In June 2014, two snorkel buddies were out enjoying the underwater sights in Jupiter Inlet, Florida, but tragedy struck when both were struck upon surfacing by a passing speedboat. The 26-year-old man died while the woman later recovered from a broken pelvis.
This is the tale that led to a string of snorkeling and scuba safety reform laws in Florida, but stories like it can be heard in popular snorkel areas around the world. Yet, the snorkel and boating safety reform does not always follow.
Snorkelers and boaters each have equal rights to the water, but both have to learn to use it safety with each other. While many of the world’s best snorkel areas are the best because there is very little to no boat traffic to disturb the marine life, not all sites can be so lucky.
Unlike Florida, many other countries don’t have any safety laws for boaters and snorkelers, so it is up to the snorkeler to try to make their time underwater as safe as possible and hope boaters know the signs.
Follow the Golden Rule – Never Snorkel Alone
The number one safety tip for snorkelers is to never forget the golden rule: go with a buddy. While snorkeling with a buddy not only keeps you safe in an unpredictable ocean and provides someone to help you in case of emergency, they are essential in high traffic waters. Your buddy not only looks out for you, but they look out for boats as well.
Naturally, the polite thing to do is to take turns keeping watch for boats so that you can both have a good, safe time.
They’re not just for scuba divers anymore. Snorkelers and even casual swimmers can benefit from diver flags in high traffic areas. The red flag with a diagonal white strip is a near universal sign among boaters that a diver is underwater and they should reduce speed, giving the flag a wide berth. However, in countries where boat safety is not as prevalent, the signal may not be recognized by all who pass by your snorkel site.
If snorkeling from a boat, your diver down flag should be displayed prominently above the water from your vessel. However, if you start snorkeling from the shore, it is best to combine your diver down flag with a buoy. This not only tells boaters that you are down there, but the buoy attached to your person tells them whereabouts in the water you are. The buoy should also detach easily, just in case a boat does pass overhead and it gets caught up in a propeller.
What to Do When a Boat Gets Too Close
You can take every single safety measure when it comes to snorkeling around popular boating areas, but ultimately the other party needs to know how to read the signs as well. Sometimes you will meet leisure boaters that have no idea what a diver down flag means, or even worse, ones that roll on up looking to investigate your buoy. So what do you do when a boat is getting too close to your snorkel spot.
Above the Surface: Wave at them. This may seem strange, like you are asking them to stop and help you, but at very least you are making sure that they see you there. Worse case, they will stop and ask you if you need help. It is better than getting knocked on the head by a big lump of fibreglass or caught up in a propeller.
Underwater: Dive deeper. If, by some stroke of luck you spotted the boat coming towards you and can’t make it to the surface in time, go as deep as you can. Hopefully it will pass you by without an incident.
Luckily, in many countries, the snorkel areas are well known. Some even features roped off areas to protect the marine life and the people who come to see them. If you are paying a visit to a popular snorkel area, it is unlikely you that you will find many boats. However, for the real veteran snorkelers that like to explore the shore line, be sure to make use of these snorkel safety tips even if you are unsure of the amount of boat traffic the areas gets.