Know your gear – Safety Equipment

By Brian Horton

Most items in a diver’s kit could be classed as safety equipment but we have limited this article to gear, other than basic items, that we consider you should know about for your safety. The scallop season is now open and I ask you to please read and take note on the first section on floats and flags. Did you know that gathering scallops is one of the most dangerous diving activities?

Items covered are floats, flags, knives, signalling devices and miscellaneous.

I visited a lot of retail outlets, even in the South Island, to check what was available in safety items and was disappointed. Only one retailer, on Auckland’s North Shore, had a special safety stand with all safety items together and some, even large stores, had no flags or floats on display.


Floats are either static or towable. The static float is usually used by a group and is anchored in the dive location to alert boats that divers are in the area and may surface suddenly. The static float will have a dive flag and may have a ‘divers below’ message on the side. The colour will be fluoro yellow or orange. These floats are inflatable and have a weight system to keep them upright. The large models do not tow well, some of the small round style can be towed.

Towable floats can be round or torpedo shaped. The torpedo shape is preferred. They are usually orange or yellow and may have a flag attached. The flag is usually the New Zealand accepted blue and white Alpha dive flag. In some models I found the international dive flag, the red with white stripe. Dive floats should have a floating line with a snap hook to attach to a catch bag or wrist. A sinking line catches on gear and any protrusion on the bottom. Torpedo floats are also used by spearfishermen to carry their catch.

No diver should gather scallops without a personal float attached to the catch bag. The float has two purposes: 1. It allows you and your partner to collect, measure and count your scallops into the bag and when finished leave the bag on the bottom, raise the float line, take a safety stop if required and then surface by the float. If you have to swim back to the boat you can leave your bag and pick it up with the boat. 2.The float allows a boatman to keep track of you during the dive and to protect you from other boats that will ignore the dive flag in your boat. A lot of people who operate boats don’t know or care what a dive flag means but they will not run over a float as they know having to get in the water to cut off a line around the prop can spoil their day.

What is available? Web sites are at the end of the article.

Air Technology:

Sold through their retail store North Shore Scuba Centre, have several, imported Coltri inflatable floats with international flags. They are suitable for static or towing.


Sold exclusively through their dealer network. They import a float with weighted stem and dive flag. It has a floating line and is suitable for static or towing.

Dive HQ:

Sold through their stores, have a Mares float, unique in design. It can be used as a static float by inflating an inner bladder or can be deployed by a diver underwater by inflating via a regulator. Can be used as a signal marker for in-water decompression or safety stop. It comes with a pouch containing line.


Sold through most dive stores and general sports stores, have several floats. Their static float is a large tube type float in yellow, marked with ‘diver below’ and flying the Alpha flag. It has an attachment point underneath for a weight and anchor line and a large pocket that can be used with a light for night dives. Their other float is a personal float with weighted stem and alpha flag. It has a reel of sinking line attached.

Wild Blue:

Sold through some dive stores and their retail store, have a large range of torpedo floats. They have plastic hollow or foam filled and several inflatable models. They come with the alpha flag and all lines are floating. The lines can be made up as required and have snap hooks each end. Their newest model is to their design and is large with flag and safety handles and is designed mainly for anchoring while gathering scallops.


I can tell you for a fact, flying a dive flag, from your boat, will not save you from being run over by another boat. Even the largest one metre flag is difficult to see at 200 metres. When there are many boats around, as on a scallop bed, a combination of boat flag and float is the only safe option. New Zealand Underwater are producing current information on dive flags in conjunction with the Police etc, that will be appearing in Dive New Zealand. I found the most visible flag to be those with a support that keeps the flag upright when there is no or little wind. There is only one drawback. When the wind blows hard, over 15 knots, the rod has to be removed as the flag flaps so much that the rod comes out or the tie-on tags tear.

Aquanaut import three flags, none supported, all sizes in cm: 37×45, 50×70 and 75×100.

Pinnacle Sports sell one 600x600cm flag in two versions: one standard, one with support rod.

Pro-Dive sell two sizes (600x600cm and 100x100cm) in two versions, one standard, and one supported.


A cutting device is the number one safety device a diver should carry. It needn’t be a large knife strapped to your leg in commando style. It only has to cut you or your buddy loose in the unlikely event you’re caught in net or fishing line. It can be mounted on your BCD harness or even carried in the pocket. To be effective a knife should have a serrated cutting edge either as the main blade or top edge and a notched line cutter. The material should be rust resistant, either stainless steel (SS) or titanium. Grades of SS go from the 316, low carbon, highly rust resistant to the 420, not so rust resistant but with the ability to be sharpened to a good edge. If you are not prepared to wash, dry and oil a 420 SS knife after use go for the 304 or 316 SS. Running a file over them can sharpen them and if used for prying will bend not break. There are several titanium knives available. They are light, very strong and will not rust. They do not keep an edge as well as SS and are expensive.

There is an abundance of dive knives on the market and most will do the job. Please consult with your Pro-Dive shop.

There are several knives that need a special mention:

Aquanaut has

the Diablo

, a blunt tip technical divers knife that has slots that fit the two common hose nuts on regulators, a hammer end on the handle and all normal cutting features. They also have a retractable blade BCD knife called the

Trigger Dive

that is very compact and can be mounted on the gauge hose or BCD strap.

Pro-Dive have a commercial knife that has a fully serrated blade that is very hard and keeps its edge for a long time. It is well liked by commercial divers  as it will cut thought almost anything. It is sold with or without a sheath. It will break if used as a pry bar.

Wild Blue has a beautifully made spearfish-type knife, the Picasso Legend. It has various slots and holes for shaft removal and straightening and has the normal cutting functions.

Dive HQ sell a Mares brand scissor style cutter that will deal to any line or even light metal. This was the only scissor cutter I found.

Signal Devices (sound and visual)


One of the best and oldest methods of signalling is the whistle. There are many brands available, all stores will have them. I could only find one breath-blown whistle that was different. The Wind Storm whistle from Pro-Dive. It is very loud and is four times the price of the standard whistle.

There are two whistles that are blown from a BCD air source. They are connected between the hose connect and the BCD inlet fitting and do not interfere with the inflator operation. They operate with a button. The Sub Alert from Pro-Dive and the Dive Alert from Pinnacle Sports. They have a whistle that cannot be demonstrated in a store as it can damage ears. Very effective over long distance in the water. The Dive Alert can be attached to both standard and large fitting BCD hoses.


The most common devise is the safety sausage. Most divers will carry them, as they are cheap and effective. They are made from a tube of orange plastic sealed at one end that can be inflated by the diver, in the water, by the regulator exhaust. They are two metres in length and very visible to a boat. They are mostly sold rolled up or in a safety pack with whistle. They can chafe if loose in the BCD pocket with another item and will be of no use with a hole in them. They should be checked now and then to see that they are okay. All dive stores will have them.

There is a heavier type, more for in-water safety stops that is available and can be used for visual signalling. This type has heavy walls and has provision for attaching a line. Some models are fully sealed and are designed to be inflated by the BCD hose.

I found models imported by Air Technology, Aquanaut and Scuba-pro. All sold through their outlet stores.

The ultimate signal is a new device from Aquanaut that fits to their Aqua Lung, Sea Quest and Technisub BCDs. This devise is attached to the BCD right rear relief valve opening and is inflated by the standard compensator pneumatics. It is deployed on command and is easy to roll up into a special holster for reuse. It is sold via the Aquanaut dealer network.

The other visual signal is the strobe light used for signalling at night. There are many types available. Some fit to the straps of the BCD. Points to look for are size of battery (life) range of visibility, ease of mounting and method of switching. They should be tested before all dives and the battery replaced each year even if not used. They must be washed after use and at yearly battery change, all O-rings should be lubed. These products are imported by Air Technology, Aquanaut, Pinnacle Sports, Pro-Dive and Dive HQ and available from their retail outlets.

Miscellaneous safety items:

The only item made up and ready to go I found was the Spare Air. This has been on the market for almost 30 years and consists of a complete dive system, small enough to fit in a belt or to a BCD. It doesn’t have to be turned on and is ready at once. It only contains enough air for an ascent but can be the difference if you or your buddy is out of air. Imported by Pro-Dive and available from most dive and general sports stores.

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