It is a common part of diving in the UK that we promote the need to get ready for an approaching diving season. Whether you have been out of the water for the winter or for a few years, this section will help you prepare to get back out there.
Due to the vagaries of the UK weather and the reluctance of many to face the colder waters, shorter days and less than favourable surface weather conditions many UK divers reduce or even stop their diving activity over the winter months.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdowns and restrictions also means that many divers have had much less diving activity and some may have had a layoff of 18 months or more. The consequence of this is that all divers less ‘dive fit’ and prepared for a time when the restrictions begin to be lifted and they are able to return to the water safely.
BSAC, the rescue services and other diving organisations frequently highlight the increased risks and the importance of preparing for the start of a new diving season. BSAC's incident report for 2019 provides some helpful data in support of this with the following extract:
Incidents by Month
In the years previous to 2013, the Incident report consistently showed a peak of incidents the early spring consistent with the start of the diving season. In 2013, we first identified that the normal initial peak of incidents in these spring months was absent and this absence continued until 2017, in 2018 we did see indications of a return to an earlier spring peak. In 2019, we definitely see a return to an earlier start to the level of incident reporting. In May 2019, the UK experienced a steady high-pressure system in the run up to, and coincident with the late May bank holiday in England enabling the diving community to start diving in earnest during that month.
There were 41 incidents in total in May; 8 over the first bank holiday weekend and 12 over the second; with the remainder of the incidents occurring during the period between the bank holidays. It continues to be the view of the incident analysis team that the total number of incidents reported in any one period reflects the amount of diving occurring at that time.
Additionally, in presenting the 2019 ‘Incident Report 2019 and lessons to be learned’, Clare Peddie highlighted some important aspects shown by the 2019 data. An extract from this presentation on early-season incidents can be watched below. The full incident report can be found online where the 2020 Incident Report and presentation can also be found.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has had a substantial impact on all activity in the UK and throughout the world. Diving activity was severely curtailed with an initial return to shore diving possible from mid-May and a gradual increase in boating access as the restrictions were relaxed. Access to swimming pools was much slower and even when allowed not every pool was open or accessible to divers.
The overall impact of this was that many divers had significantly reduced diving activity during 2020 and some had no diving at all. This was then compounded by further lockdowns in the home nations from November 2020 onwards and a complete lockdown in the mainland UK from the start of 2021, which continued for some months.
The consequence of this is that all divers less ‘dive fit’ and prepared for a time when the restrictions begin to be lifted and they are able to return to the water safely. The worst-case scenario is that some will have experienced a lay-off of up to 18 months or more. Additionally, the more widespread infection with Covid-19 means that it is currently (April 2022) being reported that around 70% of the UK population have been infected, thankfully with milder symptoms thanks to vaccination status.
Additionally, the traditional opportunities to refresh skills, check out equipment and practice skills in a controlled environment are likely to be less available as restrictions ease. As restrictions are eased the first steps are likely to be to open up to outdoor activities where the risk of spreading the virus are much lower. Indoor facilities, including Swimming pools, are likely to be a much later stage and may be some months down the line, subject to how control of the virus spread is able to be contained.
BSAC is, therefore, compiling more detailed guidance on how, in the current environment, all divers can prepare for a safe return to diving activity and minimise the risks of encountering an incident. Detailed guidance and supporting materials will be developed and promoted over the coming period covering relevant subjects.
Guidance and support documents
- Return to diving safety webinars
In support of the preparation for a return to diving program, BSAC is scheduling a range of online safety webinars. These will all be recorded and uploaded to this section following the events.
- Personal fitness and preparation (updated 26/4/22)
Take steps to prepare yourself physically and mentally for a time when you are able to resume diving. Start slowly with a level of exercise that suits you and build on it slowly. You don’t need a gym or specialist equipment but sharing with a buddy can make it more enjoyable.
- Equipment (reviewed 26/4/22)
Make arrangements to have your equipment serviced in plenty of time. Not every service centre may be open at this time and travel restrictions may impact on your ability to visit any centre that is open. If you are able to book a slot it will help to ensure there are no unnecessary delays.
- Skills practice (reviewed 26/4/22)
Plan to refresh and practise skills in a controlled environment before undertaking more adventurous dives. Buoyancy control and DSMB deployment are frequently key skills implicated as factors contributing to incidents.
- Early season progressive experience (coming soon)
Build up experience progressively as you return, allowing time to refresh skills and confidence.
This advice will be developed and supported with additional resources for instructors and divers over the coming months.