Bill gives options to divers

Florida Keys state Rep. Holly Raschein has sponsored a bill this legislative session that gives divers and snorkelers another option when it comes to alerting boaters of their presence in the water.

Currently, divers must display a standard red and white diver-down flag, which has been the standard since the 1950s.

Raschein’s bill, H.B. 1049, would give them the option to use a red and white-striped buoy in place of the flag.

State Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, has sponsored the companion bill, S.B. 1176.

Under state law, a dive flag must be square or rectangular and have a wire or other stiffener to hold it fully unfurled and extended in the absence of a wind or breeze. The minimum size for any divers-down flag displayed on a buoy or float towed by the diver is 12 inches by 12 inches. The minimum size for any divers-down flag displayed from a vessel or structure is 20 inches by 24 inches.

Divers shall make reasonable efforts to stay within 100 feet of the divers-down flag on rivers, inlets and navigation channels, according to state law. Any person operating a vessel on a river, inlet or navigation channel must make a reasonable effort to maintain a distance of at least 100 feet from any divers-down flag.

The Senate and House bills would legalize a diver-down buoy, similar to the dive flag towed behind a diver. Raschein, R-Key Largo, argued the buoy is safer because it’s 3-D and four-sided, making it more visible.

“It just gives divers an alternative to the flag,” Raschein said. “It does not implement any new rules.”

Raschein and Abruzzo sponsored the legislation after being approached by representatives of a Boca Raton company, Two Goumbas, which has built a prototype of the buoy. Its founder, Michael Greenfield, began working with an engineer to develop the buoy nearly two years ago because of his concerns about diver safety and boats not being able to see a dive flag.

“It’s a pretty simple idea,” Greenfield said. “I can’t believe someone has not thought of it before.”

In addition to being 3-D, the company’s prototype is wrapped in reflective material, making it even more visible. It is also sturdy enough to hold the weight of a diver in an emergency situation, company officials said.

The company has also developed an LED light attachment that allows the buoy to be seen from two miles away at night, said Andrea Salvo, company vice president of sales and marketing.

“We are not trying to get rid of the flag,” Salvo said. “We are only trying to give people another option.”

The diver-down buoy concept and legislation is being supported by DEMA (Dive Equipment and Marketing Association) and the international scuba instruction company PADI, according to DEMA state lobbyist Bob Harris.

“It would be an added layer of safety,” said Capt. Bill Grosscup, who owns the dive business Captain’s Corner in Key West. “It’s something you can see no matter where you are and where the winds are coming from.”

Diver deaths from boat strikes has been rare in the Keys in recent years. In 2009, Norman Williams Jr. Williams was struck and killed by a 17-foot Boston Whaler. He surfaced away from his boat during a drift dive near the Harbor Keys, on the gulf side, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

No charges were filed against the driver of the boat that struck Henderson. Williams apparently surfaced without a dive flag, FWC officials said.

If the legislation is passed this session, Two Goumbas plans to start marketing the prototype later this year, Salvo said.

Raschein is expected to present her bill on the floor of House of Representatives next week, when it will be voted on. Abruzzo’s bill is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

tohara@keysnews.com

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