So Why All of the Charter Boat Restrictions These Days?
by David Miner
I’ve been diving for many years with my advanced and nitrox certifications, but lately on a number of different dive charters in different locations, I’ve been restricted by boat captains and/or dive masters to not go below 100 feet and forced to be accompanied by a dive master on all dives. I’ve also been restricted to dive times based on the “air” divers on the boat when I was diving nitrox. These restrictions are becoming more and more frequent with charter boats…something I haven’t experienced this much since getting advanced and nitrox certified over 14 years ago. Why is this happening and getting more and more common?
During advanced training, you get experience to depths up to 130 feet. You learn how to manage your gas, your bottom time, your ascent rate, and your surface interval times between dives. You also learn about the hazards of diving to deeper depths. When completed, you are certified to dive up to 130 feet deep.
During nitrox training, you learn about increased oxygen levels in your breathing gas. You learn how to calculate appropriate mixes for various depths, the maximum operating depth (MOD) for the mixture, the no-decompression bottom time for the mixture, and how nitrox shortens your surface interval times. You also learn that nitrox is typically used for dive depths from 40 to 130 feet (sport diving (recreational) diving limits).
On all of these recent charter boat dives, I was forced to sign a waiver and fill out a form about my diving experience, when my last dive was, and the number of dives I’ve completed. I had to present my certification cards. Since I was diving nitrox, I had to analyze and sign for my mixture and state the MOD for that mixture. I was asked if I was diving with a computer or on tables…I always dive a computer…a nitrox computer. I was also thoroughly briefed before each dive about the conditions, what to expect on the dive, hazards, etc. Armed with my signed waiver, experience form filled out, seeing my advanced and nitrox certification cards, and knowing that I’d be diving a computer programmed with my mixture, I was still forced to stay above 100 feet deep, stay with the dive master at all times, and had to follow the time limitations of divers diving air.
Now, I know that charter boats have to deal with all kinds of divers. Divers who are just recently trained, divers who have not dived for a year or more, and divers who only dive a couple of times a year. They are responsible for these divers and must take many of them under their wing so as to avoid any dangerous situations. I get this! I understand the predicament they’re in…I even feel for them sometimes. It’s, no doubt, a tough job from time to time.
However, what about the advanced trained, nitrox trained, active divers on these boats? These divers have spent time and money going through the advanced training, they have spent time and money going through nitrox training (and paid for their nitrox fills), and they have spent time and money diving actively gaining experience and knowledge. These credentials should not be overlooked and ignored because other divers on the boat do not have the same experience or because a boat captain or shop owner wants to get the charter over with quickly or has some sort of fears. These divers should not be restricted to only dive to 100 feet when their training allows them to dive to 130 feet. Nitrox divers should not be forced to follow bottom times and surface interval times of divers diving air. They definitely should not be told that by exceeding these predefined limitations that they’re surface interval time will be affected and they won’t be able to do a decent second dive…especially if they’re diving nitrox! Come on, one of the big benefits of diving nitrox is shortened surface interval times. Advanced/nitrox divers know how to monitor their bottom time AND surface interval time so as to avoid decompression on all dives. This is just a bogus reason to try and validate the imposed limitations. If an advanced diver wants to max out his/her bottom time on the first dive resulting in a short surface interval time, then they have to deal with a shorter/shallower second dive…but it’s the diver’s decision and after all she/he’s the paying customer.
As I mentioned, for all of these charters, I had to sign a waiver and provide the number of dives I’ve done, types of dives I’ve done, and the date the last time I went diving. Why? I understand the waiver part, but why ask me about my training level and the dives I’ve done if it’s going to be ignored, and I’m going to be forced to dive within the limitations of other less experienced divers on the boat or within the captain/shop owner’s imposed rules? It’s a real let down to arrive on a dive site and be told that you have to dive within certain guidelines, and you won’t be able to do the dive you had planned. I came with the right certifications, right breathing gas, right dive computer, right amount of experience, paid the charter fee, etc. but I can’t use these credentials and tools to do the dive I want to do.
With the price of boat fuel at three dollars or more per gallon along with the rise of the general costs of doing business, charter boat prices are going up. It’s getting more and more expensive to step on a charter boat. In addition to the base rate for a two-tank dive, you’re also expected to tip the boat crew. It’s easy to spend $100 to $200+ per day to dive on a charter boat. With prices being this high, divers should be allowed to dive up to their certification level, not forced to stay within the limitations created based on other divers on the boat or the boat captain/shop owner’s fears or concerns.
It’s hard to accept forced limitations when you’ve gone through and paid for your training, stayed active in your diving, and paid the charter boat fees. Why have (spend money on) all the training and experience if you’re not going to be aloud to use it? It’s kind of like renting a car and being told that you can’t drive the car over 50 MPH…you have your driver’s license, pay your car insurance, and drive your own car every day (many times over 50 MPH), so why the restrictions?
So, I ask the training agencies, why should divers pay for all of the different training courses offered if once they get on a charter boat, they’re forced to dive within limitations that only require mostly a basic training level and must be accompanied by a dive master? I also ask all of the charter boats, why are you imposing more and more restrictions on your dive boat? With everything getting more and more expensive and diving being a “hobby” type sport (meaning it’s the first to go when times get tough), divers are going to seek out friendly dive charters that allow them to dive within their means, dive their own plan, and not be forced into dive-limiting restrictions. I know that’s how I’ll be shopping for future dive charters!.