The family that dives together
Commercial training agencies push to expand the diving market by lowering the age of entry. Family-friendly facilities are trumpeted by overseas resorts. Half of Diver readers have children and a third of them dive, according to a survey, yet diving parents say that family-friendliness is a long way off. Brendan OBrien reports

A good diving friend of mine recently announced that he and his wife were expecting their second child. After the congratulations and jokes about nappies and sleepless nights, we turned to the subject of diving,
     Its quite simple, he announced, Ill be waving goodbye to it. Want to buy some gear
     Over the years, Ive dived with several people who have gone down the same road. Like my friend, they were mad-keen divers, but when the first or perhaps the second baby came along, the responsibilities of being a parent seemed to mark the end of a way of life.
     But does it need to be that way Can parents manage the issues that come with mixing diving with family life We approached a variety of individuals: parents who had given up diving; parents who managed the balance; tour operators; dive-site operators and instructors. As we asked those involved questions about their concerns, what they had done to get round them and the benefits of families and diving, there seemed to be a consensus that the two definitely can go hand in hand.
     As the Laddiman family (Scott, Nina and two-year-old Markus) summed up: Its hard work, but if youre determined you can do it.
     However, Mark and Caroline from Manchester believe this view is a little simplistic. With our first child, we tried to keep up with our hobby, said Mark. Children were very welcome at our club and the weekend trips were family-friendly - there was always someone around who could help look after our baby.
     Caroline explained what happened when their second child arrived. We tried to plan how we could manage a weekends diving but the logistics of it all were overwhelming. Extra cots and beds, room in the car, keeping the children happy, eating out and maybe squeezing in some diving - it was all too much.
     We tried just one of us going on a days diving trip, and on one occasion I managed a weekend away - but it didnt seem right, said Mark. I like my family to be with me when I go off somewhere. The thing is, there are no diving centres around the UK that are family-friendly.
     Phil McNair from Lancashire, who has girls aged nine and 12, agrees. There are no dive centres I have come across in the UK that I would describe as family-friendly. I wouldnt dream of taking them on a weekend or week to somewhere like the west coast of Scotland, because the centres there are geared up for diving, not for families.
     Phil still manages to involve his children on day-trips to inland sites. If Im with the right group they love it; theyre with people they know and their children. We make sure there is a responsible adult who can ensure their safety.
     Scott and Nina find that UK diving can be managed but, once again, only for day trips. If were diving from a beach on a club dive there are often dives Nina cant go on because theyre too deep for her qualification, so Ill go on that one, usually in the morning, and she will go on the shallower dive in the afternoon, said Scott. Our son loves it, as he gets a day on the beach.
     But Scott went on to explain how restrictive the couple found even day-diving: Its a different story if were going away on a day-boat - were fortunate in having a friend whos a childminder, but if shes not available were looking at over £100 a day with the cost of the diving and the childcare. Suddenly diving becomes a lot more expensive.
     Few dive centres in the UK advertise themselves as family-friendly, though Porthkerris Divers in Cornwall has in the past been an exception. We used to advertise ourselves as family-friendly and looked into the implications of childminding facilities, said Heather Anselmi. But its a big responsibility, and you need to be insured and have qualified staff available.
     To be honest, we dont get much call for it, as most people dont know its not available. What we do have is a list of babysitters who we can put our customers in touch with.

very little return
I called several dive centres around the UK, but none of them could offer anything for children. Stoney Cove gave a clear indication that its site wasnt somewhere for children, nor did it have any plans for future provision.
     Another major UK site, Capernwray, said children were welcome but they had to be with a responsible adult at all times. Plans for child-friendly facilities Ten years ago we had, but the costs of litigation have put an end to that. If someone trips over a stone in the car park, they want to sue. We had wanted to start with a play area but, to be blunt, it costs so much money to conform and theres very little return.
     I asked Phil McNair what he thought about existing provision of childcare, even a babysitting service. Its a far cry from being family-friendly. Children are very inquisitive and want to learn; they want to do things for themselves.
     Thats the difference between a nanny or babysitter and proper family-friendly provision - its their holiday or day out as well, and as parents we have a responsibility to provide for them.
     Simon Davison has two diving children of 11 and 13 and a non-diving wife. He believes in family-orientated breaks: Its very difficult to find trips to the right places with the right people - most UK diving is geared up towards singles. I would like to see more centres tailoring their services towards families, but at the moment these dont exist.
     Simon also believes there is a market for children who dive: All the deep dives are OK for those who are interested in that sort of thing but for me my most memorable dives have usually been shallow and sensible - just the sort of thing children can experience.
     I recalled my own experiences as a teenager. I belonged to Hazel Grove BSAC, which catered for children through an arm of the National Snorkelling Club. All the club-members would try to make the day diving trips an enjoyable experience for the children.
     Wed spend our day carrying out drills, going on snorkel dives and jumping off rocks. All this led to my first dive at the age of 15 in a flooded quarry. There was nothing to see, but it remains a most memorable dive.
     I called my old club to find out how the childrens section was doing, and spoke to Alex Joyce from the committee. We dont have it anymore, came the reply. This was a bit of a shock, as the weekly pool meetings had provided a chance for children to learn about snorkelling, the basics of diving, to interact with other children and to play Octopush with those from other branches. If it hadnt been for that and the trips away, I doubt if I ever would have learnt to dive.
     I called other clubs around Britain at random to ask about snorkelling for children. None had the sort of provision that seemed the norm in the 70s. I asked Alex why children were no longer catered for. The fact is, were all too busy in our lives, he said. Its difficult to find anyone prepared to commit their time every week. I also help run a scout group, and the same problem exists.
     Perhaps the lack of family-friendly provision in the UK isnt the fault of the facilities that host divers. Maybe were so used to expecting high levels of service that weve forgotten how to invest time and effort into providing it ourselves.
     One area where we should expect high levels of service is the diving holiday industry. Scott and Nina organised a diving trip to Barbados and took toddler Markus with them. We managed, but we were very fortunate because we also got married on the trip, so our family were there and were able to help, said Scott.
     We also made sure we booked into a resort that had childcare provision, but this did make us nervous as we didnt know what it would be like. As a qualified child-minder, Nina knew that there was no licensing system for childcare. We were lucky, as they were very good.
     Culture has a lot to do with this. The people of Barbados love children, and even on the beach the locals wanted to help look after Markus. He soon became known as the man on the beach!
     It all depends on the destination. Katherine Wood and her family have had all sorts of problems over the years trying to balance diving holidays with the needs of her children.
     Id be scared of putting my child into childcare, as even at some 5 star hotels the quality can be a bit hit and miss, she said. I asked her about specialist resorts such as Neilson and Mark Warner. The childcare is fine, but the times dont revolve around the dive-boats, so its a pointless exercise.

imaginary children
I followed the Mystery Divers example and called Neilson and Mark Warner to see if Katherines claims held out. The Neilson website has a separate section on diving at three resorts, Grenada, Sharm and Bitez in Turkey. A table of childcare provision at each resort shows that Grenada is OK if your children are 5-13, and at Sharm there is no provision.
     Bitez seemed a good bet, as all ages could be provided for. The website explained how the diving package of two dives a day for five days was included in the price, and it extolled the virtues of the various kids clubs.
     I called to book myself, my diving wife and two imaginary children, 4 and 11, on a holiday in August 2005. The person at the other end seemed very knowledgeable about the resort and sure that we could go diving every day while the children were looked after. We would need to take care of them only at lunchtimes. I asked when the childrens clubs would be open: 9.30am to 5.30pm. was the answer. And when do the boats leave for the dives 8.30 to 11am and 2 to 4pm, so youll be OK.
     Are you sure Oh, yes, it wont fit, came his reply. Youll still be able to do the afternoon dives though. I pointed out that that meant accessing only half the dive package.
     My contact put me on hold and cam back with bad news: Unfortunately the boat doesnt come back for lunch, so you wont be able to leave your children in the clubs and both go diving.
     He told me about other resorts that didnt feature diving but had dive operators nearby which could take us diving at an extra cost. But wouldnt I still have the same problem I asked
     Yes, well, its unfortunate for diving. I guess its OK if you have a non-diving partner. But surely the whole point of childcare is that both parents can take part in activities. I guess so, he replied, adding hopefully: Perhaps your partner will just want some peace and quiet sitting on the beach.
     Why, I asked the Neilson man, advertise childcare on the diving pages of the website if the times dont work for divers His answer amazed me: We could talk about this forever, but thats just the way it is.
     I informed him that the way it is meant me going with another operator, and put the phone down.
     On Mark Warners website, I found similar boasts of quality childcare. I spoke to its representative Emily and tried to book a week in Corsica for the same family group next August. Its a good job youre booking now, as there are only two family suites in the whole resort! she said. So much for family-friendly.
     The childrens clubs are between 9am and 1pm. You lunch with them and then they continue from 3 to 5.30pm. This is all included in the price, but the diving is extra. Could she tell me when the dive boat operated Sorry, I dont know. I cant imagine it would be difficult though.
     I told Emily of my experience with Neilson. Youd better call them to check, was her best advice and she gave me a UK number for In Depth, the company Mark Warner uses.
     The In Depth representative was vague. I cant tell you the times for next year; the Mediterranean isnt that organised. Most of the time there are no problems, though. With Emilys I cant imagineÉ and In Depths Most of the timeÉ I decided to leave it there.
     I asked Katherine Wood, who runs a company called Family Diving, how she managed. Its a logistical nightmare to combine diving with children. If you both want to dive, you have to plan it like a military operation.
     I set up Family Diving to cater for my family and the families of friends, and now people all over the UK. The response has been fantastic - theres obviously a market out there.
     How complicated was the business to run Its easy really. Were based in Gozo, have a British-qualified child-carer and ensure that children can be catered for around the dive times. We also only charge for a session of childcare, not for the whole week like other resorts do. This arrangement seemed very simple, but its the small things that can make or break a dive trip.
     I spoke to Graham Dew, father of a five-year-old, diving instructor and independent travel agent specialising in diving.
     Around the Red Sea, hotels havent really catered for the left behinds, he told me. Some are now starting to think along these lines, though. Sharm and Hurghada are becoming family-friendly, while places like Marsa Alam are a long way off. Ive recently taken my son and non-diving partner with me to see how the resorts really are, and of all of them, El Gouna seems to be the best.
     You have to know what type of diving you want, and if you have a child who wants to dive, you have to know the age limits if theyre between 10 and 12.

junior scuba diver
I had spoken to a few diving families who had come unstuck after getting their children through the PADI diving qualification for 10-year-olds, Junior Scuba Diver. Keen UK diver Andy Phillips seemed to have had great trouble finding a diving holiday to suit both him and his 10-year-old, Jacob.
     You might think that because your child has trained with PADI this would be acceptable the world over, but if you dont check before you go away you might find yourself in the stressful position of explaining to your child why they cant go diving with you, he said.
     Different countries have different age limits, and PADI doesnt tell you this. We only just found out in time that Malta doesnt allow children to dive until theyre 12. We did find places that would accept Jacob on the dives, but then found that we would have to pay extra for a dive guide.
     Why A 10-year-old is restricted to 12m. If youre taking a party out diving, you cant expect the other divers to stay at that depth limit, so you have to provide a divemaster for that child only. Most operators will charge extra, as they have to claw the money back somehow.
     Andy still finds the whole business unreasonable. Although all the resorts are PADI- affiliated, they will still charge you because of the depth limit of 12m. Ive never been anywhere else where Open Water divers and their depth limit of 18m has warranted an extra charge.
     The way PADI teach children is marvellous, but they dont tell you about this stuff. Be careful to check before you book and, depending on the culture of the country, be prepared to haggle.
     Andys experiences supported Grahams claim. I was in Nuweiba in Egypt last year when a parent who had been diving asked if his qualified 11-year-old could join them, and they said yes. Id had to pay $30 a day for this and he wasnt being charged extra. Hed just suggested that he couldnt dive if his son didnt come.
     Andy now checks with the resorts in writing what charges, if any, will be added: It makes a big difference if youre paying £25 to £30 a day extra.
     Though Andy objected to paying extra for the guide, despite his own qualifications and experience he did seem to appreciate his presence. To be honest, I was so stressed, I kept worrying about my son, thinking that with every movement there was something wrong. Its very different when its your own flesh and blood youre diving with.
     Simon Davison also came unstuck with the 12-year-old limit problem, but this time in the UK. Andre is 11 and Ailie is 13, but Capernwray has an age limit of 12. So I arranged for them both to learn by using pool sessions in this country and the open-water dives abroad.
     Hollie Lockhart aked her parents Neil and Erica if she could learn to dive last year, when she was 10. It was hard finding a dive school in Portugal, said Erica. We found one in Faro but it was difficult to get a dive. The other members of the group naturally wanted to dive to deeper, more interesting waters.
     Marbella in Spain proved easier but on the second dive the instructor had difficulty communicating to a younger person and Hollie didnt feel confident, so refused to dive. She would have given up if Neil had not learnt to dive so that he could accompany her.
     The next trip was to St Thomas this Easter - what a difference! Hollie and Neil had an assigned instructor and the diving was planned for a family group. They were experienced with younger divers/family groups and answered all the questions without being asked. They told Neil it was the parents they had problems with, not the younger divers!
     It costs more, but the feeling of security was worth it for both of them and the experience was very positive.
     Graham Dew believes there is a big future for children learning to dive abroad after completing all the theory and pool training in the UK. Its all down to how children learn. The instructors might understand children better; its all in their language, in familiar surroundings and without any pressure.
     Ive heard of too many children going out on try-dives or starting to learn abroad and ending up with scary moments resulting in diving phobias - exactly what you dont want for your children.
     Most of the diving and activities for children in places such as the Red Sea seem to be shore-based, but I did come across a few organisations that pride themselves on taking children out on the dive boat and making the day as much for them as for the adult divers.
     Fins, based in Preston, runs a family-friendly club. Over the years weve found that the demand has increased, said Kim, one of the owners. When we go away as a group, there will always be children involved. They come on the boat, some learn to dive while the younger ones might snorkel - its important that they feel part of the group and not excluded.
     Phil McNair is one of Fins customers: I wouldnt know where to start if I had to organise everything myself, but with a group thats geared up around families and diving, our holidays have something in them for all of us.
     He said that his children loved going on the diving holidays, so much so that Holly had now qualified and Briony was doing her Bubblemaker course.
     This family-friendliness on dive-boats is not yet the norm, even less so with liveaboards. One diving couple I spoke to spent a week on a liveaboard last year, leaving their children in the hands of understanding grandparents.
     We enjoyed the week away but we couldnt help feel guilty about leaving the children at home. It would have been ideal if they could have come with us, but in addition to costing a fortune, they would have been really bored.
     Liveaboards and children dont seem to mix, but after much research I did find a vessel that not only allows children to be part of the trip but also claims to provide seven hours a day of programmed activities for them.
     Families dont want to take vacations without their children. I have a kid as well, and going away with him is a lot more fun - this is what families are about! said Adham Khamis, owner of the Sharm-based Wildcat.
     We try to cater for children of five and upwards. While their parents dive, we arrange for them to go snorkelling, do underwater photography and learn about the reefs and the ocean. In the evenings we have barbecues, quizzes and show films on the marine environment.
     I asked Adham why other liveaboards dont operate in this way. They make the mistake of thinking that diving is just for hardcore adults, but its the wrong concept. I want the best of both worlds.
     I also want my boy growing up with nice memories about what he did with his parents. This is what all parents want, so why should diving be any different This family time is precious time, thats what people sometimes forget. A sentiment shared by most of the diving parents to whom I spoke.
     You could be excused for thinking that the UK diving industry doesnt believe that divers have children, while the diving holiday market may espouse family-friendliness but has a way to go.
     However, for those who dive and are considering having children, or have young children already, you might just manage to hold onto your sport. Youre the consumer, and if enough of you shout, the diving industry will listen.

Markus Laddiman, aka
Junior Open Water Diver Hollie Lockhart with an instructor. She could have been put off diving before reaching this stage, had her dad not learnt to dive so that he could accompany her on training dives.
Holly McNair - her father Phil has found a distinct lack of family-friendliness, especially in the UK
Ailie Davidson and dad Simon
Divernet Divernet
Jacob Phillips finds Nemo and reads the Beano