HSE Scuba Commercial Diver Course

After many years of diving, and having a rather interesting job with a large television broadcaster, I found myself being sent on a commercial diving course.

There are several prerequisites to being a commercial diver. You have to be fit enough to pass a medical every 12 months. The medical includes lung function, blood, hearing, ECG and a step-up exercise tests.

Next was the recompression chamber appreciation. In the commercial world surface decompression is practised and an understanding of how these chambers work is a important.

Recompression Chamber

The session includes some fundamental theory about decompression sickness and recompression profiles. There is an explanation of the chamber function, a dry dive to 40m and the chance to operate it under supervision. They also tell you about materials that are not allowed in the chamber. The use of O2 under pressure means there is a risk of fire, although minimal, and list includes oil, nylon clothes, cigarette lighters and amazingly biro pens.


Next - First Aid at work. Fortunately I’d already completely similar training through work and was exempted.

The HSE Scuba course

I opted to train with Andark in Southampton (http://www.andark.co.uk/diving/hse-pro-scuba/). This company has diversified widely. They do commercial operations and a wide variety of training not only in diving but also underwater escape for Oil Rig workers and sailors.

To successfully pass the course you have to complete an A4 folder full of competencies; each to be progressively dated and signed. You also have to pass four theory exams with an 80% pass mark. The papers are for SCUBA Diving, US Navy tables, Canadian tables and HSE legislation. Much of the theory learning is by reading the dive manuals and all the course papers Andark provide. Each evening I would go to the pub for dinner and have my books out on the table studying while I waited for the meal to arrive.

Joining me on the course were Bernie Saupe and Danni Seliger. Bernie is ex army and is a very fit endurance athlete and personal trainer. He had never done any sports diving and had just completed his PADI dive training before joining the course.

Bernie Saupe

Bernie Saupe

Danni Seliger

Danni Seliger

Danni is from Denmark. He is in the process of completing a thesis in marine archaeology and spent last summer working an ancient wreck in Poole harbour. It is hard to make living working in marine archaeology and so he plans to be a commercial diver and do the archaeology where he can.

It was the beginning of February 2011. Much of the diving was conducted in Vobster Quay (http://www.vobster.com/) near Bath. This flooded stone quarry never gets that warm even in the summer. At that time the water temperature reached no more than 5ºC. We dived with 7mm neoprene drysuits with undersuits and 5mm hood and gloves. Even then it was cold! Our lead instructor was Marc Botterill, ably assisted by Jeff Emmerson and Alan Lamblin our standby diver.

Jeff Emmerson

Jeff Emmerson

Marc Botterill

Marc Botterill

Alan Lamblin

Alan Lamblin


We quickly moved on from using regular aqualung and half mask to using the Interspiro full face mask. The face mask has five point strapping, can be fitted with either wireless or cabled communication and has a neat block of rubber that you shove up under your nose to aid ear clearing. There’s one big snag, it only comes in one size and my face was the wrong shape. On many of the dives air would exhale past the mask seal into my hood causing big buoyancy problems as it blew up my hood like a balloon.

Nigel in full face mask

Interspiro full face mask

Bernie tenders Dannii

Bernie acting as tender dressing Dannii

Apparently using a smooth lining hood inside out and the mask on top is a good solution. Unfortunately I didn’t have one so borrowed a hood and knifed a hole to let the air out instead. We assisted each other to dress into the kit and to run through and report the safety and bailout checks to the Dive Supervisor (Marc). We also took it in turn to act as surface standby diver.

Each day was a different exercise. The worse one for me was the navigation. Bernie and I dived together. One had an SMB, the other a compass. Using the radio comms we were given bearings and maximum depths to navigate. It should have been easy except with my mask leaking and poor buoyancy control it was a nightmare. As I swam I held the mask in place and swept the air from my hood. We both succeeded but by the time we got back to 5m I was hugging a rock and cursing! Marc then decided to throw a rescue scenario at me. “Topside Diver 2 we have lost comms with Diver 1”. Clearing as much air from my hood I swam down Bernie’s lifeline. “Topside, Diver 2. Diver 1 is unconscious but breathing. Please assist me up”. Naturally I get no reply from Topside and had to resort to 4 pulls and 2 bells on Bernie’s lifeline as an alternative signal to assist me up. These diver rescue scenarios were played out many times over the next two weeks in Vobster and a mud hole called the Hamble River.


Bernie as Standby diver

Johnny no mates Standby Diver

Dexion box dive


One of the best exercises we did was building a box from dexion frame. We were now diving in harnesses with no BCs and cabled comms. Danni, Bernie and I dived in sequence so much of the time we dived solo. It is surprising how hard it is to fit dexion together with nuts and bolts when wearing gloves and your finger tips are numb with the cold. By the time I got in the frame had been built and pretty much dismantled again by Danni and Bernie. This time my mask didn’t leak and I went to work with vigour. I got the top and bottom parts of the frames built and then started on the uprights. My fingers were getting really numb and I kept dropping the nuts. Even though my face was only inches from the gravel bottom finding the little suckers was not easy. Unfortunately I ran out of time, but I had enjoyed myself!

We went on night dives; a 27m solo dive surveying a car; roped diver dive and a survey dive where we mapped objects underwater by taking measurements and triangulating. The final day’s diving was two sea dives on a hard boat in Portland Harbour. Although sea conditions were smooth as we left Weymouth by the time we dived it was raining and quite rough. Shame for those staying topside!

The plan was to survey the Landing Craft up against the sea wall and to dive the Countess of Erne. This was very much my backyard. We descended the sea wall and found nothing but sand at the bottom. I had noticed a slight drift before diving so turned left and ran along the sea wall. We quickly found the Landing Craft and did our survey.

By the time we were back onboard the boat I think the others were not enjoying the journey so much. Marc suggested instead of diving the Countess we should do a quick turnaround and dive the Dredger. I hate the Dredger so Marc agreed that 20 minutes was enough to get signed off. Unfortunately the Dredger lived up to my expectations, it was rubbish but at least it had stopped raining by the time we got back.

Portland Harbour dive


The final day was the HSE legislation exam, which was a total bitch, but we all passed. Just for luck Marc had Alan fake falling down stairs and breaking an ankle to test our First Aid skills.

It was a great course, well taught and I learnt a lot. My thanks to Marc and his team at Andark; and to Danni and Bernie for being such great company.

Nigel Ealand and Danni Seliger

Danni Seliger and Nigel Ealand prepare to dive the Hamble River, Southampton