Bay State Council of Divers


This is a summary of some of the diver-related laws in Massachusetts. If there are others you wish to add, visit the Suggestions form.

DIVE FLAG - Chapter 90B: Section 13A. Scuba divers; display of diver’s flag required.

Section 13A. Every scuba diver or group of scuba divers while swimming on or under the surface of the waters of the commonwealth shall display for each diver or group of divers as a warning device to boat operators, a diver’s flag, so called, constructed of rigidly supported material at least twelve inches by fifteen inches in area of red background with a white diagonal stripe. Such diver’s flag shall be displayed on a boat or surface float and shall extend a minimum distance of three feet from the surface of the water. Divers shall remain in an area within one hundred feet of such displayed diver’s flag while at or near the surface of the water. A boat operator within sight of a diver’s flag shall proceed with caution and within a radius of one hundred feet of such flag shall proceed at a speed not to exceed three miles per hour.

BEACH ACCESS - Chapter 91: Section 10D. Scuba divers and skin divers; access to Commonwealth tidelands.

Section 10D. No person shall be denied access during daylight hours to commonwealth tidelands across any land available to the public for swimming or recreation which is owned or controlled by the commonwealth or any of its political subdivisions for the purpose of scuba diving or skin diving which activities are hereby declared to be water dependent uses; provided, however, that if such tidelands are at any time closed to access by the general public, such access by such scuba diver or skin diver shall not be permitted.

SHIPWRECKS, ARTIFACT COLLECTING, ETC. - Chapter 91: Section 63. Salvage, recovery, etc. of underwater archaeological resources; permits; restrictions; disposition of resources; enforcement; violations; penalties; jurisdiction and venue.

Section 63. No person, organization or corporation may remove, displace, damage or destroy underwater archaeological resources as defined in section one hundred and eighty of chapter six, except in conformity with the provisions of this section. Any qualified person, organization or corporation desiring to conduct any type of exploration, recovery or salvage operations in the course of which any underwater archaeological resources, with the exception of those specifically exempted from permit requirements, may be removed, displaced or destroyed shall first make application to the director for a permit to conduct such operations. If the director, with the approval of the board, shall find that the operations desired involve underwater archaeological resources and said operations are in the public interest, he shall, within thirty days from the receipt of application, grant the initial applicant a permit which allows said applicant the sole right to remove or salvage said resources for a period of one year. Said permits shall include without limitation the location, nature of activity, reporting requirements and time period covered and shall provide for the termination of the rights of the permittee upon violation of any of the terms of the permit. Until such time as a permit for any given site is granted, all records regarding the permit application for said site shall be confidential unless released by the applicant.

Diving in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Individuals diving in the sanctuary must be aware of sanctuary regulations that protect historic resources and marine mammals. Currently, there are three Sanctuary specific regulations that pertain to historic resources in the sanctuary (excerpt from 15 CFR 922.142:)


Prohibited or otherwise regulated activities:

   (3) Drilling into, dredging or otherwise altering the seabed of the Sanctuary; or constructing, placing or abandoning any structure, material or other matter on the seabed of the Sanctuary, except as an incidental result of:

      (i) Anchoring vessel;
      (ii) Traditional fishing operations; or
      (iii) Installation of navigational aids.

   (4) Moving, removing or injuring, or attempting to move, remove or injure, a Sanctuary historical resource. This prohibition does not apply to moving, removing or injury resulting incidentally from traditional fishing operations.

   (7) Possessing within the Sanctuary (regardless of where taken, moved or removed from), except as necessary for valid law enforcement purposes, any historic resource, or any marine mammal, marine reptile or seabird taken in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act or Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Under the above regulations divers are not permitted to grapple a shipwreck, drop a down line directly onto a shipwreck, or tie a down line onto any part of a shipwreck. Divers are also not allowed to leave an unattended mooring in the sanctuary at any time.

Diving when in the vicinity of whales is considered harassment, and is punishable under federal law. Any boating activity that harms or causes a whale to change its behavior is also a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Diver Related Link Information:

  1. Diving in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

  2. While most frequently visited New England dive spots are relatively close to shore, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary offers divers a chance to explore a different environments at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay. As such, strong currents and exposed waters create challenging dive conditions.

Diver-Related Laws in Massachusetts