A city rich in diving culture, Bristol is home to this active, enthusiastic university club, with its band of dedicated instructors. Interview by Kristina Pedder. 

Bristol University Underwater Club is a traditional university branch that keeps diving as cheap and as accessible as possible. The number of students interested in learning to dive each year is staggering, but the club regularly achieves a success rate of more than 90 per cent for Ocean Diver training. In 2023, the club took on its largest number of Ocean Diver trainees ever – 60 new trainees. While the divers are a sociable bunch, the club doesn’t have a social membership category and instead encourages all members to come diving. Planned trips typically involve from 15 divers to a maximum of 70 at the annual training trip to Porthkerris in Cornwall. Annual UK expeditions in the summer break give club divers a chance to forget about training and go diving. There’s a real sense of energy around this club, despite the churn in members that university clubs see. If you want to dive and meet other people who love diving, you’re in the right place at UBUC.

University of Bristol Underwater Club

When was the club formed? 

The University of Bristol Underwater Club was formed in 1960. While members are predominantly students, membership is open to all; the club welcomes everyone. We value the former university members who stick around and give all they can to the club. They’re all awesome!

Who are your members?

One hundred and sixty-seven members name UBUC as their main BSAC club. To give you an idea, at present we have six members from the university’s staff and around 25 active former student members. The Diving Officer is often a former student because they need to be an instructor, but sometimes masters or PhD students take on the role. Commonly, DOs serve for a year and there is quite a high committee turnover, as most individuals are students or recent graduates. 

University of Bristol Underwater Club

Is membership growing?

Yes. In 2022/23, we took on more new members than ever. At university clubs, people typically join and stay for the academic year. However, we have a good number who become long-term members and stay for good. On a recent trip to Skomer, we were joined by the president of the club from 2001. 

University clubs traditionally do a lot of training, what are your training statistics?

UBUC had around 96 active trainee divers, across the diver grades, early in the start of the 2023-24 academic year. Sixty were Ocean Diver trainees, 25 were working towards Sports Diver, 10 were Dive Leader trainees and one was working on Advanced Diver.

University of Bristol Underwater Club

Wow, that’s a lot of trainees, what does your instructor team look like? 

There are 15 active Open Water Instructors among our members, and a couple of active Advanced Instructors. We are hoping to get two new student OWIs by the end of the year. We’d like more Advanced Instructors, as it would make training more Advanced Divers easier, expanding our club’s diving ability, but it’s not easy to get them qualified. So, we often struggle with the number of trainees and the availability of instructors, especially since Covid. The club heavily relies on members ascending the hierarchy of qualifications during university and teaching either in their final years or staying on after graduation to become instructors. During lockdown, this process was obviously interrupted and resulted in most of the committee after lockdown not being qualified (or able) to teach. We are back into training them now, thanks to our dedicated instructor team, who committed serious amounts of time to instructor development and allowed the club to stay afloat and bounce back. 

How do you organise club activity?

There is a fortnightly committee meeting, either online or at Steam, our local pub. This is followed by the weekly social held in the pub every Thursday at 8pm. We have our own dedicated kit stores and we meet there ahead of diving-related activities to get kit, fill cylinders, and finalise dive plans.

University of Bristol Underwater Club

How do you keep in touch with so many members? 

We have a WhatsApp community group with a chat for every trip and a new chat each year. The committee also has a WhatsApp chat. We have a very active social scene (with regular pub trips and boating bar crawls) and our sense of community is really strong.

What’s the arrangement with the university?  

The club is almost entirely self-sufficient financially, and makes sure that its finances are sufficient to cover the replacement of equipment if needed. We can apply to the university for Alumni Grants for capital expenses. Our compressor ‘Taylor’ was purchased with one of these. The university provides us with four storage rooms: one for general use, one for boats, one for drysuits and one for wetsuits. Students can apply for a £100 grant to help cover costs of membership. We have a compressor, two boats and a spare two-stroke engine (often a point of discussion). We have access to the university pool, which is conveniently placed directly above our club owned stores. 

University of Bristol Underwater Club

What’s the engine discussion all about?

The engines are all old (dating back to 2006) and can be a pain to manage. The spare two-stroke was bought in 2015 on a Porthkerris trip, when one of the other engines decided to give up on us. This engine ‘Samantha’ is too large to allow us to get onto the plane and so there is an endless debate about selling it or keeping it as a back-up...How do you keep diving costs down for students? Diving with a larger group of people is always helpful to keep costs down. The club owns plenty of kit and includes rental and membership in the cost of training. Last year, we charged £120 for all Ocean Diver training including pool, theory, and open-water. This included annual membership of the club.

How do you coordinate kit hire for so many divers? 

In 2021, we began using the online Square store, via our club website, to manage our kit hire bookings, which allowed us to generate more money from kit hire over the past year than over the previous three combined. 

University of Bristol Underwater Club

What training goes on?

We usually run Ocean and Sports Diver courses through the year, and often run Boat Handling, Oxygen Administration, First Aid, Compression Operation and gas mixing SDCs. We also run Dive Leader training in the club, whenever there is enough demand and availability. In particular, we run a large annual training trip to Porthkerris at the start of the Easter break.

How much diving goes on? 

Lots. During the summer we have people going diving almost every weekend, occasionally with multiple trips running at a time. This slows to every three weeks or so during winter. The vast majority are day trips; we do about 35 a year. We do about five two-day trips and run three to four longer trips a year. The largest trip is the annual week in Porthkerris, which has been running since 1980. We might have around 50 people at the weekend, then numbers trickle away through the week. Most years we run a week-long trip to Skomer Island in West Wales after university exams finish in early June.

University of Bristol Underwater Club

What type of diving do you do? 

Most of the club, being students, don’t own an entire set of gear, so not surprisingly our diving is mostly recreational, open circuit. Around 80 per cent of dives logged are shore dives, but we have two smallish RIBs which can be towed using most cars. They haven’t been used as often as we’d like, as few students own a towbar. At present there are two towing vehicles in the club. The Diving Officer’s VW Golf plays its part, which has led to some funny situations where all passengers and gear need to be unloaded to get up certain hills. Anyway, the engines are notoriously unreliable.

Oh dear, what happened?

On a recent trip, both the boat engines died off of Skomer Island and the radios had been left on shore so members had to paddle back in reasonably windy conditions. As a result, we redesigned the checklist of things to bring on the boats to make it clearer and reiterated that boat handlers can’t set off without having everything from the list onboard. The boat engines are also in for service. 

Where do you organise trips to?

We tend to visit places we can get to-and-from in a day, and which we know well. Babbacombe, Chesil, Brixham breakwater, Shoalstone, and Swanage Pier are staples. We venture further away from Bristol during weekend trips to Cornwall or Wales. Going to Gozo in early September is becoming a reoccurring trip.  

University of Bristol Underwater Club

Do you do any diving with a purpose? 

We have a Sustainability Officer on committee who focuses on diving with a purpose. We are looking forward to working with the National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow to release lobsters and with other charities such as Project Seagrass. We also organised a clean-up of Porthkerris beach, forgetting it was a protected site and was pretty much pristine already. So, it was a pretty quick clean-up.  

University of Bristol Underwater Club

What is the club planning for the next few years?

It’s to do with boats, boats and boats. We want to make sure that we are using all our resources and getting some awesome dives from our boats. We are looking into working with other local clubs for further support: we are talking with Exeter University about running a joint Instructor Foundation Course, and with Clifton Sub Aqua Club about getting together for boat trips.

We are really proud to have loads of people trying scuba diving at UBUC. We pride ourselves on providing affordable and fun diving with like-minded folk, it’s really a pleasure being able to train everyone.



How do I find scuba diving near me?

If you want to learn to dive in Bristol with the University of Bristol Underwater Club, please contact Lewis Hope.

This Club Focus was originally published in SCUBA magazine, Issue 141 December 2023. For more membership benefits, visit bsac.com/benefits.

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