NO MATTER HOW FEW DIVERS THERE ARE, kit always expands, breeds and spreads to fill the available space. I must admit to being one of the guilty parties.
Given the occasional luxury of just a buddy and myself on a boat licensed for 12, we still manage to spread over an enormous amount of deck space.
Yet when a boat has a full load of divers, somehow we all manage to fit in.
With divers carting growing amounts of technical kit, a fair bit of credit must be due to the skippers who are running larger and larger boats to make room for us all.
But even with larger boats, things run more smoothly if we all follow a few simple guidelines that experienced divers take for granted.
It may be the skipper's, the dive centre's or the dive guide's, but every boat has a system. The corollary of this is that every boat has a different system.
It may be unlike your system to which you are accustomed, but by following a single system at least everyone will know what's supposed to be happening.
It's like driving a car on the left or the right. It works best when we all do the same thing.
In reality, it's never quite that simple. In my case, I find that occasionally the way cylinders are stored is not compatible with my rebreather, and occasionally the system is not as protective of my camera as I would like it to be.
Whatever the glitch, the way round it is to discuss the problem with the skipper or dive guide and together come to a solution. The easiest way to create chaos is to act unilaterally.
Crates are a great way of storing dive kit, especially in the back of a car where they stop salty water from soaking into the carpet, but should they be allowed on boats?
Some boats are obviously set up with crates in mind, with space for each diver to store a crate under his or her spot on the kitting-up bench.
But if a boat is not set up that way, finding somewhere to put all the crates soon gets out of hand, with stacks of crates getting in everyone's way.
In most circumstances, I leave the crates in the boot of my car and transfer all the loose bits to a mesh bag. The bags currently given away with a DIVER subscription are ideal for holding all the odd bits of kit in both hardboats and RIBs.
Yet at least most crates are stackable. It gets even worse with the big blue plastic fish barrels in which some divers like to store their kit. Imagine trying to find room for 12 of those on the deck of the average hardboat. And whatever you do, don't try to take one on a RIB!
It may seem obvious, but it's not unusual to encounter divers who have their cylinder and BC on the bench, then spread everything else between two bags at opposite ends of the deck and leave their dive computer and some other small bits spread about the cabin.
It's time to kit up. On goes the weight belt. On goes the BC. Then they either hassle everyone else to pass this, pass that, and pass the other, or wander about the deck getting in the way as they complete various stages of kitting up wherever the kit was left.
If one diver on a boat is that sloppy, it's a nuisance. If every diver on the boat is that disorganised, it's chaos.
So pick your spot, stow your kit properly, and keep it all in one place. When you come back from the dive, get the kit sorted and stowed at your spot ready for the next dive.
If it's big enough to fall over or roll and damage something, it needs to be tied in. The obvious item of kit here is gas cylinders. Loops of bungee cord can be just about sufficient for small single cylinders, but for larger and heavier sets, some lengths of rope or straps make more sense. Even then, for best results you need to be able to tie a decent knot.
Some kit is just not practical to tie in, so anything that can't be secured easily and could be damaged by falling is best left on the deck. If it's already down, it can't fall any further.
It's a rule I religiously apply to my camera. I cringe when passing it onto a boat and someone stashes it somewhere “safe”, like on top of a table. My camera falling off a table could ruin my day and worse, so I prefer to keep it on the floor where it can fall no further.
While I have gone on about my camera, the same rule applies to other kit such as cylinders. If it can't be secured upright, laying it on the floor and wedging it in means that it can't fall over later.
So having put my camera on the floor, what's to stop someone kicking it? If there is space on the boat, I take a crate just large enough for my camera. It sits on the floor and provides good protection. Where there isn't space for the camera crate, I look for a corner in which to stand my camera, and kitting-up space next to it or above it. That way, it's only me who might kick it.
Given pleasant conditions, the deck of a boat can remain dry, but only up to the first dive, after which divers bring wet kit back on board. More realistically, in anything but the calmest conditions the deck of a dive boat is wet.
Come time to put a drysuit on, we all want to keep its inside and our undersuit as dry as possible, yet the outside of the suit could easily be soaking.
My favourite spot for changing into a drysuit is the cabin doorway. On a rolling boat, there is a doorframe to stop me falling over. I can step from a dry inside into a wet outside without mixing dry and wet.
Of course, while doing this the doorway is effectively blocked, and there is only space for one at a time, so it takes planning and co-operation if everyone wants to do it.
Get everything ready and to hand, step from shoes inside the door to drysuit outside it, then get out of the way so that the next diver can do it.
And don't even think of blocking the door while the skipper is bustling from inside to outside to drop the shot.
The first pair of divers are by the jump point, waiting for the skipper to line up by the shot. That's when they begin a long and ponderous buddy check, which ends with the colour of the
buckles on their ankle weights.
For serious boat diving, the best time to do a buddy check is before you put your kit on. You can easily check through and show your buddy how everything works and fits together while you both look at it, all without having to twist round with full kit on or balance while standing up on a moving deck.
Later, when kitted up, all that is left is to check that the air is on and working and that buckles are secure.
I have already given this advice for stowing kit: “If it's already down, it can't fall any further”.
The same applies to divers, especially when kitting up. If you are already sat down, you can't fall over.
First, organise everything so that you don't need to wander about the boat while kitting up, as noted above in “Pick your spot and stick to it”.
Then sit down and put it all on, though I would make an exception for fins, which it can be safer to leave putting on until you are closer to the exit point. When a boat doesn't have a suitable bench on which to sit, sit on the floor. Then let someone help you get the difficult bits on, and stand up only when it's necessary to jump in.
On most dive boats and most dive sites, there just isn't space or need for everyone to jump into the water at exactly the same time. Spreading the start of the dive over five to 10 minutes as pairs of divers are dropped on the shotline is much more common.
When we don't all need to jump in at the same time, there is no need for everyone to be kitting up at the same time.
So give the first couple of buddy pairs a bit of space and assistance to get ready, then, while they are waiting to jump, there is a bit more room to get everyone else ready. Leave an experienced pair until last, and they can help all those in the middle batch.
Which means that there is plenty of assistance for all but the last pair, who then have elbow room to look after themselves with the assistance of the crew.
A boat with a practical system for securing cylinders is half the battle
Tie everything movable down or stow it where it's safe
Commandeer a doorway for changing into a drysuit.
Get organised so that you don't need to wander while kitting up