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Australian Spearfishing Safety Initiative

Boat / Diver Interactions

Spearfisherman spend a lot of time floating on the surface. Spearfisherman may also be hard to detect whilst under water. There is therefore a risk of injury (in particular propeller strike) from boat traffic (this includes the boat being utilised by spearfishers). Severe injury or death can occur from propeller strike. There is also the risk of spearfishers being lost by the boat they are diving from. Furthermore, there are general boat safety issues to consider.
 

Dive Flag and Float

Spearfishers in Australia should use a highly visible float (yellow, orange or red) and display a dive flag on the float. The float should also have a signalling mirror and whistle attached . If the spearfishing from a boat this helps the boatie keep track of the location of the spearfishers. It also serves to notify other boat traffic of the presence of a spearfisher in the water.
 
 Code Flag Alpha - Dive Flag
 

 

 

 

Boatmanship

Always have a boatie that monitors the spearfishers in the water. The practice of spearfishers leaving vessels unattended is very dangerous. The potential for disaster is real when vessels are left unattended by spearfishers. It is strongly recommended that a boatie stays onboard at all times whenever spearfishers are in the water.

The boatie can ‘cut off’ any other boat traffic that approaches spearfishers in the water. The boatie can raise an alarm if the diver is lost at sea (eg caught in current) or involved in some other emergency situation. The boatie can attend to the vessel should it be anchored and start drifting. This also facilitates picking up divers drifting in current and assisting spearfishers back onboard.

Generally avoid anchoring the boat whilst spearfishers are in the water. If anchoring the boat do not leave it unattended. It is better to keep the boat mobile with a boatie monitoring spearfishers in the water. The boatie is able to respond to situations as they arise (such as boat traffic approaching spearfishers or a spearfisher drifting off in current).

Spearfishers can be subjected to strong ocean currents. Spearfishers may be caught in a current and swept away from an unattended anchored boat. An unattended anchored boat may pull anchor and drift away without the knowledge of a spearfisher in the water.

There are circumstances where it is preferable to anchor a boat, for example when diving on a ship wreck. In these circumstances a boatie should still monitor spearfishers in the water. Spearfishers should attempt to stay in close proximity to the boat (preferably within 30 metres).

Boatie should monitor not only the location of dive floats but the actual location of spearfishers in the water. If a spearfisher dives in close proximity to the boat stop the boat – put the motor into neutral and do not operate the motor until the diver surfaces. It greatly reduces the risk of the boat hitting a surfacing diver.

Boatie should exercise caution when picking up spearfishers from the water. It is better to come within the vicinity of spearfishers. Once the boat is stopped and in neutral then let the spearfisher approach the boat. It greatly reduces the risk of the boat hitting a diver in the water.

Ensure everyone that is to operate to boat holds a boat licence. Always dive with other spearfishers that hold either AUF or USFA insurance – for reasons why? click here.

Reel Guns

There is a trend for spearfishers to dive with a reel gun. This gives the spearfisher the freedom to dive and collect fish without a rig-line and float.  However, diving without a float increases the risk of diver/boat interaction injury.  Therefore, spearfishers utilising a reel gun should do so conjunction with a float and utilise a small anchor and rig-line so as to anchor the float before breath-hold diving. The spearfisher should descend and ascend in the vicinity of the anchored float.

Alternatively, the spearfisher utilising a reel gun should dive within close proximity to an anchored boat with a dive flag (within 30 metres) in mild current. This technique could be utilised, for example, when diving a ship wreck.

Alternatively a spearfisher using a reel gun could ‘buddy up’ with a spearfisher with a rig line and float but must always stay in close proximity.

The effectiveness of these control measures is limited in that the reason divers use a reel gun is to avoid using a rig-line and float. As such, the use of reel guns should generally be discouraged.

Planning Your Day on the Water

Before you depart from home leave a detailed copy of your plan for the day with a responsible friend. Be sure to tell them what time you are expected to return home.

Volunteer Sea Rescue Groups are there for your safety. As soon as you are clear of the ramp, call them to test your radio and remember to log in with them before you venture out into open sea.

If you are unsure of who or how to do this you local authorities or the Sea Rescue Group in your local area. Always log off when you return to avoid an unnecessary search for you and your boat.

Anchor & Line

Always check and ensure that your anchor and chain are in extremely good condition. The size of the line and chain, and the type and weight of your anchor should suit your particular boat as well as the type of bottom you intend to anchor in.

Ensure you have plenty of line to suit the depths of water that you normally anchor in (at least 3 to 5 times the depth of water) and don not forget to allow extra line for surge, tide and increased wind. We also recommend that you mouse the shackles (use a piece of wire to prevent the pin from coming undone and falling out).

When you enter the water, swim down and check that your anchor is firmly embedded and that your anchor line is not likely to snag on a reef outcrop that may cause it to chafe through.

Weather Checks

Get an up-to-date weather forecast before you go. Sea Rescue Groups also offer up-to-date weather forecasts for the area you are operating in. Have contingency plans for bad weather. Conditions on the surface can deteriorate rapidly with the arrival of the sea breeze.

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