By Mark Kelly & Elaine Hendry
Keeping the momentum going
When lockdown started at the end of March, we had just completed an Ocean Diver course but our Sport Diver trainees were only part way through their theory training. We quickly shifted to Zoom, and, once SD was done, ran as much of the Dive Leader theory as we felt could be done online.
After checking with BSAC, we even managed to set theory exams, with members using an app to complete their test.
Finally, we ran some ‘special interest’ sessions covering topics that would help people become a more ‘complete Clidiver’. We’re now busy dreaming up new online sessions and talks that will keep members engaged over the winter months.
A cautious start
All of this helped to keep the momentum going to some extent, but what about the practical skills?
Well, when we first heard that pools in England might reopen in July, the Diving Officer and the Training team initially reacted with caution. Would we be able to run pool sessions safely? Would we be able to resume training? Would anybody actually want to come?
We quickly agreed that we would not rush into anything. We would get to grips with the guidelines from BSAC and work closely with the staff at Ironmonger Row Baths (IRB) to make sure we could comply with their procedures. If IRB weren’t ready for us to return, we would bide our time.
The importance of trust
Clidive has been using IRB week in, week out for 50 years now and has established a friendly and trusting relationship that proved invaluable in these unusual circumstances.
Having shared the BSAC guidelines with the pool manager, at the end of July we visited for a walk-through of their new COVID-secure system. Mark then wrote a one-page briefing for pool instructors and Rebecca produced a set of guidelines for the kit cupboard volunteers.
Our first session on 4 August was very much a pilot, with just a couple of people coming in to test kit. On week two, one of our SD trainees practised some skills with instructor John Davies, under the watchful eye of the training team to ensure social distancing was maintained.
The system seemed to work, and now Mark has started Sports Diver pool work – minus rescue breaths! – and we’ve opened up the swimming lane again for members.
So what has changed? Well, firstly, all pool users must attend with their swimming costume under their clothes; there is a one-way system in place; and there is no access to changing rooms on the way in. Users leave their outdoor clothing on chairs set at intervals around the small teaching pool before making their way to the main pool. Pool users can, however, use the changing rooms and showers on the way out.
The good news is that currently the gym closes early and we have the whole IRB complex to ourselves from 8pm to 9pm. However, we can’t sit around in the foyer or use any other rooms.
Clidive’s new regime
Under Mark’s system, we brief Clidivers outside the pool at 7.30pm and make sure that the kit cupboard volunteer knows what kit everybody needs. Only the equipment officer and the volunteer can access the cupboard on a Thursday, and, using the gloves provided, they prepare an Ikea bag of kit for each diver, which they place at the bottom of the stairs.
While by the pool, everybody maintains social distancing (unless they are from the same household). Those of us not going in the pool follow the normal guidance on mask wearing.
Once in the pool but still on the surface, we still keep our distance and keep talking to the minimum. One benefit is that instructors now need to be much more disciplined about teaching most of the lesson underwater using demonstration and hand-signals.
Chlorinated pool water kills the coronavirus, so we can work as buddy pairs and practise rescue skills. But there can be no reg sharing and we have to minimise close contact on the surface. At the end of the session, the regs don’t have to be disinfected but can be rinsed thoroughly in pool water. We do, however, have disinfectant available just in case.
Divers put their washed kit back in their Ikea bag and put a colour-coded contents tag on their cylinder before leaving both outside the kit cupboard. The volunteer then hangs it all up to dry in isolation until the following week.
Either Mark or Elaine is present at every session to do the pre-briefing, remind everybody how things work and ensure compliance throughout the session. We quickly noticed that we all readily revert to normal behaviour, offering to help others with kit and so on, so it’s important to have somebody there to oversee each session.
We have had plenty of enquiries from people keen to do something new after lockdown and we thought about running try dives and a new Ocean Diver course. But training from scratch requires close contact, so we have decided that it just isn’t practical for the moment.
We’re also a bit stymied on open water training, as most of our OD trainees rely on hiring wetsuits for those first dives, and most dive shops aren’t hiring any kit for the moment.
A new Sports Diver course
We have, however, decided that we can run another Sports Diver course, which will start at the end of September (contact firstname.lastname@example.org). The theory will continue on Zoom, as there isn’t a COVID-suitable teaching space at the pool.
Zoom does offer some advantages: we can run theory classes on a different night of the week and it’s a lot easier to schedule one-to-one catch-ups for anybody who misses a class. The instructors have become more creative with their visual aids as you need to work harder to keep people’s attention over Zoom. We have also used ‘break-out rooms’ for more interactive sessions.
Clidive has always been an active training club, but one that also takes its members safety very seriously. We will continue to be cautious and promote compliance, but we won’t let a little thing like a global pandemic stop us!
Key points for Covid-secure diver pool training
- Manage students in small groups, or household bubbles
- Issue a set of dive kit to a student for the session in an Ikea bag
- Conduct a pre-briefing before entering IRB to explain Covid-secure waterside/poolside/kit room routine before session
- Make maximum use of demo-do using social distancing and conduct as much of the lesson underwater as possible
- Keep masks on/regs in for surface work (eg after CBLs)
- No regulator sharing (incl. dry runs)
- No simulated rescue-breath training (e.g. when performing CBL)
- Use extended-arm tows, holding kit not person