The resumption of post-lockdown diver instruction is well underway as we head into autumn. Advanced Instructor Kristina Pedder speaks to some of the clubs who led the return to Ocean Diver training.
When Covid-19 struck last winter, it quickly put paid to much that we take for granted and lockdowns stopped diver training in its tracks. Some six months later, as restrictions ease, dive clubs can get going again. Attracting new members is the lifeblood of any club and diver training is essential, but how can we resume training? Throughout lockdown, BSAC has produced guidance on various aspects of safely returning to diving.
On training, BSAC Safety and Development Manager Jim Watson says activities that take place entirely underwater in a pool will present the least amount of risk, as instructors and students will be surrounded by chemically treated water. "Training is our primary objective when using swimming pools [but] our activities may raise concerns with the pool management," Jim points out.
National Diving Officer Dai Atkins agrees:
While facility providers are still making adjustments to do all they can to welcome visitors, some of the facilities may not be fully operational, but by engaging with pool management, and respecting their safe working, no-one needs to inadvertently breach any guidance while getting back to diving.
Clubs will inevitably take different paths to the new normal; four quite different branches, and a BSAC centre, have shared their early experiences of getting back to training.
Newbury Scuba Diving Club
Training Officer Matt Walters explains that Newbury was partway through an Ocean Diver course when Covid-19 struck and practical training stopped. The club continued theory training on Zoom, alongside regular club nights. Once it looked like pools would reopen, the committee and instructors agreed a set of procedures to allow training and diving.
Instructor Trainer Johno de Lara said:
BSAC has done most of the thinking. We need to follow the first principles of instructing: plenty of planning and preparation. In fact it’s a good wake-up call for instructors. They need to keep briefs brief, and get on with the ‘demo-do’ approach to training.
Newbury uses a school pool. Diving Officer Ian McDean says that the club’s return to training began with a discussion with pool staff. “Work closely with your pool,” he says. Newbury began lining up the necessary Covid-secure paperwork before the pool reopened.
The club wanted to keep everything as normal as possible for trainees, but now everyone arrives ‘beach ready’ (swimming costume on under clothes) to minimise the use of changing rooms. Socially distanced briefings take place outside and numbers in the pool are reduced. The two-hour pool sessions are transformed without the usual social chat. It’s a bonus to get two whole hours in the water.
Those trainees midway through their Ocean Diver course when lockdown came, started at the beginning again in the pool. After a weekend of open-water training at Vobster Quay or Cromhall Quarry, two of the four are now Ocean Divers, and one is a Discovery Diver. They sat a remote exam invigilated on Zoom, following a revision session and exam run-through, so that they knew exactly what to expect.
Central London club and 2020 winners of the Heinke Trophy, Clidive, completed an Ocean Diver course before lockdown but Sports Diver trainees were partway through their theory training. The club has quite an international membership with various members returning home or staying in another country for lockdown. Two were able to finish their training at a BSAC centre in Malta. Another was able to do the same in Cyprus. “But we were in danger of losing the benefits of being part of a club,” says Diving Development Officer, Elaine Hendry, who looks after post-Sports Diver training.
The club continued to meet online and shifted its training to Zoom too. Training Officer Mark Kelly says:
We kept the momentum going throughout lockdown, instructors used great visual aids online and they had plenty of time for one-to-one catch-ups. Theory training will continue online for now, as there is no space big enough for social distancing at the pool.
Clidive has used the same public pool for 50 years. “In fact, the pool management regard us as an important part of their provision,” says Elaine. This rapport helped when the training team visited the pool manager for a walk-through on the new Covid-secure way of working. They then wrote a one-page briefing for instructors. On the day, they tell participants where to change, what to expect next, who to wait for and where. “Once we are in the pool complex, we are only there to use the pool,” Mark says. “The benefit is that you now need to get more of the lesson done underwater.” Kit is washed in pool water after use and left to dry in the kit room, where it is isolated for a week.
Initial pool sessions were for members refreshing basic skills. Either Elaine or Mark was present to ensure that social distancing was complied with and to identify any bottlenecks.
People readily revert to normal behaviour, offering to help others with kit and so on, so we think it important to have one person there to oversee each session.
The trainee Sports Divers will be in the pool for the next few weeks, but there will be no rescue-breath training. “At present we can’t see how we can manage that,” says Mark.
In central London, Covid-19 infection rates have been high, making the club cautious in its approach to recruiting new members. The club has thought about running try dives, but they require close contact, Mark says, so that needs some thought. Also open-water training is going to be a problem as trainees rely on hiring wetsuits to keep costs down, and no one is hiring kit at present.
East Midlands Sub Aqua Club
Stoney Cove is in East Midlands Sub Aqua Club's (EMSUB) backyard and once it reopened members were keen to get back into the water. A few weeks later, all four instructors and some 80% of members had been diving, says Diving Officer and Instructor Trainer Richard Croft.
Warm-up dives done, the instructor team had an online discussion to prepare for a return to training for its Ocean Diver, Sports Diver and Dive Leader trainees. “Looking through the extensive BSAC guidance, common sense came to prevail,” says Richard, and the club decided to resume open-water training with some simple Covid-secure guidelines.
With its local and regional connections, the club was able to borrow in-water manikins to complete open-water rescue training. Students were asked to carry out a Controlled Buoyant Lift (CBL) followed by an extended arm tow – then they swapped to the manikin when arriving at land.
One Sports Diver trainee, part of an other-agency crossover, and new trainee (mother and son) pair could take advantage of a family bubble to complete rescue training, as suggested in BSAC guidance. The club has just taken on a new trainee too, part of another other-agency crossover/new trainee family bubble, who will do the same.
Now that pools have reopened, the club has its first pool session planned. Like others, a good relationship with the pool management is key. In early July, both sides swapped guidance notes and resolved any gaps. Divers must arrive ‘beach-ready’ and there would be no access to changing rooms, although the poolside toilets are available. As pool time is limited by the need for a deep clean between sessions, EMSUB has decided to give its students an extensive lesson pre-brief the week before a pool session.
Having saved some money on pool fees during lockdown, the club decided to provide all members with a bottle of Distil (a disinfectant equivalent to Chemgene) for cleaning kit. Instructors were given a larger supply.
Swindon Sub Aqua Club
The club has been playing catch-up with postponed courses through August but plans to be back to normal in September, working with an approved training partner, DM Scuba Training, a BSAC Diver Training Centre that trains students who cannot fit in with normal club courses. Member and instructor Paul Dowding, one of DM’s two BSAC instructors, has thought long and hard about how to resume training. He says:
It is all about planning, proper preparation, and good communication with students. Following government advice on staying safe, it’s not hard at all.
Swindon has a pool at its clubhouse. Paul ran some test pool training scenarios through with instructors, and an open-water session at Vobster Quay so that the new processes were in instructors’ muscle memory. Underwater teaching is much the same as before, but surface work needs modification. Dry runs can be socially distanced, as can surface work in-water, which takes place with masks on and regs in.
There is no problem working at a distance, after all this is going to be the new normal, it’s here to stay for a while.
The club has gone one step further than many. On 12 September, 11 Covid-secure Try Dives were planned. Pairs would have got a one-and-a-half-hour slot on site. They had to arrive ‘beach ready’ and they were able to use the two separate changing rooms to get into dry clothes afterwards. Theory sessions have moved from a small classroom into a large open social space in the clubhouse.
Does Paul foresee any problems? "Instructors will have to change the way they have always done things,” he says. Re-planning each training session is essential to become Covid-secure. Students are understandably worried, even nervous, beforehand but he has found that clear advice, given before the day by proactive instructors with a plan, means students are happy to resume their diving activities.
View from a centre
Michelle Haywood, Diving Officer at BSAC Centre of Excellence, Discover Diving on the Isle of Man, has had a different experience of Covid-19. The centre operated under Covid-secure restrictions for a just a few weeks, introducing a one-way system in the building, limiting numbers and abiding by social distancing. By the end of August, the island had been free from Covid-19 cases for some 100 days, but Michelle was still taking a cautious approach.
New students must buy a mask, snorkel, hood and gloves before beginning training; and the extra tank of Chemgene, for a 10-minute regulator soak, introduced into the kit-return process is still in place. “We don’t want to contribute to a second wave of Covid-19,” she says.
Still very aware of the transmission risk, and of the effect of even mild Covid-19 on lung function, she regularly asks divers about their health status, any symptoms and recent travel. “I am constantly vigilant about people’s fitness to dive, bearing in mind the changes to the self-declaration medical form,” she says.
Check out ten tips for Covid-secure diver training
This Learning Curve was originally published in SCUBA magazine, Issue 107 October 2020. For more membership benefits, visit bsac.com/benefits.
Images in this online version may have been substituted from the original images in SCUBA magazine due to usage rights.