BSAC instructor Jon Ward at London No. 1 club shares his secrets to an astonishingly high track record of converting Try Divers to members.
Try Dives are a great opportunity for those with limited or no experience at all of scuba diving, to understand the basics and feel for themselves what it feels like to breathe underwater. It may also be the first experience a person has of your club and this is the one chance to make a first impression, so make it a good one. We all want the experience to be positive and enjoyable, so it is important to make the Try Diver feel welcome, safe and valued.
Understand where they're coming from
Not everyone arrives with the same experience, expectation or motivation, so ask what made that person want to try scuba diving. Reasons vary greatly, of course. For some, diving has been a lifelong ambition. Some are doing it because their partner is a diver, others because something seen on TV has made them curious. The answer may give us an idea of their likely disposition – excited, enthusiastic, overconfident or nervous?
Put people at ease
Walking into a room full of strangers, equipment and unfamiliar vocabulary may be daunting, so we always try to be friendly, and introduce them to other club members, giving them an idea of that person’s background and experience.
This is Laura, she is a lorry driver and has just completed an Ocean Diver course. That means that she has progressed from Try Diver to being qualified to dive to a maximum depth of 20 meters accompanied by a more experienced diver, and she has done that in about 4 months.
There is a lot of information there that contextualises the Try Dive and opens up the idea, that it is a skill which is attainable with our club.
Use plenty of time
People come with all kinds of strange ideas about diving. For example, thinking that they might get ‘a bend’, even though they do not know what that means. All they know is that it is bad and it worries them on some level, and that will affect their experience negatively. We ensure that Try Divers arrive an hour or so before getting into the pool so that they can complete the paperwork, say hello and spend some time with the instructor assembling the equipment. Whilst doing this, we can check that the Try Diver is fit to go in the water that day, talk briefly about the equipment in simple terms, avoiding jargon and lengthy monologues, showing them how everything works. We allow plenty of time, both at the poolside and in the water, to answer any questions that may arise from the initial introduction, and to put the Try Diver fully at ease. The Try Diver is never rushed, as we want them to be relaxed and to enjoy the experience.
Although we have briefly discussed and put into context equipment, breathing air under pressure and it’s effect on the body, safety, different kinds of diving, the activities of the club etc, this is all a lot to take in, so we ensure that we now bring the focus back to what we are about to do in the pool: ‘All that aside, scuba diving is very simple, it is about breathing and buoyancy, everything else you will learn is about adapting these two basic skills to different environments’.
If the Try Diver is physically able, we carry our kit up to poolside together. This is part of the experience, as we all have to carry our own gear most of the time. Once at poolside, we explain that BSAC training is incremental and repetitive so that we learn good practice from the outset, and that the diving student will learn in small steps, to ensure that they are competent and confident in their abilities as they progress. For those who have a little prior experience, one must be conscious of the fact that they could be feeling patronised or a little impatient, so be ready to adapt.
Read the Try Diver, manage their experience
If a Try Diver has never used scuba equipment before, we breathe from the regulator on the pool side, first without a mask and then with a mask on, to ensure that they feel what it is like to not be able to breathe through the nose. Then we do a very simple SEEDS briefing, kit up, buddy check and get in via all the usual protocols. Before donning fins, we kneel, water up to our chests, facing one another with one hand holding on to the side, then we put our faces into the water and breathe for a minute. If the Try Diver is nervous or unhappy, all they have to do is lift their head. The whole experience of breathing from scuba equipment for the first time can be emotional and usually, people want to talk about it, which for reasons we all know is not ideal when in the water. A golden rule is ‘regulator in unless you are in standing depth, buoyant and holding on to the side’.
Once the Try Diver is confident of breathing through a regulator, we swim on the surface to a place where the Try Diver can stand up with their shoulders out of the water. We then descend and kneel on the bottom and breathe once again with clear water overhead. We surface to ensure once again that the Try Diver is happy. If they are confident then we progress to doing a fin pivot to achieve neutral buoyancy and once successful we will have a neutrally buoyant swim around the pool.
From getting into the pool, most Try Divers are neutrally buoyant within 20-30 minutes depending on their confidence level. If we are still struggling to achieve neutral buoyancy after 30 mins, it is important that we get a swim in, so the instructor would adjust their buoyancy, to ensure that the Try Diver completes the experience of swimming and breathing underwater.
Listen and support
At the end of the pool session, it is important to listen to the Try Divers' account of their experience. We can learn how we managed their expectations, share in their experience and offer congratulations and encouragement. We should never become blasé or underestimate what their first scuba experience meant to them. It is important to get them off to the changing rooms before they get cold. We always get club members to help de-kit and move all the equipment from poolside, as it shows that we support one another and value our guest(s).
Warmly welcome them to join you
Once back in the clubroom we always ask if they would like to join us in the pub, providing a more relaxed opportunity to ask questions and meet other club members. If that is not possible, then a few members would stay back with the instructor and Try Diver to talk about their experience, club activities and how they can progress. The Try Diver is always invited to come again and if they were struggling with the skills but remains enthusiastic, an extra free Try Dive can be offered to help them decide if diving is a sport that they would like to take up.
Enthusiasm is infectious
It is important to be enthusiastic about the sport we love and our club, but avoid sounding desperate or as if we are making a hard sell. We must keep in mind that diving requires a significant commitment both in terms of time and money. So even if the Try Diver had the time of their life, they may need to consider this before signing up. The Try Dive is always followed up later in the week by the membership officer, asking what they made of the experience, inviting them back and providing information on next steps.
Check they have everything
Before saying goodbye, we make sure that the Try Diver has all the information they need, along with any relevant contacts, and we always thank them for coming. It is always a joy and privilege to accompany someone on their first dive. If you appreciate that, they will too.
Welcome & introduction in club room
Assemble kit and explain basics
Poolside: SEEDS brief & buddy check
Poolside: Breathe from regulator with and without mask
Breathe from regulator in kneeling depth
Breathe from regulator in standing depth
Fin pivot to achieve neutral buoyancy and finning around pool
Get out and de-kit with help from club members
De-brief, explain next steps & provide contacts/info
Follow up call/email/invitation