The red flag with the white diagonal stripe running across it also known as the ‘Diver Down’ flag or the Scuba & Snorkel Flag is perhaps instantly recognizable by all scuba divers & snorkelers . The intent of the flag is to con
vey to other boats in the vicinity that there is a diver submerged below this vessel or buoy/flag and that they should keep their distance to avoid hitting a diver that could surface nearby. The flag may be used on the dive boat itself
or independently on a surface buoy, and often on a buoy towed by a diver below.
Divers are required to restrict their dive to the vicinity of the flag, and often state/country regulations prescribe the acceptable distance.
The Diver down flag came into existence. In short, the flag was originally invented in the 1950’s by a man from Michigan, who wanted a flag to keep boats at a safe distance from dive boats. He used a combination of the Navy’s red ‘Bravo flag’ that was used to connote danger, and sewed a horizontal white stripe across it. Later when he realized that this was the national flag of Austria, he needed to change its design, and since a vertical stripe was being used as a signal flag by the navy, he used a diagonal white stripe that extended from the top left to the bottom right corner. Slowly this flag began to gain popularity, after Michigan became the first state to pass a law making it mandatory to fly the ‘Dockery’ flag on dive boats. Soon most US states followed suit and today the red and white dive flag is recognized not only as a diver down flag, but also the international symbol for scuba diving, used by scuba stores, selling or renting dive equipment, or anything associated with scuba/snorkeling all over the world.
Interestingly though, the red and white ‘Diver Down’ flag isn’t the only internationally recognized diver flag in existence; In some countries, the practice is to use the blue-and-white A-flag known as the Alpha/Alfa flag instead. While the intent of the A-Flag is also to indicate the presence of a diver in the water, its usage is more commonly employed in Europe and the British Commonwealth.
Flying the Dive flag is mandatory in several countries and in almost all states in the US whenever conducting diving operations; however there is much debate about how truly recognizable this symbol is to non-divers and casual boaters that often do not comprehend its meaning. Several divers have reported that despite flying the Diver Down flag, other boats fail to steer clear of the dive boat or buoy and come dangerously close, often putting the divers’ & snorkelers lives at risk. There have been several accidents across the globe involving boat collisions with surfacing divers despite flying the dive flag. This makes the dive flag only offer some amount of protection to divers, and that the awareness of the meaning of the flag is still not widespread outside the diving and boating community. Stricter boat licensing tests and greater public awareness seem to be the answer to this problem.