New buoy gives divers, snorklers another visible safety option

Scuba divers and snorkelers now have another safety option besides the divers-down flag for alerting boaters to their presence, courtesy of the Florida legislature.

The new measure, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in June, took effect Tuesday. It allows divers to display a buoy with a series of divers-down symbols in place of the traditional red flag with white diagonal stripe. The buoy must be three- or four-sided and display a divers-down symbol of at least 12-by-12 inches on each of the flat sides. Divers must stay within certain distances while in the water, and boaters are required to keep a minimum specified distance away. The new buoys may not be displayed from boats, which are still required to show a dive flag at least 20-by-24 inches that is visible from all directions.

The new measure was cosponsored by Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, and Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington. One of Abruzzo’s constituents, Boca Raton diver/entrepreneur Michael Greenfield, developed a prototype of the new device called a Goumba Flag after a relative of one of his coworkers lost both legs from a boat strike, according to the company’s marketing vice president, Andrea Salvo.

The Goumba Flag is a four-sided buoy in the shape of a lantern with the divers-down flag emblazoned on each side in reflective film. There is an optional, rechargeable LED flashing light on top reportedly visible for up to two nautical miles. Salvo said the device weighs about three pounds, with 55 pounds of buoyancy capable of keeping two adults afloat.

“It’s stability relative to visibility. There’s nothing like it out there,” Salvo said.

The buoy is so new that it’s not even in production yet. Salvo said it would likely hit markets in about eight to 12 weeks. She said she didn’t know how it would be priced, only that it would be “affordable.” Similar products by rival companies might be introduced before that.

Meanwhile, the recreational bay scallop harvest season opened in Florida’s Big Bend and Panhandle regions June 28, and the annual statewide two-day lobster miniseason will run July 30-31.

“This is a great time for boaters and divers alike to remember to pay close attention to their surroundings and be safe,” said Captain Tom Shipp, head of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s boating safety section.