Scuba divers in Melbourne are fortunate to have a wide variety of great diving at their doorstep. More than a hundred shore dive sites in the Melbourne area cater to divers of all skill levels and offer diverse profiles and abundant marine life. Some of those shore dive sites, e.g. dives on the Back Beaches, are actually easier, and sometimes safer, to do from a boat.
Then there are the more than a hundred dive sites only accessible from a boat. Joining an organised dive charter is an obvious, easy option, to access some of these boat dive sites. But the dive charter operators don't go to all of them. Those who prefer DIY can also take the helm of their own boat and go wherever they like. It need not be a glitzy, multi-million-dollar luxury yacht. The waters of Port Phillip, Bass Strait and Western Port are an ideal place to play master and commander in much more modest vessels.
You'll see divers using a wide range of vessels. Everything from tinnies, to single and multi-hull fibreglass and plate aluminium boats. Then there are the Zodiac-style inflatable boats and even personal watercraft (PWC), e.g. 'Sea-Doo', plus sit-on-top kayaks. All can be practical and effective ways to dive the reefs, pinnacles, kelp beds, walls and wrecks in waters near Melbourne.
Of course, the costs of these vessels varies. The larger 4.5 metres (15 feet) to 7.5 metres (25 feet) long fibreglass or plate aluminium boats with one or two big outboard motors can be quite expensive. An inflatable, powered by an outboard motor, or a PWC, costs more than a human-powered kayak. Of course the powered craft require additional maintenance, but they accommodate more divers and gear and excel in accessing distant sites.
When researching specific models of vessels, solicit input from experienced boat owning divers and make certain your craft of choice has enough cargo space and a total weight capacity that's sufficient for you and your dive equipment, plus that of your dive buddy or buddies. Not all vessel designs are appropriate for scuba pursuits, especially for people bringing along extra cylinders for double dives and/or a big camera rig.
Diving from your own boat affords ultimate freedom to dive when, where, and how you want. You can splash mid-week to avoid the crowds, or take advantage of soon-to-be-gone amazing sea conditions with killer visibility and zero swell. That's easily accomplished in your own boat, but unlikely with charter operators who typically schedule weekend-only outings.
Keen to thoroughly explore the same spot three times in a row without having to take a vote in a group? Have a special photo or video project requiring extra-long bottom times which would inconvenience or be impossible for others? Want to ensure that your buddy or buddies are on the same page as you in terms of experience level and focus? Check, check, and check! Being master and commander gives you flexibility and control. This is harder to come by on an open boat charter full of people with potentially widely varying diving styles, goals, and levels of training.
Most boat owning divers find they're usually more productive (and less stressed) when they're calling the shots in their own boat. But of course, this pathway is not for everyone. Boat trailers and oil changes, licensing and roof racks add considerably to a diver's gear pile and to-do list. Owning and maintaining a dive boat equates to more work, greater storage space, and additional expenses. From a cost per dive perspective, however, having your own boat may actually save money in the long run if you do a lot of boat diving. The money spent doing two dives per day spent on local charters adds up quickly. Then again, there is the age old expression that a boat owner is happy twice: the day the boat is purchased, and the day the boat is sold. Plus BOAT stands for Bring Out Another Thousand!
Here are some boat dive sites we enjoy that are rarely visited by dive boat charter operators.
Over many years of diving from small boats we've picked up tips and tricks from salty sea dogs generous with their lore. Mostly from members of independent dive clubs. Some of these clubs have more than sixty years of experience boat diving in Melbourne waters and they've developed standard operating procedures (SOPs). Here is information — some general, some specific to the Melbourne region — which may prove useful to others embarking on their own dive boat owning adventure.
Firstly, you need to ensure that:
The Marine Safety Act 2010 (Vic) imposes a range of duties on recreational boaters to act safely. This includes ensuring that:
See also, Victorian Recreational Boating Safety Handbook (Adobe PDF | 14.08 MB) — A downloadable version of Marine Safety Victoria's Victorian Recreational Boating Safety Handbook, July 2020.
Boat Participation Agreement and Consumer Waiver — We suggest that every time you have divers coming out to participate in scuba diving activities from your boat you ask them to read, understand and consent to the terms of a Boat Participation Agreement and Consumer Waiver.
Raydon Boat Participation Agreement and Consumer Waiver (Adobe PDF | 15.68 KB). Create your own version, print and laminate it. Keep it clearly displayed on your dive boat.
Boat Diving Consent Form — To protect yourself, have every diver that comes out to dive from your dive boat sign a Boat Diving Consent Form.
Raydon Boat Diving Consent Form (Adobe PDF | 155.5 KB). Create your own version, print copies and have every diver coming out to participate in scuba diving activities from your dive boat read, understand and sign it.
Double-check weather forecasts shortly before you launch, and periodically while out on the water to make sure bad weather isn't quickly on its way. Be wary of thick fog materialising suddenly; if you cannot wait for it clear, proceed slowly and carefully, using your GPS to navigate. Shut down periodically to listen for other boats. Reviewing swell forecasts ahead of time can help you decide where to most comfortably dive that day. When the swell is large, say 1.5 metres (4.92 feet) or more, especially if it's coming from the south, remaining inside Port Phillip or Western Port and diving close to shore is advised. Generally speaking, Bass Strait offers less protection.
VHF Radio weather services — Marine Radio Victoria (MRV) provides twice daily local weather forecasts on VHF radio, with instructions and broadcast times announced regularly on Channel 16. MRV also broadcast current weather warnings at 00:47, 02:48, 04:48, 06:48, 08:48, 10:48, 12:48, 14:48, 16:48, 18:48, 20:48 and 22:48 eastern standard time (EST) on VHF channel 67 following the initial broadcast until notice of the cancellation is received by the Bureau of Meteorology.
See also Weather, Tides, Conditions etc. for links to the lastest information about Melbourne and Victoria diving conditions.
Leave your Voyage and Dive Plan with someone on land, informing them of your intended destination(s) that day, when you expect to be back onshore, how many people are in your group, your mobile phone number, and a basic description of your boat(s). Check-in with your contact when you are back onshore. If your plans change, let someone know.
You might consider using the Marine Safety Victoria - I've Gone Boating flyer (Adobe PDF | 212.22 KB), or the BSAC Voyage Planning Sheet available for download below.
Avoid anchoring if possible. For most boat diving in Melbourne waters it's preferable to drop a shot line, or use a drift line, and keep the dive boat live. See Boat Diving Safety for details on how to setup and use Boat Lines, Shot Lines, Drift Lines, Cray Lines, Decompression Trapese etc.
Make sure you leave enough slack ('scope') when you let out and tie off your anchor line. A ratio of at least 3:1 (and up to 7:1) line length to water depth is often recommended, though the type of boat, conditions, and dive site location should also be taken into consideration. When you begin your dive, check the placement and hold of your anchor, and move the anchor (or redeploy entirely) if necessary. Be mindful not to harm marine life. Using your compass to navigate during the dive can help you return to the anchor at the end of the dive.
Anchor, warp, chain and buoy —An anchor of appropriate weight for the size/type of vessel (5kg approx. for a 5m RIB) with holding characteristics for the seabed nature in the diving location. There should be at least 3m of chain attached to the anchor used and at least 30m of warp. There should be a strong point within the vessel for attaching the anchor warp and a suitable buoy, which allows for the anchor to be abandoned at short notice should the need require. The anchor and warp should not be used as a shot line.
See also Marine Safety Victoria: Anchors.
Take care of your boat with regular maintenance and inspections performed by those who know what they are doing. Your life may depend on this. Confidence in your sea chariot will provide peace of mind and make your diving much more enjoyable.
There are plenty of excellent boat ramps near Melbourne. See Melbourne Boat Launching Ramps. Most are well maintained, and it's easy to launch and retrieve boats regardless of tide height. Of course, they can be busy on weekends and it's always easier to have another person on the boat ramp to help with the whole launch/retrieve process while you are operating your vehicle.
See the Scuba Diving Safety section of this website where we have extra information, including:
See the Melbourne Dive Sites section of this website for maps and detailed descriptions of local and Victorian dive sites.
See the Diving and Snorkelling Downloads section of this website to download GPS marks for Melbourne and Victorian dive sites, plus get more detailed information about boating on Port Phillip and Western Port.
The Dive Boat Related files on our Diving and Snorkelling Downloads web page are valuable references that will help you to better setup your boat for diving, and help you to conduct safe diving operations.