Drift diving offers scuba divers a truly unique experience in which they get to feel as though they’re flying through water. It can be a dangerous experience, however, without the necessary safety equipment. Before you venture out to try drift diving, make sure you’re prepared with the right flag and float.
In drift diving, the current controls your speed and allows you to glide through the water much more quickly than you would on a typical dive – so you’ll also be covering a lot more territory. As you’re moving through the water, dive flags and floats not only allow your surface support to see where you are at all times, they also warn any other water traffic (such as boats or Jet Ski users) that you’re diving in the area and may be near the surface.
When choosing a dive flag, it’s important to make sure it will be recognized in the area you will be diving. Select a flag that is either the red-and-white flag, the blue and white “Alpha” flag, or both, depending on local regulations. Other essential features include:
- A pole that holds the flag high enough for boaters to see it, even above any waves
- A buoyant float that will hold the flag and staff and won’t flip over
- A line so that you can tow the flag and float when you are on your dive
- A reel to store your line neatly and safely so you don’t get entangled
Other optional items and features include a flag-stiffener and an inner-tube with a fabric cover. The stiffeners prevent the flag from folding when there is no wind, while fabric-covered inner-tubes offer the best buoyancy and a way to tow accessories you’d rather not carry.
Some regions require the use of a dive flag by law. Usually on a drift dive this means you’ll need to tow the flag using a float and reel, but if you are staying within an immediate area, it is also possible for a surface support boat to display the flag instead. Such laws might dictate when you must fly the flag and its required proximity to both you and any surface traffic.
Even if there are rules that state other boaters should keep their distance from your flag, don’t assume they will automatically follow them! As you come up from your dive, listen carefully for boats and wait until they leave before surfacing next to your flag.
Enjoy the adventures of drift diving, but be safe while doing so. For more advice on buying a dive flag and float, including what styles are best for you and the local regulations which might apply – visit your local PADI Dive Shop. To find your nearest PADI Dive Shop click here.