Dive planning needs to be meticulous, someone once compared it to planning a bank robbery. If you want it to run smooth and ensure everyone's happiness it pays to put effort into the planning phase.
As the army major would say, "poor planning = poor performance". Planning a dive needs to be meticulous, if this is your first one, get a senior diver to help you and plan well in advance, leaving things to the last minute will inevitably lead to chaos.
Follow these guidelines, which should address the many components of a successful dive trip. See also the full dive planning mind map.
Choosing a location
This is probably the most important aspect of any dive trip, check previous visits, reports, and experiences. If this is your first trip it is probably better to start with an area that is well known and liked by the club so get recommendations from other club members.
Pointers to consider:
- Diving - the diving should be interesting, reliable, with reasonable visibility and in protected water.
- Backup plans - consider a back up plan should weather or some other catastrophe mean that diving's off. Consider diving related activities e.g., a visit to the coastguard, maritime museum etc.
- Non-divers - if non-divers are going e.g., relatives, consider options that might make the trip interesting for them.
- Traveling time and costs - consider the costs and distance in getting to the location.
- Night life - there are usually some restaurants and pubs to go to. Remember you may need to book a table for the evening meal.
- Facilities - make sure these are easily accessible.
- Air or Nitrox
- Dive Shops (Spares etc)
- Car Parking both at the accommodation and the slip or harbour
- Launching slip
- Transport - this can lead to chaos in not planned well, consider transport implications for getting to the accommodation, to the slip, transport for air refills. Car sharing can cut costs for divers.
- Food - most important, if appropriate get pack lunches from your accommodation, some skippers will supply pack lunches for a small additional charge. Be wary of special diets such as vegetarian. Make sure the breakfast is scheduled with plenty of time to get to the boat.
- Security - loss of equipment will spoil the best trip so make sure it doesn't happen to you, find accommodation that has secure car parking. Avoid leaving equipment in unattended cars especially at night. If you are taking the Rib make sure the RIB and trailer are left secured.
- Accommodation - best to get recommendations from club members, alternatively, if you're planning on using a hard boat ask the skipper to recommend some good places to stay. Other sources of information are the Internet, directory enquiries or tourist information centres. When choosing accommodation consider the following:
- Drying facilities - these can be very useful for those, all too often, suit leaks.
- Keep the group together - it is far better to keep the group together in one location than have them spread over the town.
- Quality - most divers are happy with third class accommodation but there may be exceptions, check it out.
- Cost - most divers do not want to pay out too much.
- Car parking space - make sure there is ample and it is secure.
- Distance to the slip - make sure it's close.
- Emergency assistance - better to choose a site where access to emergency services such as the Coast Guards, ambulance or a recompression facilities is fast.
Choosing the date(s)
In choosing a date for your trip your first consideration is to schedule it on neap tides, next avoid clashes with other events or dive trips. Consider an extended weekend over a bank holiday. Whilst it is very difficult to predict the weather, plankton blooms and the likely sea state, certain locations can be dived in various sea conditions whilst others cannot, for an indication check out the clubs schedule for last year.
You will need to know when high and low water occurs, both at the slip (outgoing and incoming times) and the dive site. There are a number of ways of getting this information:
- Local dive tables.
- Admiralty tide tables.
- Computer programme's
Find out when slacks water occurs
Many diving books quote slack water times for dive sites with precarious currents. Another method is to use the tidal diamonds on the nautical chart.
Who should go
Make an early decision regarding the type of diving for this trip and also the minimum level of divers that can attend. Consider the following requirements:
- How many - minimum and maximum, the latter may be dictated by the boats capacity.
- Personalities - the last thing you want is tension during the weekend, make sure the party get along OK.
- Skill & experience mix.
- Special needs for any individual.
- Dive marshals.
There are a number of options to consider here. If you are chartering a vessel check out the following:
- Boat worthiness.
- Skipper skills/experience.
- Live aboard.
- Emergency equipment.
- Sonar, GPS and Radio
- Emergency dinghies
If it's the club boat there are a number of additional factors to consider:
- Avoid long sea journeys if:
- You have a full boat, as it can get very uncomfortable especially if sea conditions or the weather is bad.
- If separate waves of divers are planned.
- There are doubts about the RIB being a lone boat with a single engine.
- Carefully plan timings for launching and recovery of the boat, ensure that there is sufficient depth of water at the slip.
- Appoint someone to be in charge of the boat and responsible for its safety and return.
- Ensure that boat keys and associated equipment is available when you need them.
- Sufficient Cox'n's.
- Someone to tow it.
- Sufficient fuel.
- Launching vehicle, preferably a 4x4.
- Tides for boat launching and recovery, slack water.
- Check the following:
Make sure all participants are aware of the full costs of the following:
- Booking fees.
- Boat fees.
- Towing fees.
- Accommodation fees.
- Traveling expenses.
Where possible take a deposit from participants to pay booking fees etc.
Things to take
Make sure you have the following equipment on the trip:
- Oxygen equipment.
- Ropes, Buoys, Weights.
- Next of Kin details.
- Mobile telephone numbers
- Log Sheets.
- Local tide tables.
- Keys, maps, pens.
- First aid equipment.
Approximately two weeks before the trip arrange a dive briefing session at the club. Use this to let everyone know the plan and what is expected of them. Include:
- Expected dates, location, timings, costs, arrival times, time at slip etc.
- Accommodation details including telephone numbers, special requirements etc.
- As the dive organiser you will be expected to check membership, medicals and Next of Kin details.
- Information sheets, maps, dive details, wrecks, location of air etc.
- Non-diver attractions and fall back plan in case of bad weather.
- Contact numbers including emergency contact numbers.
- Divers attending.
- Confirm all costs. It may be worth considering members contribute to a kitty, this may make things easier and help evenly spread the incidental costs such as launch fees, parking fees, air or lunches etc.
- Agree any car sharing.
It is also a good idea to allocate certain responsibilities to divers for each day, this may help to make divers feel part of it, this might include responsibilities for:
- Organising and collecting lunches.
- Any financial matters.
- Getting the cylinders recharged.
- Record keeping e.g., dive sheets.
Choosing the actual dives
When planning a dive, plan with contingencies in mind, always have a back up plan. Decide the main objectives of the trip, e.g., scenic diving, specific training, deep wreck diving. As a general principle make the diving safe but challenging and interesting.
Any dive must suit the capabilities of all the divers on the trip. A good approach is to get firm bookings (cash deposits) very early so all the divers are known. When deciding the dives find out each participant's:
- Diving preferences e.g., drifts, scenic, wrecks, teaching, photography etc.
- Number of dives each diver has attained,.
- Date of last dive.
- Preferred breathing gas (air, Nitrox etc).
- Maximum depth they have dived.
- Training needs.
- Susceptibility of divers to seasickness.
With this in mind and the maximum depths allowed by the BSAC at each level you should be able to choose some good safe dives.
Additional information can be obtained from the Internet, magazines, books, hard boat skippers, club members,
Consider these factors:
- The possibility of getting two cylinders for each diver, alleviating the need to come back to shore for refills.
- Sea conditions, duration of voyage. It is important to avoid seasickness.
- Weather, remember a force 4 is BSAC maximum. If the wind is offshore, stay closer inshore for shelter. Be aware that 'wind against tide' makes bigger waves than wind running with tide, so the swell or waves may change as the tide changes even if the weather remains the same.
- Amount of space on board.
- Exit ladders - some can be very difficult with twin sets etc.
- Availability of packed lunches, if the weather is not good; pick a site where you can lunch in a sheltered area.
- If there are several waves of divers, don't choose sites a long way from slip and/or pick-up point.
After the trip
It's a good idea after the trip to evaluate what went well and what didn't. Review whether the original objectives were achieved and identify any lessons learned. Document useful information for the next trip organiser.