JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A favorite summer time activity for Northeastern Florida boaters is to run over to the Gulf coast to go scalloping. Snorkeling in the shallow water of the Gulf for a few hours can easily make for a few meals' worth of delicious bay scallops.
With the opening of scallop season fast approaching, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wants to remind everyone engaged in this fun outdoor activity to use a divers-down warning device whenever they are snorkeling or scuba diving while searching for these tasty treats.
The divers-down symbol is rectangular or square and red in color with a white diagonal stripe. A divers-down flag displayed on a boat must be at least 20 inches by 24 inches and located at the highest point where it can be observed from 360 degrees around the vessel. A buoy may not be used or displayed from a vessel. A divers-down flag or buoy, displayed from the water, must be at least 12 inches by 12 inches. A flag must have a wire or other stiffener to hold it open, and a buoy may be three- or four-sided.
All divers must prominently display a divers-down device in the area in which the diving occurs.
“Displaying and understanding what constitutes a proper divers-down symbol are critical,” said Capt. Tom Shipp of FWC’s Boating and Waterways Section. “These safety devices are meant to alert boaters to the presence of people under the water’s surface and to give them plenty of room.”
All vessels must make a reasonable effort to stay at least 100 feet away from a divers-down device within a river, inlet or channel. In open waters, vessels must make reasonable effort to stay 300 feet away. For safety, divers should stay within those same distances of their displayed device. A vessel that approaches closer must be fully off plane and at idle speed.
“Divers share the responsibility of boating safety with the boat operators,” Shipp said. “Diving without the divers-down symbol properly displayed or using it for reasons other than to inform others of the presence of divers is unlawful.”
The divers-down device should only be displayed when divers are in the water. When divers or snorkelers exit the water, it must be taken down.