Dive Flag regulations from state to state are somewhat different in the flag size requirement and other criteria. I have compiled TopKayaker'Net's Database of U.S.A. States & Territories Dive Flag Regulations below in a simple, easy to read manner. This is not the "letter of the law", your local dive shop may have more accurate information about local rules and how they are handled. It is up to you to know and confirm your own local regulations!
Contact information for your local boating regulations visit The National Association of Boating Law Administrators.
Dive flags are required, in most states, for SCUBA diving, snorkeling, free diving and other underwater activities. The main reason is for a vulnerable diver/swimmer to be protected from boat traffic, and their kayak not to be mistaken as abandoned.
Kayaks are considered to be "vessels" or boats and not dive floats. While a kayak may appear more like a float from another boat, and it could be towed, it is considered to be a boat, and thus must also comply with all other boating regulations. (FYI: If your kayak is less than 16 feet you will be in a different classification from those kayaks that are 16 feet or more. This may, or may not, affect your local Dive Flag rules. Use the link above, or the USCG link below, to learn more about basic boating regulations, i.e. lights, signal devices, etc.)
It is assumed that commercially available Diver Down Flags, (aka Sport Diver Flag) red with white stripe, will comply with regulations concerning the design, i.e. width of stripe, color and lay out, and that most flags would have a stiffener. This presumably would apply to the Alpha Flag as well.
Kayaks do not have masts to fly the flag from, so you will likely use a flagpole that is common for a dive float. Your flag will have to be seen from 360 degrees, and this would mean from the "highest point" of your boat. In some cases there may be minimum height requirement. Use the locally accepted height of pole for a dive float or higher. Because of the limited height of poles and space available on kayaks a large flag may not be as practical, bigger is better for being seen however.
For those who dive at night, your flag, and boat, should be lighted, regardless of lack of local regulations. (Some states only require reflective stripe on flag or full reflective flag.) Specific details are not widely available, but I have added this info when available. I would recommend a steady bright white light (flash light) on top of the pole, and/or stern, (anchor light) and arranged in such a manner that it will shine on the flag, while still seen from 360 degrees. A light mounted to shine "down" from the top of the pole, illuminating the flag, would have the added ability to light the kayak and cockpit. Recommended lighting at night for a vessel at anchor, tending divers, is three lights, red over white over red. This light arrangement means that the vessel cannot maneuver (same message as the Alpha Flag).
Federal Dive Flag Regulations: In waters more than 3 miles off the coast an Alpha Flag must be flown during diving activities, and taken down after dive is over. It is best to fly both Alpha and Diver Down flags any time in coastal waters. Divers in the Great Lakes (Ohio River and other international waterways) may have to use both Alpha and Diver Down Flags. At night a white anchor light, stern, and the three lights in a vertical line; red on top, white in middle, red on bottom, is needed. For more info visit The United States Coast Guard Website.
PADI guidelines are similar suggesting an 18 inch x 24 inch Diver Down flag on a 3 foot pole for general daytime use. At night use a white anchor light and/or three lights in vertical line, red on top and bottom, white in the middle. I believe that red and white CYALUME chemical light sticks would be acceptable, but small waterproof flashlights with colored cone tips would be best. They could easily be duct taped to the flagpole, or small holes could be strategically drilled, and split rings added to a pole.
This link will be helpful as an alternative database of dive flag regs, and has a History of the Diver Down Flag: Dive-flag.com
The Alpha Flag, international code flag "A", is white and blue with two points on the blue side. The meaning of the flag is: "Vessel is restricted in its ability to maneuver, stay clear and maintain a slow speed." That could mean a boat or kayak is at anchor. The Alpha Flag is also commonly known to mean: "A diver is down, reduce speed & stay clear."
The Alpha Flag has also been used to indicate that a vessel is restricted in maneuverability because a diver(s) is attached to the vessel, by an air hose presumably, like the old fashion brass helmet divers. (Maybe this applies to kayak SNUBA diving?) So a kayak diver, using an anchor, may "technically" have to use both Alpha and Diver Down flags. Modern divers are not attached to their "vessels" with air hoses and their kayak in not necessarily manned with a crew.
I would have to say that Alpha flag use is up to you, depending on your personal preference, local/federal regulations and what is considered common & appropriate for your area. Federal and many state rules require a rather large Alpha flag that may not be practical on a kayak, as much as 1 meter square!
For those kayak divers who are not in the USA it is likely you will need the Alpha Flag and/or the Diver Down flag. You will have to research your own local regulations, but feel free to e-mail them to us and we will see about publishing them on-line.
Other information such as the distance boaters must keep from your kayak with dive flag flying and the distances divers must surface or stay with-in have been included as available. (As well as any other pertinent tid-bits I have gleaned.) You can always use a larger flag(s), a taller pole and more lighting than required. The main idea is to be seen and safe, as well as comply with the regulations.
Tom's TopKayaker Shop has both Diver Down & Alpha in two sizes w/ stiffener. (Any size can be special ordered.) All dive flags come with a pole. Dive Flag Mounts for kayaks are available as well as mounting advice. For information on Dive Flags read: DIVE FLAGS FOR KAYAKS right here at TopKayaker.net.
Kayak dive flag rules for the US States and Territories; Alabama, Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District Of Columbia, Federated States Of Micronesia, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Marshall Islands, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Palau, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming & assorted International regulations
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