Site Last Updated
: 19th Feb 2001
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'How To... Run Dives' Page

The information expressed herein should be treated as opinion. No guarantee is given or implied that any advice on the web-site is necessarily correct. Nor might it best suit other divers and clubs due to regional and personal differences. Diving is a risk sport - all advice herein should be validated with advice from your own diving club, governing body, or approved published material before being adopted.

How To...



… Run a Hardboat Trip

… Book a hardboat

First thing is timing. Good hardboats often booked during high season a year or more in advance. Book early. Decide region dive wanted in. Find contacts in the region through:

Check dates are available and suss boat out - got oxygen, weather shelter, toilet, drinks included, even compressor on board? See if skipper also a diver (beware if not). Can skipper recommend local B&B? Ask about typical dive sites and see if skipper OK about three dives if time (some aren't). In particular agree booking/cancellation policy. Most book whole boat fixed fee (typically around £250 per day). Fewer divers turning up means problems for the club. Some book per diver at typically £25 per day per diver for two dives better for club. Confirm cancellations policy. If divers/club cancel, usual to forfeit deposit. If skipper cancels, must get deposit back.

Big problem area is weather. If borderline and skipper says ok to go out, can lose deposit (or more if terms harsh) if club says no. Best bet is to make clear that BSAC state that not safe to dive over Force 4, so agree that if forecast has fives or higher, trip cancelled without penalty. Don't book if skipper not happy about this. Once all agreed, skipper will want deposits. May send you a booking form - read carefully and if not got cancellations as above, write your own terms on it (Force 5 or above = undiveable weather). Return form with deposit cheque (from club treasurer). Note: many skippers "roll" deposits - i.e. if successive bookings then at end of one trip, pay in full (rather than just balance) so deposit goes onto next trip automatically. A month or so before trip, ring skipper just to confirm trip and maybe advise whether you want skipper to pass fill-in divers onto you if numbers low.

… Book club divers onto trip

Really best to get everyone to pay in full before the day, then just need a club cheque to pay the skipper. Good approach is "deposit £25 but diving free on the day"! Traditionally club takes deposits only then gets balance off divers in cash on the day. Tedious for dive marshall this way - avoid if possible. Make it clear that once anyone paid deposit on trip they're expected to pay in full whether they turn up or not. If they notify early enough, may be able to sell place on, but no guarantees.

… Find fill-in divers

Club can lose huge amounts of money if day-charter boat is not filled. If boat looking light on club bookings a month out, get fill-in divers. Good idea to keep lists of such people to ring. As noted above, tell skippers you're short & they can often pass divers on to you. Some dive shops can point divers your way. Old Harbour in Weymouth tend to act as a broker for local dive boats - worth a ring. Use the internet too: e-mail's are good, newsgroups, key web sites… Finally, trot round local dive clubs - contact their DOs. If dive is more than a month away, consider building up an "interested" list then having last tout round club. If within a month just take deposits from fill-in divers to fill boat.

… Marshall a hardboat trip

See "…Marshall a General Dive" for guidance. Biggest difference is that hardboat skipper has they say on all aspects of how the boat is run. Safety decisions that relate to boat his decision too. Safety of divers is the marshall's job. Take advice from skippers - invariably good, but if you and skipper disagree go for most cautious option. E.g. if any debate about whether to use oxygen or call helicopter, best to do those things than take a chance. Dive marshall will be facing coroner's questions if anything goes wrong with dive safety so be insistent if skipper not taking things seriously enough.

… Pay for a hardboat

If everyone paid in full before the day, just need a fully completed club cheque to pay skipper. If only deposits taken from some/all divers, club has to pay uncertain amount with a cheque. Marshall must thus get cheque ready signed from treasurer well before day. Will have to be "blank" amount in this case, but if ensure payee is filled in. If not got full amount in advance, then on day of dive get balances off divers. Give skipper cash/cheque for full balance or full charter cost depending if got another trip planned on same boat - many skippers "roll" deposits - i.e. pay in full (rather than just balance) so deposit goes onto next trip automatically.

… Balance payments with club after

If marshall taken cash off divers on day of hardboat dive, can be the case that surplus (from rounding up on per-person amount) or deficit cash (from no-shows). See Club Treasurer after dive and make good difference. Even if balances on the day, tell treasurer immediately how much the club cheque was for. Treasurer will keep balance of income/payouts for trip anyway and will check if in deficit and why.

… Run Speciality Dives

… Run a Camp-Dive Trip

Fairly obvious how to organise but one or two extra things to think about for diving.

… Run a Shore Dive

Try to forecast likely surf condition on the shoreline. Big surf makes entry/exit dangerous. Use weather forecasts for wind conditions. Pay attention to whether will strengthen of slack off. If onshore breeze, much more likely to have bad surf than offshore of same speed. On south coast, winds from northerly direction best. Can be OK in sheltered bays like Swanage in most winds. Check that enough air taken or you know where nearby station is. Marshal should take oxygen and first aid kits, especially if in isolated spot. Plan to have at least one person on surface cover with rescue capability. When marshalling a shore dive, current situation critical. If any risk of current, should have boat cover of some sort. If never a current problem (e.g. Swanage, Chesil Cove, Burton Bradstock), OK with just shore cover. Use SMBs. Brief divers on entry/exit point and orientation. Get everyone to check compass bearings to know which way to head back to shore. Note that if currents do pick up, best to stay on seabed during swim back - stronger current mid-water. Also can use rocks to pull on if bad.

… Run a River Dive

Strictly speaking should OK a river dive with the Environment Agency - well in advance - e.g. a month. They notify lock keepers in writing to warn boats of divers ahead. EA's river diving rules are:

Some of this unrealistic for clubs. Alternative is to be practical. EA only real concerns are that we're safe and don't cause problems for other river users. In practice can meet these aims largely by finishing dives before 8am when locks open. There is rarely any boat movement before then and also the EA patrols are not out yet!

Do consider fishermen though. Don't dive anywhere near lines and best to chat to them first to establish rapport and ensure no potential problems. Most are very amicable, but any problems & back off - they've got more rights unless we follow all EA procedures to the letter.

Beyond that, just stick to standard dive safety procedure. Use SMBs, always have shore cover, should take safety kit (oxygen, 1st aid & ideally mobile phone) and so on. A big difference with river is solo diving. Viz is often so poor and rarely depths beyond 4m means that buddies are often more a hassle than a safety factor. There is a serious potential for getting tangled though, so if solo must have good knife and redundant air supply. Also, marshall's briefing to tell shore cover to watch bubbles - if in any trouble give good purge of DV to tell shore cover to come help (alternative: repeated, regular strong tugs on SMB to make it bob rhythmically).

Check river conditions before dive. If currents strong, forget it. If marginal, tether divers and get shore cover to play line out/in. If divers do hear boats, best to stay glued to river bed - ample clearance in decent rivers. Surface cover to warn boats to stay clear of SMB. Navigation easy in rivers as current and depth give direction and position across river. Only unknown is position up/down river but not a problem. Best bet to work upstream. Means you can drift back to exit point easily and also that kicked up silt carried away from you, improving viz . Marshal to warn divers of potential for Weil's disease. Any flu-like symptoms within days of dive means go to Doctor and advise been river diving. Wash kit down after, just as if salt water diving, as organic matter and micro-organisms are no good for your kit/health either.

… Run a Lake Dive

If not a private lake, this will be covered by Environment Agency so most comments on river diving apply equally here. Private lakes have their own rules. Talk to the lake operators about procedure and adhere.

… Run a Night Dive

Good weather is particularly important as it's easier to make mistakes. Make clear that the dive can be aborted if not good. Poor underwater viz is not necessarily a problem, but dive probably no fun anyway. Poor surface viz is a real hazard - don't dive in fog, heavy rain etc. as too easy to lose divers. SMBs should have lights on (Cyalume sticks or battery beacons) else quickly invisible. Some shallower dives in good conditions and clear viz (e.g. tropics) OK without SMBs as underwater torches easily seen from surface. Briefing and buddy checks very important. Before getting on-site, warn about night vision. Takes at least 15 mins of near-darkness for vision to adjust to low light. One strong torch in eyes, or car headlights can destroy night vision for another 15 mins. Advise that all divers check torches before kitting up and turn headlights off & use dim light while getting ready.

When ready to dive, eyes will be well adjusted for night vision. Divers should have two torches each - one backup. Don't use head-mounted torches on night dives as one glance at buddy destroys night vision. On dive, never turn torch out as bulb most likely to blow when turned back on. If want to black out torchlight (e.g. to see photoplankton flash), put torch head against body or cover with hand. If rechargeable batteries, make sure topped up. If disposable, put fresh batteries in regardless.

Agree torch signals. Signal with beam on seabed where buddy is looking, not in face. Common signals:

When giving hand signals, shine torch at your hand so buddy can see it (tricky if two-handed signal - tuck torch under arm). Doubly important for buddy to confirm signal by repeating it - easy to misunderstand in dark. Buddy checks specially important as easy to miss things at night. Go through religiously and test things work. On dive, pay special attention to navigation. Less cues with sunlight. Easy to get disorientated. Also very special care with depth. Colours and ambient light level don't change with depth like on available light dive. Very easy to be a lot deeper than you think, so watch depth gauge very often and check buddy is too. Same lighting issues makes it easier to go inside things like wreck holds or caves without realising. Shine torch all around regularly to check. After dive & de-kit, make special torch search of whole area to ensure nothing left behind.

… Know what to do when finding something

… Identify dangerous munitions

General rule is if in any doubt whatever, leave alone. Lots of munitions from all periods on south coast of England. Many are recent losses from testing - can be high explosive and potentially deadly. Basically, if still paint on it don't even think of touching it. Older stuff can be very bad too. Some explosives weaken with age, others get more unstable. Again, not worth the risk.

Only safe to tamper with used and empty stuff like brass shell cases. If still has head in it, touch at your peril. If with anyone who brings live munitions up, insist they ditch it asap. If already brought back to shore, little choice but to call authorities (coastguard a good start) and get experts out. Will usually cause a 'bomb scare', but better that than someone getting hurt.

… Report underwater finds

All man-made finds in the UK supposed to be reported to the Receiver of the Wreck by law. Includes portholes (you should be so lucky) etc. Remember - any find might be historically important. Official advice is to leave things where they are and report them.

… Clean recovered items

Shouldn't really recover items anyway (see "…Report underwater finds"). In event of weakness, anything brought from seabed going to be encrusted with crud - mud, corrosion, marine growths etc. Easy way to release most of this is acid. Patio/concrete cleaning acid from DIY shops good as usually based on Hydrochloric Acid that dissolves calcium carbonate in shells of barnacles/limpets/worms etc.

Always wear strong gloves & goggles when using acid. Soak item for a few minutes then lift out, rinse in fresh water, brush gently with stiff brush and repeat until all crud removed. Wire brushes effective but risk damaging the item. If wire brush used, best if brass wire not steel. Fine steel wool effective on smooth surfaces too, but again risks damaging any fine detailing. Once crud removed, normal metal polish or wadding can bring out metal surface well.

… Protect recovered items

Most non-ferrous metal items rarely decay further once removed and cleaned. Brass, aluminium, bronze etc. all stable. Steel rarely worth lifting anyway, and because slightly porous will contain lots of salt deep inside. If just cleaned and dried, often crumbles away to dust over time. Best to seek proper advice and report items like this. If going it alone, common advice is to flush well in fresh water for months to leech out salt. Good method is to leave in toilet cistern as water flushed through often! After a good long time, remove and dry very thoroughly (e.g. several hours in a very cool oven). Finally, often helps preserve surface of steel to coat well in polyurethane varnish.

… Get the Most from Diving Holidays

… Organise a diving holiday

The club has an official expeditions officer - refer to the club committee, although volunteers are usually highly welcomed, but can be a hassle. Benefit is that you get to go where you want. Also, as holidays are not strictly club/committee events, doesn't have to be club-members first, so if you have diving friends not in the club, invite them along first.

It can be cheaper too - some operators let you go free if, say, 12 places are booked. It is more usual to split the free place and discount each trip, but this is up to the organiser and those going. As long as this is done very openly, it shouldn't cause bad feeling - bad idea to be secretive. The Club can act as "bank". Each deposit paid to the club then single club cheque to the tour operator.

Note: the club will not subsidise your trip. The organiser is responsible for ensuring a net zero balance to the club. Try to deputise some jobs - getting commitment can be hard. It is not worth planning by committee - you're doing the legwork so just decide where & when suits you then see who else wants to go. Advise you take significant deposit cheques even before holiday booked. Makes sure the "yes" is real. Bank the cheques if you get enough numbers; return them if fizzles out through lack of interest. Decide what style of holiday it is - a relaxed family one or serious diving one? This affects the choice of resort, acceptable price level, time of year, and type of accommodation. Once decision to go ahead, good idea to make dates well known to avoid others trying to plan different one at same time. Finally, make sure covered for operator problems or unplanned cancellations. Can get into serious trouble if others lose money on trip you're organising.

… Prove qualifications when abroad

Make sure you take your qualification logbook and medical certificate. Should be all you need. Means can't lose logbook etc. If diving in deeper/more extreme conditions, very good idea to take ordinary logbook along to show experience. May help get you into better diving. Some operators insist on charging for "orientation" dives before doing serious stuff. Claim it's to be sure you're a safe diver, but just an extra-earner scam really. Only avoidance is to get confirmation in writing before going that not needed. Little you can do once there but pay up.

… Get proof of insurance cover

Some operators (especially American) may want to see proof of 3rd party insurance cover before you dive. D.O. or Secretary can give you copy of BSAC indemnity certificate, renewed annually. Explains cover and terms. N.B. only valid for proper BSAC members, so be sure you take proof of qualification (see "…Prove qualifications when abroad") and medical certificate (BSAC membership not valid unless medical in date). Many foreign countries have expensive health care. Can be trouble if have problems and not insured. May be refused treatment! Check you have cover, take proof with you (along with max amount payable) and keep handy whenever in risky situations.

… Take sensible kit for diving abroad

Suit depends on temperatures and your susceptibility to cold. Remember dives will be longer.

Take usual stab & DV if not hiring at your destination. Check dive operations has same fittings as you. Most take either international A-clamp or DIN, but some don't do DIN and occasional German ones don't do international. Take adapters if unsure. Computers a huge boon in tropical diving. If downloadable to PC, don't forget may run out of log memory and lose profiles info as can easily fill up memory inside 2 days - so if have something like Aladin PC Mouse don't forget to take it.

If diving under tropical tour packages, leave UK 'accessories' behind. Forget goody bags, strobe beacons, DSMBs, certainly lifting bags, and even big knives in non-netted locations like Red Sea, Maldives etc. Good case for leaving gloves behind as encourages you not to touch. Exceptions are if cold, or if (as in Maldives) strong drifts and may need to hang on to rocks. Two torches a good idea only if night dives possible, else take one big bright one or don't bother. Little ones useless in daylit tropics. Consider using foot-fins then leave boots behind too, but may still need something to protect toes rubbing raw inside fins. Possible to get ear infections in tropics. Best avoidance is to swill ears with fresh water after every dive and dry thoroughly. If known to be susceptible, take special ear-drops (e.g. Boric Acid based "Aurocaine") to prevent "swimmer's ear". Don't forget most important part of diving kit for tropical holidays is sun protection. Definitely no fun diving with sun-burn.

… Take up a Diving Specialism

… Start underwater photography

First step - re-mortgage the house! Can be a very expensive business. Don't even start unless you're prepared to spend a lot of money. Problem is that unlike surface photography, it's difficult to get really good results without specialist kit. Plenty of snapshot underwater cameras around now that give good results for u/w memories, but eye catching photography needs very wide-angle lenses, macro and powerful off-axis flash. Not only very expensive, but one salt water flood writes it off!

Also, needs obsessive precision and discipline to be good due to challenging environment. Assume that if not a good, precise, knowledgeable photography on land, no hope underwater. Need to either stay with snapshots or get totally obsessive. Any middle ground likely to end up spending too much money and not getting good results. Consider going on underwater photography course to learn principles & see how hard it is to do well, then take it from there. If a couple of hundred pounds burning hole in pocket, no harm done buying one of many "snapshot" u/w cameras around. If only occasional use and don't need to go deeper than 5m or so, the u/w disposables give surprisingly goods and by far best value for this. Great for shallow tropical diving/snorkelling.

… Start marine archaeology

Join a marine archaeology group. Don't even think of trying to go it alone. Won't find stuff without amazing luck, but far worse even slight ignorance of technique can destroy irreplaceable historical finds.
See "Links Page" for details of Nautical Archaeology Society, UK Institute of Conservation, English Heritage and others.

… Research wrecks

Getting ever harder to find new stuff. All the easy finds been located long ago. Need to dig into obscure records now. Best bet is to find existing wreck finders and join a group. Many books around too telling how to get info from Admiralty, Lloyds, news archives, war records, and so on. People get obsessive about this game - all or nothing. If you want this to be your life, go for it…

… Learn marine life identification

Obviously, many course around to get started. Quite possible to teach yourself too. Check marine life books to see what to look for - e.g. fin configuration a far better cue than more obvious colour. Whenever/wherever diving, make sure fish identification books with you. On the dive, really look at marine life, study detail. Memory detail is actually a lot more vague than it feels. Surprising what you think you remember until later when you see ten that could all be it. Make notes & sketches on waterproof notebook if poss. As soon as possible after every dive, look up what you saw and write it in logbook. If some not found, make notes about fins, shape, size, habitat, markings and later try to find them in other books. Ask other divers and dive guides too, but beware as plenty of bluffers around who are totally confident but totally wrong. Treat them as quick way to look up fish by name rather than search pictures. Photographs help learning as brings real memory of moving fish back. When not diving, make a habit of reading marine life books. Randomly test yourself trying to identify pictures. Self-teach like this OK, but will learn more about creature behaviour, habitat etc. on courses. Will probably see more fish after understanding where to look and what camouflage to see through. Consider even going on a marine identification holiday.

… Get involved in marine conservation

Again, join a marine conservation group like the Marine Conservation Society. Contacts under "Links Page". Good if can go regularly to local group. Main thing is to do some sort of project. Just talking no good. Make a difference Take on something that you believe in and do it well. Try to enthuse others in the club but becoming a bore about it counter productive. If interest grows, plenty of opportunity to take sabbatical and do 3 months solid conservation work in Belize, Caymans, Philippines etc. Beware though, it's no holiday, hard work, sometimes poor living conditions and to top it all these organisations charge you a lot for the privilege of working for them! Duke of Edinburgh scheme worth looking into too.


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