Days are getting longer, the Easter weekend is nearly upon us and for many thousands of divers up and down the country that means it’s time to dust down the drysuit and charge up the torch batteries. The British diving season is about to take a giant stride into a new year. I’d appeal to anyone who loves diving – yet hasn’t entertained the idea before – to at least give British waters a chance of pleasantly surprising their scuba senses this year. Alternatively, if you’re already an avid British diver, how about persuading some of your warm-water diving mates to have a fin? Waters rich in life, lots of terrific dive sites to safely build up your experience – if you love diving; it’s surely worth a go.
Guiding and instructing divers in Cornish seas over the last couple of diving seasons has cemented my view that it’s possible to convert even the most sceptical of divers to dive British. I’ve learned it’s generally about having the magic formula of the correct kit, safe conditions, and a decent level of education on what can be found and where, even on those particularly low visibility days. It’s essential we avoid believing or reinforcing the idea of British diving being at best painfully cold and pointless, or at worse a downright SAS-style scary experience.
A UK convert myself, I first learned to dive Australia’s bathtub-warm, high-vis Great Barrier Reef back in my teens. It took a few years before I was eventually enticed into Leicester’s Stoney Cove one misty Saturday morning on a BSAC crossover course. Run by enthusiastically dedicated divers, their passion for British diving sparked my curiosity. Nearly two decades and many hundreds of dives later in the UK and abroad, I have had the opportunity to enjoy a terrific variety of diving, and find both warm and cold-water conditions rewarding, enjoyable and unique. If you’ve always been used to looking out across vast stretches of coral reefs and wrecks it takes a guidance and time to get used to slowing down and scanning rocky nooks and crannies and seabeds for tompot blenny, conger eels, jewel anemones, spider crabs, dogfish, and nudibranch. It’s a different way of diving. Adjusting to a whole new configuration of dive kit also takes time and patience. It can be overwhelming and daunting. But with a knowledgeable mentor on hand, obstacles can be overcome safely and enjoyably.
As any avid Brit diver knows, it’s important to safely build up to more deeper and challenging dives by picking some shallow and sheltered shore and inland dives in the early months. Seasoned British divers will already be building up dive fitness physiologically and psychologically for a safe and enjoyable season. They’ll also be scanning their kit carefully. Whether new or highly experienced diver, it’s near-inevitable you will face few teething problems with your regular or recently purchased kit. Leaks, tears, configuration changes and weight changes can be safely tackled in a start-of-season dive site, where dives can easily be aborted if necessary. But before even dipping your fin in the water, there are lots of preventative measures you can take to ensure your kit will be in good working order for a busy season ahead. Here are just a few start-of-the-season tips and guidelines:
Try to avoid the frustration of having to abort a dive because of a broken fin or mask strap. This is a mistake which can be easily avoided by checking straps for any signs of wear and tear. Carrying spare fin straps and a spare mask on land and boat based trips will always help to ensure you don’t have to ditch your diving for the tiniest of kit malfunctions.
While some manufacturer recommendations vary, the general rule is regulators should be serviced each year, or every 150 or so dives – whichever comes first. If you notice visible damage to the hoses, discoloured filter, or the second stage is not breathing as well as usual, book your regulators in for a service with a qualified technician. The start of the season is always a popular time for servicing, so factor in a turnaround time of one to two weeks. Flush out the regulators with fresh water and hook them up to your cylinder at home. Check hoses, filter, first and second stages, pressure and depth gauges for any signs of problems. Free-flowing of regulators, particularly in those early, colder months of the season, may easily be prevented with regular servicing, as well as ensuring your set up is adequate for cooler waters. Seek expert advice if you need to change your regulators to suit cold water.
Hydrostatic and visual testing of cylinders by qualified technicians are legal requirements in the UK. Make sure any cylinder you use is in test and displaying the correct inspection stamps. Inspect O-rings and ensure you carry spares with you on dive trips.
Inspect your drysuit neck and wrist seals. Latex seals are particularly prone to damage, by sun, salt, skin oils, bad storage, and, of course, clumsy fingernails. If all looks okay, you may still want to test the rest of the suit for any leaks. A simple way to do this is to plug the neck and wrist seals up with items, such as plastic bottles on the wrist seals and rugby ball on the neck seal. Inflate the suit via a cylinder and check for leaks. If you suspect there is a leak, add some washing up liquid to the area and flush gently with a hose. If you see bubbles forming, chances are you have a leak that needs repair. There are lots of suit repair products available, however, if you’re not confident of your suit repair skills, contact your local dive shop. Any neck and wrist seal replacement will usually require at least 24-hours for glue to settle before use underwater. Try not to leave this to the last minute. Ensure your zip is well looked after, with bee wax or specific zip treatments available.
Regular cleaning and maintenance of your BCD – always following manufacturers guidelines – will add years to life of your jacket. Salt and organic matter build up around the valves and inside the BC will cause damage. Flush out your BC with fresh water and check all valves are in good working order. Hook the jacket up to a cylinder and ensure the bladder is fully inflating, and that there are no leaks. All dump valves should also be tested.
Have you changed your suit or BC since your last dive? Have you piled on the pounds or lost some inches over the winter? Incorrect weighting on dives is, at best, embarrassing, and, at worst, dangerous. If you’ve made any significant changes to your kit configuration, you may want to adjust your distribution of weight. BC to wing-style jackets, single to twin-set, semi-drysuit to drysuit – these are common changes that require a re-think in the amount of weight and what system is best to carry the lead. A weight check should always be carried out on your first dive. Don’t be tempted to dive heavy on the weights in the early part of the season when you’re building up your fitness and may be breathing more heavily on the surface prior to dives. Keep it safe, keep it neutral.
Computer battery failure is probably one of the most common equipment complaints I’ve seen early season. It is surprising how often the battery levels are overlooked. If you’re diving in an area where your specific battery is not readily available or unable to be fitted by a qualified person, you’ll be kicking yourself for not checking it out over prior to arrival. If you’ve recently purchased a new device, make sure you are familiar with how it works. Again, straps are prone to wear and tear and need to be examined.
Torch: Charge up or replace the batteries and check the bulb is still in good working order. Follow manufacturers specific guidelines on cleaning and greasing O-rings. Knife or line cutters: If you rinse and grease your knife after every dive, you will help to prevent rust. Make sure your knife is in good nick, and any straps or cases are in good order to call on in an emergency. Reels and SMBs: Again, good maintenance after every dive helps to prevent problems of reel or SMB deployment. Make sure there are no tangled lines and the reel is threaded properly. If you use a separate cylinder to inflate a delayed SMB, make sure it is adequately filled. Clips, lanyards, slates, and bungee: British divers are well known for a love of clips for all those extras. It’s easy to overlook a tiny little item of kit before the season. Check them out for signs of rust or damage.
Are you ready for a new season of diving?