Dive Flag Laws
As divers, we are expected to share the water with boaters and this sometimes leads to conflict. The purpose of a dive flag is, basically, to warn boats to avoid the area where divers are underwater. Seems like a simple premise, but ignorance, confusion, and/or recklessness has resulted in many accidents and near-misses. The traditional diver-down flag was developed by divers in 1957. By 1997, nearly every state in the USA had laws requiring the use of a dive flag. Most states require the use of the traditional diver-down flag, some require only the alpha flag, and a few require both. Although federal statutes call for use of the alpha flag, some federal agencies (such as the National Park Service) insist on the traditional flag. Obviously, considerable confusion exists concerning the distinction between the two flags.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is that the traditional red & white diver-down flag is intended to protect divers themselves, while the blue & white alpha flag is intended to protect vessels from collision. The alpha flag is internationally understood to mean: "I have a diver down; This boat is restricted in its ability to maneuver, so keep clear and keep to a slow speed." Generally, only vessels to which the divers are physically connected by communication lines, air hoses, or the like in international water are required to display the alpha flag, but common sense suggests displaying both flags can't hurt.
Ultimately, individual state laws regulate the waters within its territory, unless federal law supercedes state law. I don't know when that happens, so maybe if would be safest to contact the Coast Guard before you go diving. Since Florida statutes regarding use of dive flags changed on October 1st, 2001, we will repeat the current requirements:
Report any violation of these rules to Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission immediately! If you are in Brevard or Indian River Counties, call 1-800- 342-9620 and 1-800- 432-2046 anywhere south of Indian River County.
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Life's a beach...then you dive !!!