Going on an expedition
Pushing your diving boundaries, venturing into the unknown, discovering a new wreck, conducting vital underwater research – there are many reasons why divers enjoy the challenge of expedition diving. From one-day simple dive site surveys, to detailed underwater research projects that can take years to complete, expedition diving is something we can all take part in regardless of qualification and experience. It adds a purpose to your diving, which can be extremely rewarding and often greatly develop divers’ experience and skills. Expedition diving has always featured highly in BSAC diving for this reason and is greatly encouraged by the club. The club even launched its own expedition grant scheme to help fund projects by members home and abroad.
From the discovery and survey of the wreck of the Mary Rose in the Solent to tagging of threatened hammerhead sharks off Cocos Island off South America, BSAC divers are often found at the very heart of major British-run underwater expeditions.
‘A diving expedition is a group going diving for a purpose outside the average club dive or holiday, according to BSAC’s national expedition officer Andy Hunt. ‘This includes diving that extends your personal diving experiences, takes more effort to organise, and ventures somewhere they haven’t been before. Something that maybe takes you out of your comfort zone.’
Organising a successful expedition is more challenging than planning a standard club trip. BSAC’s expedition team shares its ten steps to organising an expedition…
The first step to organising an expedition is to work out the purpose of the trip. ‘Have a clear goal that the expedition team are aiming for and one that you think you can achieve,’ says Andy. ‘Once you know where you want to go, you just have to figure out how to get there.’
The most common reasons for launching expeditions include finding a new wreck, diving previously unknown sites, survey and mapping of wrecks and reef and wildlife research. Whatever the reason for the expedition, you need to clearly define what it is you are out to achieve. If your aim is to identify an unknown wreck, then you will need to work out what features of the vessel will help you do this.
Another major reason for expeditions is training or advancing skills. However, if the purpose of the expedition is to extend a diver’s own range of diving skills, it is recommended that the number of aims of an expedition are kept to a minimum to avoid task loading.
‘This is particularly important for training expeditions where the focus should be on the development of the diver rather than other purposes, which may distract and even become a safety issue,’ he adds. Technical-diving expeditions generally require more in-depth planning and preparation and cost.
Research is often the difference between a successful expedition and a failure. You need to work out if the expedition is viable, how long it will take, what equipment is likely to be needed and the size and skills of the expedition team.
‘Write down some initial background information on your expedition, such as dive site, dates, time, likely cost, qualifications required,’ says Andy. ‘This will help you inform others of what you are planning to do, particularly potential team members.’
Research is particularly important when pinpointing dive sites. It is vital to research sites before you go. Collect as much information as you can, such as photographs, plans and chart positions.
‘Modern electronics can get you within metres of a desired position but it doesn’t mean that you have the right position,’ says Andy. ‘Do your research thoroughly, and remember: position approximate means just that. You’re likely to need more than a bog-standard echo sounder to find the wreck site on arrival.’
3 THE TEAM
The more complex the expedition aims and advanced the diving, the greater the skills you will need from the team. The expedition leader has responsibility for the overall management of the expedition and needs to be the central point of communication. The leader needs to know the diving qualification experience of each team member and make sure these meet the requirements of the expedition.
Delegating tasks throughout the team is key, particularly on lengthy expeditions, where it is worthwhile appointing dive managers for particular parts of the project or dives.
Andy says: ‘Having individuals with the right attitude and skills is most important. Put together a team who are committed to helping achieve the aims of the expedition and prepared to muck in and help, especially when the going gets tough. Get deposits to get commitment.’
From travel and accommodation, to food and cylinder fills, all costs of the expedition need to be calculated carefully. Andy recommends: ‘All expeditions cost money and this needs management. It might be one of the less glamorous jobs but is vitally important, especially if you have obtained external funding. Delegate the task of counting the beans to an expedition treasurer. Set a realistic budget and build in a contingency; it is easier to give money back than to go begging for more. Make sure you have adequate insurance cover, particularly when travelling abroad.’
The BSAC Expeditionary Grants Scheme (BEGS) and the BSAC Jubilee Trust are two available sources of funding for expeditions. Another way of funding may be through sponsors, such as kit manufacturers.
5 DIVE PLANNING AND LOGISTICS
The expedition itself is just the tip of the iceberg. Preparation and planning are the engines which enable the expedition to work well. This includes diving preparation, such as build-up dives and reviews of essential dive skills. Before the expedition you will need to organise meetings and come up with a detailed plan. During the expedition, you need to plan for dive management, site location techniques and a daily routine.
This will cover financing the expedition, such as sources of funding and control of costs to travel, accommodation, catering, equipment required. Detailed risk assessments are a must.
‘Plan everything in detail from the moment you step out of your front door to stepping back in,’ says Andy. ‘Figure out in advance what you will do if something doesn’t go to plan. What if the boat breaks down? What if a team member drops out? What if the trailer wheel falls off? Be prepared so when, not if, things don’t go to plan, you’ll be able to formulate contingency plans easily.’
6 MEDICAL EMERGENCIES
Part of your risk assessment will include details of emergency procedures and what medical help is available.
‘Make sure the whole team know what to do if someone requires medical treatment,’ recommends Andy. ‘Remember to consider that it may not be a diving-related condition and that communications to the rescue services are likely to be poor in remote areas (even in the UK). If you’re going somewhere really remote, you may well want to have suitably equipped doctors and paramedics on your team.’
Good communication between the team is essential, particularly when undertaking complex expeditions.
‘Keep your team informed and make sure they inform you,’ adds Andy. ‘At the planning stage, emails alone are usually not enough. Face-to-face meetings can go a long way to making progress and getting to know the personality of the team.’
8 LOCAL CONTACTS
Establishing contacts within the community where the expedition will take place will prove an excellent source of knowledge and help with any problems encountered.
‘Developing good local contacts where the expedition is based can prove invaluable in making the expedition possible in the first place, or help fix things when they break,’ says Andy. ‘In the more remote locations, it is likely someone from the local community will be able to fix broken equipment for a small charge.’
9 CREATURE COMFORTS
Expedition diving is not all about roughing it, says Andy. ‘Expedition diving does not mean having to camp and catch all your own food – though, for some locations, you may have to. Good accommodation and food maintain morale and help ensure your team can concentrate on the expedition.’
Document the expedition and put together a report. This is a requirement for some expeditions. Keeping a diary is useful for this purpose. A report will also help other divers to plan for similar expeditions.
- Passport and visas
- Joining instructions and contact details
- Diving qualifications
- Boat handling qualifications
- Travel documents
- Diving emergency insurance documents
- Travel insurance documents
- Medication (and any supporting paperwork)
- Mobile phone
- Sleeping mat
- Sleeping bag
- Towel and tea towel
- Waterproof coat
- Hat and gloves
- Warm clothing
- Suitable stout walking footwear
- Sun block
- Dry bag
- Thermos flask
- Drinks container
- Lights/torches and batteries
- Plastic plate, plastic cup, knife, fork, spoon
- Boats (fully operational)
- Spare fuel tanks
- Engine oil for two-stroke engines
- Trailers (fully operational)
- Third-party boat insurance
- VHF radio
GAS BLENDING EQUIPMENT
- Oxygen/helium bottles
- Decanting equipment
- Oxygen analyser
- Helium analyser
- Laptop with blending software
- Blending tables
SITE LOCATION AND MARKING
- Laminated GPS co-ordinates
- GPS and echo sounder
- Side-scan sonar
- Shot-lines and buoys
- Decompression trapeze
PERSONAL DIVING KIT
- Cylinders for two dives
- Pony cylinder
- Stab jacket/wing
- Weight belt
- Woolly bear
- Net cutter/knife
- Torch (chargeable/bring batteries)
- Talcum powder
- Spare kit
- Boat coat, hat and gloves
PERSONAL LOCATION AIDS
- Collapsible hi-visibility flag
- Delayed SMB and reel
- Spare SMB
- Reserve torch
- Personal flares
- Expedition member details (sealed)
- Oxygen first-aid kits
- First-aid kit
- Advanced medical equipment
- Satellite phone
- Charts and nautical almanacs Tide tables
- Decompression tables
- Laptop with deco software
- Extension leads and plug adaptors
- Breakdown insurance (inc. trailers)