One Blacktip Island scuba company has begun hauling divers aboard with commercial conveyor belts to cut down on boarding ladder injuries in rough seas. (photo courtesy of Leah Shore)
A Blacktip Island scuba resort stirred controversy Wednesday when it announced plans to use conveyor belts commonly used in the fishing industry to haul divers back onto its dive boats.
“This’s a safety issue. I don’t know why folks are getting all up in arms,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “It’s winter. The seas are rough. A lot of our divers don’t understand how dangerous the boarding ladders can be. When there’s six-foot swells rolling through, and divers’re lollygagging on the ladders getting their fins off, that dog’ll bite you.
“This isn’t some ride at Disney. People can get hurt,” Latner said. “They’re on the ladder for four, five waves, getting the living snot beat out of them. We’re tired of bandaging them up. And cleaning up the decks.”
The resort’s solution was to install marine conveyor belts to lift divers onboard.
“It’s a variation on the belts commercial fishing boats use to land their catch,” Eagle Ray Cove owner Rich Skerritt said. “We call it the ‘Magic Carpet’ that sweeps divers back aboard. Guests swim up, grab ahold, and the belt feeds them up to the midships gunwale where our staff can sort them out.
“Some of our guests are big people, too, with lots of weight in their BCs,” Skerritt said. “This makes things way easier on our staff. It’s good for divers, good for our divemasters and keeps out ladders from getting damaged. There’s really no downside.”
Many dive guests are not pleased with the new system.
“It’s not dignified, being dragged up a ramp like that, arse over appetite, and plopped on the deck like a hooked cod,” Carrie Coney said. “They’re treating paying guests like netted fish. And likening us to beached whales.”
Others praised the new belts.
“For me, it added another bit of fun to the dive,” Rosie Blenny said. “I got to look at fish, then had a nice ride afterwards. If people are worried about looking like beached whales, well, that’s not the Magic Carpet’s fault.”
Eagle Ray Divers staff stressed the belts’ efficiency.
“It’s not about the guests liking it or not. It’s about getting them back onboard without bloodshed,” divemaster Marina DeLow said. “They bearhug the ladder 20, 30 seconds in rough seas, it gets messy. We tell them to think of it as the moving carpet on the bunny slope at a ski resort.”
Other resorts are watching the belt-loaded divers closely.
“If it works out and cuts down injuries, we may try the same thing ourselves,” Club Scuba Doo owner Ham Pilchard said. “We’re looking at installing a forward-facing belt that’ll scoop surfaced divers up as the boat idles past without them having to do anything but just float there.”