it is visible from, it’s just not fair.
  • Owning a camera does not make you more entitled to be near the action. If you push past other divers so you can get right up close to something it’s going to aggravate other divers.
  • If you have one of those little cameras on a long pole then don’t just shove it in front of someone as they are looking at something.

Maybe the problem is that I am too set in my ways. Am I missing out on a world of fun that is detached from boring rules and etiquette? Perhaps next time I go for a dive I should pack lots of useless stuff to take to the boat and get in everyones way. I could heckle the guide during the brief and when other divers start to frown at me I could just take my clothes off and light up a cigarette. If the mood took me, I might try spending the dive decorating myself with coral. I could play hilarious games like swimming over to other divers, attach myself to them and see how long I can hold on for as they flail manically trying to shake me off. As I write this, of course jokingly, I do start to see a certain attraction. I might just give it a go, afterall, if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em!