How Are Scuba Divers in Singapore Coping with Covid-19?

Like with many other popular sports around, scuba diving in Singapore has been heavily affected by the advent of the covid-19 pandemic. Since the launch of Singapore’s Circuit Breaker on 7th April 2020 which aimed to reduce the spread of the virus, many scuba divers found themselves stuck at home with no access to scuba diving facilities.

Unlike sports like tennis or cycling, scuba diving, however, requires one to travel to specific locations with facilities and permits for the sport. As such, many scuba divers found it relatively difficult to assimilate back into the “new normal” despite lockdown measures being lifted as factors such as travel ban and capacity limits onboard boats post problems.

So how is an industry that heavily relies on travel – especially so because Singapore is such a small island with limited places to dive – coping with the covid-19 pandemic? How are scuba diving businesses staying afloat during these tough times and how are scuba divers satisfying their craves for the vast oceans and swimming alongside marine life when they are landlocked on a tiny island such as Singapore?

I had the opportunity to speak with local scuba diving enthusiast Yang Yihao who runs a local dive shop called Dive Box in the heart of Singapore alongside his other scuba diving buddies. Yihao shares with me the idea of Safe Diving in Singapore and how scuba divers and businesses are moving forward with safety measures in mind.

How Covid-19 Has Affected the Diving Community in Singapore

(GS Diving, 2021)

He first shares about how the pandemic has affected the diving community in Singapore as he mentioned that leisure divers suffer from the lack of places to dive as they can only dive in swimming pools and local waters. With crowd control and social distancing in place, many dive trip bookings can take up to two months before an individual diver can get a slot allocation.

He further mentions that many businesses are suffering from operational losses as operations such as organising boat trips have to restrict on board capacities to only 5 per boat and/or limited number of individuals per area as ordered by the Singapore Government. Dive operators and schools are affected as well as they are unable to conduct classes at the usual volume. Operators too have to ballot for slots and this may take up to two months as well.

As a dive store owner, his business faced a drop in local sales when the pandemic occurred. As diving activities approached a decline, the sales for diving equipment dropped as well and local retailers like Dive Box suffered major losses during the lockdown period. It was extremely tough but the business persevered and stayed positive. Overtime, Dive Box saw an increase in exports as many foreigners across international were purchasing online from his web store albeit additional border delays as a result of the virus control. Sales bounced back in the recent months as he experienced a rise in purchases of higher valued products which he assumes is only because divers have been travelling less and therefore using their savings to purchase items that they have held off for a long time. Since the circuit breaker period, Yihao mentions his bittersweet relationship that he has with the lockdown as he and his business partners have made use of the additional time off to conduct more business planning and made lots of improvements to his physical and online retail store. Such time would not have been possible if not for the Circuit Breaker.

How Has the Singaporean Diving Community Stepped Up in Their Battle Against Covid-19

(Turtle Buddy Divers, 2021)

Upon further discussion, it brought us to the topic of how the community is fighting against the pandemic to keep scuba diving afloat in Singapore. Singapore, being a small island, has limited spots to scuba dive at. As such, many local divers here have been travelling to neighbouring countries such as Indonesia to scuba dive. Since that is impossible now, common local spots like Pulau Hantu have become packed with local divers and other private yachts that are unable to sail out of Singapore waters. This rendered many local spots difficult to access due to over crowdedness and as such, many local boat operators are now forced to explore into newer dive sites.

In terms of Dive Schools, courses are now conducted online via video conferencing, allowing students to partake in their classes concurrently while waiting for their slots for open water courses in local swimming pools or local waters.

Yihao further mentions that organisations like the SSI Singapore have given them a slight rebate on their annual SSI XR Dive Center membership fee, alongside with it a couple of product and course deals. This allows his business to focus more on courses that can be conducted in local swimming pools and open sea without depth or mixed gas requirements.

Safe Diving in Singapore

Diving schools in Singapore have to follow the Standards & Procedures set out by the diving organisations that they front. The governing body – RSTC is dedicated to ensuring the safety of recreational diving not just in Singapore but also around the world.

For Yihao and his business, they have imposed a further set of stringent in-house rules for his physical retail outlet for both scuba diving instructors and divers visiting. In terms of hiring instructors, they have also stepped up requirements before these instructors are able to be affiliated with the business.

How Does an Individual in Singapore Dive Safely?

Apart from the dangers of Covid-19, Yihao also shares about his safety measures when it comes to scuba diving in general. As a diver, he mentions that one has to acknowledge that as with every other sport, comes with its own set of dangers. It is important for a diver to be well disciplined and avoid any possible mistake or error that could render the diver and the ones around him to be in danger. Aquatic control is of paramount importance – he further emphases.

Proper training is also required to equip divers with the skills to handle difficulties in the waters such as equipment faults. Diving with an experienced instructor or a friend who is well-versed with the waters help a lot. Especially one who is trained in the same way and uses the same gear configuration such that one’s partner is able to help out in any situation.

For longer dives, gas management one’s knowledge about gases and their respective nautical depths is extremely important. Furthermore, communication is key, be it with your respective dive mates or the boat captain. It is important to get the support you need on the surface as well and it is crucial to perform any pre-dive sequential checks and plan on modes of entry, descent and ascent of every dive.

How Does Your Business Ensure Safety?

(Turtle Buddy Divers, 2021)

With the pandemic safety measures in place, training and courses for scuba diving have restricted not only the number of classes but also the number of individuals present at any time.

Yihao and his business aligns with the safety protocols as he only conducts classes with a maximum of one instructor to three students. He further ensures that his dive instructors are well versed with safe diving practices as tough times call for meticulousness and attention to safety detail.

In terms of diving for leisure, Dive Box is currently planning to do trips for divers who have taken classes with them as he feels that this will rule out any miscommunication in terms of practice and understanding between individuals. Working with people who are familiar with the practice and keeping everyone in sync is important during such times.

That being said, safety measures in place have resulted in a new normal for scuba divers. As many businesses such as Dive Box continue to venture into these new waters, new challenges will arise and it is important to find new ways to stay afloat and adapt to new circumstances. With that, Dive Box now extends SSI XR Foundational classes to Singaporeans who are looking to build on foundations and improve their aquatic competency.

What is the Outlook for Scuba Diving in Singapore in the Near Future?

Yihao and like many other Singapore divers can agree on the fact that borders are not going to open anytime soon. Neighbouring countries that local divers normally patronise such as Malaysia and Indonesia are facing new waves of outbreak everyday. The diving industries in these countries are at a standstill as they continue to battle against the pandemic.

International suppliers of diving equipment are also facing major setbacks in their delivery services as he further mentions that most of them are currently working from home.

However, with the ongoing vaccinations around the world, local scuba divers are hopeful. Yihao looks toward the reopening of borders soon so that he and his fellow diving buddies can dive again in the large international waters. But for now, they will have to make the most out of Singapore – despite being a small island nation.

 

About the Author

Clifford Chong

11 March 2021 | 1837hrs

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