by Lisa Shafe. Photos and video courtesy of BSAC.
The British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) holds a special place in the history of diving. On 15th October, 2023 BSAC will celebrate its Platinum Jubilee. Current BSAC Council member Lisa Shafe and Head of Community Debbie Powell share some key themes in the 70-year journey.
For the last seven decades, the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) has played a key role in promoting underwater exploration, safety, and education. As we celebrate the club’s remarkable journey, let’s take a moment to recognize and pay tribute to BSAC for the significant contributions they have made to the diving community.
Formation and early years
BSAC was founded back in 1953 by Oscar Gugen and Peter Small, both were members of the Royal Air Force Sub-Aqua Club. Their vision was to create a democratic, non-profit organisation that would facilitate diving and promote marine conservation. The inaugural meeting took place in London, where 22 enthusiasts joined together to establish the first branch of BSAC.
Training and safety
One of BSAC’s most influential contributions has been in the development of diver training and establishing safety standards. The club recognised the need for structured training programmes and introduced the first novice diving course in the 1950s. This programme laid the foundation for subsequent training levels, such as the Sports Diver, Dive Leader, and Advanced Diver courses, each building upon the knowledge and skills acquired in the previous level.
BSAC’s commitment to safety led to the establishment of a rigorous system of instructor qualification and ongoing professional development. The Instructor Training Scheme remains a cornerstone of BSAC’s success, ensuring that instructors are equipped with the knowledge and skills to train divers effectively and safely.
Introduction of Nitrox and the development of tech diving
BSAC’s historical move into using Nitrox and the development of its technical diving programme marked a significant advancement in the organisation’s approach to diving.
Nitrox was originally termed by some as the ‘devil gas’. A lot of people didn’t understand the health benefits, nitrox computers didn’t exist, and so there was no duration benefit. However, in the late 1980s, BSAC started to recognise the safety advantages and growing interest in nitrox diving within a large segment of the diving community. Responding to this, the organisation conducted thorough research and development to establish safe practices for using Nitrox in recreational diving. As a result, in 1995, BSAC introduced Nitrox as an optional training course, becoming one of the first major recreational diving agencies to do so. Their first set of nitrox specific tables also came out in 1995.
The successful integration of Nitrox into the BSAC training program led to increased popularity among divers seeking to explore greater depths and stay underwater for longer periods. Recognising the potential for further technical diving advancements, BSAC continued its commitment to innovation. IN 2007 they included the addition of nitrox training to both their ocean and sports diver programmes as standard.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, BSAC expanded its technical diving program to cater to divers interested in more challenging and adventurous diving. It developed comprehensive technical diving courses, covering advanced gas management, decompression theory, and specialised equipment usage. The technical diving program continued to grow and improve.
BSAC’s current technical diving program offers both CCR and open-circuit options for divers seeking to explore greater challenges—be they technology related or increasing their depth experiences.
Conservation and marine awareness
From its inception, BSAC has emphasised the importance of marine conservation and raising awareness about the underwater world. It actively encourages members to adopt environmentally friendly diving practices and promotes respect for marine ecosystems. Through initiatives, such as the current Operation Oyster program (which Lisa has participated in if anyone wants to know more!), BSAC fosters partnerships with various organisations and participates in research projects, contributing to the preservation of our oceans.
Exploration and discoveries
BSAC divers have played a significant role in exploring the underwater realms, uncovering historical wrecks, and discovering previously unknown sites. Over the years, BSAC expeditions have ventured into diverse locations worldwide, uncovering the secrets hidden beneath the surface. Notable discoveries include the Antikythera Wreck in Greece, where BSAC divers contributed to the recovery of the ancient Antikythera Mechanism, a marvel of ancient technology.
BSAC also played a significant role in the raising of the Mary Rose, the 16th-century flagship of King Henry VIII. BSAC divers were instrumental in surveying, excavating, and recovering artifacts from the shipwreck. The efforts of BSAC divers and Prince Charles’ participation contributed to the successful preservation and display of the Mary Rose and its treasures for future generations.
Over the decades, BSAC members have provided valuable information for maritime archaeology and historical research and have added immeasurable value to our understanding of the underwater world.
Community and camaraderie
Beyond the technical aspects, BSAC has fostered a strong sense of community among its members. It organises social events, training, conferences, and diving trips, providing opportunities for divers and snorkelers to connect and share experiences. Local clubs have played a vital role in building lasting friendships and supporting the growth of diving communities across the UK.
Being part of the BSAC community is an incredible journey for many, something that has endured from day one. The warmth and camaraderie among fellow divers can create a true sense of belonging. From the excitement of people’s first dives to mastering advanced techniques, BSAC’s supportive approach boosts confidence and the friendships forged during meetups and dive trips can be truly special, turning diving into a shared passion with amazing like-minded people.
Looking to the future
As BSAC enters its eighth decade, it continues to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of the diving community. It is embracing technological advancements, incorporating new teaching methodologies, exploring new ways to deliver greater value to members. It is also finding ways to appeal to younger generations in order to keep the sport we all love going for future generations.
As BSAC members, we are part of something unique and special. Speaking at a previous BSAC conference world-renowned Professor of Anaesthesiology and fellow diver Simon Mitchell summarised his thoughts of BSAC:
“I’m struck by what is in front of me. I don’t know if you know how unique you are. I travel the world speaking at meetings like this…there’s nothing else like this, this is a club, a club with thousands of members, running its own training program and surviving in this commercially hostile environment. It’s extraordinary. I can tell you there’s nothing like it in the world. I can only offer my congratulations.”
BSAC’s dedication to diving safety and exploration, its contributions to historical and archaeological research, and the strong sense of community it fosters make it a shining example of what can be achieved through passion and collective effort!!
As we celebrate BSAC’s 70th anniversary, we want to acknowledge the contributions made by countless divers, snorkelers, instructors and volunteers who have shaped BSAC’s rich history. Their unwavering commitment to BSAC has inspired generations of divers to explore the depths and protect the oceans for years to come.
If you want to know more about our diving community – visit us at www.bsac.com
Check out the companion story by Mike Rowley and Nick Jewson: BSAC Technical
InDEPTH: The BSAC: A Broad Church With Wreck Webinars. Amen by Dominic Robinson
Lisa has been diving for over 25 years and has trained with BSAC and TDI. She is currently a BSAC OWI and First Class Diver, as well as a member of the BSAC Council. Lisa enjoys both wreck and reef dives and primarily dives on her rebreather. She dives all year round in the UK and after recently moving North is looking forward to exploring N.E. England diving a bit more. Alongside BSAC Lisa is also a RNLI water safety volunteer and the Vice Chair of the British Safety Diving group.
GUE 25 Anniversary Conference Round Up
Global Underwater Explorers held a conference to commemorate the organization’s 25th anniversary. Held at GUE headquarters in High Springs, Florida, where it was founded by a group of cave divers founded in 1998, the organization convened instructors and divers from all over the world to recall the people and diving technologies that shaped GUE, how they’ve changed over time, and how they’ll evolve in the future.
In addition to celebrating the occasion, GUE convened speakers to present on topics related to its three biggest priorities: Exploration, Education, Conservation.
Shipwreck explorer Mario Arena, for example, gave a presentation on the “Battle of Convoys in the Mediterranean,” his 16-year project discovering and documenting dozens of shipwrecks left behind by the three-year-long battle during World War II and how his team is bringing the wrecks back to life using new technologies.
Cave explorers Fred Devos, Julien Fortin, and Sam Meacham gave a presentation on their efforts to document Ox Bel Ha, the largest underwater cave system in Mexico, a project which is concurrently celebrating its 25th anniversary. The project started out with, as Meacham called it, “two chainsaws, a compressor, and a horse,” and has begun to resurvey 144 square miles of caves with advances in diving equipment. Advances as simple as upgrades to lightbulbs and batteries, for example, enable the explorers to see through new passages.
Bill Stone, a cave explorer and head of Stone Aerospace, discussed “Recent Advances in Machine Exploration,” chronically how he’s used machines to explore underwater caves farther than any human. Stone’s autonomous drone, called Sunfish, uses sonar mapping to produce 3D maps and models deeper than photogrammetry divers can dive.
Ulrik Juul Christensen, a founder and chairman of Bonaire’s Area9 Mastery Diving Research Center, is developing an adaptive learning education platform for GUE and has spent about as much time as the organization has been in existence building education technologies. Christensen’s talk, “Learning That Matters,” focused on how to create new systems to help educate learners at their own pace so that knowledge, and not speed, is the priority.
In a complementary presentation, Sean Talamas, a managing partner and executive coach at leadership development consulting firm, discussed “The Depth of Character: Cultivating Grit, and a Growth Mindset.” The presentation focused on research by Angela Duckworth suggesting success is not achieved through talent, but a combination of passion and persistence she called “grit.”
GUE Instructor Trainer Andrea Marassich gave a presentation on “Building Capacity for Extreme Explorations” about the Sa Conca e Locoli Cave Project in Sardinia, Italy. Learning, he suggested, happens when you go out of your comfort zone, but not all the way to what he called the “panic zone,” where you are overwhelmed to the point that you don’t learn but instead shut down and it becomes extremely dangerous.” “You need a mentor,” Marassich said. “Someone who knows you enough to push you when you need to be pushed and pull back when you need to pull back.”
These were just a few of the education- and exploration-focused presentations. Speakers also included Blue Green Expeditions Managing Partner Faith Ortins on how divers can support environmentally conscious destinations, Peter Gaertner on citizen science conducted in the Caves of Gulf of Orosei project, Daniel Ortego on the Marine Genome Project, and Neal W. Pollock on the physiological limitations of technology in diving.
Max Deco & Bubble Trouble entertained conference attendees at the Friday night social with a pre-dive playlist of classic rock. Band members: John Kendall vocals, Gary Franklin vocals, Bill Stone lead guitar, Andrew Dow guitar, Francesco Cameli bass, Michael Menduno bass, Jason Cook drums.
You can find the full conference photo album here.