As a 31-year veteran officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and its predecessor agency the Florida Marine Patrol, Dave Bingham has handled more than his share of cases of boats striking divers.
During recent lobster miniseasons, Bingham has stepped up enforcement of laws requiring boaters to stay away from divers and divers to display the standard diver-down flag (red with a diagonal white stripe) while in the water.
But the accidents continue, such as last summer’s well-publicized case of lobster diver Adrian Winchell, who was injured by a hit-and-run boater off Hollywood despite displaying the required flag.
Bingham, frustrated, has been working for the past few years with daughter Sarah and business partner Robert Carmichael — president and CEO of Brownie’s Marine Group in Fort Lauderdale — to develop a better device to alert boaters to a diver’s presence. A new Florida law now allows divers to display a buoy with a series of diver-down symbols in place of a flag. So the partners came up with the 3DBuoy (3DBuoy.com), introduced at last weekend’s Blue Wild adventure expo in Fort Lauderdale.
“This is just a really good idea,” company vice president Sarah Bingham said.
Sarah said the device provides 360 degrees of visibility for approaching boaters. Resembling a large Chinese lantern but constructed of durable material, it floats 36 inches above the water line and is 18 inches wide. A bright yellow triangular base displays three 12-inch-by-12-inch, diver-down flags and reads, “Warning: Diver Below.” A water ballast system keeps the buoy upright in windy weather, and there’s a hollow tube inside for a waterproof light to be visible in darkness. There’s even a small storage compartment for car keys and fishing license and D-rings to hold a diver’s catch bag and tow line.
Divers can purchase the device through Brownie’s Marine Group for about $100. A dive flag violation carries a $90 fine.
The 3DBuoy is not the first invention of its kind. A rival company in Boca Raton touted a similar diver-down buoy called the Goumba Flag last year. However, the Goumba Flag has not been brought to market yet.