For most of my diving career I have been diving off of small-ish inflatable boats (also fondly called Rubber ducks), longtails and similar small vessels. There is no denying that diving on these kind of boats have some draw backs like having to push the boat into the water before launching (in the case of Rubber ducks), less space to move around and you definitely feel the sway of the ocean more.
Diving off of these boats also has its advantages though. Generally these boats are less expensive to run which means that it is easier to return to the dive centre for lunch or to be dropped off if you only want to do one or two dives. When you dive on a bigger boat you often need to stay on the boat for the whole day, until all the diving is finished and everyone is ready to return to shore. Smaller boats also offer the advantage of smaller groups. Thus you share a dive spot with 10 people instead of 40 – unless there is other dive centres diving that spot at the same time, of course.
To ensure that your diving off a small vessel is enjoyable and comfortable there are a few things that you need to keep in mind.
Rock the boat, don’t rock the boat, Baby…
Smaller vessels generally do not have keels (the part of the vessel that adds weight to the bottom, ensuring that it does not become top-heavy). This enables them to move over the coral reefs and moor right off the beach. This is convenient for you, as a diver-on-small-boats as you don’t need to transfer from a smaller boat to a larger one where it is moored in deeper water.
The absence of the keel does mean that the balance of the boat can be upset more easily, though. This is important to keep in mind when you are diving on one of these boats. Any shift in weight affects the balance of the boat and a person moving from one side to another could cause quite a bit of rocking-of-the-boat.
Being on a boat is merely a means to an end for many divers. Most of us want to get in to the water as soon as we can. So we do things that will save us time once we are at the dive site. We get dressed, put baby shampoo (yes, or spit) in our masks, and put on our weight belts. The reality is that there is a possibility (how ever slight) of these boats capsizing, often because it is hit by a freak wave combined with the boat being slightly unbalanced (due to weight distribution). If this, unlikely, event occur you don’t want to be weighed down by a heavy weightbelt, so rather wait until you are safely at the dive site before donning this piece of equipment.
Getting back in
Smaller vessels usually have a ladder to get back into the boat. Remember that when you pull yourself up the ladder and into the boat, you are adding your body weight to that side of the boat. When the side of the boat is too low, it is more difficult to climb up the ladder. Ask someone to balance the boat by standing on the other side of the boat as you get in. Similarly you will find it harder to get in while the dive staff is on the same side of the boat, picking the gear out of the water.
Some boats might not have a ladder. For this, the best technique is to keep your fins on to kick yourself out of the water and onto the side of the boat and then using your arms to pull yourself the rest of the way. If you lack the upper body strength, there are always knights in shining armour willing to help. I have had skippers pull me out of the water where I, very ungracefully. ended up on the deck all dive hair and arms and legs everywhere more times than I would like to admit. I’m sorry to break this to you, ladies: there is nothing lady-like about diving and that is just something that we need to accept.
Diving off of smaller boats is messy and sometimes rocky and, yes a little bit cramped sometimes. But boy! Holiday stories are never the same without including the noise of the longtail engine, the tan you got on your left arm from sitting on the sunny side or laughing hysterically as you flailed around, trying to get yourself out of the water.
* A version of this article first appeared at www.scubadiverlife.com