As the dive season starts to hit full pace again we have the pleasure of welcoming visiting divers coming to the beautiful jade green waters of the Isle of Man, perhaps in search of sharks and seals, hoping to get to a couple of wrecks and all wishing for flat calm seas and sunshine to accompany their trip. For many of our visitors, their trip will have been several months in the planning, and I know that the many emails and phone calls I have dealt with are the tip of the iceberg in terms of the communications that have gone on within the club. Sometimes though it seems communications can be one-way. I’m never sure whether it’s a deliberate “knowledge is power” thing or just the consequence of a busy life for the trip organiser, but every year we will witness the confusion caused when the message just didn’t get through.
Last year a group hired a van to bring their kit over. It was probably just as well it was a hired van as the suspension was straining to hold the twin sets, stage cylinders and weights that were piled in the back. It seems no-one told them that we provide weights and cylinders and alas I didn’t have a camera to capture the look on their faces when they found out! But all credit to them for being prepared. It never ceases to amaze me how many regulators and drysuits we will be fixing at the end of day 1 of a charter. Kit that hasn’t been serviced, examined or even taken out of the bag since last year is transported across with the hopeful belief that “it’ll be OK” although usually with the caveat that “I can’t remember when I last used it”. After all the months of planning, the least you should be doing is checking your kit before you come across. And let’s not even get started on the idea of a shakedown dive before stepping off a boat into 20m + of Irish Sea and hoping everything’s working.
Day 1 of a charter is plagued by First Day Faff. I’d like to pretend that the skipper and the crew are sympathetic, caring individuals who are standing by ready and fully prepared to sort out every kit and configuration problem. Don’t you believe it! In reality they are running a sweepstake in the cabin on how many of the party will have forgotten a vital bit of kit, turn on regs to find the air leaks and ask for insulation tape to try and salvage dry suit seals for the day’s diving. Whilst you are preparing your kit, look up at their faces. You’ll see the (thinly) disguised looks of despair, contempt, pity and enjoyment on their faces. They are not laughing with you, Orville….
For some reason the normal safety rules that divers use for diving activities seem not to apply while on holiday. Last year we dispatched one of our visitors to the Hyperbaric Chamber after he complained of pins and needles in his legs after his first dive. Apparently as he’d finished the course of antibiotics for his chest infection on Thursday, that must have meant he was fit to dive on Saturday. It didn’t. His reduced lung function meant that although his dive profile was reasonable he ended up in the pot. You see? Normal rules (and common sense) don’t apply on holiday. The problem diver have is that physics and physiology do still apply on holiday. And as any good A level science student will tell you “Don’t mess with physics”, although their version is a little more alliterative.
So here’s my top tips for your trips this summer. Do get all the information beforehand. Do get your kit out and at least put it together and check it before packing. If you haven’t been in the water for a few weeks, get everyone together and have a shakedown dive – it’s a good way of getting to know who is going as well. Don’t forget to ask yourself the ‘fit to dive’ question. Please pack your sense of humour and common sense alongside your undersuit, fins, computer [insert other bits of kit that divers tend to leave behind]. We all laughed one year at the diver on one of our Red Sea holidays who produced a kit checklist that he emailed to the group. But do you know what? We all still have a copy of it on our laptops that we print out each time we are going away….We know that the crew are looking forward to First Day Faff, but we don’t intend to be the cabaret on our trips! Enjoy the summer!
For a while just before Christmas a couple of years ago, the common description of the Isle of Man as ’80,000 people clinging to a rock in the Irish Sea’ couldn’t have seemed more real. Our only winter capable ferry managed to ingest some lobster pots cunningly set in the entrance to the harbour, destroying one of the bow thrusters essential for manoeuvring into the tight confines of her berths both here and in the UK. A period of windy and stormy conditions meant that several sailings were cancelled, the schedule went to the wall and running the Dive Centre during this time was a challenge. Customer orders couldn’t get through so there were a few ‘I ordered it in plenty of time, but it didn’t arrive yet’ apologies to some of the local divers on Christmas morning. But in general the poor weather meant there wasn’t much diving going on anyway however the security of supplies should actually be a worry for all divers. We see it as a challenge to arrange expeditions to remote locations, carrying with us tonnes of equipment, fuel and supplies to dive in some of the lesser known spots. The planning takes weeks if not months, and part of the satisfaction is diving knowing that you have overcome all the obstacles. But just think what your diving would be like if that was the level of organisation that you had to run to all the time.
It’s no secret that the current economic climate is hitting leisure industries hard, and that includes dive equipment manufacturers, retail operations, dive training schools and charter businesses. The whole sector has seen a contraction in spending, and those who depend on it for their living are working harder and longer than ever to keep going. I spent 2 hours last weekend advising a diver on kit, discussing the relative merits of different options, measuring him for a dry suit and painstakingly working out a competitive price for the choices. As I slaved over the pricelist and a calculator I saw the dreaded smart phone in his hand and watched in horror as he scanned the barcode and searched for an online price. Despite the time that I spent, the various configurations that I’d rigged for him to try and the detailed knowledge I provided, he ordered online whilst standing just outside the shop!
It’s a free market and of course he can choose where to buy from. Some of the big dealers can get much better trade rates than the small guys and rely on high volume of sales to make their money. However, a word of warning; if the kit was supplied by us, we would happily set it up, take him for an orientation to his new kit in the pool followed by a weight-check dive. Any warranty issues would rest squarely with us and if we couldn’t sort it out in our workshop, we would happily lend him replacement kit whilst we dealt with the returns process. These are all little things that we would do as we recognise that the commitment to buying dive kit is a big step, and a little guidance along the way can make a huge difference. How many new divers buy exactly what someone in their club, usually the loudest person in the bar, told them to get? And how many change their kit within two years?
With heavy hearts now we have had to introduce an admin charge to deal with warranty issues for which although we are a dealer but did not supply the item. If we didn’t make even a small amount of profit selling it, we can’t justify paying the postage to send it off to be repaired. And if the owner of new kit wants to try it out, then we will be charging him for the pool or open water sessions. So how much does the odd £20 that he saved really matter? Obviously to him that mattered a lot, but perhaps now he’s seen the value to the service we provide he’ll reconsider? The good news is that no-one has yet invented a way to download air via a USB cable, so we’ll be seeing him back in the store real soon. Have a think about the security of your supply chain for diving. Local Dive Stores have overheads and may cost a little more, but they will be around to supply your air, provide repairs at short notice, hire kit, give advice and support your purchases. Your diving activities would be infinitely more difficult if they disappeared.
Michelle has been scuba diving for over 20 years. Drawing on her science background she tackles some bits of marine science. and sometimes has a sideways glance at the people and events that she encounters in the diving world.