Shore-diving green-lit in England/NI

Picture: Karen Roe.

Recreational divers in England and Northern Ireland are being allowed to resume “limited” shore-diving with immediate effect. The easing of restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic is the start of what is described as a phased return plan, outlined in new guidance just published by the sport’s governing body.

The British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) has produced the detailed guidelines in collaboration with the British Diving Safety Group and the Sports & Recreational Alliance. It says that the advice addresses all aspects of implementing safe diving protocols while “contributing to the continued prevention of the spread of Covid-19”.

In Scotland and Wales a return to diving has yet to be confirmed, and BSAC points out that differing official restrictions applied under the devolved administrations have complicated the process. “We will continue to work with various agencies to monitor the situation and to advocate for a responsible and safe return for divers in all parts of the UK,” it says.

According to the new guidelines, divers must observe any travel restrictions in their part of the UK, stay at home if showing symptoms of Covid-19 or in self-isolation, respect the 2m social-distancing rule and commit to hand hygiene. Those who have either tested positive or been treated for Covid-19 should consult a medical specialist before considering a return to diving.

The agency advises conservative dive-plans, particularly because people will be out of practice.

Divers are urged to download the eight guidance documents and read them in conjunction with one another. They cover medical considerations, shore-diving, equipment, rescue & CPR, diver training, travel, small-boat and charter-boat diving.

When shore-diving, the most likely area for physical contact comes when kitting up and assisting a buddy – when closing a drysuit zip, for example. Divers are recommended to prepare equipment in advance, provide assistance “for as brief a time as possible”, avoid touching any part of equipment to be breathed from by another diver, and to wear face masks when within 2m of each other. Neither should be directly downwind of the other.

While social distancing is not an issue once under water, divers are advised to build up depth progressively with a suggested maximum depth of 30m, avoid decompression or night dives, areas of strong current and overhead environments, and to carry an independent gas source such as a pony cylinder. Ascents should be made on a reference point such as a shot or SMB line or using natural topography.

“When followed in conjunction with their training, safe-diving protocols, and while exercising due caution and social distancing, members may now be able to resume shore-diving activities and still act responsibly and considerately towards others,” says BSAC National Diving Officer Dai Atkins. “The guidance will continue to be updated to reflect the understanding of the impact of the pandemic and changing national and devolved government rules.”

22 May 2020

It is not clear when the go-ahead will be given for boat diving. The governing body and emergency services had previously warned against all scuba diving with the risk of incidents requiring rescue or diverting of medical resources in mind.

However, with the easing of lockdown most sea-based sports are now being counted as allowable forms of exercise, even when carried out from beaches without their usual lifeguards – with a corresponding increase in emergency call-outs for the Coastguard and RNLI already noted in the run-up to the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.

Divernet understands that a certain amount of scuba diving had already resumed unofficially along sections of the English coast before the announcement.

The Safe Return to Diving guidance can be found here.