Scuba Diving

Flag of the Realm

June 19, 2013

My name is Bill and I am NAUI Scuba Instructor #50805. No, I didn’t type it backwards. Here at Bill Jackson’s Shop for Adventure, you’ll find me working the Dive Shop sales floor, in the Scuba Repair Workshop servicing regulators, BCs, and other scuba gear, and teaching a variety of Scuba Classes from basic Scuba Diver all the way up to Dive Master.

We see the Dive Flag on t-shirts, posters, log book binders, bags, bumper stickers, and on top of dive boats. Ever wonder who invented the dive flag, why we need one, and how much it might cost if we don’t use a dive flag when we should? Well, my bubble blowing friend, read on.

The Dive Flag was invented in the 1950’s by Denzel James “Doc” Dockery from Michigan. He chose red, because, in the Navy a red ‘Bravo’ flag meant “danger”. A plain red flag was not too distinctive, so he added a white horizontal stripe. And voila… he just ‘invented’ the Austrian National Flag. Oops, back to the drawing board. From his Navy days, he knew that a red flag with vertical stripe meant the number seven. So, he decided to put the stripe diagonally. And voila (for real this time), the Dive Flag was born! Soon after the invention, U.S Divers, now known as Aqualung (founded by Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who was on NAUI’s first Board of Advisors) distributed Doc’s flag nationally. Michigan was the first state to adopt the dive flag. The federal government and just about every state (including Florida) have adopted the dive flag.

Here in Florida, State Statue 327.33 1 defines a dive flag, how big it needs to be, who needs one, and how to properly display it.

In a nutshell, it states that snorkelers and divers must have a dive flag. The dive flag if towed by the diver must be at least 12” x 12”. If on a dive boat it must be at least 20” X 24” and displayed at the highest part of the boat. The flag should only be displayed when divers are in the water and should not be displayed to create a navigation hazard. When divers are out of the water the flag should be lowered. Divers should stay within 100 feet of the dive flag when in rivers, inlets, and navigation channels and within 300 feet in the ‘open ocean’. Boats approaching the dive flag should slow and veer away, and if with the distances mentioned above, reduce to idle speed.

Florida State Statue 327.73, says that divers can face a non-criminal violation and a $50 fine for not properly following the dive flag laws. While Statue 327.33 says that Boaters that ‘buzz’ past dive flags can face a first degree misdemeanor, which could land the operator in jail up to a year and a fine of $1,000.

Rainbow River, where I conduct some open water check out dives, and beach dives such as Venice, Indian Rocks Beach, the Blue Heron Bridge, are all places where the use of a floating dive flag is a must.

My basic floating dive flag setup looks like this:

Scuba Diving Flag

The flag has a metal stiffener to keep it ‘open’, and is attached to the top of a pole which has a Styrofoam float half way up and a weight at the bottom. I use a yellow plastic reel that has about 50ft of line. A use a brass clip to attach the line to the flag. In using the flag, as I descend, I slowly unroll the reel letting out the line a little at a time until I am at the depth at which I am diving. If I am going to do a dive deeper than 40ft, I will change to another reel that has more of line. It’s always good to have about 10 extra feet of line for waves, current, or that ‘just in case’ moment. A basic dive flag setup similar to mine isn’t too expensive at around only $35.00 or so. Sure, properly following the laws of the divers down flag use will keep the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission from issuing you a fine or taking you off to jail, and could prevent a tragic accident.


Take a look at this video from the FWC:

If you have never used a floating dive flag, and would like to learn, I recommend signing up for the Fossil Diving Specialty Course here at Bill Jacksons. You’ll get a chance to when we head down to Venice Beach to look for fossils from sharks, stingrays, fish and other creatures that were around millions of years ago.

Thanks for reading. Now go out and…

Dive Safe and Have Fun!