LAST JUNE THE BBC RECOMMENDED that I obtain my HSE Professional Scuba qualification. They explained to me that through this course I would be shown how to use full-face masks that would be hard-wired for communications to the surface, so that I could ultimately present under water when doing media work.
This sounded so much fun that I looked into it straight away.
Following up the BBC’s recommendation, I joined my local BSAC club, and this turned out to be a great stepping-stone to getting my HSE qualification.
Initially, diving with the club allowed me not only to gain valuable experience and qualifications from some very well-respected divers, but also to find out who might be the best person to help me achieve my HSE qualification.
The consistent advice from within the club was that Tony Hillgrove from TH Diving Services in Plymouth would be the man for the job.
Tony has been training inshore/offshore scuba and mixed gas for 30 years, and has a lifetime of experience and knowledge under his weight-belt.
TH Diving has been running the HSE Professional Scuba course since 2003. For clarification, this course used to be called “Part 4”, and is still referred to in that way by many people.
This qualification is a requirement for media work for people both behind and in front of the camera. There are some inshore commercial-diving situations in which scuba-diving is allowed, whereas most commercial diving requires further surface-supply diving qualifications – so don’t expect to be working on oil rigs soon after this course!
The HSE Professional Scuba qualification also allows divers to work on scientific and archaeological surveys, another field of work I hope perhaps to explore later.
Fortunately, we are well served in Plymouth with watersports and diving centres and our very own DDRCHealthcare (formerly the Diving Diseases Research Centre, or DDRC).
Tony is well-connected and able to make the most of these services for classrooms, and also for the deeper dry dive that takes place at the hyperbaric chamber at DDRC.

THROUGH THE CRITERIA FOR THE QUALIFICATION we got to use Tony’s Kirby Morgan and Aga masks while learning our rope signals and how to use “comms” to the surface, and discovered the joys of solo diving.
I preferred the lighter, more open AGA mask to the Kirby Morgan model which, despite being heavy, was very comfortable. The Kirby Morgan can take some getting used to, as some of us found, especially those who need to pinch their nose to equalise.
We were so lucky to have flat seas and even some rarely witnessed sunny days for our course. We left our shore dives at Fort Bovisand harbour and headed out to the Breakwater to practise our new skills in deeper waters from a well-maintained hardboat, complete with hot jam doughnuts post-dive.
On day two of our dives at Breakwater Fort we were given a physical task to complete, involving the undoing of nuts and bolts.
I would highly recommend taking a lanyard onto which to tie the nuts, to prevent humiliation and constant jibing should you be unfortunate enough to drop and lose a nut!
We all felt well-prepared for the theory exams, because Tony has a great way of helping his students to remember facts with the help of various rude or funny mnemonics.
But what really impressed me and my fellow-trainees was the experience and skills of Tony and his supervisor and safety divers Nick and Darren.
They were great fun to be around and we had a really enjoyable week while learning huge amounts.
The pace was just right, and they knew when the jokes had to stop and were constantly on guard to ensure our safety and that we were all following procedure.
On the last day Darren brought in a lanyard he had spliced for me to attach my camera –
a lovely token and memento of the week in which I failed womankind by dropping a nut.
I have a strong affinity for Plymouth, so being in and around Bovisand and Mountbatten all week was a real treat. UK diving has so much potential, and every time I dive from Plymouth
I am overwhelmed by the marine possibilities we have right on our shores.
We even got to meet the living legend Ray Ives (famous for his film A Life Underwater) and now for founding the Diving Museum at Plymouth (News, October).
We were treated to his stories of naked deep diving and other experiences over his many years of being a commercial diver.
Before the course I was apprehensive of my ability to perform some of the complicated tasks expected. However, I was reassured to find that I had nothing to fear, thanks to a step-by-step process, some great and trustworthy people on my course, brilliant and supportive instructors and lovely weather to enhance a fantastic week of diving.
I would go so far as to say that even if you have no intention of working as a paid diver this is a great course to do to gain confidence and skills for your recreational diving. I feel more knowledgeable about the inherent risks associated with diving now, and also have a better idea for different safety practices that I am sure will enhance my diving on the South Devon coast.

Qualifications needed before taking the HSE Professional Scuba course are PADI Rescue Diver, CMAS 2* or BSAC Sports Diver. You also need a full HSE medical and to have done the three-day HSE First Aid at Work. This course with TH Diving Services lasts 8-9 days (it’s weather-dependent) and costs £1795. www.thdiving. co.uk, 01803 408200 / 07899 964161.