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Diving for All: the HSA Dive Buddy Course



The Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA) is dedicated to improving the physical and social well-being of people with disabilities through scuba diving and at Bolton Area Divers (BAD) we’ve just qualified ten HSA Dive Buddies to help us to open up scuba diving to those with disabilities.

It all started when Bolton Area Divers successfully ran Try Dives for children with disabilities. This inspired the BAD Dive Centre Manager, Shereen Roberts, to give all divers of all abilities the same opportunity to scuba dive. To achieve this, she contacted the HSA via Diveability as HSA gives certified training for disabled divers and Shereen and four other instructors from BAD went and received the HSA Instructor training from none other than the founder of HSA himself, Jim Gatacre.

Now, able to instruct in Bolton, Shereen asked the club members if any of us would like to be an HSA Dive Buddy and ten of us said “Yes!”. We were split into two teaching groups and I was part of the first. The theory element of the HSA Dive Buddy Course turned out to be a lot more detailed than I expected, in particular when it took us through the disabilities that can affect people, but in most cases, it was encouraging to find out that they could still go scuba diving!

The practical part of the HSA Dive Buddy Course involved us simulating three different disabilities (blindness, paraplegia and quadriplegia) in order to give us first-hand experience in dealing with different disabilities as well as a greater empathy for what it is like to dive with a disability.

We first started practising our skills in the pool before moving onto open water and before we did so, we all had to learn to communicate with blind divers by using tactile signalling. I was surprised at how little mollycoddling a disabled student would get – basically none! Even a blind diver would be expected to assemble their diving equipment without it being laid out in a specific way for them, therefore I was expected to kit up from all my equipment that had been hastily thrown into my mesh bag the night before, whilst using a blacked out mask and therefore unable to see. I’m very grateful for being familiar with my kit.

I found that I use my core muscles more often than I realised when I was trying to be the ‘paraplegic’ diver as I had to concentrate on not correcting my body position in the water and let my feet drag along the swimming pool bottom instead of instinctively keeping them up. My buddy and I also found that we equalise differently whilst we took turns being the ‘quadriplegic’ diver. My ears evidently needed to be equalised much more than my buddy’s and my nose is smaller than his – both factors led to me breaking out of character, swimming quickly to the surface and explaining that he was pinching just the tip of my nose and that was far from sufficient.

Pool skills completed, the next step was to repeat them in open water and open water meant Capernwray. In January. All of us, questioning our sanity about why we chose to do this in January, took turns kitting up once again as a blind diver, but this time we were each led to the end of the pier to do a giant stride, blind, into the water. When it was my turn, I learned that I have serious trust issues! Especially when I’m told that the edge of a pier is about one and half metres away. I literally inched my way to the edge from that point onwards. For the record the giant stride itself wasn’t a problem; just the 1.5m preceding it.

Over a cold two and a half hours we proceeded to replicate the skills we had practised in the pool. We found that controlling buoyancy of two people is difficult and that any positive or negative buoyancy had to be corrected immediately. We found that when simulating being blind, using gloves meant we were less sensitive to tactile signalling. We also found swimming without the use of our legs was very tiring whilst simulating being paraplegic. Having ironed out most issues in the pool, most of us found the quadriplegic simulation went smoothly, except for me as I had lost all feeling in my lips on account of being in cold water for over two and a half hours – orally inflating my buddy’s BCD after a CESA proved tricky. With the practical skills completed, we took a few days to thaw out and took the final test, which was thankfully multiple choice!

The HSA Dive Buddy Course was more than any of us expected. It took all of us out of our comfort zones and challenged us to be better divers, to be more considerate and aware and to hone our skills, especially our buoyancy. It also challenged our preconceptions on what people with disabilities are capable of…. I would highly recommend it.

Yo-Han Cha is a member of the Northern Underwater Photography Group and started taking underwater photos with a Canon Ixus 980 IS before upgrading to an Olympus OM-D EM-5 two years ago. He has a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry and works as a Network Engineer for a telecoms company, neither of which is relevant to his underwater photography. Well, the job pays for the kit and trips, so it’s kind of relevant. He learned to dive whilst backpacking in Australia as he thought it would be the best way to see the Great Barrier Reef, and when he got back, started diving in the UK as he wanted to dive with seals. He is a member of both Bolton Area Divers (PADI) and Manchester University Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) as he finds it difficult to turn down diving opportunities. He loves going diving and is usually at his happiest when either taking photographs of nudibranchs or of seals. He prefers scenic diving but concedes that wrecks make lovely artificial reefs.

Dive Training Blogs

Dream Dive Locker Build Out. Part I: Demolition (Watch Video)



It’s finally here! Time to start building the greatest dive locker the world has ever seen! Part I: Demolition! #dreamdivelocker

This is the first of a series of videos showing the evolution of building out my dream dive locker. My dream dive locker needs to be dive gear drying and storage, dry storage, workshop, office, editing suite, You Tube studio and classroom. That’s a lot of functions for a small space!

The first step is planning out the space and demolishing the laminate flooring. Then I taped up the walls to get a feel for the space. We have a lot of work to do!

But finally we will have a purpose built space to house all of our dive equipment! Subscribe to our channel to follow our progress! 

Thanks for watching, Team!


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Dive Training Blogs

5 Ways To Use Less Gas When Scuba Diving



5 Ways To Use Less Gas When Scuba Diving. There is no magic wand to having an amazing SAC rate. You have to do the work!

We’re covering how to perfect your core skills as a scuba diver to help you use your gas more efficiently, plus how the art of zen can help you breathe less gas whilst scuba diving.

How can I breath less gas whilst diving? A very common question I get asked all the time and on the subject of breathing itself. There is a right way and many different wrong ways to breath whilst scuba diving. I’ll explain the difference.

Thanks for watching, as always! D.S.D.O James

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