Bo'ness Sub Aqua Club on the up ahead of 40th anniversary celebrations
A try dive during a Center Parcs holiday several years ago saw Donald Ralston catching the diving bug.
And it led him to Bo’ness Sub Aqua Club, the only accredited Scottish Sub Aqua Club for recreational diving in the Falkirk district.
Donald (51), from Maddiston, is now a qualified sports diver with 152 dives under his belt – and chairman of the club.
His two daughters Hope (17) and Abigail (19) also learned to dive with him.
And his 14-year-old son Fraser is now learning too.
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In fact, the only member of the Ralston clan who can’t be convinced to take the plunge is Donald’s wife Susan, who has no intention of signing up!
However, with the club planning to celebrate its 40th anniversary in March 2018, the good news is that its fortunes have transformed in recent years.
When Donald first joined five years ago, membership had plunged to an all-time low, with just 12 members.
Now it has a thriving 50-strong membership, which includes 15 youngsters aged from 14 to 18.
The oldest diver, Alan Bews, is a founder member. Now in his seventies, he is still very active – he taught Donald how to dive and puts the new blood “to shame”.
Members of the not-for-profit club will also be diving further afield next year, thanks to a recent £3,000 grant from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.
The money was used to purchase a portable compressor so members don’t have to take too many cylinders on regular diving expeditions to Scotland’s coasts and lochs.
And the purchase came just at the right time – for the club’s permanent compressor, which is stored at Bo’ness Recreation Centre where the club meets every Monday night, is now in need of some maintenance.
Donald said: “Our permanent compressor actually broke down so the portable compressor has been a lifeline.
“We may well have had to stop training for a while to get the permanent compressor fixed but this new bit of kit enabled us to continue as normal.
“We really appreciate the support of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.
“The money came at a great time for us, as our membership drives have seen the club go from strength to strength.”
A manufacturing technician at Syngenta, Donald had considered applying for grants before but paperwork is not his thing.
However, serendipity played a part in the club’s fortunes again when Kincardine couple Theresa and Craig Campbell joined.
Donald explained: “Theresa and Craig have a sailing boat and decided it would be good to get some diving experience, in case of emergencies.
“So Craig dragged Theresa along and they both really enjoyed it – in fact, she’s just qualified as a branch diver.
“The good news for me was that Theresa was more than happy to help fill out the paperwork for the CRT funds – I can’t thank her enough.”
The club, which boasts members from towns across the Falkirk area, looks set to develop even further in its 40th anniversary year.
Currently five members are training to become branch instructors – which would, in effect, double the number of trainers.
Donald is among that number. As a sports diver, he can tackle 30 metre dives and has completed 152, more than double the number required for branch instructor training.
He said: “Having five new branch instructors will be a huge boost for us, allowing us to train even more divers.
“We’re not in this for money – we all love diving.
“Everyone who comes along can use our equipment for free – there’s no point in someone buying expensive equipment until they try diving in the sea.
“Some love it and others don’t so we’d rather people find out first!
“Our weekly membership fees meet our running costs and any and all additional monies are ploughed right back into the club.”
With maintenance work on the permanent compressor now planned, the club is very much on the up and up.
And next year is set to be one of the best yet.
Donald added: “Having the new portable compressor will open up so many new dive sites for us.
“We won’t have to tie ourselves to sites where we can easily refill our cylinders.
“So we can enjoy longer trips away, without worrying about how many cylinders to take or where to fill them!”
Bo’ness Sub Aqua Club is an affilliated member of The Scottish Sub Aqua Club (ScotSAC).
ScotSAC is recognised and supported by sportscotland as the national governing body for diving in Scotland.
The Bo’ness club is non-profit, run by members for members. Donald Ralston is the club’s chairman. He is ably assisted by branch diving officer Thomas Duff, who is in charge of all the training, alongside several instructors, including founder member Alan Bews.
Most new members progress easily in their scuba training. But, for safety, they first need to demonstrate competence in the water by completing a simple swimming and basic snorkel assessment.
Diver Awards consist of a series of practical training sessions and assessments in the pool (or confined open water) followed by similar activities in the open water. There is also a theory element taught through a series of lectures which form the backbone of the training.
Specifically designed for diving in Northern UK waters, all the training courses incorporate rescue and first-aid – as safety is paramount at the club.
It’s for this reason too that youngsters have to be 14 before they can learn to dive. Explaining why, Donald said: “Some courses you pay for will take kids from the age of 12. We wait until they are 14 to ensure their lungs are properly developed – members’ safety is our main priority.”
However, the club does run fun try dive sessions for youth organisations, such as the Scouts and Boys’ Brigade and hopes to further develop this avenue as more club instructors pass their training.