By Keith Baldwin – RNLI Sea Safety Advisor
Mini B Ltd has been manufacturing state of the art scuba diving equipment for over a decade and have to be one of the most obliging companies that I have ever had the pleasure to meet.
Their products are used in many different industries to support a host of applications, the boat market being one of them where people use it to help get underneath their boat to free snagged props, stuck anchors and to carry out routine maintenance.
They had previously supplied one of their products to me to include in the Sports boat and Rib forum auction earlier this year so decided to ask them if it would be possible to do so again for the 2010 Sports boat and Rib show.
I spoke to Mini B Ltd who said that they would be happy to oblige on the condition that I write a review on both the product and its associated training course, which I quickly agreed to do.
They manufacture a large range of Mini B systems, the one dispatched to me was called the Sport Mk1, which consists of a tough outer case containing an internal buoyancy control system, weight pouches, a regulator, alternate air source air and depth gauge and a 5.0 litre air tank. All I needed to do was to go down to my local dive centre to get the tank filled, pick up my mask, snorkel and fins and get into the water.
I was amazed at how well built the Mini B system was and how comfortable it was to wear even when on land, its 13 Kg weight seemed insignificant because of the design of its one size fits all harness which places the weight on your hips, not on your back.
I was desperate to get the Mini B under water to see what it felt like but had never had enough time to enroll onto a traditional scuba course, which would have taken several weeks to complete, once again the Mini B company came to the rescue.
Understanding that not everyone wants to dive to the bottom of the ocean for hours on end the company decided to produce their own training course, specific to the Mini B product which would teach people how to use it to depths of up to 9 metres, they call it the Microdive training programme.
It is such a good idea, you do a Microdive training programme to become a Microdiver so that you can go Microdiving!
Just as the Mini B system takes the mystique out of diving equipment, the Microdive training programme has been designed to take the complexity out of training, by explaining why things happen the way they do underwater by using simple and easy to understand terms.
The training courses were written by Microdive Ltd, resulting in qualifications approved by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (H.S.E) for recreational diving. Microdive scuba training agency is listed on their approved list of scuba qualifications along with the other recreational scuba training agencies names.
The Microdive training pack arrived by post, it contained a beautifully written easy to follow manual, dvd, log book and document folders all packed away neatly in a blue fabric zipper wallet. This part of the programme normally retails for just £79.95 and forms the first of three stages that you follow to gain your Microdive qualification card. Its worth mentioning that the £79.95 that you pay for the pack also includes the cost of the qualification card and its postage to you, there are no hidden extras here.
I learned a great deal that evening as I read through the pages of the manual and watched the skills that I would have to master on the DVD, it made diving look simple, uncomplicated and above all fun. I could have finished reading the manual but decided to do so the following morning, that’s the the beauty of studying at home rather than in a dive schools lecture room, you get to choose when you want a break!
It covered subjects that I had never read about before such as pressure- volume- density relationships, vision underwater, the effects of breathing compressed air underwater and about the underwater environment in general, it was all extremely interesting, so much so that I read through the entire manual again!
After reading through the academic information I went on to complete the multiple choice quiz at the back of the manual which was designed to check that I had read all of the previous text. The questions were simple, contained no ambiguity and all of the answers were to be found on the previous pages, I was surprised just how much I had remembered.
The second part of the programme involved my having to find a dive store that would answer the quiz and teach me the skills that I would need to learn. This wasn’t a problem as the course has made so that any scuba instructor, regardless of what training agency they belong to, can teach it. The back of the manual contained all of the documentation that the dive school would need in order to conduct the course, in fact several sets of documentation just in case I chose to move from one dive store to another.
In reality I chose to go though the second part of the programme at Andark diving and water sports in Southampton, one of Mini B’s premier centres who can process clients in as little as a day if necessary. It was here that I met Laura my instructor who would teach me the necessary skills that I would need to learn in order that I would get the best out of my Mini B system. This section of the course costs £85.00 for the in water session.
Before getting wet I had my quiz reviewed by Laura, who went though the answers quickly, and who explained where I had gone wrong on some of the subjects. Once she was satisfied that I had understood the answers she signed off the quiz section in my manual and took me to the pool.
Here I was taught surface and underwater skills, such as how to enter the water safely, instigate hand signals, take out and replace my regulator and how to control my buoyancy whilst on the surface as well as when beneath the surface.
There were 23 skills in total, each of which were first demonstrated to me by Laura before being given the chance to attempt them myself. After just a few hours I had mastered each of the skills to Laura’s satisfaction and came out of the session feeling completely at ease and full of confidence.
The final part of the Microdive training programme costs £85.00 and involves me partaking in three 20-minute dives under the supervision of a scuba instructor. I have scheduled myself into complete my qualification dives later this year and am really looking forward to putting the skills that I have mastered into practice.
The prospect of learning to scuba dive has never really appealed to me because of the complex nature of the training and the equipment that, up until now has been required to participate in the activity.
Microdive believes that boat owners should have the skills to be able to get under their boat to solve or at least assess problems that occur beneath the waterline but also recognises that most don’t want to become scuba divers or participate in lengthy training programmes, I happen to agree with them on this point.
Having experience both the new training format and the Mini B equipment I have to admit that it’s a winning combination and one that all boat owners really should consider taking advantage of if only to provide them with peace of mind.
When you consider the time, money and commitment we as boat owners put into purchasing equipment and in learning skills that will assist us topside, it makes sense that we should learn scuba skills set that will help us solve problems below the waterline.
If a thousand pounds can get you the training and the equipment to do just this, I guess the question isn’t so much can you afford to take up the option, rather can you afford not to? I for one am glad that I have.