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Zen and the Art of UK Diving


Alex Griffin, Diving Leisure London

We all know the score whenever you go on holiday abroad; diving is simple. You rock up at the dive centre, cert card clutched in your sweaty hand, and announce that you wish to go diving. The next day a car arrives at your hotel, picks you up and takes you to the boat. At the boat divemasters and crew scurry around lifting cylinders, you are told where to set up your gear, a bronzed dive god/goddess (delete as appropriate) briefs you on the dive and then you jump in. After the dive you are plied with snacks and drinks, taken back to land, ferried back to your hotel and then tucked into bed, hopefully by the aforementioned god/goddess (delete as appropriate).
Travelling Diver
Diving from a UK dive boat is a little different and can seem intimidating and difficult to a newly qualified diver. Therefore I've attempted to decode some of the mystery and offer a helpful guide to the people, phrases, dos and don'ts of a UK boat trip:

The skipper and his mission
In the UK, people who pilot dive boats are called skippers or occasionally 'Skip' by smartarses with regional accents and harlequin coloured drysuits. The skipper is often an older gentlemen for whom words like sexual harassment and customer service are new fangled concepts that they "have in that London".

The skippers have a unique Mission: Their sole responsibility is to pilot their vessel to a point in the sea, wait there for a bit and then head back to land within a stringent time frame. Divers are an annoyance who get in the way of this important task.

Ropes off
Ropes off is a technical phrase meaning the time the boat leaves. If ropes off is 8.00 am you can be sure that the boat will be chugging merrily out to sea at 8.01 am regardless of who is on board or if the cylinders are full. This is vitally important to the Mission.

It is therefore worth making sure that you are all present and correct with gear aboard the boat and car safely parked well before ropes off.
Gearing up
Dependent on whether you are diving from a RIB or Hardboat may determine whether or not you will have 0.5 seconds to kit yourself up or 2 hours. Mostly you'll bring your gear onto the boat in a mesh bag (none of those monster wheelie flight bags please, they get in the way and have to be thrown overboard) and then attach your cylinder to a rail with a bit of bungee or rope. If it's rope then you'll need to use a clovehitch with 2 half turns, a knot that every single instructor will be more than happy to help with...

If you like faffing with your kit then do it as soon as you head off and not 5 minutes before entering the water. Rest assured however, that one person will leave it too late. Someone else will forget to put their weightbelt on and need to de-kit, and you will do everything right, go to rise, and realise you are still attached to the boat by the rope or bungee!

The dive briefing
"We're here."

Exiting the dive boat
When the time has come to dive the skipper will gently let you know. Common phrases are "GO, I SAID GO!" and the more popular "GET OFF ME FECKIN BOOT!" Failure to comply or hesitation severely jeopardizes completion of the Mission. Exits are usually backward rolls or giant strides off the side of the boat. When backward rolling, ignore how loudly the skipper is screaming and give it at least a second before rolling off after your buddy in case you land directly on top of them.

Surface marker buoys
Are a must (puts serious hat on for a second). One of the few things that skippers genuinely have a right to get angry about is failure to use an SMB when appropriate. On most dives there will be an agreement as to whether divers are returning to the shot line or ascending on SMBs. Unless there is very little current this will be an either/ or decision. The reason for this is that if some divers start coming up the shotline and others come up on SMBs the tide will quickly separate them making it impossible for the skipper to monitor all the divers at once. Secondly, popping up with no warning is incredibly dangerous and may lead to unpleasant head and boat situations. So if you ignore the skipper and get it wrong then he's perfectly justified in turning the air blue.

Getting back on the boat
Most hard boats have either lifts or ladders to help you back on board. RIBs involve an undignified scramble up the side in just your fins (yes, and your exposure suit). When passing your equipment up to your buddy in the RIB it's considerate to remove the integrated weight pouches first, because hernias and slipped discs interfere with proper position and trim in the water.
Dive Worldwide
Returning to land
Now that the skipper is nearing completion of the Mission he may even crack a smile and you may get a cup of tea. Start breaking down your gear so you'll be ready to head off to the pub as soon as you get back. However, be careful because there is one more obstacle to overcome. As the skipper approaches the harbour he may require someone to jump up and help secure the boat with ropes and knots or some shit like that. At this point I like to pretend that I'm doing something quite important with my torch so that some other unfortunate city type is shouted at for trying to tie a boat to a harbour wall with a granny knot.

In conclusion
Ok, so before I get lots of angry skippers coming for me, I know loads of boat skippers who do an excellent job, They're friendly, helpful, forthcoming with the tea and biscuits and genuinely care about seeing that your group dives safely and has fun. This is much more the norm now but unfortunately there are also a small few out there that aren't too far from the description above. It's a real shame, because they don't seem to see that new divers who aren't at one with the cruel mistress that is the sea, are the lifeblood of the industry and their customers of tomorrow.

So how do you get around this if you don't know which boats are the friendly ones? The best bet is to ask around. I'm always more than happy to give recommendations. The other option is to go on club trips. We always use skippers that we either know or that are recommended to us and more importantly send an instructor along to act as a guide and go between, so you'll have someone else that you can ask questions.

Diving in the UK is so much fun and so easy to get into and there are plenty of schools and skippers out there doing a great job of getting divers into the water. It's as simple as deciding you're going to give it a go and then getting in touch with your local dive centre.

Alex Griffin is the owner of Diving Leisure London a pretty cool and very friendly dive centre in Battersea.
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