Revised December 10, 2003

Issue.  Promulgation and maintenance of industry guidelines delineating minimum safety standards and best practices used for Hawaii scuba diving and snorkel operations from vessels.

Discussion.  Recreational scuba diving and snorkeling in Hawaii is a vibrant industry, enabling visitors to explore a rich and diverse, sensitive marine environment while helping the Islands’ tourism economy. Since 1996, the local maritime community has carried out an ongoing effort to evaluate and improve the safety ofrecreational diving operations from vessels in Hawaii. The result of this effort was the generation of H.O.S.T. Safe Operating Practice (SOP) 5-97. Although the SOP has served Hawaii and its dive community well, periodic review is beneficial to ensure the best practices necessary to maintain the safety and vitality of the industry. 

Recommendations of H.O.S.T:

1.  Create and annually review minimum safety standards for safe dive operations from vessels operating throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

2.  Capture the minimum safety standards and “best practices” in the H.O.S.T. Safe Operating Practice Handbook.

Resolution.  Representatives from the Hawaii dive and safety communities met, updated, and ratified minimum safety standards for operators of vessels and companies performing dive and snorkel operations from vessels.  This written doctrine contains standard “Safe Operating Practices” for operators of vessels, and companies performing operations from vessels engaged in the Hawaii recreational scuba diving and snorkeling industry.  Developed by the Hawaii diving industry and H.O.S.T. Dive Operations Safety Subcommittee, it is designed as a guideline to assist the Hawaii dive community in reducing the number of diving and snorkeling casualties. 

Dive Operations From Vessels  

1.  Vessel at Pier side:  This area outlines tasks that should be performed by the vessel crew once passengers have boarded the vessel, prior to getting underway. (See Safety Checklist for Master). 

      a.  The Master ensures that all equipment is safely stowed against movement.

        b.  The Master ensures that all passengers are accounted for at the beginning of each trip.

        c.  The Master ensures that the passenger safety orientation is conducted, in accordance with 46 CFR 185.506.

  • If the same load of passengers is present after the dive site stop, the safety brief is not required to be repeated.
  • If new passengers are loaded, the vessel safety brief is to be repeated for the benefit of the new passengers.

      d.   Dive site brief:  The dive master should use a dive site brief that covers all elements of theGeneric Dive Site Brief Checklist.

  • Identification marking underneath vessel.  Vessels marked underneath may help guide returning divers to proper vessel of origin. Identifying markings may include: the number of propellers; color of bottom paint, contrasting vessel specific markings using different colors of bottom paint, number of hulls, existence of boarding platform, etc.

2.  Vessel Approaching a Dive Site:  After the vessel has departed the pier en route to the dive site, the crew should then focus their attention on approaching the dive site.  Communications, people, and/or obstructions in the water, dive flags, mooring/anchoring, and on-scene weather conditions should be continuously monitored.  (See Safety Checklist for Master).

        a.  Master should establish communication with any other vessel(s) in the area, particularly a vessel using that same dive site.

            (1)   Type of radio used should be VHF, immediately accessible near helm.

               (2)    Radio Channel:  Vessels should continuously monitor Channel 16.  Working and alternate channels will be listed in island-specific publications.

            (3)   Safe approach and anchoring/mooring preferences.  Recommended methods of anchoring or mooring are site-specific and included in island-specific publications. Significant items to be aware of include:

  • Location of the people in the water.
  • Activities of the people in the water.
  • Wind, current, visibility, and sea state.
  • Location of obstructions in the water.

        b.    Transiting vessels should make no wake within 200 feet of any person in the water (Hawaii Revised Statutes S13-244-9).

        c.    Diver down flag (red/white stripe) shall be flown when divers are in the water.  The International Code of Signals flag Alpha shouldalso be flown when divers are in the water.

3.    Site Specific Brief:  Each dive site is unique.  See island-specific publications for site-specific items.

4.    Crew Responsibilities While at Dive Site:  Once the vessel is moored or anchored and diving/snorkeling operations have commenced, THE VESSEL CREW SHOULD MAINTAIN A VIGILANT WATCH TO PROVIDE FOR DIVER SAFETY.  See Enclosure (1) for the Safety Checklist for Master.  Considerationsinclude:

        a.    Dive flag posted.

        b.    Radio powered up and on the proper channel.

        c.    Maintain lookout.

        d.    Recall Plan:  A method to recall in-water passengers.

        e.    Deploy and monitor tag/float line.

5.    Preparation to Depart Dive Site:  After diving/snorkeling operations have ceased, the crew must ensure all passengers are back on board the vessel.  After all passengers are accounted for, the crew prepares the vessel and visually checks surroundings prior to departing dive site. (See Safety Checklist for Master).

        a.    Secure all dive gear.

        b.    Visual check for persons/obstructions in the water.

        c.    Secure flag, floats and lines.


Companies are encouraged to develop internal checklists to assist vessel Masters, crew, and dive masters in ensuring that all divers and snorkelers are safeguarded. These Safe Operating Practices will be reviewed and modified annually, or sooner if urgency dictates.

Generic Dive Site Brief Checklist

  • Explain dive site boundaries:  Visual charts, landmarks, etc.
  • Dive Conditions:  Wind, currents, sea state, and visibility.
  • Specific hazards of the dive site:  Marine life (animals and plants) caves, currents, wrecks, other vessels.
  • Procedures as regards water entry and exit area of the vessel.
  • Location of descent/ascent and float lines.
  • Dive buddies paired up.
  • Maximum depth and bottom time of the dive.
  • Returning air supply (minimal amounts).
  • Diver response upon hearing vessel engines:
  • (1)  Descend or hold ascent.
  • (2)  Visualize vessel location.
  • Procedures if separated from dive group, mixed into another dive group, or surfaced and caught in a current.
  • Equipment and air check is the responsibility of the certified diver.  Instructor(s) are to check equipment of the introductory divers.
  • Hand Signals.
  • Diver emergency and recall procedures.

Briefer:                                                            Date:                                          Time: 

Safety Checklist for Master

  • All passengers on board and manifested:  Ensure that each passenger is accounted for and logged accordingly.  Ensure that underway and shore-side numbers match. Log the time the diver enters the water and the time the diver returns on board.
  • All equipment safely stowed:  Ensure that the crew safely stows all dive equipment before departure and during transit.
  • Vessel safety brief:  Prior to leaving the dock andgetting underway, ensure that the crew conducts a proper safety brief in accordance with 46 CFR 185-506 and that all passengers understand the brief:
  • Location of emergency exits, survival craft embarkation areas, and life ring buoys.
  • Stowage location of personal floatation devices (PFD’s).
  • Proper method of donning & adjusting PFD’s.
  • Location of PFD/lifesaving device placards.
  • Donning of PFD’sas directed by the Master.
  • Communicate arrival with other vessels at the site area, if necessary:  Upon approaching the dive site, use the VHF radio and exchange site arrival information with vessels in the area.
  • Mooring/anchoring procedures:  Prepare and execute pre-arranged method of mooring or anchoring.  Consider persons and obstructions in the water, weather conditions, and the use of day-use mooring pins.
  • Lookout posted:  Ensure that the lookout is posted upon approach and departure of all dive sites.  Search for persons/obstructions in the water and vessel traffic.
  • Helm accessible VHF radioon and set to proper channel:  Ensure that all forms of communications are functioning and set to the proper channel.
  • Emergency phone numbers/radio frequencies available:  Ensure that a listing of emergency phone numbers and radio frequencies is on board, helm accessible, and available at all times.

Master:     __________________________  Date:      ________________  Time:  ___________

                                  Drift Dive Site Considerations

  • Captains and Dive Masters who will be participating in drift dives should be thoroughly trained on safe procedures for drift diving.
  • In addition to standard dive gear, Dive Masters guiding drift dives should have a surface marker deployable from depth (safety sausage, etc.) and a surface sound signal (dive alert, whistle, etc.). If sea conditions are calm, or if an overhead environment will be encountered on the dive, the procedure is to deploy the safety sausage when the 1st diver reaches 700 psi. If sea conditions are not calm, the Dive Master may be asked to tow the safety sausage for the duration of the dive.
  • Upon entering the water and decent for the dive, if the current flows in a direction different from the dive plan, the dive master should immediately deploy the surface float for the duration of the dive.
  • Captains should have documented training on drift diving procedures to include safe methods for dropping off divers, following them during the dive, picking the divers up, and ensuring everyone is accounted for. A dive flag must be flown for the duration of the dive. It is essential that Captains maintain vigilance in keeping track of the dive group’s location at all times. 
  • The following briefing should be given by the Captain or Dive Master prior to a drift dive. All procedures in the briefing are part of the training that Captains and Dive Masters should have.


  1. Do not enter the water until the Captain gives the “O.K.”. Boat may be in and out of gear.
  2. Keep an eye on the boat.
  3. Wait on the surface until your Dive Master/guide and all the divers in your group are in the water.
  4. Please follow behind your guide. Your guide will set the pace for the dive as well as the direction.
  5. If you are separated from the group, look for no more than one minute. Very cautiously and slowly ascend, looking and reaching up and being very aware of potential boat traffic.
  6. Let your guide know when you have 700 psi.
  7. When the 1st diver reaches 700 psi, your guide will send up a float. At no less than 500 psi, let your guide know you are ascending. Ascend slowly beside the line but do not hold onto it. Do a safety stop for a minimum of 3 minutes at 15 feet beside the line, then surface next to the float and signal to the boat for pick up using the “O.K.” sign.
  8. Do not ascend without letting your guide and your buddy know.
  9. Please stay by the line during your safety stop.
  10.  Do not surface away from the float. While ascending, look up, reach up, and listen for boats. If you see the bottom of a boat, remember divers should never ascend under the boat and should not ascend close enough to the boat to risk being hit if the boat were to swing, swerve or reverse unexpectedly.
  11.  When you reach the surface, look for the boat and signal that you are O.K. The Captain will signal “come here” or “stay there”. Do not approach the boat without an OK from the Captain.
  12.  Watch for the Captain’s signal to swim to the boat. Return the O.K. signal and swim to the boat on the surface. Keep watching for the Captain’s signals.
  13.  Board the boat as quickly as you safely can.

Briefer: ____________________________ Date:________________ Time:__________