Having a surface cover or ‘boat-master’ is an important part of any scuba diving boat trip. The Boat Master is the person that is responsible for every diver on the boat and ensures that the trip runs smoothly. Here at Crystal Dive Koh Tao we ensure all our dive trips have a surface cover on board in order to increase comfort and safety for our divers.
6.40am – The equipment room is buzzing with the usual morning rush. Regulators and masks are packed according to the morning dive trips needs, and carried to the longtail which is then going directly to the boat where everything is offloaded. Our Divemasters and Instructors are packing bags for their divers.
The Divemaster Team test our Oxygen systems to ensure all is good then take them down to the boats and make sure that everything is ready before calling the divers down to the boat which is a short walk along the beach.
Some of our staff wait at the boat to meet and greet our divers and assist them coming aboard our boat. The other staff head back to Crystal and gather their dive group before heading back to the boat. The trips designated Boat Master walks back to the office and gathers the finalized boat list and a cup of coffee.
Give me a big loud “YES”
What does surface cover entail? Whoever is on surface cover duty has to be the last one on the boat, making sure that everyone else is already aboard. Divers are asked to leave their scuba equipment and go up to the sundeck for a roll call, this ensures everyone is accounted for.
Names on the boat list are called and ticked off. Next comes a quick boat orientation and then we can start our cruise to the mornings first dive site.
After having allowed enough time for the divers to finish their set-ups, all the equipment numbers have to be accounted for on the boat list according to whoever is using them.
Surface cover also notes down all our dive leaders’ names and how many divers they’re diving with to ensure every diver has a buddy.
If we are heading toward a deep dive site, the drop tank will be prepared so it can be deployed at the rear of the boat once we are at the dive site.
Once at the dive site the drop tank is lowered into the water, hanging at 5-meters in case a diver accidently exceeds their no-decompression limit and needs more time for their safety stop. If there’s any current, drift lines are attached to the ladders on both sides of the boat, ready to be thrown toward divers who would require them to come back to the boat at the end of their dive.
The Surface cover will also help out the newer divers as they enter the water from the boat, giving them advice and a bit of encouragement. As the groups descend for their dive, the times are jotted down onto the boat list to keep track of the dive groups.
Once everyone is submerged and enjoying their dives, it’s time to tidy up the boat and keep an eye out in search of the first SMB (Surface Marker Buoy) to pop up. A nice and chilled time spent sitting at the front of the boat looking down at fish, usually fusiliers or parrot fish sometimes a triggerfish or two. A peaceful intermittence when the boat is finally quiet.
SMBs penetrating the surface and standing proud and bright out of the water break the silence. This is the signal that our divers are completing a safety stop and will be surfacing shortly. Surfacing times are written down and the divers will make their way back to the boat. Fins are handed up to the boat boys and the divers are helped up the ladder and out of the water.
Once everyone is back onto the boat another roll call is conducted and then we can move to the next dive site. We then go through the entire process again for the 2nd dive of the trip.
When the final roll call is complete, divers usually stay on the sundeck filling out their log books and discussing the dives they have just completed. This is the time for surface cover to go downstairs and make sure all the dive equipment is packed away correctly.
Then they can return upstairs and enjoy the ride back to the pier taking in the breathtaking scenery that is beautiful Koh Tao.
During the entire boat trip, whoever is surface cover must be ‘rescue-ready‘, which means their gear has to be set-up next to one of the exits. This is in the unlikely emergency that person can enter the water as fast as possible.
Also, surface cover would be in charge of any emergency situation that may occur such as an evacuation or search for a missing diver using the help of present instructors on the boat.
Some days are more challenging than others, dealing with strong currents or big waves keeps you on your toes as different situations arise on the course of a journey.
A bad day on the boat is better than a good day on land
But no matter the day’s environmental conditions, I’ll always pick surface cover over a land job; at least I’m on the boat, experiencing the dives through the surface interval tales brought back from the depths.
Author: Marie Killinger (PADI DM #389090)