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Divers must display larger warning flags

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000


TAMPA -- Scuba divers heading offshore this weekend better have a diver-down flag aboard. Make that a BIG diver-down flag.

Starting last Sunday, divers had to display a 20-inch by 24-inch flag, nearly twice the size of the flags most divers currently have rolled up in their gear bags.

"We have had at least three dozen people come into the store this week looking for the new dive flags," said Chris Sally of Jim's Dive Shop in St. Petersburg. "But we have them on back order. I don't know of anybody who has them yet."

The new law is the result of the 1998 death of a Miami man who was hit by a boat as he was diving for lobster in Biscayne National Park. The boater told authorities he did not see the man's dive flag.

In addition to increasing the size of the dive flag, the new law requires the flag be attached to a stiffener to keep it unfurled. The dive flags must be displayed high on the vessel so visibility of the flag is not obstructed.

And according to the statute, boat operators are required to make reasonable efforts to maintain a distance of 100 feet from any divers-down flag while on a river, inlet or navigation channel.

Divers already were required to make a reasonable effort to stay within 100 feet of the divers-down flag on rivers, inlets or navigation channels. But now divers must make a reasonable effort to stay within 300 feet of the divers-down flag on all waters other than rivers, inlets or navigation channels. Boaters are asked to maintain a distance of at least 300 feet in open waters.

A vessel approaching a divers-down flag must do so at idle speed. Approaching at higher speeds would be considered "reckless operation."

Local dive gear suppliers are trying to get new flags in stores quickly. "We will probably get 150 to 200 in by next week," Randy Sacks of Fentress Marine said. "We have gotten quite a few calls." Capt. Calvin Adams of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissions Division of Law Enforcement said his officers will be on the water this weekend to enforce the laws. "There is no official grace period," he said. "The law went into effect on Oct. 1. Whether it is enforced or not will be up to the discretion of the officer."

Another law that went into effect Sunday makes it illegal for water skiers and personal watercraft operators to wear inflatable personal flotation devices. The law also requires that personal watercraft operators comply with laws governing reckless operation, careless operation and navigation rules and makes it illegal to rent a personal watercraft to a person who has not received safety instruction.

WOMEN ON THE WATER: Two major events geared for women will hit town next month.

Ladies, Let's Go Fishing, an award-winning saltwater fishing seminar series by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, will hold its third annual St. Petersburg event Nov. 4-5 at Tierra Verde Resort.

Known as the "No Yelling School of Fishing," this hands-on clinic will cover everything from tying knots to cleaning fish.

Instructors include Marsha Bierman, a pioneer of "stand-up" billfish tactics, and Times Captain's Corner correspondents Dave Zalewski, Randy Rochelle and Brent Gaskill. Two thirds of the spots are already taken. Call 954-475-9068 to register, or check out www.ladiesletsgofishing.com.

On Nov. 25 to Dec. 2, the Women's World Match Racing Championship will draw 24 top women skippers to Tampa Bay to compete in Sonar keelboats. For information, call Pat Seidenspinner at (727) 522-0723 or go to the St. Petersburg Yacht Club Web site at www.spyc.org

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