Diving from a Private Boat vs Diving with a Dive Operation

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Do you have your own boat? Do you have your own dive gear too? You may be thinking about taking your own boat out to go diving, but have you considered all the variables involved? Sure, you may think it’s easy as Load Up The Boat, Drop Anchor Where You Want To Dive, Jump In; basically, fun and done. But there are a myriad of safety measures that need to be taken when taking your own boat out diving, because the Load Up, Drop Anchor, Jump In approach is not safe for you or the environment. 

So, let’s talk about some differences between taking your own boat to go diving and diving with a scuba operation. Depending on what you’re looking for out of your dive, there may be pros and cons to both.

Diving With A Dive Operation

If you’ve been diving, but haven’t been diving from your very own boat, the odds are that you’ve been diving with a dive charter operation or have been shore diving. The cool thing about diving with a dive operation is that all the safety stuff is pretty much taken care of by someone else. There’s a boat captain and a dive master who will both keep things under control on board while you just dive in and go for the good time. These folks are responsible for making sure the dive flag is up, that the boat is properly secured, and are trained to handle short term needs in the event of an emergency. They’re the ones who will make sure that the boat is stocked with proper safety gear, and because they’re in charge of all these things, you don’t have to worry about anything but diving. Well, almost anything. 

There are loads of pros when it comes to diving with a dive operation, mostly, as mentioned before, you have less responsibilities and you can just focus on having fun (of course, keeping your personal dive safety and dive buddy’s safety in mind). But let’s talk about some drawbacks when it comes to chartering out to dive every time. 

For one, you have a little less freedom regarding when and where you go. These operations are on a set schedule and go to very specific places. Most of the time they’ll go to two different locations in a trip. Sure, you can pick and choose the schedule/location you want to hop on with, but you’re along for their ride on their time clock.

Another thing to consider is that you’ll be going with a number of other people who you’ll likely not know. This is a great way to make friends and future dive buddies, but if you prefer more privacy, this may not be an ideal setting. This is likely a pro or con depending solely on whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. 

Because you’re not the boss of your own boat and space here, let’s go over some proper etiquette to implement while you’re diving with a dive operation.

Charter Etiquette

Keep it organized 

It’s neither safe nor considerate when you leave your belongings strewn haphazardly around the boat. The dive boat isn’t your teenage bedroom. Try to keep your belongings tidy and stay mindful of others’ space. 

Show up on time (military style) 

You know the phrase, “If you’re fifteen minutes early, you’re on time, and if you’re on time, you’re late”? That’s how you want to think about showing up to the boat. 

Ask the crew if you can come on board 

You’re on time (which means you’re early), great! But don’t just assume you can hop on board all willy nilly. The crew may be busy setting things up and preparing for your amazing adventure, so it’s always a good idea to ask the captain for permission to come aboard. 

Dry camera tables and buckets

There are some buckets on board. You’ll be informed which buckets are for what—photography equipment in one and rinsing other dive equipment like masks in the other. Understandably so, people are very protective of their expensive photography equipment. Be respectful and make sure you’re not dipping your mask in the wrong bucket or putting anything wet on the camera equipment table if there is one. 

Pay attention to the safety briefing and ask questions only when prompted 

You’ll get a brief on where the life jackets are and other safety notes while you’re on the way out to the dive site. Pay attention, but don’t interrupt the speaker. Don’t worry, they’ll ask for questions at the end, so if you have any, wait until then to speak up.

 

Bring a splash of cash for a tip!

These folks work hard to make sure that you have a fun and safe time out scuba diving. There will be a tip jar somewhere on the boat, so be sure to bring a bit of cash to toss in the bucket to show your appreciation that they helped everything go off without a hitch. 

Diving From Your Own Boat

Now that we’ve covered all the things to think about when charting with a dive operation, let’s explore the other side of our intended subject here—diving from your own private boat.

There are a lot more considerations on your part when it comes to taking out your own boat for diving. First of all, let’s talk about experience. What is your experience level with captaining a boat (all the way to the point of being able to make minor repairs should there be engine trouble) and what is your experience level with being your own dive guide (picking the dive location, checking the conditions, knowing how to check the current, and knowing proper dive safety and potential dive rescue procedures). Do you have an Open Water Diver certification or an Advanced Open Water certification? It is highly recommended to, at the very least, have an AOW certification and having at least 20 dives logged under an AOW certification before taking your own boat out for scuba diving. 

Safety Gear

Obviously the number one thing to think about when diving from your own boat is safety for yourself and others. With that being said, there is some necessary safety gear you’ll need to take to ensure everything goes smoothly for everyone. You’ll definitely need a marine radio. Even if you’re not going too far off shore, this is a good idea to have in case cell phones fail to be reliable (as they often do) and there is an emergency. Having some sort of navigation system or GPS is also smart to have on any boat. You’ll additionally need the red and white or blue and white “diver down” dive flag and, of course, remember to put the flag up when it’s time to dive. It can also be a good idea to have a tag line in case the current is strong when ascending—this is especially helpful for a fatigued diver. A final couple of absolute safety necessities to have onboard are a first aid kit and an oxygen tank (you can get these through the Divers Alert Network [DAN]). The first aid kit is needed for obvious reasons (and any boat should have one), but you’ll need that oxygen in the event one of the divers on board possibly has decompression sickness until you can get them more advanced medical assistance. If you’re not sure how to use these bits of safety gear, then they won’t come in much use. It’s a good idea to take a CPR and first aid training course and/or even, as a diver, take a diver rescue course to be optimally prepared. 

Safety Precautions

Now that we’ve covered safety gear, let’s go over some safety to-dos and don’ts. 

You’ll need someone to take one for the team and stay on board while others dive. It would be a shame to come up from a great dive and suddenly wonder where your boat went. Leaving someone on board can be beneficial for a myriad of reasons. One of which, making sure the boat stays anchored where it needs to be, or, if the divers get a bit lost, the person on board can swoop by to pick them up. If there is an accident, this designated person can take quick action and call for help. They can also be on the lookout to ensure that other boaters are mindful of the dive flags for the safety of the divers in the water. Ideally, this person left on board knows the proper safety protocol should anything happen and, above all, knows how to drive the boat safely and pick up divers from the water. 

Speaking of safety protocol, even with a small group on a private boat, it’s best to have a safety briefing with all onboard before the dive. This way everyone knows the signals to look out for should the dive need to end early and what to expect in the event of an emergency. You should also check each other’s gear before jumping in to make sure everything is working properly.  

Depending on how many divers are aboard, you can, of course, collaborate on what dive sites will be visited, when you all plan to go out diving, etc. But there should be someone who is the designated Dive Guide for the day. This is ideally the most experienced diver or the person who has the most knowledge on the intended dive spot of the day who can take leadership of the dive and make executive decisions where necessary. It is important to remember that the dive locations to be visited should not exceed the difficulty level of the least experienced diver. In other words, if one of the dive buddies is only comfortable diving within 33 feet, then the dives should not exceed 33 feet. It is extremely important not to push anyone past their comfort level (including yourself), especially if they are feeling nervous. This Dive Guide will also be able to ensure that everyone has knowledge of the dive site being visited (ideally having been diving there before, but, if not, there’s been extensive research on the area and what to look out for). 

And, last but in no way least, since mother nature can be rather unpredictable, you’ll need to keep an eye on the weather and any marine advisories all the way up to the point of the dive. If rough weather is on the way in, it could be necessary to reschedule the dive for another time or day, and all divers on board should be prepared for that potentiality.  

Gear Storage/Security

If, at this point, taking your own boat out seems a tad overwhelming, it may be best to stick to dive operations until you get more comfortable with the idea, because, believe it or not, there’s more you need to think about when it comes to diving from your own private boat. While the safety gear and precautions are of utmost importance, which is why they’re talked about here first, you’ll also need to be aware of things like where you’re going to keep all your dive gear and how everyone will get on and off the boat. 

Thankfully, there are accessories that can help you manage your dive gear on the boat.

Being on a boat can be a rocky experience, so having your scuba tanks rolling around isn’t a great idea for the boat or those aboard it. So having a scuba tank securing system in place is paramount when it comes to safe gear keeping. Speaking of tanks, where and how are you going to fill your tanks? Stopping by your local dive shop first (we can help!) or do you have your own compressor? Will this even be a scuba diving trip or are you using a hookah system? Getting familiar with what gear you need, how you’re going to prepare that gear and keep it safe on board is essential. Keeping a gear checklist and certain spare parts (mask strap, O-rings, fin straps, etc.) is always a good idea as well. You don’t want to get all the way out to your dive site and realize you’ve forgotten some essential element to the dive. You’ll also need a designated space for weights, fins, BCDs, and a possible rinse bucket on board as well. 

Some Final Considerations

We’ve generally covered everything, but like we said at the very beginning of this journey, we can’t just show up, drop anchor, and jump in. Many dive sites have mooring buoys that you can connect your boat to. Make sure you know how to connect to these mooring buoys to properly secure your vessel. If there is no mooring buoy, you could anchor down, but you’ll need to be sure that you are not in an area that prohibits anchoring, that there is no live coral where you’re dropping anchor, and that the anchor is set and secure before moving on to the dive.

You’ll also need to find the safest way to get in and out of the water. Getting in tends to be the easy part and, as divers used to dive operations, we may be used to Giant Stride or roll off methods—these are still valid when diving from your own boat. But the getting back in part may need a little more thought. Some boats have a platform on the back that can be easily accessed with a ladder. Some ladder access can be found along the sides, and some boats are built with a side door for easy boarding from the water. It is vital that the engines be turned off before any diver attempts to board. Get an offboarding and onboarding strategy in place and make sure all divers and the designated on board person are savvy on the procedure.   

So, what have we learned?

Ideally, you have a better insight on whether you may prefer to dive with a dive operation or from your own boat. There are things we need to keep in mind for both methods of diving and you’ll need to determine which method you’ll be able to commit to in a safe and respectable way. 

If you’re intrigued by the idea of taking your own boat, we hope you’ve come to discover that safety is the absolute number one priority. To increase your safety knowledge and personal ability to handle boating and diving more safely on your own, you can take a boating safety course and/or a diver rescue course. 

If all you want to do is load up your gear and jump in the water, taking a dive charter may be ideal. If you want the freedom of exploring exactly where you want to dive when you want to dive, you may enjoy taking your own private boat, but you’ll need to be prepared for the responsibilities that come with doing that. 

Ready to dive around and find out? Good. We hope this overview and comparison was helpful in giving you some clarity on whether you’re ready to take your private boat out diving or want to stick with the jumping in on dive operations.

FAQs

What boat safety equipment is needed when diving? 

When boating, you’ll need a marine radio, a navigational system, and a first aid kit. When adding scuba diving or even freediving to the mix, be sure to also have an oxygen tank and appropriate dive flags on board. 

What is a boating safety course? 

Boating safety courses are designed to instruct boaters how to be as safe as possible out on the water. With information on what gear to have aboard, how to respond in emergency situations, and more, these courses can significantly improve your boating skills. 

Is it better or worse to dive from your own boat rather than a charter? 

This is all dependent on your levels of responsibility and how many people you’re diving with. If you’ve got all the right safety gear on the boat, have a designated person to stay on board and keep an eye on things at the surface, and are prepared to handle all the considerations that go with taking your own boat diving, go for it! If it’s just you or you and a dive buddy going out on a dive and perhaps your confidence level isn’t great in the fields of boating, diving, or diver safety and responsibility, then going with a dive operation may be best for you until you build the proper confidence and skills to manage diving from your own boat. 

Is it more or less expensive to dive from your own boat or with a charter? 

Diving with a dive operation isn’t exactly expensive, but depending on how often you dive, the bill can eventually add up. Diving from your own boat may be quite the investment when getting started to ensure you have all the necessary equipment, but once you’ve got all that, all you’ll be paying for is gas for the boat and air for the scuba tank. 

What is the most important thing to consider when diving from a private boat? 

Safety is the most important thing to consider when diving from a private boat. One of the best things you can do to ensure safety when diving from a private boat is to make sure someone stays on board with the vessel to take the appropriate actions in the event of an emergency. 

What is the most important thing to consider when diving with a dive operation? 

While safety is still at the top of the list here, you’re paying someone else to take care of the big safety precautions on a dive operation. So, while you’ll want to keep safety in mind, respect and consideration for others while on the charter is likely one of the most important things to consider when diving with a dive operation.