Fishing skiffs sit ready to take Blacktip Island scuba divers to dive sites Friday morning.
Starting today, Blacktip Island scuba divers wanting a ride to or from a dive site can use a boat-sharing application launched by island boat owners. The app, modeled after similar land-based services, allows individual divers to hail private boats via their dive computer.
“We’re calling it ‘UBoat,’” founder Antonio Fletcher said. “You just punch your dive computer, and a boat picks you up.
“Divers like to sleep in, you know, and maybe only do one dive,” Fletcher said. “Or go places the resort boats won’t take them.”
Eight local fishermen have signed on for the service so far, most using fishing skiffs shorter than 20 feet.
“Going out fishing anyway,” local angler Dermott Bottoms said. “Might as well make a little side cash. And divers don’t mind the lines and hooks.
“Get extra money when sharks show up, too,” Bottoms said. “So long as the divers don’t catch me chumming.”
The app has already proved a hit with the island’s scuba diving guests.
“The little boats make it an adventure,” said diver Paula Plongeur. “And you never know who your captain’ll be. There’s nothing quite like hitting the surface, tapping your computer and seeing a half-dozen skiffs racing to get to you first.
“With UBoat, we dive where we want, as deep as we want for as long as we want,” Plongeur said. “Even late-night dives, though they do charge extra for those drop offs and pick ups. Especially the pick ups.”
Dive industry insiders, however, question UBoat’s safety.
“There’s no guarantee a boat’ll be there to pick you up,” said Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner. “Some of these clowns are even dropping off solo divers.
“Sure, it’s a lower rate and personalized service, but what’s your life worth?” Latner said. “And you really want ‘Tonio or Dermott picking you up in the afternoon after they’ve been drinking all morning? Or worse, sleeping through the pick-up call?”
UBoat drivers were quick to defend the service.
“Tourists want to give me money for a boat ride, all right then,” Bottoms said. “Divers get on my boat ‘cause they want to, you know.
“They got a c-card and say they’re meeting a buddy on the reef, who am I to say they’re lying,” Bottoms added. “Not illegal. No one can tell me how I can make money.”
Divers defended the service as well.
“We see it as a kind of dive insurance,” Plongeur said. “People will fight to pick us up, even if a charter boat leaves us behind. Plus, Dermott lets us drink beer on the way to and from.”