Diving is almost always better when you have access to a boat. It offers you access to dive sites that are difficult or impossible to reach from shore. It gives you a place to depart from, a place to return to, and a place to store your gear. You have a marker that shows you are diving, and an above-water observer to ensure your safety. Finally, it gives you a place to relax and decompress between dives. Not all boats, however, are equally equipped to be a good dive boat. Here are some of the features to look for when selecting a dive boat.
Easy Launching and Boarding
Many boats have a swim ladder, but when it comes to diving, there are some additional factors that need to be considered. These includes:
- Do you want a dive ladder instead of a traditional swim ladder? Swim ladders look like typical ladders; hey typically have no more than three rungs and hang shallowly into the water. Dive ladders, on the other hand, are T-shaped with the vertical support in the middle so that you can slide fins into the rungs. They are also deeper, with more rungs than swim ladders. This allows an adult to be able to rest along a swim step in a standing position and remove gear. In places where you have a large amount of weight to compensate for buoyancy – this is especially true for dry suit divers – it can be very cumbersome to climb a ladder in full gear. The ability to hold on with both hands and feet while removing gear is a huge plus for divers, especially if you are diving in an area with strong currents.
- Does the dive boat have a low freeboard launch site? Entering the water can be as difficult as leaving it when you have a high jump site to launch from. A swim step or other section of boat close to the water’s surface means a safer entrance. It reduces the risk of knocking gear loose upon entry or causing surprise injuries if your fall is less than graceful. If you don’t have a good dive ladder on board, then a low point like a swim step is important to be able to hold on in high-current regions while waiting to board the boat or removing gear.
- How do you intend to dispose of your dive gear? Many divers prefer to remove gear when they are still in the water, rather than make a clumsy attempt to reboard a boat. A place where they can quickly and safely toss gear back on the boat before climbing up is a huge plus.
Safe Engine/Access Configurations
One of the biggest things to consider when it comes to a boat is how the propulsion is set up in relation to a diver’s boarding and disembarking points. The safest way to board and disembark a boat is to do so when the boat is not running or in neutral. High-current areas can make this difficult, and because of this, it’s important to understand the types boat engines and how they can affect boarding for a diver.
- Outboards: Outboards have pros and cons when it comes to dive boats; while small skiffs provide the opportunity to pull a single motor out of the water and out of the diver’s way, they can take up a lot of room in the rear. They also mean little to no swim step.Often, the best place to board and disembark a boat with outboards is the bow or the side, which requires a rope or temporary ladder system. Landing crafts with drop-down bows can also be a good choice for divers. Pontoon boats typically run with outboards, and often use the bow as a swim step instead of the typical stern location.
- Inboards: Inboard engines tend to have twin propellers located low on the hull. This makes them less dangerous for divers boarding from a swim step on the stern, though it is common safety protocol to never have them running when someone is around the boat. The biggest risk for divers of these lower propellers is during surfacing, if divers aren’t paying attention. They are considered one of the safest overall engine types for dive boats.
- Inboard/Outboards: Inboard/outboards (I/O) offer a clear dive platform in the stern, but the propellers are located directly beneath this point, making it significantly more risky for boarding divers if the boat were to begin moving. This shouldn’t happen with a proper safety protocol in place, but the location of the props does make itmuch more dangerous than an inboard’s props if the unspeakable were to happen (e.g. a childswitching the boat out of neutral).
- Jet Boats: These boats use water propulsion to move. Though there are no propellers to risk the body of a diver, a jet boat at close range can give you a pretty nice bruise. This is safer overall for stern boarding. They also tend to have slightly lower overall freeboard, which can make boarding and disembarking a little easier.
Other Diver Friendly Features
There are a number of other features that can make a huge difference when it comes to diving. Room for tanks to be stored is crucial, and tank racks that allow you to carry them safely upright without banging or rolling is safer and less noisy. A large, open, waterproof space where you can place (and better yet, wash) your wet, dirty gear is important as well. A freshwater wash hose is also a great thing after a dive to wash you and your wetsuit. A sheltered area to avoid both sun and inclement weather between dives and after a dive can help to keep you and other divers healthy.
Must-Have Stocked Items on a Dive Boat
When you go diving with a boat, there are a few essentials to ensure everyone’s safety and health. A diver down flag is critical to notify other boaters why you are anchored (if you are) and to stay far away from your boat to avoid injuring divers. A first-aid kit geared towards divers is also a good idea in the event of injury or danger. Typically, diver first-aid kits include a oxygen administration system and a trauma kit. Finally, having a lot of fresh potable water for drinking is important, since dives can be dehydrating. Many of these items come with a rented dive boat, but be sure to check out your rental terms to be sure.
Consider Your Water
Part of the reason that there is no one perfect dive boat is that different people dive in different kinds of water. Calm water close to the shore can accommodate a smaller, less seaworthy boat. If you are traveling across open ocean to dive on an offshore island or rock, then you will need something larger and sturdier that may be harder to climb on and off of without specialized modifications. Some prefer something that offers the best of both of these worlds to explore a number of different kinds of dive sites. What will work best for you will depend on where you live and how you dive.
Electronic and Navigational Features
People have been diving long before the advent of electronics. However, there are some features that some of today’s boats possess that can be incredibly useful to modern divers. Here is a combined list of must-have and must-try items:
- 3D Depth Sounder: This newer navigational technology can not only help you to find interesting features and wildlife underwater, it can also help you to steer clear of navigational hazards if you are trying to dive a rocky area or a wreck.
- AIS: This acronym stands for Automatic Identification System, and is used to allow vessels to see one another online. This is especially important where a large boat may have trouble seeing a smaller boat. It also means that any commercial vessel can locate your dive boat provided your AIS is on and working. This can speed rescue if you need one, and avoid collisions if you are boating/diving in the fog.
- Tide/Current Charts: This can help you to find the current speed in different areas. There are localized regions that can be excellent diving for all at slack tide, and advanced or hazardous diving when the tidal currents are strongest. The ability to know that you are diving a region like this during a safe time is very important.
- VHF Radio: This is standard on any boat, but when it comes to ensuring that you and your dive buddies are safe on board in the instance of an injury, it’s always a good idea to check that it works before departing.
Ultimately, the set of features that you choose for a dive boat will most likely depend on three factors: availability, price, and personal preference. If you have access to a number of different boats within your price range, then it is a perfect opportunity to try different kinds of boats from which to dive, in order to better understand personal preference. If you are in the market for a boat in the future, then start by shopping around – rent different kinds of dive boats that allow you to test out all the features that matter to you.