DIVER BRAND OF THE YEAR

Which badge on your dive gear speaks volumes about quality and reliability? That’s the question we ask you every year, and it’s interesting how the ultimate title keeps shifting over the years between the same handful of top names – the badges you wear with pride on your dive-gear.

WINNER The Apeks brand has triumphed this year – long associated with reliable regulators, it is now recognised as a maker of a diverse range of equipment. Never a company to rest on its laurels, over the past year we have seen it launching products that have earned the approval of UK technical divers among others. By maintaining a clear commitment to quality, reliability and innovation with dive-gear that’s stylish and fit for purpose, it has attracted the lion’s share of your votes.

SECOND For the third time in the past four years Suunto has taken the runner-up spot (it won in 2014), and that is especially commendable considering that it is pretty much synonymous with dive-computers, unlike some of its more diversified rivals.
Its instruments run the gamut from entry-level to advanced mixed-gas, and one of its trump cards is its unusually high level of aftercare (we see the appreciative letters from readers!). As long as that continues, the guys from Alton will always be contenders.

THIRD Scubapro is usually in the top three in this category, and topped it last year. A favourite with UK divers, the Scubapro research and development team continues to produce innovative products in a range that covers everything from fins, masks and regulators to instrumentation, BCs, exposure protection and lighting. For DIVER Tester Nigel Wade, the latest Scubapro product is always going to be of special interest.

DIVER PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Which do you consider the most exciting item of kit to emerge in 2016? We understand that many of you have not necessarily bought new kit over the past year – why should you if your existing gear is doing the job? However, we’re happy to sift out from your votes what’s new and what isn’t.

WINNER Apeks, not content with being Brand of the Year, also has the top product. The rugged RK3 fin, built on the original US Navy Special Forces template, has been brought bang up-to-date using modern thermoplastic rubber in its construction, and has proved to be a top performer.

SECOND The Shearwater Perdix computer is a technical-diving block-style computer powered by a single AA alkaline battery and with a full-colour LCD display.
It can be used with five open-circuit and five closed-circuit gases, with the choice of air, nitrox or trimix and open-circuit bail-out.

THIRD Scubapro’s Hydros Pro is a hybrid wing-style BC made from the same monoprene material it uses for its Seawing Nova fins. The tough, flexible gel harness grips and holds it in position, and the modular design makes it easy to add or remove sections for personal customisation.

DIVER TOUR OPERATOR OF THE YEAR

Which company is best at arranging diving package holidays? This category is hotly contested by two big wheels in UK dive tourism, blue o two and Scuba Travel.
Both are popular with UK divers, whether for booking package holidays or for the liveaboard fleets associated with them, and both have earnt considerable loyalty from their clientele over the years.

WINNER The tour/liveaboard operator with the determinedly lower-case name has always been pipped to the post by its rival in recent years, but this year blue o two has edged it and taken the crown, so it’s sighs of relief in its Plymouth offices. It was a big year for the ever-expanding company too, as it announced a forthcoming “merger of equals” with another well-known liveaboard operator, Thailand-based Worldwide Dive and Sail.

SECOND Scuba Travel has to be content with the runner-up slot this year, but it was a close-run thing. As it says, its travel team of Divemasters and higher qualifications have between them “logged tens of thousands of dives around the globe – there’s usually a member of the team who has been to your destination and can help with that all important local knowledge”. That’s the sort of approach that breeds confidence.

THIRD It’s been a while since Regaldive was a top three contender – in earlier days it was a serial winner – so congratulations are due to this Ely-based travel company with a loyal following, and one that always seems able to come up with new and exciting propositions for its customers.

DIVER DIVE CENTRE OF THE YEAR

Which centre, anywhere in the world, seems to get it right more often than not? For years the answer to that question seemed to lie in the Middle East, specifically Sharm el Sheikh. But the world has changed, and many UK divers are discovering or rediscovering the joys of coldwater diving a car drive away.

WINNER UK diving often leads divers to the celebrated inland waters of Stoney Cove in Leicestershire, whether for training, when the weather’s iffy at the coast or just for the crack. It was runner-up last year, but “no one expects the Spanish Inquisition and we didn’t expect this either!” was the reaction of Stoney boss Martin Woodward to its 2016 win. “Huge thanks to our amazing, wonderful, talented, brilliant divers and visitors who voted for us – we love you all!”

SECOND And it wasn’t just Stoney Cove in the UK with cause for celebration, because Andark Diving & Watersports was catapulted into the runner-up slot. Andark is a PADI 5* IDC centre in Hampshire complete with shop, indoor pool and purpose-built 7m-deep lake designed for dive-training, gear-testing and other water sports , and it’s clearly an attractive proposition for divers in the South.

THIRD Still flying the flag in Sharm despite the FCO ban on direct UK flights, Camel Dive Club is the deserving taker of third place. It has been uncompromising in carrying on with its long-established Red Sea diving programme. And as we highlight next month, it’s still not that hard to get there.

DIVER LIVEABOARD OF THE YEAR

It may be the facilities, the crew or the itinerary – name your ideal boat! We know that safari boats can engender fierce loyalty, and that they vie with each other to offer ever more refinements, but your favourites remain pretty stable. And despite any uncertainties about holidays in Egypt, liveaboards still seem to do well there – our top three are all Red Sea-based.

WINNER The 36m Hurricane (above) is one of the few steel-hulled Red Sea liveaboards and her enduring popularity can be measured by this being its fourth win, though blue Horizon had held it at bay in recent years. “Comfort, thoughtful layout and the highly experienced crew” are cited among reasons for so many rebookings by its UK representative Scuba Travel.

SECOND Flagship of the blue o two liveaboard fleet blue Horizon won’t be in contention in this category much longer, but only because it’s changing its name. After 11 years operating in Egypt, and very often your Liveaboard of the Year category, it will be rebadged as Red Sea Master as part of blue o two’s merger with Worldwide Dive and Sail.

THIRD From the same Tornado Marine stable as Hurricane, the 36m Whirlwind’s claim is to offer “5* Red Sea diving at affordable prices” and to be “designed by divers for divers”. It’s still winning your accolades – the people have spoken!

DIVER DESTINATION OF THE YEAR

We asked you to name the best country for divers to visit – and not necessarily the obvious ones. What is obvious, however, is that you have your favourites and you‘re not about to budge, because in recent years, apart from the rise of Malta at Indonesia’s expense, the top three hold fast.

WINNER Egypt had more tourism-related troubles than ever in 2016, mostly stemming from that terrorist bomb in late 2015, but also from general instability in the Sinai and political uncertainties. But for determined divers it remains the destination of choice in terms of quality for price, and we suspect that many votes came from readers who may not have visited in 2016 but love its underwater world anyway.

SECOND Malta, third-placed for the past two years, is the great diving success story of the Mediterranean as far as UK divers are concerned, and has marketed its combination of wreck dives for all levels with its topographic and marine-life attractions to great effect. It’s easy to reach and won’t break the bank. At a time when some divers are put off long-haul, Malta is cashing in.

THIRD The Maldives remains one of the great destinations for UK divers, but this year has to be content with third place. For some the prices on many of its one-luxury-resort islands may be getting a little steep, but the opening of inhabited islands to tourists is helping. And that big-animal diving is as amazing as ever.

DIVER RETAILER OF THE YEAR

We ask you to vote for any dive-store that has given you good value and exemplary service, and year after year you vote for the same store. We can only conclude that it’s doing quite a lot of things right. What can you say? Over to MD Gerrard Dennis…

WINNER “After another great year here at Simply Scuba, we’re delighted to have been named Retailer of the Year for a record-breaking eighth consecutive time. We strive to provide our customers with the latest and most innovative products, friendly, helpful advice and an engaging online presence and community, so this award showcases our efforts. Thank you to all of our customers for their continued support and here’s to an exciting 2017!”

SECOND Claiming its place as London’s biggest dive-store, Mike’s of Chiswick has been around a long time and enters the big three this year. Many divers have come to know owner Scuba Steve, and his claim that: “Mike’s Dive Store is not about shifting boxes of product, but having the patience to understand the particular needs and wishes of every one of its individual customers.”

THIRD Not content with second place in the dive-centre category, Andark Diving & Watersports has also hit the spot among the top retailers. The Hampshire PADI 5* centre celebrated its 40th year in business in 2016, and 34 of those were in retail.

DIVER NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR

This is the category in which, with readers’ votes always in mind, DIVER also gets involved in judging the outstanding innovations or arrivals on the diving scene.
It could potentially be a product, a company or even an individual but it often turns out to be a diving product that seems to promise something fresh and new.

WINNER There was no argument about the 2016 winner. The Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS is the first of its kind and could be the safety product to make the breakthrough to the diving mainstream.
This compact, low-maintenance diver location device sends an SOS message with its GPS co-ordinates to any marine vessel with an AIS-enabled VHS marine radio within 34 miles. diver Tester Nigel Wade says that “Integrating this device with the existing technology found on all but a few marine craft is genius – it also means it can be used anywhere in the world without licence or certification.”

SECOND The Ratio iX3M Tech+ Computer is no ordinary mixed-gas technical-dive computer, thanks to the addition of apps for underwater and surface activities, including a magnetometer, light lux meter, lunar phase and satellite navigation. The computer can also be linked with a dedicated O2 analyser and to PC or Mac via Bluetooth.

THIRD It’s rare these days to see new underwater flashguns introduced in a marketplace in which established, tried and trusted examples now rule the roost. However, 2016 saw Sea & Sea launching its YSD2 underwater strobe, with features including four colour-coded modes,
11-step adjustment and a twin-output LED target light.