Scuba Diving: What Is BSAC?

BSAC stands for the British Sub-Aqua Club, but what makes it different to PADI diving schools?

BSAC is the British Sub-Aqua Club, the national governing body for scuba diving in the UK. Photo: iStock

BSAC stands for the British Sub-Aqua Club. It is the national governing body for recreational scuba diving in the UK.

Scuba Diving For Beginners: Everything You Need To Know


BSAC was founded in 1953 after two British divers – Oscar Gugen and Peter Small – wanted to create the first British club for “persons interested in underwater activities”. They first encountered diving after visiting the UK’s first dive school at Warfleet Creek, Dartmouth in Devon. Ten years later, they called together the first 100 members to create BSAC.

The first branch of BSAC was founded in London. It was quickly followed by club branches in Manchester, Merseyside, Bristol, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Brighton, Torbay, Southsea and Taunton. In the early 1960s, the organisation began training diving instructors for the first time. In 1974, Prince Charles became the president of BSAC. Then Prince William took over the reigns in 2014 – alongside surfing, royals love diving apparently!

By the mid 1990s, BSAC had over 50,000 members. Now BSAC has over 1000 independent BSAC clubs and 300 training centres around the UK and the world.


BSAC have a whole range of courses from beginner right up to advanced level. Photo: iStock


Ocean Diver is BSAC’s entry level course for anyone who wants to get into diving. You don’t have to have been diving before, but you must be at least 12 years old and can swim 200m. You will do five pool dives and five open water dives to a maximum depth of 20 metres on this course. All scuba diving equipment will be provided. The qualification allows you to dive with another BSAC Ocean Diver or with a BSAC Sport Diver in conditions experienced during training.


In the Sport Diver course, you will build on your basic scuba diving skills and dive deeper to maximum 35 metres (as long as you are over the age of 14). You will experience diving with nitrox (a breathing gas made from a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen), how to dive in low visibility, practice drift diving and more.


Becoming a Dive Leader is working your way to becoming an expert in scuba diving. You’ll learn to plan dives for a group of divers plus how to manage rescue situations. After qualifying, you can progress to diving up to 50 metres deep and work towards your Open Water Instructor qualification if you like. The course consists of 12 classroom lessons, seven open water dives, two dry practical lessons plus 20 dives in a range of conditions.


After Dive Leader course comes Advanced Diver for divers who want to extend their skills even further and learn more about group dive management. Since the Dive Leader, the diver must have completed a minimum of 20 dives and 600 minutes underwater. The course includes four classroom lessons, two open water lessons, two dry practical lessons plus 20 dives in a range of conditions from a specified list including diving in tidal waters, drift diving, navigation dive and more.


This is the highest BSAC diver qualification, which BSAC says “requires a higher than average level of theoretical knowledge, organisational and personal diving skills”. It’s a very difficult qualification to achieve. As of 2011, only 932 people had qualified as First Class Divers. You need to have completed 100 dives in a range of conditions since qualifying as an Advanced Diver, 20 of which need to be to depths greater than 30 metres. You also need to have attended a BSAC Chartwork and Position Fixing course, Diver Rescue qualification and Diver Coxwain qualification. Find out how to register for a First Class Diver course here.

Alongside these extra qualifications, you can also take a BSAC Skill Development Course once you’ve completed your Ocean Diver qualification. These courses focuses on specific diving areas such as safety and rescue, wreck diving, underwater photography and ice diving.

Here are a few places you can do a BSAC scuba diving courses in the UK.


What is the difference between BSAC and PADI? Photo: iStock

BSAC courses have been the traditional way of learning to dive in the UK since the early 1960s and 70s with courses run by BSAC volunteers. PADI is an American qualification system with a professional course structure used all over the world.

PADI courses tend to last from two to four days, while a BSAC course could stretch over 20 weeks with an hour of tuition per week. You roughly end up with the same amount of tuition time.

There is a difference in cost between PADI and BSAC courses. PADI Open Water course, for example, takes four days, includes minimum four open water dives and costs around £450. BSAC Ocean Diver course (similar level to PADI Open Water) will cost only around £250 because they are run by established diving clubs and taught by volunteers. The price includes one year membership with BSAC and at least five open water dives.

If you are going to dive regularly, once you’ve paid your £55 annual BSAC membership, it will only cost you about £15 per dive (cheaper than a PADI centre).

BSAC Ocean Diver courses offers five pool dives and five open water dives, plus you will go to maximum 20 metres deep. PADI Open Water meanwhile offers four open water dives and you will go to maximum 18 metres deep. So you get a little more from the BSAC Ocean Diver course.

Both BSAC and PADI qualifications are recognised throughout the world, but you will tend to find more PADI centres across the globe. Whether you choose a PADI or BSAC course is up to you.

You can read more about how to gain different diving qualifications here.


Photo: iStock

Looking for your nearest BSAC club to join? They have a great search facility on their website which will locate where the nearest diving club is to you. Just type in your town or postcode and voila!

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