Challenging, requiring commitment, often in harsh conditions and definitely not for those used to tropical diving! Diving here is both a labour of love and often has a thing ortwo to teach even the veterans amongst us. Tidal Charts should be consulted prior to diving offshore as the tides here are severe. In terms of expense for gear rental and dive trips it can get to be wallet unfriendly compared with other countries yet the second hand market thrives as divers are often after cheap bargains. Coral formations do exist in certain locations but don't expect the touristy/tropical type with bright colours and patterns. Wrecks are in an abundance in UK waters (partly due to WW1 & 2!), visibility is typically quite low and distinct with the exception of a few areas. These areas are : The South, South-Westerly and the North Westerly extremities of Britain and off outlying islands. Marine life is varied and with the greatest variety in the South West and North West. UK is the Home of BSAC and SSAC organisations and as expected they are the principle factions.
To explore the realms of England, Scotland and Wales click on the respective section of the map for further information or use the left hand nav. bar...
Starting in the north-east of England (Near Middlesborough) and circling the coast in a clockwise fashion. I will pick out the main 'focus' and dive centers consequently I may miss a few areas out. To start with lying just of the Cumbrian Coast is the Farne Islands, diving is excellent with clear water and depths of around 20m. Strong tidal streams are present, the outer Isles have plenty of resident seals and seabirds can be seen above and below water!
Yorkshire coast: This is heavily dived by local divers, most notable areas include Flamborough Head and Filey Brig. Offshore are several wrecks, though vis. is often quite poor but can improve considerably. Generally the Seabed slopes out to sea gently and the whole coast here is exposed to the capricious nature of the North Sea!
The South East Coast: From the Wash to the Isle of Wight is not very promising I'm afraid as the visibility and depth are disappointing for the coastline is relatively shallow. That said the area has been the scene of Maritime activity over the years and is of interest those who pursue shipwrecks. On a historical note King John of England many years ago lost his entire baggage train in the Wash and to this day no-one has found it...
The South Coast of England: More rugged and the deeper water takes hold as you move further west. The deep wrecks in the English Channel provide challenging diving for many of the local diving groups, Weymouth is considered a large center for much of the diving activity that takes place around its shores.
South West England: Devon and Dorset have a more interesting coast for divers with rocky headlands and bays more evident. General visibility improves as does marine life the further west you travel. Diving facilities in this part of the country are very good and divers from all over the country (and the world) travel here due to its popularity. Cornwall in particular is renowned for the wrecks, dive sites and prolific marine life at a variety of depths. Visibility is considered very good but it varies (something I can testify too!). Tidal streams are strong and there are many dangerous reefs. The Scilly Isles are off the coast of Cornwall and the vis. here is excellent also, there are wrecks but most of these are well broken up due to the relatively shallow depths.
Further North from the SW is the Isle of Lundy in the Bristol Channel. The isle yields superb diving with rocky walls teeming with marine life. The Isle itself is a marine reserve. West Wales is a decent spot for with diving taking place around rocky headlands and the isles of Skokholm and Skomer. Vis. is good and marine life is plentiful at all depths. Tidal Streams are significant here.
Anglesy and North Wales are popular with divers from northern England, as well as North Wales. The Lleyn peninsular also has pleasant diving. The vis. can be disappointing but there are many wrecks. Anglesy, being an Island offers shelter whatever the weather conditions making it a useful 'fall back' site when other dive sites are too dangerous to dive.
North West England has poor diving conditions, it is heavily industrialised with the waters vis suffering accordingly, also there is little or no sheltered areas that make decent dive sites. The Solway Firth, off the Cumbrian coast also yields disappointing diving. the Isle of Mann however is a good place for diving activity due to the sheltered nature of the dive sites. Marine life and tides are much in evidence.
Northern Ireland: Has good diving, the west coast of NI in particular. Wrecks and marine life are in great in number here as it has a number off sheltered outlets and bays. Further down The West coast of Island the shores are heavily exposed to Atlantic Swell and Stormy seas battering at the coastline. Tides and visibility can therefore be of some magnitude. On that note though this would be a perfect location to launch deep water ocean dive operations.
Scotland: The greater Clyde Estuary in SW Scotland is very popular with local divers as there are many large, deep wrecks due in part because it is a major shipping lane. Visibility is moderate to poor with the deeper wrecks being predictably very dark. Marine life is poor.
Western Seaboard has legendary diving amidst clear waters with superb vis. Rocky shoals and cliffs water swept by the tidal stream sweep the imagination. Arguably considered (depending on which side of the English/Scottish border you live!) the best area of Britain to dive. Most of this coastline has the advantage of being sheltered.
The Inner Hebrides of Islay and Jura provide excellent diving. Islay is flat but has its own diving centre. It has strong tides and many wrecks (albeit broken up). The area centered around Oban (in which we include the Inner Hebrides of Mull, Coll and Tiree, together with the major inlet of Loch Linnhe and its associated sea lochs) is extremely popular with divers. The diving is first rate, has many wrecks, visibility of 50 meters and good shelter in the case of bad weather. The islands of Rum, Muck, Eigg, Skye and Canna all offer exceptional diving in very clear waters with huge submarine walls and a load of wrecks. Tidal streams are quite strong with surges in places and even whirlpools occur around here! Still following me after all this? Good!
North West coast of Scotland is a good location for diving with profuse marine life and excellent vis.
The Outer Hebrides are well known for their clear waters. The Southern end of the Outer Hebrides consists of a string of small islands offering memorable diving. The northern tip of Lewis - known as the 'Butt of Lewis' offers some of the best shallow water scenic diving in UK waters. Tiny islets lying west and north of the Outer Hebrides - Rockall, St Kilda and Flannagan Isles, Sulasgeir, North Rona, Sule Skerry and Stack Skerry - offer, perhaps Britains finest diving. St Kilda is the jewel in the crown of these dive sites, beyond argument , it offers the best scenic diving in the North European waters. It has rock scenery above and below the water line which almost defies description. Submarine walls, overhangs, archways, tunnels and caves leave nothing to be desired. They are challenging, visibility can reach near-ocean water standard (60m+), the marine life is profuse and colourful with deep waters. the only drawback to this 'divers eldorado' are the remoteness and the resources required to make a dive trip worthwhile.
The north coast of Scotland has very good scenic diving, running from the cliffs of Cape Wrath to the vast tidal areas of the Pentland Firth.
Orkney has good diving in clear water, with large numbers of wrecks scattered amongst the northern isles. Tides and depths can be significant here. Scapa Flow lies at the south of the Orkney Isles and is too good to miss. Considered the Mecca of Wreck diving it is highly regarded as a wreck divers Nirvana! The largest concentration of shipwrecks in the world lies at the sea bed here. Seven enormous wrecks remain along with numerous others.
The Shetland Islands is a decent choice with conditions and dive sites likened to St Kilda - Worth a look.
The eastern seaboard of Scotland offers disappointing diving. Generally it is poor vis, muddy and the depths only gradually falling out to sea. The Firth of Forth has poor vis also but many wrecks are here making it popular with local divers.
Freshwater sites are an important place for training divers in England. Quarrys and lakes offer reasonable vis and make for good training facilities. Most lakes in England and Wales are murky with little life. The lochs of Scotland are dived infrequently, most are very deep, brown and full of peaty water. Flooded gravel pits and quarries provide popular training sites, a prime example of this is Stoney Cove in Leicestershire.
The UK 'enjoys' warm but short summers and cold winters. Most crucially though is the water temperature and sea conditions. To those who have never experienced the unique, 'exquisite' sensation of English Channel/North Sea/North Atlantic waters should take heed to the expletives often shouted by rookie divers just starting/finishing a dive! BSAC Club lore often mentions (amid much laughter and mirth) the folly and naivety shown just before novice warm water divers (strangers to temperate water conditions and often only wearing wetsuits with no hoods!) entering the water.
British people are often noted for referring to the weather in conversation, the reason why it seems so important is its unpredictability. In other parts of the world the weather can be stable and predictable for weeks at a time. Weather here can often play havoc with even the most carefully laid plans. There is a scientific reason for the harsh weather in winter but that's covered elsewhere.
In summer the waters are warmed up a certain degree though inland lakes and lochs tend to remain very cold year round being affected minimally. Longer days and shorter nights also mean this time of year (May-June to Sept-Oct) is more popular with divers. As a result dive sites tend to be more crowded. Sea fog is a problem in the North Sea in the summer months also.
Conversely in winter the sea temperature drops sharply and waters tend to be more rougher with a common 'cruel gray' look to the sky and sea. Most dive sites are almost deserted in winter months and visability can improve slightly.
The prevailing wind direction is South Westerly (remember that wind direction always refers to the direction it blows from i.e Westerly wind will blow from the west to the east).
Weather reports are excellent but note that the longer the prediction the less accurate it becomes, as a general rule of thumb trust in the first 24 hrs then become wary. BBC Radio 4 gives pressure readings, wind strength and surface visibility for each sea area.
If in doubt, Don't Dive!
The Dive Scene in Britain is typically well governed, regulated and safety driven. The main groups of divers are Club, Company and Independent based. The BSAC organisation (club) has the lions share of dive operations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. BSAC clubs dotted throughout the UK tend to encompass resident divers who live locally to dive sites in their area some are well funded and organised to travel to decent dive sites in UK overseas on dive trips.
BSAC dive clubs are a good idea for people wanting to learn diving who live nearby, most clubs have their own RIB and a towing vehicle to conduct dive local trips. BSAC clubs are run by Branch Officers (volunteers) at the week-ends and holidays when divers normally meet-up for diving and training activities. For this reason I wouldn't strongly recommend them if your after quick and no-nonsense diving (unless the club is resort organised - unusual for the UK). That said longer more drawn out training times and the benefit of mixing with the BSAC community almost always provides a wealth of knowledge and experience surpassing that of a short course with a dive company. Having paid your dues and club fees then the typical diver will/should enjoy diving on the week-ends, training and perhaps the chance to go on a diving trip abroad. This all depends on a combination of factors, the most prominent being how much financial 'clout' the club has to wield!
A good resource for getting in touch with a club in your area is the BSAC website.
Company based outfits or Dive Schools are there to make money from diving, its that simple. You pay, they provide. They tend not to have the ethos and 'esprit de corps' that typifies BSAC clubs. However they are often sharp, business-like and eager to keep the customer happy. The dive instructors are paid workers there to fulfil a role and this they do not take lightly. In the long term diving/training via a dive company is much more expensive than utilising a dive club but for folk with a short amount of time on their hands and a wish to sample the 'glamorous' UK waters then they can be good option.
The PADI website can locate a local organisation for your chosen area of diving.
So you've got Company and Club styles of diving but what about the divers who don't want to spend lots of cash on the Dive companies and/or live nowhere near a dive club. Well if you're already a diver you'll probably know this answer. Dive off your own resources. First you should be experienced enough to fully organise, plan and carry-out a days diving. You'll need all your own dive gear, plus an air cylinder (obviously!) and a means of getting out to the dive site which can vary from your own two legs to a fully fledged liveaboart dive cruiser! Unless you're a solo diver you'll need a buddy, the on-line forums/newsgroups/bulletin boards often have independent spirited divers posting messages for dive buddies/companions for diving trip. This option is often a purists favourite and there are benefits, especially if you and your buddy come from the same area as he/she can go halves on fuel costs!
Hyperbaric Chambers are available in the event of an emergency. To date there are about 28 chambers in the UK.
For Advice on Diving Related Incidents phone : 07831 151 523