California Dive Flags

Rules for CA divers and boaters

There is controversy about California’s weak laws regarding the use of dive flags. The following was updated in August 2010 through the research of David Carlson of Los Angeles. If you have any new information, please let me know.

For Divers in California

, Title 14. Natural Resources, Division 4. Department of Boating and Waterways, Chapter 1. Department of Boating and Waterways, Article 6. Waterway Marking System, § 7008. The Divers Flag:

(a) A red flag with a white diagonal running from the upper left hand corner to the lower right hand corner (from masthead to lower outside corner) and known as the “Divers Flag” shall when displayed on the water, indicate the presence of a person engaged in diving in the water in the immediate area.

(b) Recognition of this flag by regulation will not be construed as conferring any rights or privileges on its users, and its presence in a water area will not be construed in itself as restricting the use of the water area so marked.

(c) Operators of vessels will, however, exercise precaution commensurate with conditions indicated.

(d) This flag may be displayed only when diving is in progress, and its display in a water area when no diving is in progress is that area will constitute a violation of the regulation and of section 659 of the Harbors and Navigation Code.

(e) Nothing in this section will require the carriage of a divers flag for any purpose.

However, as California diving instructor Don Lambrecht brought to our attention, this section of the California Boating Regulations would seem to cover divers:

No person shall use any vessel or manipulate water skis, an aquaplane, or a similar device in a reckless or negligent manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.

Every owner, operator, or person in command of any vessel propelled by machinery is guilty of a misdemeanor who uses it, or permits it to be used, at a speed in excess of five miles per hour in any portion of the following areas not otherwise regulated by local rules and regulations:

  • Within 100 feet of any person who is engaged in the act of bathing. A person engaged in the sport of water skiing shall not be considered as engaged in the act of bathing for the purposes of this section.
  • Within 200 feet of any of the following:
    1. A beach frequented by bathers.
    2. A swimming float, diving platform, or lifeline.
    3. A way or landing float to which boats are made fast or which is being used for the embarkation or discharge of passengers.

In addition, certain county and municipal regulations are more specific about the maximum distance you can be from a dive flag.

For Los Angeles County beaches, David Carlson reports that someone in the LAFD–Lifeguard Division told him the following:

“I am also attaching a copy of the consumer booklet issued by the State of California Department of Boating and Waterways, look at Page 19, there is no state law requiring the display of flags by divers in the waters as a condition of use (if they are not diving from a boat). The display of the Alpha flag is a boating regulation for boats conducting dive operations. It is interesting to note the restriction on the 200 yard rule though.”

  1. “The County does not have an ordinance that states a float with flag must be displayed while diving. The California Code of Regulations does state that when diving from a boat, a Dive or Alpha flag shall be displayed while diving is in progress. It is a violation of the code to display while no diving is in progress. In short, when diving off the beach, a float and flag is not required. The County Lifeguards however do consider it a safety issue and encourage all divers and groups to use floats and flags.
  2. “There is a County ordinance that states all vessels must operate 300 or more yards from all beaches in the County where swimmers are present. Also part of the same ordinance states that all swimmers must remain inside of 200 yards from shore so that there is no overlap between boaters and swimmers.”

This is the actual Los Angeles County Code, as reported by Dave Carlson, updated through 7/27/2010:

17.12.450 Swimming and other water activities–Restrictions.

A person shall not swim, bathe or immerse himself in the Pacific Ocean opposite any beach regulated by this Part 3 more than 200 yards seaward from the shore except:
C. A person who dives from a vessel and who displays while diving either a rectangular flag 12 by 15 inches, orange-red in color with a white diagonal stripe three inches wide running from one corner to the diagonally opposite corner, or the lights and/or flag prescribed in Rule 27 of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea as set forth in 72 COLREGS as published with the Proclamation of January 19, 1977 at 42 FR 17112, March 31, 1977 and amended by the document annexed to the Proclamation of June 16, 1983, and published at 48 FR 28634, June 23, 1983, or as Rule 27 may be subsequently amended and accepted by the President of the United States of America, above the surface of the water in the vicinity of the dive;

Similarly, here is part of Section 12.08.040 in Manhattan Beach:

No person shall swim, bathe, or immerse himself in the water of the Pacific Ocean opposite any beach regulated by this chapter more than two hundred (200) yards from the shore except … C. A skin diver equipped with swim fins and a face plate if at all times he maintains within fifty (50) yards of himself a boat or a surf mat, paddle board or surf board upon which there is a rectangular flag twelve by fifteen inches, orange-red in color with a white diagonal stripe three inches wide running from one corner to the diagonally opposite corner. The flag shall be flown high enough so as not to touch the water.

The state has specific fines of over $100 for “Unlawful Placement of Diver Precaution Markers.”

For Boaters in California

As far as we know, California state law still is not specific about how far away boaters need to be from a dive flag. As stated above, Title 14, Section 7008, only states that operators of vessels will “exercise precaution.”

However, California Boating Regulations are very specific that you must remain under five miles per hour within 100 feet of “any person who is engaged in the act of bathing” and 200 feet from a “swimming float, diving platform, or lifeline.”

Happy Diving,
Chris Whitten
chris-(@) (remove the hyphens and parentheses) Webmaster

P.S. The information above was as complete and up-to-date at the time as I could make it. It should not be construed as providing legal advice. You should conduct your own legal research or contact an attorney.