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Red Sea Diving Regulations for Egypt - by Courtney, Project Ocean Vision

Divers visiting the Red Sea for recreational diving will hear all sorts of rules and regulations quoted by dive guides and other guests, but few will have seen the real rules. Actually, many of the Red Sea diving regulations quoted are incorrect, out of date or, in one or two cases apocryphal. In this article, I have collected the rules put in place by the Chamber of Diving and Watersports (CDWS, Egypt). I have offered a summary of each subject and a link to the appropriate document.

CDWS was created on 17 April 2007. They have placed great emphasis on implementing training agencies' standards and compiling the Red Sea Diving Regulations. In order to obtain a license to operate in Egypt diving operations must comply with international standards ISO 24803:2007/ EN 14467:2004. They are doing good work cleaning up the dive centres and making sure the meet the standards.

Bear in mind that more restrictive rules may also apply (for example, in Marine Parks) and that dive operators are perfectly entitled to impose their own rules as well - as long as they quote them as such and do not attempt to pass them off as 'law'.

  Red Sea Diving Regulations and Rules

This article isn't just about "getting round the rules" or "avoiding the Red Sea diving regulations", it is about getting the dive industry to apply the correct rules appropriately and seizing the opportunity to make sure that operators are doing the job we, the customers, are paying for. Whilst the standard of practice is generally good among the dive centres I have dived with in Egypt over the years, there are, clearly, some that are dodgy, to say the least.

Starting with the rules, here is a typical example of the rules you will see or hear of; this extract comes from redsealife.com.

Red Sea Regulations of Environmental Protection:

Hunting, fishing, collecting or breaking off corals or shells is prohibited. It is also prohibited to dispose of any materials into the sea. Boats are prohibited from anchoring inside protected areas. No feeding of fish or birds. Divers are prohibited from wearing dive gloves. Standing on or touching the coral reefs is strictly prohibited. Violations are subject to the fines included within Law 102 of 1983 and Law 104 of 1994. The fines are as follows: For the first case, LE 10,000 or a prison term of 1 year For the second case, LE 10,000 or a prison term. By Egyptian Law, the maximum dive depth is 30 metres.

I have found the former of the two laws cited here - Law 102 of 1983 - which you can read here; it is concerned with conservation and it is one of the main drivers we can thank for preserving the marine environment in the region - as much as it is. I can find no reference to wearing gloves and I still cannot find an extant law limiting recreational diving to 30 metres. Touching the reef, collecting shells, dumping at sea, feeding fish and anchoring in protected areas are all covered by the law, as they should be. Another limitation I hear every trip to the Red Sea is a maximum dive time of 60 minutes - is this to limit nitrogen exposure, reduce the risk of losing divers or for the benefit of the boat operators, trying to cram two or three dives and lunch into a day without finishing too late? I would love to hear from anyone with an opinion on this. If you can find Law 104 of 1994, I would love to see it. I have found the Executive Regulation of Law 4 (Before Amendments of 2005), which deals with environmental protection and is mainly concerned with polution - this appears to cover the discharge of materials from boats mentioned in the extract above.

Gloves & knives - 12 May 2009 - Red Sea Diving Regulations

So, everyone seems to be told that we cannot wear gloves (see above) or carry knives in the Red Sea and we can find numerous references to the fact that Egyptian Law prohibits them. In my research to date, I can find nothing in law that restricts the wearing of gloves. Quite the opposite in fact; the CDWS regulations clearly state that you may wear gloves for thermal protection, although it is "highly recommended" that you do not if you don't require it; but you may not touch coral or other marine life - in line with Law 102 of 1983. It is my suspicion that the industry thinks we are more likely to touch the coral if we wear gloves, so use this excuse to ban them. Similarly with knives, you may carry one, but may not use it as a weapon nor use it to damage marine life. Indeed, it is my opinion that divemasters and instructors are required to carry a knife as part of their safety equipment. I strongly believe that dive guides actually think they are quoting the law and it may be that, at some time, "no gloves or knives" was a "regulation", but the official statement from the CDWS (link below) demonstrates that this is not the case today.

Read the full regulation

Depth Limitations - 9 May 2009 - Red Sea Diving Regulations

The rules here are a little more complex to take account of divers' qualifications. Basically, according to the CDWS, the maximum depth for diving on compressed air and nitrox for appropriately qualified divers is 40 metres and the maximum ppO2 is 1.4 ATA. As I said, the regulation is more complex so do read the rules using the following link.

Read the regulation

Cylinder testing requirements - 1 July 2009 - Red Sea Diving Regulations

All cylinders must be hydrostatically tested every 5 years by a service centre certified by CDWS or by CDWS members who have personnel qualified by PSI and ASSET and the tools to conduct the test according to manufacturers requirements. Service centres must have a unique mark to stamp on cylinders with valid test dates and must issue a certificate for each cylinder. Visual inspections are required every six months. Very few divers ever look at the hieroglyphs on cylinders, but it worth doing. And do report any cylinders that you believe to be out of date - to the dive operator at the very least.

Read the full regulation

Recreational technical diving centres requirements and standards - 20 June 2009 - Red Sea Diving Regulations

This certification scheme specifies minimum requirements to certify technical diving centres. In addition to normal recreational scuba services, technical diving centres hold a Recreational Technical Diving Service Provider Certification (RTDSPC) issued by CDWS and provide the following: teach technical diving, run guided technical dives, blend and/or sell diving gas mixes for diving (Trimix, Nitrox, O2 and Heliox).

Read the full regulation

Guide to diver ratios - 12 May 2009 - Red Sea Diving Regulations

CDWS uses the World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC) standards for diving activities - www.wrstc.com for recreational diving. Basically, operators are required to use training agency standards and their own professional judgment. Ratios of 1:8 and 1:12 are mentioned elsewhere and I certainly wouldn't expect a guide to be able to do his job with any more than 12 divers. There is nothing to prevent experienced, well-qualified divers from diving without a guide, providing the operator is happy and the divers are familiar with the site and local procedures.

Read the full regulation

Ras Mohammed National Park Rules - Red Sea Diving Regulations

The National Park rules are largely concerned with conservation (as one would expect). I have not yet found any additional rules for divers concerning equipment, maximum depths or the like. Here are the rules issued by CDWS:

Do not collect, remove or damage any material, living or dead, from the Park (corals, shells, fish, plants, fossils, etc).

Driving of any vehicle or motorized transport (including motor-bikes and quads) off the marked tracks or onto any beach is prohibited.

Chasing or tracking animals (including birds) by means of any vehicle or motorized transport is prohibited, Please treat our wildlife with respect.

Camping is prohibited except at the designated areas (as indicated by notice).

Littering is prohibited, please place litter, garbage and waste in the litter bins and other containers provided, or take it away with you.

Closed areas are used for studying ecosystems (habitats), monitoring the environment and to protect examples of natural habitat in their pristine condition. They are also genetic reserves. Access to them is, therefore, prohibited.

Please ensure that the vehicle you are using is in reliable condition and can sustain driving on the designated tracks. It is recommended that you inform someone of your route and destination.

Avoid walking or standing on any reef or other marine substrate on coral areas since this breaks and damages corals, which are critical to our natural resources. Please use the designated access points for snorkelling, diving, and moorings.

Feeding fish and animals upsets the biological balance and is, therefore, prohibited.

Fishing in any form including spearfishing, is not allowed in any Protected Area (except if a special license is issued by the Park Authority).

Visitors are required to leave the National Park by sunset, unless staying in the designated camping area at the marine laboratory or attending officially organized events at the visitors' centre.

It is prohibited to cause any form of pollution by discharging or throwing away any substance (including liquids and solids) that are harmful to the environment.

Please take care to avoid any pollution of the environment by discharge or escape of substances such as oil or sewerage.

Please take note of any instructions posted in the Park or provided at the gate.

Offenders are subject to prosecution according to the terms of Law 102 of 1983, and all other relevant laws.


Red Sea Association for Diving and Watersports Rules - Red Sea Diving Regulations

The RSADW published it own rules for minimum diver experience and medical certification (also see the the first related link below). The Red Sea Association has published a number of "rules" about diving in the Red Sea, but you should be aware that it is a non-government body without the official standing enjoyed by the CDWS.

Read the full regulation

Our recommendations - Red Sea Diving Regulations

The rules are all about conservation and diver safety and it is important that you dive within them - apart from anything else not doing so could invalidate your insurance or land you in an Egyptian court. But we believe that the rules are not always applied correctly and there is a degree of myth creeping into briefings. So we have compiled a list of guidelines that should help keep you inside the rules, safe and ecologically responsible, but without having unnecessary restrictions placed upon you.

Listen carefully to the dive guides and make sure you know what they require of you. I am not suggesting that you get into an argument with your dive centre or operator, but if you feel they are imposing rules on you without good reason that are beyond those imposed by the local authorities, do question them. For example, we understand that the wearing of gloves is not recommended on the grounds that it may encourage people to touch the coral, but there may be good reasons for you to wear gloves. I would certainly advocate wearing them if you are diving on a wreck, for thermal protection or if you feel you need to. I would also support people that want to carry a dive knife as safety equipment for, among other purposes, freeing entanglements or cutting lines. Make your case gently and refer to the CDWS published rules - we print and laminate them and take them with us when we are filming in the Red Sea. Remember that your dive insurance will impose a depth or equivalent limit on your diving.

The rules do require certain experience, medical and equipment standards. These are our interpretations of the rules (and common sense).

I recommend that divers carry the following:

small knife with line cutter - a tool, not a weapon

surface marker buoy - but learn how to deploy it safely

torch (day and night)

your own dive computer

signalling device

Look after the environment:

do not touch the coral or any marine life

do not collect shells, coral or fossils

do not feed fish or other marine life (this includes baiting or chumming for sharks - see article)

do not attempt to capture or trap marine life (includes fishing)

leave no rubbish or debris

take only pictures, leave only bubbles!

You should expect to provide:

self declaration medical form

next of kin details

proof of health and dive insurance

proof of dive certification and experience

Your boat operator should have/provide:

sufficient guides to meet the requirements (above)

comprehensive first aid kit and crew member trained in medical first aid

emergency O2 and a trained operator

radio comms equipment (and mobile phone where appropriate)

floatation device for every person on board

two pairs of binoculars

a suitably qualified crew member to provide surface cover during dive operations

dive guides should have a valid Red Sea Association professional ID card

a system for logging guests/divers on and off the boat (not just a head count)

ropes, floats and other rescue equipment

It is truly in your interests to make sure all the above is there. It's too easy to assume it is and find out it isn't when it's too late! Always dive within the limits agreed between you and the dive operator and always within your qualifications and personal limits.

I would also stress that the protection of these environments from diver damage is vitally important. These reefs experience more than 30,000 dives per year against a recommended carrying capacity of 6,000 and SCUBA diving is having a major effect on the coral. Recent studies have shown that reefs subject to intensive SCUBA diving had less hermatypic coral cover than less impacted reefs, 51% the coral colonies at the reef crest zone of dived sites were damaged - branching colonies being the most damaged by SCUBA divers (95.5% of the broken colonies are branching ones) - and sedimentation rates were highest at dive site entrances. So, we divers have a responsibility to help look after these sites. So, rules or no rules, do what you know is right to protect this wonderful, but pressured, environment.

Finally. This is a complex issue and we have done our best to find the right answers. We would welcome comment on this article, which we shall attempt to keep up-to-date - please contact us - thanks to all those that have sent us updates over the last 12 months. Last revised 23 August 2011.


Expedition Ocean Vision 3 Video Diary - The Red Sea 2009

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