The late Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, a scuba-diver who became the British Sub-Aqua Club’s first president in 1960, has been paid a tribute by the club, the sport’s governing body.
“I first put on a pair of goggles, or perhaps I should say a sub-aqua mask, 23 years ago,” he told BSAC members in his inaugural presidential address. “Snorkelling has given me endless pleasure ever since… and I am sorry I only met the acquaintance of aqua-lung diving rather more recently. I regret very much that I didn’t start a great deal earlier.”
Early underwater film-maker and BSAC member Ley Kenyon had taught the Duke to scuba-dive in a private pool at Buckingham Palace. After that Prince Philip would dive when circumstances allowed from the Royal Yacht Britannia, making sure that the ship’s complement included two Royal Navy divers with scuba equipment so that they could accompany him under water.
In an obituary on its website, BSAC says that although the Duke did not consider any long-term presidencies appropriate, his association with the club was maintained after the end of his three-year term because of his conviction about the sport’s role in advancing science and understanding of the ocean.
His presidency instigated continuing royal patronage of the club. He was made an honorary life member, a new category at the time, and in 1974 Prince Charles took up the presidency, with his son Prince William taking on the role from 2014 to the present day.
In 1962 the Duke of Edinburgh addressed a letter to BSAC and international divers attending the World Congress of Underwater Activities in London. The conference had as its theme: “A Challenge: to Extend Man’s Knowledge of the Last Large Unexplored Area of the World – the Sea.”
“The great thing about underwater activities is that there remains a useful place for the amateur,” wrote the Duke. “The part-time enthusiast can and does contribute to knowledge without vastly expensive equipment, and I’m sure he could contribute more if his efforts were well-guided.
“Unfortunately we in Britain do not have the same advantages as countries with warmer and calmer seas, but from what I have seen of the activities of the British Sub-Aqua Club this in no way affects the devotion and enthusiasm of its members.
“The scope for increased knowledge of the sea and what lives in it is enormous and I am sure this knowledge, scientifically evaluated and pursued, is of the greatest importance in the future of mankind… For whatever purpose, diving is a wonderful sport and occupation, and I wish all delegates many long years of enjoyable activities under water.”
BSAC diver training was incorporated into the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme in 1960, and in 1964 Prince Philip decided to introduce an annual award called the Duke of Edinburgh’s Prize for scientific diving expeditions. The British Sub-Aqua Jubilee Trust was formed to administer the prize and to allocate grants to scientific diving projects.