STUART, Fla. — A Florida judge has ruled that a doctor violated navigational rules during a 2009 boating accident that severed a scuba diver’s legs.
A Martin County Judge sentenced the emergency room doctor last Wednesday to six months probation on a misdemeanor charge.
The diver from Palm Beach Gardens was struck by the doctor’s boat propellers while diving in January 2009 about 4 miles north of the St. Lucie Inlet.
The diver testified that he had the proper “Diver Down” flag displayed and further tried to warn the approaching boat by waving a spear gun above his head on the surface, but no one acknowledged his signal. He said he tried to swim out of the way of the boat, but its propeller struck his tank and legs.
So what do we take away from this horrible news report?
You may run across boats engaged in diving operations almost anywhere, so keep a sharp lookout and scan the water ahead of you.
Boats engaged in diving should show a rigid replica of the internationally recognized “Alpha Flag”. This is a blue and white flag with a swallow tail. Additionally, the traditionally used “Divers Down” flag should be flown from the boat or from a float over the divers. This red flag with a diagonal white stripe should be easily seen on the water.
If you spot either or both of these flags, keep well clear (at least 100 to 200 feet depending upon state law) from the vessel and diver down flag, if floating. Also watch carefully for bubbles breaking the surface. It could indicate that a diver has strayed from the area and may not be near the dive boat.
In Florida where this accident took place, the law requires display of a divers-down flag anytime someone is diving or snorkeling. The size of a divers-down flag displayed on vessels must be 20 inches by 24 inches, and a stiffener is required to keep the flag unfurled. Dive flags carried on floats may still be 12 by 12. Also, dive flags on vessels must be displayed at a high point on the vessel so that the flag’s visibility is not obstructed.
Divers must make reasonable efforts to stay within 300 feet of a divers-down flag on open waters (all waterways other than rivers, inlets, or navigation channels) and within 100 feet of a flag within rivers, inlets, or navigation channels.
Vessel operators must make a reasonable effort to maintain a distance of at least 300 feet from divers-down flags on open waters and at least 100 feet from flags on rivers, inlets, or navigation channels. Vessels approaching divers-down flags closer than 300 feet in open water and 100 feet in rivers, inlets, and navigation channels must slow to idle speed .
Divers shall not, except in case of emergency, display the divers-down flag in an area which would constitute a navigational hazard.
You should research the laws of the State in which you are diving or operating around divers for the specifics of flags required and the operating distances from those flags.