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Procedures for Conducting Team Dives

Dives for collecting data on the county reefs are the basic activity of the Palm Beach Reef Research Team. Dives are usually conducted two per trip, to over 27 sites in the county waters, utilizing several different public and private dive boats. Each site will require a differing mix of Specialty Divers (fish surveying, invertebrate monitoring, mapping, photography, videography) as dictated by the grant requirements and the maturity of the site as a Team dive.

The following section provides the procedural approach to be adhered to for all dive operations. Specific procedures for each Specialty are covered elsewhere in the Operations Manual.

Diver Requirements:

In order to dive with the Team, a diver must be Open Water certified by a recognized agency.

Mandatory Dive Practices:

  • Required Equipment:
    • a buoyancy compensator
    • a second regulator (octopus, air2)
    • a ditchable weighting system
    • a surface marker with a 15 foot lanyard
    • a compass
  • The Team will always use the buddy system in diving
  • Time and depth of each dive will be addressed in the dive briefing and shall be adhered to by all members.
  • Monitoring of gauges and buddies will be practiced prudently.
  • For dives reaching depths greater than 50 feet, each diver will make a three-minute safety stop.

Dive Schedule/Scheduling:

The Dive Coordinator, with assistance from the Coordinator and Assistant Coordinator, will schedule dives with the boat Captain(s) at least 6 months in advance. The dive schedule shall be published in the team newsletter and on the team website, and shall be updated as soon as changes are known.

Surface Support:

The Dive Coordinator or his appointed designee shall serve in the capacity of Surface Support for each dive. The Surface Support member will log all divers, buddy pairings, breathing gas, task assignment, and drop number in advance of the drop. They will also aid divers in equipping, moving forward/aft about the boat, log jump times, return times, and problems encountered with the mission. The surface support member may remain dry the entire operation, or, if diving with a team assignment, will be last off the boat,in order to fulfill the surface duties. In the absence of the boat crew calling roll, the Surface Support member will call roll according the the procedures below. The roster and notes from the surface support task will become part of the report to the state.


Divers must arrive at the boat 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure. Each diver shall:

  • sign in with the surface support member
  • sign the boat waiver
  • pay the team dive fees
  • pay the boat for air or equipment
  • set up tank, BC, and regulator
  • verify two full tanks available
  • listen to the boat safety briefing
  • answer to the pre-departure roll call
  • listen to the team pre dive briefing

Task Assignment:

The Fish Identification Leader, Mapping Leader, Photography Leader, Videography Leader and Invert Leader, or their acting designees for the dive day, will assign tasks and locations to each diver for each dive.

Team Dive Briefing:

The Dive Coordinator or a member whom he/she assigns shall deliver the dive briefing prior to each dive. Generally, this will require two dive briefings, as two dives are usually conducted each trip. The following shall be included in the dive briefing:

  • the upcoming site and its characteristics
  • maximum dive depths of the site
  • maximum bottom time allowed for the dive
  • rendezvous points and times, if applicable, for resurfacing
  • number of drops for the dive
  • diver drop group assignments
  • diver buddy assignments

Each diver MUST understand what their assignment is, who their buddy is, and what drop number they are in. They must understand the maximum dive time allowed on the dive, and adhere to that limit. If something is not understood, the dive briefing is the time to correct it.

Roll Calls:

Roll shall be called by the dive boat staff, or in lieu of that, by the Surface Support member. Each diver must answer for themselves. Roll shall be called at the following times:

  • prior to departure from the dock
  • immediately after each dive, PRIOR to departure to the next dive site or back to port


The team uses the buddy system of diving at all times while in the water. In some instances buddies may have duplicate tasks (i.e, fish counting) while in other missions the buddy may be a safety companion for another specialist (i.e. videography). More than two members can be assigned to a buddy group, but in that case all are bound by the buddy rules when any one buddy is lost. Buddies must comply with the following procedure list:

  • Prior to the dive, each diver must familiarize themselves with the buddy's dive gear, to understand the specific equipment rigging of shared air and weight ditching mechanism(s). Each buddy must also determine that both understand the mission, the specific destination (fish count ID station, mapping target, etc) and what duties each are expected to perform during the mission. Bailout conditions and secondary (replacement) missions should be determined, and the conditions that would dictate a switch to an alternate or lesser mission decided on in advance.
  • Buddies should enter the water in sequence. I.e. no other divers entering between buddy jumps, no "meet you at the bottom" buddying.
  • Buddies must remain in visual contact range during the dive.
  • Upon loss of visual contact, each buddy must suspend the mission and search for the buddy for up to two minutes before surfacing to indicate loss of buddy and to reacquire the buddy. This surfacing is MANDATORY for all members of the buddy team. Buddies may NOT merely pair with another buddy while on the bottom, as this leaves the missing buddy unaccounted for.
  • Upon reaquisition of the buddy, their mission may continue. If underwater, the mission resumes with suitable adjustment to keep the time line to the allowed dive time as specified in the dive briefing. If on the surface, the buddy team may return to the bottom directly, or be picked up by the boat and dropped again
  • Redropped buddy teams must adjust their timeline for the loss of mission time due to the surface search/redrop time, and return to the surface at the end of the original mission time. I.e. mission bottom time briefed as 30 minutes, team lost 10 minutes finding each other, they still must return to the surface after 30 minutes FROM THEIR ORIGINAL JUMP TIME. This keeps the overall team timeline unaffected by the lost buddies, and the team can proceed to the next site on schedule.
  • If either member of a two member buddy team cannot be redropped, then the other shall not redrop.
  • Members with less than 20 lifetime dives, regardless of level of certification, shall be only be buddied with experienced members, and shall not be task loaded at depths greater than 60 feet until they have accrued 20 logged dives.

Drops from untethered boats:

Site geography and complexity, mission needs, and dive safety dictate that when dropping from an untethered boat, the divers enter the water in multiple drops. The single biggest loss of diver mission time stems from poor drop locations, causing long swims to the destination or missed landings on the site altogether. Crosswind, current, and special equipment needs cause diver egress from the boat to slow and their water entry position with respect to the target zone to move to an unacceptable location. Accordingly, the following checklist must be adhered to regarding drops:

  • One or more location buoys (site dependent) shall be placed at specified points on the dive site by the dive boat crew or the map team, prior to beginning the general team drops. Drops shall be made with respect to these buoys so that divers on the surface can orient on the marks and descend on the correct heading and drift to their destinations.
  • On a drifting drop, no drop grouping shall exceed 10 divers. The boat will then be correctly repositioned for subsequent drops on the same site.
  • Drop groups need not be as large as 10 divers. Special groups may be dropped separately as the mission demands. I.e pathfinding or station marking map teams may drop in advance of the general drops, in whatever numbers are needed to establish the marks for others to follow.
  • Special offset drops are permitted, where the mission dictates and the navigational skills of the dive teams are sufficient to permit it.

Boat Egress/Ingress:

Boat egress and return is a difficult time of every dive. Divers encumbered with full gear and ancillary mission equipment are moving around each other, often if heavy seas. Being fully prepared and paying good attention to the movement of fellow divers is essential. The following guidelines shall be observed:

  • A drop shall not begin until all members of that drop have indicated they are ready.
  • Last minute equipment emergencies will be dealt with by moving the affected buddy team to another drop, including adding a new drop, or scrubbing them from that dive, as dictated by the Surface Support member.
  • Divers of a buddy team may be coming to the stern for egress from different parts of the boat. When the drop is called for a dive team, they should arrange themselves in the jump sequence so as to enter the water without any intervening divers. Divers not involved in the current drop should aid passage of divers moving aft.
  • Upon entering the water, buddy teams should perform a quick surface check of equipment and buddy status, orient on the dive buoy target, and proceed to the bottom. The common practice of entering the water fully deflated and proceeding immediately to the bottom is discouraged. While timely submerging is important, common problems such as loss or partial loss of items (mask, slate, fish ID sheet) and/or the need to handle special mission equipment (tapes, GPS flags, reels etc) mean that both buddies need to be aware of minor situations rather than proceeding independently. 4-5 seconds on the surface coping with minor problems can often save 5-10 minutes of buddy searching later, and further eliminates the issue of one buddy returning to the boat while the other heads for the bottom.
  • Once off the surface, divers should find the assigned task area on the site and conduct the task(s).
  • Regardless of the task status, the dive time specified in the dive briefing must be adhered to. When the time comes, divers should do a slow ascent to 15 feet depth, do a 3 minute safety stop, and return to the surface.
  • Drifting safety stops longer than 3 minutes are prohibited. Such stops cause the divers to move far from the pickup zone of the other divers, and necessitate the boat leaving the area of the dive, with other divers still underwater at the site, in order to pick up the drifting divers. Should a diver feel the need for a safety stop over 3 minutes in duration, they should find their way to the dive buoy, ascend to 15 feet and hang on the buoy line to prevent drifting too far from the site.
  • Dive flags attached to the site or dive boat have a legal radius of 300 feet. Should the buddy team be separated from the dive ball/flag by a greater distance, one of them must inflate a dive sausage while at the safety stop, to use as a warning marker for passing boat traffic, and to aid the dive boat in locating them. They should ascend under this sausage. For diving in the Lake Worth Lagoon, divers not planning to surface under the fixed markers should inflate their safety sausage from the bottom, regardless of the distance to the marker. Lake Worth Lagoon should be considered an active waterway over the Lagoon sites, making it essential to come to the surface under a marker.
  • When returning to the boat from the water, the trailing buddy should remain out of the direct path of the buddy climbing onto the boat, so that in event of a fall back into the water, the area is clear.

Cancelling dives:

Dive operations can be cancelled prior to start or during execution by the captain of the boat for any condition, including weather, which he/she deems unsafe for the Team.

Dive operations can be cancelled prior to the start of the dive for conditions deemed unsatisfactory to achieve the team objectives by the Team Coordinator and Dive Coordinator either before leaving the dock or once the site is reached. Examples are extreme current or very low visibility. If another site can be done as an immediate subtitute, within the rules of the funding grant, it shall be done, otherwise rescheduling to another day will be required.

Weather Conditons:

No open ocean dive operation shall be conducted when a small craft advisory is posted by the NOAA weather bureau. Small Craft Advisoriess are imposed when winds are predicted to exceed 18 knots, and seas to be 4-6 feet or greater, and will appear in bold red on the link above. For purposes of this procedure, the most recent NOAA forecast prior to the scheduled dive time (usually the early morning update between 3:00-5:00 a.m.) will be the operative forecast.

Dive Fees:

Part of the dive fees go to pay the tips for the dive crew, and the remainder goes into the Team treasury. Dive fees will be charged for each diver according to the following fee schedule:

  • $10 - Member who has completed the Research Diver Orientation class and completed a specialty course , or a member who holds an elected or appointed position.
  • $20 - Member who has completed the Research Dive Orientation class but has not completed a specialty certification or hold an elected or appointed position.
  • $30 - A Member who has not completed the Research Dive Orientation class or a non-member diver who is a visitor with prior approval by the Dive Coordinator.
  • No fee - Any diver or non diver who is pre-approved by the Executive Committee to attend a dive.