Plan that transformed a Scottish dive-club’s fortunes

Five years ago one of Scotland’s oldest diving clubs, Aberdeen SAC, was down on its luck. Struggling financially, it was down to its last nine members, not all of whom dived regularly, and could no longer offer training. It had sold its boat to cut costs, which limited its activities to shore-diving and a few annual trips away.

Now, with a membership of more than 100, the thriving British Sub-Aqua Club branch has just been awarded the coveted Heinke Trophy, BSAC’s annual accolade for outstanding contributions to the development of scuba diving from among the club’s 1,500 or so branches and dive-schools worldwide. 

“We are over the moon! Thank you to all of our members and hard-working volunteers, instructors and anyone who helps out with the club – we really couldn’t have done this without you all!” said club chair Jim Burke, who helped to mastermind AbSAC’s turnaround.

Jim Burke of Aberdeen SAC
Jim Burke, chair of Aberdeen SAC

Asked how it had been brought about, he told Divernet: “The most important thing, I think, is to have a group of passionate divers without egos, who want to have adventures and fun, and get as big a kick from buddying a 12-year-old diver on their first-ever dive as they do diving a virgin wreck.”

The Heinke Trophy adjudicators identified “very positive” club attributes that included a growth plan that had delivered “excellent results”, and concluded that Aberdeen was now a “very well-organised branch delivering value for money”.

Also picked out for commendation were the various levels of activity available for different types of diver. The branch had embraced the Diving For All programme to help people living with disabilities to experience the underwater world; had what was described as a good spread of diving, scientific and project work, including some “very challenging” depths and conditions; and had put together a well-structured 54-page submission document.

Rebuilding through adversity

The Heinke Trophy has been awarded since 1958 – the same year that Aberdeen Sub-Aqua Club was formed, in the pioneering years of UK scuba diving. 

After flourishing for many years but at its lowest point after 60 years in existence, the club had started turning its fortunes around in 2019, when it managed to extend its finances to buy a small inflatable, and to then attract a few new experienced divers.

Club members at Loch Duich
Club members at Loch Duich

In 2020, however, what progress there had been was set back by the Covid pandemic, to be followed by the cost of living crisis. At that time the club included only one Open Water Instructor and three assistant instructors.

In early 2021 the Aberdeen SAC members decided to develop a three-year strategy to reinvent the club by cultivating a more diverse membership and offering more training.

The aim was to be innovative in terms of training, diving and use of technology, in a bid to “build a respectful, inclusive and fun social scene, care for the environment, work with other clubs, reduce the costs of diving, contribute to the wider society and, ultimately, participate in more diving, exploring new and exciting places”. 

AbSAC divers
AbSAC divers
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Down south at Capernwray

In terms of diversity, Burke says that Aberdeen SAC has now managed to attract new divers from all areas of the community, with more than 40% of its members now female, and has formed a thriving under-18s section as well as welcoming divers with disabilities.

Two years into the plan, Aberdeen SAC already felt that it had surpassed most of the targets it had set itself, and was therefore ready to apply for the Heinke award for 2023. 

The adjudicators also commended this year the Nuneaton-based Marlin SAC and University of Nottingham SAC. Last year’s Heinke Trophy went overseas, to RAHSAC Oman.

Also on Divernet: BSAC at 70: Where to from here?, The first 60 Years of scuba diving with Grimsby & Cleethorpes BSAC, BSAC introduces Advanced Ocean Diver

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