In my last post , I offered some advice for protecting coral reefs while snorkeling and diving in southern Florida and elsewhere around the world. Of course, respecting the environment isn't the only priority while engaging in such underwater explorations. As with boating , kayaking , and other water-based diversions, human safety is also an important aspect of proper underwater etiquette.
No matter where you plan to snorkel or dive this summer, be sure to take the following precautions:
ᴥ Check weather conditions before venturing out, as strong winds and rough seas can create unsafe conditions.
ᴥ If operating your own vessel, make sure you stay at least 300 feet from diver-down flags in open water and at least 100 feet from flags in rivers and inlets; if you cannot maintain such distance, slow down to an idle speed when passing other divers.
ᴥ Make sure you've had proper snorkeling and/or scuba-diving instruction.
ᴥ When in doubt about your abilities, don't hesitate to join a professional guide or tour.
ᴥ Always tell someone on land where you're planning to go and when you intend to return.
ᴥ If you plan to be in the water for a while, apply ample waterproof sunscreen or wear a T-shirt to avoid sunburn.
ᴥ Make sure your mask and flippers fit properly, and check that you have all necessary equipment, such as inflatable vests for snorkelers and weights and tanks for scuba divers.
ᴥ If you find it difficult to walk on the boat while wearing flippers, carry them into the water before putting them on.
ᴥ Never snorkel or dive without displaying a proper red-and-white, diver-down flag on your vessel, and always remove said flag when all divers have returned to the boat.
ᴥ Always snorkel or dive with a buddy, and try to stay together.
ᴥ Plan your entry and exit points before jumping into the water.
ᴥ Swim into the current upon entering the water and then ride the current back to your exit point.
ᴥ Don't touch any tempting sea creatures, as they may sting you – or worse.
ᴥ Look above the water every now and again to ensure that you haven't drifted too far away from the boat; try to stay within 300 feet of the diver-down flag when in open water and 100 feet when in a river or inlet.
ᴥ If you have a diving emergency, dial 911 from your cell phone, or use a VHF radio to signal a “MAYDAY.”
A helpful saying to remember is “Snorkel aware, dive with care!” For scuba divers, another beneficial saying is “Dive ALIVE,” with the letters in “ALIVE” standing for:
Air: Monitor your air supply, always surface with at least 500 PSI, and practice out-of-air procedures.
Lead Weights: Wear only enough lead to achieve proper buoyancy, and know how to release your and your buddy's weight systems.
Inspection: Examine your gear before every dive trip, replace missing or worn gear, replace batteries in any electronics, and have regulators serviced annually.
Verification: Double-check your dive skills, and review your dive plan, signals, and lost buddy procedures with your diving buddy.
Escape: Always dive with surface signaling devices; if you become entangled, remain calm and do what you can to free yourself; and if you're lost on the surface, inflate your buoyancy compensation device (BCD), remain calm, maintain your position if possible, and try to attract others' attention.
For more safety tips, consult diving operators in the area you plan to visit. They're usually happy to help!
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo © 2011 Daniel Martone / Text © 2011 Laura Martone
Laura Martone is Moon’s American Nomad  and the author of Moon Michigan , Moon Florida Keys , Moon Baja RV Camping , and the upcoming Moon New Orleans, which will be published in Spring 2012.