Image courtesy Tyneside Sub-Aqua Club
The British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) holds a special place in the history of diving. On 15th October 2023 BSAC will celebrate its Platinum Jubilee. Current BSAC Chair Edward Haynes shares some key themes in the 70-year journey.
For the last seven decades, BSAC has played a key role in promoting underwater exploration, safety and education. As we celebrate the club's remarkable journey, let us dive into the past and explore the significant contributions BSAC has made to the diving community.
The BSAC story: formation and early years
BSAC was founded back in 1953 by Oscar Gugen and Peter Small, who were members of the Royal Air Force Sub-Aqua Club. Their vision was to create a democratic, non-profit organisation that would facilitate diving and promote marine conservation. The inaugural meeting took place in London, where 22 enthusiasts joined together to establish the first branch of BSAC.
Training and safety
One of BSAC's most influential contributions has been in the development of diver training and establishing safety standards. The club recognised the need for structured training programmes and introduced the first novice diving course in the 1950s. This programme laid the foundation for subsequent training levels, such as the Sports Diver, Dive Leader and Advanced Diver courses, each building upon the knowledge and skills acquired in the previous level.
BSAC's commitment to safety led to the establishment of a rigorous system of instructor qualification and ongoing professional development. The Instructor Training Scheme remains a cornerstone of BSAC's success, ensuring that instructors are equipped with the knowledge and skills to train divers effectively and safely.
Left: Tyneside SAC at St Abbs, 1960s (right: unknown early dive buddies)
Conservation and marine awareness
From its inception BSAC has emphasised the importance of marine conservation and raising awareness about the underwater world. It actively encourages members to adopt environmentally friendly diving practices and promotes respect for marine ecosystems. Through initiatives such as the current Operation Oyster programme and Great Seagrass Survey BSAC fosters partnerships with various organisations and participates in research projects, contributing to the preservation of our oceans.
Left: ice diving at Elvington; right: Foss, 1958
Exploration and discoveries
BSAC divers have played a significant role in exploring the underwater realms, uncovering historical wrecks and discovering previously unknown sites. Over the years, BSAC expeditions have ventured into diverse locations worldwide, uncovering the secrets hidden beneath the surface. Notable discoveries include the Antikythera Wreck in Greece, where BSAC divers contributed to the recovery of the ancient Antikythera Mechanism, a marvel of ancient technology.
BSAC also played a significant role in the raising of the Mary Rose, the 16th-century flagship of King Henry VIII. BSAC divers were instrumental in surveying, excavating, and recovering artifacts from the shipwreck. The efforts of BSAC divers and Prince Charles' participation contributed to the successful preservation and display of the Mary Rose and its treasures for future generations.
Over the decades BSAC members have provided valuable information for maritime archaeology and historical research and have added immeasurable value to our understanding of the underwater world.
Community and camaraderie
Beyond the technical aspects, BSAC has fostered a strong sense of community among its members. It organises social events, training, conferences and diving trips, providing opportunities for divers and snorkellers to connect and share experiences. Local clubs have played a vital role in building lasting friendships and supporting the growth of diving communities across the UK.
Being part of the BSAC community is an incredible journey for many, something that has endured from day one. The warmth and camaraderie among fellow divers can create a true sense of belonging. From the excitement of people’s first dives to mastering advanced techniques, BSAC's supportive approach boosts confidence and the friendships forged during meet ups and dive trips can be truly special, turning diving into a shared passion with amazing like-minded people.
Left: 1960s pool training at Shipcote Baths; modern-day training for Chester SAC
Looking to the future
As BSAC enters its eighth decade, it continues to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of the diving community. It’s embracing technological advancements, incorporating new teaching methodologies, exploring new ways to deliver greater value to members. It is also finding ways to appeal to younger generations in order to keep the sport we all love going for future generations.
BSAC members are part of something unique and special. Speaking at a previous BSAC conference world-renowned Professor of Anaesthesiology and fellow diver Simon Mitchell summarised his thoughts of BSAC:
I'm struck by what is in front of me. I don't know if you know how unique you are. I travel the world speaking at meetings like this...there's nothing else like this, this is a club, a club with thousands of members, running its own training programme and surviving in this commercially hostile environment. It's extraordinary. I can tell you there's nothing like it in the world. I can only offer my congratulations.
BSAC's dedication to diving safety, exploration, its contributions to historical and archaeological research, and the strong sense of community it fosters make it a shining example of what can be achieved through passion and collective effort!!
As we celebrate BSAC's 70th anniversary, we want to acknowledge the contributions made by countless divers, snorkellers, instructors and volunteers who have shaped BSAC’s rich history. Their unwavering commitment to BSAC has inspired generations of divers to explore the depths and protect the oceans for years to come.
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