On Friday June 13th Florida Governor Rick Scott signed HB 1049 into law in the state. This bill provides divers with additional choices for marking their position in the water by allowing either a traditional divers-down flag OR a divers-down buoy. This legislation was sought as a means of increasing diver visibility and diver safety on the waterways.
The current law requires divers to display a “divers down flag,” a square or rectangular red flag with a white diagonal stripe, in the area where diving occurs. Divers are required to conduct their diving activities within a certain distance to the flag, and vessels are required maintain a certain distance from the flags, depending on the location of the activity. The new law allows divers to use a buoy in place of a flag when the buoy is a specified size and when the diver is diving independent of a vessel. Flags are still required when diving from a vessel.
According to the new law, “divers-down buoy” means a buoyant device, other than a vessel, which displays a divers-down symbol of at least 12 inches by 12 inches on three or four flat sides, which is prominently visible on the water’s surface when in use.
Divers must make a reasonable effort to stay within 100 feet of the divers-down flag or buoy on rivers, inlets, and navigation channels. Similarly, any person operating a vessel must make a reasonable effort to stay more than 100 feet from the divers-down flag or buoy in these areas.
Divers must make reasonable efforts to stay within 300 feet of the divers-down flag or buoy on all waters other than rivers, inlets, and navigation channels. Any person operating a vessel on waters other than a river, inlet, or navigation channel must make a reasonable effort to maintain a distance of at least 300 feet from any divers-down flag or buoy.
In both locations vessels that approach within the required distance must proceed no faster than is necessary to maintain headway and steerageway.
Any violation of the law results in a noncriminal infraction punishable by a civil penalties and a requirement that the person appears before the county court. The bill also requires boater education and safety courses to include a component regarding divers-down buoys and diver-down flags.
The new law goes into effect on July 1, 2014.