Why Club Diving?
Scuba diving can be a difficult hobby to get into in the UK. There is a perception that it is expensive and to a certain extent that may be true at the start of the journey, and there are certainly lots of extras that are always quite nice to have! However it can be fairly accessible once you’ve embarked on your initial outlay. Yet it’s activity that is reliant on other people as you have to dive with a buddy, and it isn’t always easy to simply jump in to the water; an experienced hand is definitely useful!
Clubs can make scuba diving far more accessible than might be otherwise and there are many reasons why.
Where to dive
It might seem obvious to experienced divers but cast your mind back to before you dived in the UK. Were you really aware of the multitude of dive opportunities open to you? Did you know we have some of the best wreck diving in the world, or you could play with seals, or that there was a vibrant community out there with a range of activities from Ghost (not the paranormal type) Fishing to Dive Psychology? There are so many divers who get their certification and run for the nearest plane. Talking of which…
There are now a multitude of social media groups for buddying up at sites but a club day out at a dive site is brilliant. A gathering of club members, jumping into the water, giggles over lunch and a chance to develop skills and experience before heading to the sea. It’s a bit easier to jump in when you’re part of a group that turning up on your own and hoping for a buddy, or partnering up with an unknown. There have been brilliant friendships formed from the social media groups and they serve an excellent purpose, but they’re alongside club diving, rather than instead of it.
Scuba divers just love kit. One club member recently admitted to going into the garage to just look at her kit. Nothing else. Just looking and admiring! There are some superb dive shops out there who offer honest advice and fair pricing but new kit is not always possible, especially at the beginning where there’s a lot to buy. I started with used kit and bought a bit new at a time, starting with a made to measure dry suit. Club members may have kit they’re selling off as they’ve upgraded, or you might even get the chance to try their regs in the pool, or the local dive site to make your own decision. They’ll keep a look out for used kit that is useful for you and support with gathering kit.
Training and Developing
I’ll hold my hands up now. I’m an instructor with a school and a club and I have overheads to cover so yes, my training comes with a fee. But applying your training in the water is where you develop and retain those new skills. You learn and experience much from simply diving. You will come across issues whilst on trips and observe how others deal with them. You’ll hear the discussion at the end and learn much from the debrief (even it’s an informal chat over a pasty), and this will contribute further to your learning and skill in the water. With a club there will be a forum where you can ask if anyone else wants to jump in to a local site to practise something, such as DSMB deployment or just getting more time in your dry suit. At club nights we run a carrousel of activities of talks, workshops/small group discussions and having a pint in the bar. The small group discussions are a way of putting different people together to keep the club feel, and ensuring all know each other. Talks are on subjects such as kit maintenance, trips, photography and cave diving. This doesn’t take the place of training but rather enhances it and offers opportunities to apply it.
The UK diving is some of the best in the world, but we are an island nation after all. We can be blown out and whilst the diving can be superb, it can also be pea soup. However on the occasions this has happened I’ve still had a good weekend away with friends which is what club diving can offer. Talking of which…
A dive trip can be bloody hard work to organise but by putting on trips, and chartering a boat, you are offering people an opportunity to jump in on an organised trip where they will know others. It makes it more accessible. It can be more expensive with a club trip because although you often get one place free on the charter, the costings have to be done to ensure we can cover a spare space. Therefore a boat may take 12, so we’ll divide the cost by 10 and the accommodation will be divided by one less than has been booked (to cover a potential singleton if we have a spare space). Any extra goes into subsidising a trip where we may have two spaces left. One necessary evil with club diving is that you will always get those who have got what they need from a club, and decide it’s better to jump in with mates. As a short term measure that’s great but as a longer term measure these buddies will peter out and it doesn’t bring new people into the circle. Club diving offers opportunities and makes it easier for people to decide to jump in and try it for themselves.
It’s rare that a club can offer everything that everyone needs. I make a big point of introducing club members to others in the industry. Examples include course directors, technical dive instructors, cave diving instructors, photography specialists, servicing technicians, dive site and shop operators, overseas trip coordinators and journalists. The result has been people have been on courses they wouldn’t have otherwise gone on, and been invited to take part in dive shows. In turn those people have given back by sharing trips and courses and getting more people along to keep the diving going. We’ve had other clubs and sites who have suggested divers come along to our club because it’s in a better location for them, or does the sort of diving they’d like to do and we’ve done the same in return. This big network of UK diving is better because of the stronger links between us.
Club diving can include “giving back”. We are very fortunate that we have a number of people who are willing to buddy up a new diver. It starts in inland sites and works its way to the sea. Sure I’ve had comments from people who say they don’t want to buddy up for a number of reasons but by a few people offering only one dive a year to buddy someone else we can get a few new people into UK diving each year. We embarked on a three year development programme and we’re nearing the end of that cycle now. What’s been great is to see those divers we introduced to the water now taking on the role of mentoring others. I feel strongly that for UK diving to continue to move forward we need those mentors to bring new people into the dive scene.
For all I love the UK dive scene there are challenges. Organising and filling trips can be difficult as people are often unable to commit as far enough in advance as is needed to ensure accommodation can be booked. We also have the common difficulty of 14 people wanting to go on a trip, so it’s booked, and then only 2 people booking on. Getting payments can be a huge issue as is people accepting that an organised trip is slightly different to just jumping in independently. As an island nation, our weather is not a hundred per cent reliable. It can be risky to invest a lot into people who then don’t give back, although we’ve been lucky with this thus far. Networking carries its own risks as people decide they can get more from others and move on, rather than doing it alongside what the club is doing. You also build a great group of people who know each other and dive together and someone decides to start doing their own thing and take club members along with them. There is often a lack of awareness of what goes on behind the scenes to develop a group and keep new divers coming into UK Diving. You run the risk of people taking the “freebies” and then deciding to save some pennies by paying for courses elsewhere, or jumping on a slightly cheaper trip without recognising the overheads all are covered in the end, just in different ways. There is also the challenge of people who have trained elsewhere but who need a huge amount of coaching (which is generally offered for free within the club scene) to make them safe enough to dive independently. There are those who don’t give back what they were offered at the start of their journey. There are many challenges in club diving despite the overwhelming benefits.
We have built a great group of people, and are always welcoming more, who are willing and able to share their own experiences with buying kit and getting into the water. We’ve enough people on hand who are able to jump into a local site which in turn allows others to build experience under water and we have broken down the barriers to UK diving for many divers, who are going on to be become ambassadors of our waters themselves. We’re not the only active club who are willing to lend a hand to get folks into the water. At this point in time we’ve invested literally hundreds of dives (and hours and money…) into developing people enough to get them into UK waters. Has it been worth it? For those in the water undoubtedly. And now they are taking on the mantle and supporting others. Long may it continue.