The Red and White Dive Flag

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The Red and White Dive Flag

Postby chris oak » July 30th, 2016, 8:31 pm

I got this from Sam Miller, very interesting read!

More than you ever thought you would know or possibly want to know about the Red and White divers flag.


For a very concise history of the divers flag it is suggested that you refer to " Legends of diving; "The dive flag" by Dr, Samuel Miller,111 - (there are also several other historical articles you may find interesting, such as The Mask)

Stan Sheley was the very first in California to embrace and produce the "Official" Red & white flag of recreational diving.

In 1957 -58 he became enthusiastic with the concept of a flag to identify the location of a diver.

Before he opened his dive shop on Bascom avenue in San Jose he contracted with a San Francisco flag manufacturing company to produce a minimum order of the flags for 63 cents each for a total of $315.00. The design he chose was the one with the white stripe pointing to the base of the flag -exactly the opposite what was eventually accepted as the current flag. The flag manufacture was confused with Stan's drawing and produced them exactly like the current flag.

He opened the shop placed the flags on display expecting the divers of our state to rush in an purchase them..Not so! only three flags were sold the first year! The next year only few more were sold.

Bob Mitchell founder of the San Diego based after market dive product company " Aqua Craft " frequently called on Stan to sell him some of his products.. On one of these sales calls he noticed there were a number of unopened boxes of unsold divers flags..After a number of visits Bob and Stan reached an agreement. He would purchase the remaining inventory at the same price of 63 cents Stan had paid for them with the understanding that Stan could always repurchase the flags as he needed them from Bob for the same 63 cents each

Bob then began selling the flags up and down the state on his sales calls...That is how our great state was introduced to the divers flag..

Stan Sheely who first commercially produced them in California and one or possibly the very first to produce the dive flag in the US..Interesting !

(Source ; Letter Stan Sheley to Sam Miller, Jan 22, 1992 and other correspondence exchanges)


There are some who have an abundance of testosterone and a lack of grey matter who proclaim that they would point or even fire their spear guns at a boat that came, in their estimation, to close for comfort. At that time when they point or fire the gun they would be guilty of a crime of "assault with a deadly weapon.

There was a case in the then bucolic community of Goat Hill, now known as the up scale city of Costa Mesa in which two less that desirable citizens began their Friday night drinking and as the night wore on began arguing. One picked up a spear gun and shot the victim who only slightly injured and was taken to the local Hoag hospital in Newport Beach and patched up. They returned to their trailer on Goat Hill and continued drinking - and arguing. A few hours later the victim lay dead with an Arbalete spear shaft in bedded in his body.

The defense claimed that a spear gun was a toy and certainly not a dangerous weapon. The prosecution claimed it was a very dangerous weapon and should be used with caution and only in the water, and was even more dangerous if used out of the water.

Bob Ruetherford, (see Legends of Diving-Sea Sabres Signaling System-Bob created the UW signaling system.) He was also Mr. Orange County diver and my neighbor (he lived on the corner of Cerritos & Brookhurst & I a few doors down Cerritos in Anaheim) Bob was retained as an expert witness for the prosecution in the case. He and I and others discussed and experimented as to how to best demonstrate the power of a spear gun and to establish that a spear gun was indeed a dangerous weapon and not a toy. We settled on setting up a chair on which was placed a series of pine boards, the Arbalete Spear gun was loaded fired which split several of the boards in bedding the point deep into the last board.

This was duplicated in a court of law at which time the spear gun was identified in California as a dangerous weapon. The perpetrator was found guilty and sent off to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

(source: personal experience )
The founder of the San Diego Free Divers, Bob Johnson, invented and manufactured a very small -- about 8X8 inch retractable dive flag-- several years ago that was worn on the weight belt. When submerging the flag supposedly would fold down; upon surfacing a small counter weight would cause the flag to stand upright

Bob's flag caught on for a short time by the free/divers spear fishermen then as fast as it appeared in the diving market place the flag concept was discarded as being an unnecessary encumbrance that spooked fish. It's small size, height above the water and horizontal visibility certainly would be challenged in dive flag litigation.

(source : personal contact)

< A personal side bar-Many years ago Bob and I were walking along on a dusty trail in Baja. Bob uttered something about this area reminded him of his birth place in Missouri. I ask where? he replied "You never head of it, it is a one stoplight berg of less than 200 souls named Houston" I was taken back and replied "My grandfather Sam1 was born in Houston, Texas County Missouri on December 31, 1856." It is indeed a small world! >

One man's flag--Ted Nixon

There is bogus version of the dive flag's history that was/is floating around the internet presented by "Fat Boy scuba"

The recognized and universally acclaimed father of the dive flag was Ted Nixon from the inland water of Michigan who passed away many years ago. Several years after Ted's passing two articles appeared in the national magazine "Dive Training" by Coleen Bondy Almost immediately after the publication of the first article a pretender from Florida claimed recognition as the "father of the dive flag"...I suspect that he knew Ted, but his name was never ever associated with the development and promotion and certainly was not involved any litigation of the dive flag.

He emerged from his hole never expecting that others would rally to Ted's defense as the father of the dive flag. I, and others who sadly are now in the big reef in the sky, came to Ted's defense as the father of the flag, --- but the damage had been done

I have searched my dive flag file which occupies several feet of my file drawers, with references from about 5 different magazines, a number of past litigaions and spans six decades of dive flag activity. There is no mention of the pretender's name in any dive flag documentation in my dive flag resource .
Early 2014 I presented a program on the "History of the Red and White dive flag" at the San Luis Obispo Underwater Search and Recovery Team's Annual dive conference and this past June at The SCUBA Show in Long Beach California. To prepare and to insure absolute fidelity of my presentation I reviewed Skin Diver Magazine (SDM) page by page the only document available during the time the flag was being developed . There is absolutely no mention of the pretender in SDM, during that era or even later litigations.


The original "recommended" official size was four units high, five units wide and a one unit wide diagonal stripe. The original and long forgotten color was international ( Neon or blaze) orange but after a very short time the manufacture's settled on red back ground with a white diagonal stripe. Now it is rather common to see all sorts of variations of the dive flag , background colors, physical size ,size proportions and especially the size of the stripe.


In early 1960 a diver, Darrel Toso,was struck by a boat at Long point, Catalina Island while resting on his float which displayed the then very new dive flag. This was the very first accident of a diver flying a diver's flag.

In 1962 I was "picked out of the crowd" and summoned as an "expert witness" for the prosecution. (An expert witness is one who has considerable undenialble and verifiable experience and knowledge of a particular subject) It was an awesome responsibility since the dive flag was only a few years old and never been tested in a court of law and I alone was the only "Expert Witness" and had to defend it for Darrel Toso and all the future divers through out the world .

We, the prosecution prevailed -- Under then existing maritime law, which responsibility is established by percentages, the victim Mr. Toso was declared 5% negligent for being in the water and the boat operator, Mr Burns was 95% neglect for not recognizing a diver displaying the "flag" and running over and seriously injuring him. The judge awarded Mr. Toso $132,000.00 in damages - a huge sum in the early 1960s when a good salary was $300-$400 a month.

Dive Accident Leads to legal action" appeared as 4 page 2 part article in the now defunct LA UW News in the 1960s--(hard to find a copy)

This one litigation in a court of law was the defining case establishing the rights and privileges of a California diver, and divers throughout the United States and possibly elsewhere while flying the then almost unknown red and white flag; as recognized the symbol of recreational diving.

Since that initial appearance I have been in evolved in a number of other litigations and consultations regarding the divers flag, One of the more significant and interesting evolvements was as follows.

In the 1960s "Sea Craft" of 3 A Church Street, Wilmington, Massachusetts was marketing after market items and almost as an after thought on the back cover a selection of "Divers Jewelry."

After a few short years Sea Craft was acquired by the then giant and very aggressive New England Divers, of Beverly Massachusetts. They expand the line including giving the jewelry portion more prominence in the catalog. Soon the jewelry section comprised a major part of the catalog

As with all things there is a begin middle and end. New England divers had expanded to much too fast almost faced bankruptcy. They sold or closed most their shops located throughout the US (in California they had shops in San Francisco, LA and OCOC and San Diego ) In the process of down sizing they sold the accessory line to one company and the divers jewelry line to a New York City firm

Approximately 25 years ago, I received a frantic call from Dick Bonin the founder and at that time president of SCUBA Pro. Apparently the jewelry portion which had remained dormant for so many years came to life. The present owner Mr. Nakashian deduced since the jewelry featured the divers flag they were the sole proprietor of the rights to the diver's flag and had hired a hot shot NYC lawyer to represent them, in a definitive litigation against a SCUBA Pro dive shop "Universal divers" owned by James Esterbrooke for using the flag on their letterhead and on a street sign and New England Bell Telephone for advertising the flag in their books. A quick review of my divers flag file and some reproduced pages of my articles and some from Skin Diver Magazine determined that the dive flag had been in existence a full five years prior to the establishment of Sea Craft and their production of divers jewelry containing the divers flag.

Even so the case drug on for fifteen ( Yes 15) months until both sides plead their case and the Judge declared the dive flag was "Generic !"
Case dismissed!
(source Letters Dick M Bonin to Sam Miller; UW USA September 1989)

To my knowledge but not verified, the red and white divers flag has never been accepted as an official flag in the US or any where in the world but rather as a "recognized flag of recreational diving activity." Like Coca cola and Mac Donalds the red and white divers flag is a pure American contribution to the underwater world and since its inception in 1957. and its introduction to world in 1960 via the pages and cover of SDM

Some states recognize the Red and White flag as a symbol of diving activity and have enacted laws governing its use and method of display. It is strongly suggested that each diver if traveling to another state or country familiarize themselves their particular laws governing the divers flag

Skin Diver magazine and Dive Training Magazine printed a state by state synopsis of dive flag laws several years ago. Do to the article's age the various state laws may or may be currently be applicable..

I am aware that there has been three southern California divers, possibly more, who were struck and injured by a boat and one death

A) Daryl Toso (Diving accident leads to legal action) sustained injuries to his arm and upper torso, his back was lacerated, his arm was almost severed from his body, but was saved, however his arm was about 90% destroyed. He was in constant pain for the remainder of his life

B) Bob Ruetherford, (See ; Legends of diving "The Sea Sabres signaling system"" for a picture of Bob holding a Samson spear gun) Bob was living in Hawaii and was either a judge or participation in a spearfishing meet when he was struck on his leg by a boat's propeller taking several large slices .the remainder of his life he was in pain and had a pronounced limp

C) Bob Maniki During the Free Dive List Party in 2000 honoring 65 or so remaining "International Fathers of Free Diving and Spearfishing in the world" ( FYI 3 were from OC; Allan Wood, Ron Merker and my self ) I was reunited with an old friend from our early days in LB Neptunes the famed competitive spear fisherman Bob Manicki, 1960 Helms IUSA Athlete Of The Year. We chatted nonstop over a pot of Millie Craig's baked beans (widow of Col John D Craig) trying to catch up on the past 40 years. During the course of the evening and between bites he indicated, un -be known to me, that he also had been struck by a boat's propeller and the resultant injuries prohibited him from participating as member of the LB Neptunes team representing the US in the world spear fishing competition in Yugoslavia.

It is interesting to note all three were participating in Spear fishing at the time of their accidents.

I was witness to a SCUBA diver being struck by a boat in November 1959. We had gone to Santa Barbara Island on a private boat for lobster diving. After a day of diving we anchored in a cove, along with a number of other boats including Goat Hill (Costa Mesa) resident Jack Kirk's large dive boat the "Veleron."

Even through the Velron was at anchor in a recognized anchoring location and other boats would probably arriving later to anchor, several of the divers on the boat decided to go for a night dive. (FYI the dive lights were either home made or generally 2 cell power lights therefore very dim)

All was well until the cry was heard loud and clear "Look out!" followed by "Oh My God!" and a loud scream "Help!" We were close enough to see Bobbie Frazier strip down and jump off the Veleron as Jack and the passengers begin scrambling to give assistance. From our vantage point as the closest boat we saw a very bloody and lifeless body being lifted on the deck.

I had known the deck hand Bobbie Frazier for a number of years so I shouted to Bobbie "How bad is he?" Bobbie replied "Bad, very bad, we need to air lift him to the hospital " and requested that we move as close as possible and shine our boat lights on the deck of the Veleron as a guide in the USCG Helicopter in locating the boat. Almost immediately we were joined by the other boats who had pulled anchor to assist in lighting the area.

About 45 minutes later the helicopter arrived dropped a basket to the deck of the Veleron. The victim was secured in the basket the helicopter began winding in the cable lifting the severally injured diver into the night air. Much to the horror of the passengers and crew , and the boats surrounding the Veleron, some where between 60 & 100 feet in the air the cable broke and the basket and victim crashed on the deck of the Veleron.

A few moments later Bobbie shouted a "Thank you" to the surrounding boats and asked that they move away.... The diver was dead and they were heading for San Pedro. Thus ended a very traumatic hour and a half at San Clemente Island.

Early the next morning we and most of the pleasure boats who had been at anchor also headed for home.

The 23 November 1959 Los Angeles Times (California) reported the accident as follows:


“Skin Diver, Hit by Boat, Falls From Copter, Dies” (*skin diving was the accepted nomenclature for SCUBA Diving)

Harold B. Gavenman of Canoga Park California was skin diving on Saturday 21 November 1959 off Santa Barbara Island. He was one of several diving from a barge (*the Villaron) in an island cove. He surfaced in front of an oncoming lobster boat and “was sucked into the propeller.” The lobster boat operator jumped in and pulled him onboard, radioed for help, and took him by boat to the barge. An Air Force helicopter made 30 attempts to secure a line to him. Once they were successful, when he was raised about 100 feet in the liter basket, the cable broke and he was dropped onto the barge and rolled off the side. Those on the barge were able to recover him, then took him by a fast power boat cruiser to Santa Catalina Island, he was then life flighted from to Newport Beach and pronounced dead on arrival at Hoag Memorial Hospital".

Epilogue-- about a year later the widow who was not on the boat brought suit against Jack Kirk and his crew of the Veleron, the lobster boat that struck the victim, the US CG , the cable manufacture and just about every one who was in any way associated with the accident.

** Post Script:
The Veleron had been built and had been owned for a number of years by the movie star James Cagney. Jack Kirk acquired it and converted it to the first SoCal supper dive charter boat. A few years after the accident and after the litigation Jack sold the Veleron to a wealthy Chinese gentleman who took it to Hong Kong. This unknown gentleman restored it back to it's 1920's-1930's condition and converted it to his floating home.

During our last trip to Hong Kong my wife Betty and I spent considerable time with Lieu brothers, the Hong Kong diving pioneers .
They were unaware of a Veleron in Hong Kong and after considerable resaech by Kit Lieu ne reported nothing appeared in the Hong Kong boat registry.
(source person experience & Los Angeles Times)

In the late 1950s, locally in SoCal, we divers acquired a poster of a diving fatality; A person who had been struck and killed by a boat. Horrible horrible picture. It was eye catching poster. I still have the only remaining original;

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~A good source for California dive flag laws/rules can be found in my friend Chris Witten on

California Dive Flags

Rules for CA divers and boaters
There is controversy about California's weak laws regarding the use of dive flags.

California Code of Regulations, Title 14. Natural Resources, Division 4. Department of Boating and Waterways, Chapter 1. Department of Boating and Waterways, Article 6. Waterway Marking System, § 7008. The Divers Flag:

(a) A red flag with a white diagonal running from the upper left hand corner to the lower right hand corner (from masthead to lower outside corner) and known as the "Divers Flag" shall when displayed on the water, indicate the presence of a person engaged in diving in the water in the immediate area.

(b) Recognition of this flag by regulation will not be construed as conferring any rights or privileges on its users, and its presence in a water area will not be construed in itself as restricting the use of the water area so marked.

(c) Operators of vessels will, however, exercise precaution commensurate with conditions indicated.

(d) This flag may be displayed only when diving is in progress, and its display in a water area when no diving is in progress is that area will constitute a violation of the regulation and of section 659 of the Harbors and Navigation Code.

(e) Nothing in this section will require the carriage of a divers flag for any purpose.

However, as California diving instructor Don Lambrecht brought to our attention, this section of the California Boating Regulations would seem to cover divers:

No person shall use any vessel or manipulate water skis, an aquaplane, or a similar device in a reckless or negligent manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.

Every owner, operator, or person in command of any vessel propelled by machinery is guilty of a misdemeanor who uses it, or permits it to be used, at a speed in excess of five miles per hour in any portion of the following areas not otherwise regulated by local rules and regulations:
Within 100 feet of any person who is engaged in the act of bathing. A person engaged in the sport of water skiing shall not be considered as engaged in the act of bathing for the purposes of this section.

Within 200 feet of any of the following:
A beach frequented by bathers.
A swimming float, diving platform, or lifeline.
A way or landing float to which boats are made fast or which is being used for the embarkation or discharge of passengers.

In addition, certain county and municipal regulations are more specific about the maximum distance you can be from a dive flag.

State of California Department of Boating and Waterways Page 19, there is no state law requiring the display of flags by divers in the waters as a condition of use (if they are not diving from a boat). The display of the Alpha flag is a boating regulation for boats conducting dive operations.

“The County does not have an ordinance that states a float with flag must be displayed while diving. The California Code of Regulations does state that when diving from a boat, a Dive or Alpha flag shall be displayed while diving is in progress. It is a violation of the code to display while no diving is in progress.( In short, when diving off the beach, a float and flag is not required. The County Lifeguards however do consider it a safety issue and encourage all divers and groups to use floats and flags. )

There is a County ordinance that states all vessels must operate 300 or more yards from all beaches in the County where swimmers are present. Also part of the same ordinance states that all swimmers must remain inside of 200 yards from shore so that there is no overlap between boaters and swimmers.”

This is the actual Los Angeles County Code, , updated through 7/27/2010:

17.12.450 Swimming and other water activities--Restrictions.

A person shall not swim, bathe or immerse himself in the Pacific Ocean opposite any beach regulated by this Part 3 more than 200 yards seaward from the shore except:

C. A person who dives from a vessel and who displays while diving either a rectangular flag 12 by 15 inches, orange-red in color with a white diagonal stripe three inches wide running from one corner to the diagonally opposite corner, or the lights and/or flag prescribed in Rule 27 of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea as set forth in 72 COLREGS as published with the Proclamation of January 19, 1977 at 42 FR 17112, March 31, 1977 and amended by the document annexed to the Proclamation of June 16, 1983, and published at 48 FR 28634, June 23, 1983, or as Rule 27 may be subsequently amended and accepted by the President of the United States of America, above the surface of the water in the vicinity of the dive;

Similarly, here is part of Section 12.08.040 in Manhattan Beach:

No person shall swim, bathe, or immerse himself in the water of the Pacific Ocean opposite any beach regulated by this chapter more than two hundred (200) yards from the shore except ... C. A skin diver equipped with swim fins and a face plate if at all times he maintains within fifty (50) yards of himself a boat or a surf mat, paddle board or surf board upon which there is a rectangular flag twelve by fifteen inches, orange-red in color with a white diagonal stripe three inches wide running from one corner to the diagonally opposite corner. The flag shall be flown high enough so as not to touch the water.

The state has specific fines of over $100 for "Unlawful Placement of Diver Precaution Markers."

For Boaters in California
California state law still is not specific about how far away boaters need to be from a dive flag. As stated above, Title 14, Section 7008, only states that operators of vessels will "exercise precaution."

However, California Boating Regulations are very specific that you must remain under five miles per hour within 100 feet of "any person who is engaged in the act of bathing" and 200 feet from a "swimming float, diving platform, or lifeline."


Locally Pismo Beach has at last after much personal and written urging posted suggested dive flag use for Shell Beach. Apparently the divers are complying as there has been no reported call outs of the Life Guards, Fire rescue and the police since the posting in early May or 2015.

There once was considerable diving for Pismo clams in down town Pismo Beach, but all clams have disappeared with the arrival of the otters. If there is a need for diving there Use a dive flag!


The regional and national hard and electronic dive publications has done very little to promote the dive flag. Only one regional publication Californian Diving News aka CDN has it on its cover, even then there is no explanation as to what it is or its usage . Just a part of the cover.

No further comment on the dive publications


I would also suggest-- urge -- that you publicize the divers flag by proudly display the flag on your vehicles, on you boats and on your floats.. Displaying a red and white divers flag is no assurance that you will not have an accident and sufferer the pain and its debilitating effects of being injured but if you do have and accident and are flying the dive flag you certainly have recourse as established over 50 years ago in a Long Beach California court of law by the Toso vs Burns litigation. ---

Copyright 2015, Dr Samuel Miller,111 and Dr Samuel Miller,IV
May not be produced in any way for private or personal use with out the written permission of the authors
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