OTHERS HAVE TRIED to imitate them, but there is really no substitute for the DIVER Awards for excellence in diving, which are now into their 16th year. Only DIVER has the long tradition; the decisions made by reader poll; and the hefty bronze statuettes that the category winners can display as a mark of pride and achievement.

This year we experimented by not offering readers an incentive to vote in the form of a diving holiday. We admit to being concerned that the numbers of participants might drop as a result, and they did – but, gratifyingly only very slightly. We can only assume that you’re voting because you care!

When it comes to the top three in each category it’s only natural that the higher-volume operations and products should receive the most votes from you – after all, they do the most business. However, there are always surprises among your selections!

DIVER Brand of the year
1st Mares
2nd Suunto
3rd Aqua Lung

Last year’s third-placed brand Mares has leapfrogged into first place, leaving diving computer specialist Suunto still in the runner-up spot and Aqua Lung moving up into third. Last year’s winner Apeks didn’t quite make the top three this time round.

Italian company Mares had a busy year, culminating unexpectedly in the acquisition of the international training agency SSI, a radical move for a manufacturer. It has come a long way from Ludovico Mares’ mask-and-speargun factory of 65 years ago.

Finland’s Suunto goes back much further, to 1936 and field compasses.
It is still Suunto that seems to set the standard in stylish computers coveted by divers. Introduction of the watch-sized rebreather-compatible DX was perhaps 2013‘s highlight.

Aqua Lung can of course trace its ancestry back to its founder Jacques Cousteau and his introduction of the first aqua-lung, and it is still flying the flag. After all, how many companies
can boldly state: “We created modern scuba diving”

DIVER Product of the year
1st Hollis SMS100
2nd Apeks XTX200
3rd GoPro Hero 3 Silver

While Apeks retains its runner-up position for the second year running with its popular XTX200 regulator, it’s all change in first and third places.

This year’s category winner is the Hollis SMS100 wing-style BC, which is hardly new either, but has clearly reached a high level of popularity – and these things usually do take time.
The beauty of the SMS100 is that, while it can used with single or twin tanks, or even adapted to take a rebreather, it is particularly associated with side-mounted cylinders. Its victory therefore reflects increasing popularity of side-mounting for recreational as well as technical diving.

The XTX200 may be a familiar regulator but it has been refined in a number of ways, to the extent that Apeks is able to claim that XTX models are the first in the world
to meet new European safety standards for auxiliary emergency breathing systems.

2013 was the year that the GoPro camcorder seemed to sweep all before it in the underwater video stakes – you could hardly take a finstroke without appearing in somebody’s home movie.

The Hero 3 just gets better, especially with the addition of filters and lights, and is relatively inexpensive for what it offers. It was the Silver model that attracted
the most votes.

DIVER Destination of the year
1st Egypt
2nd Malta
3rd Maldives

And so the Egyptian Ambassador prepares to add yet another DIVER Award to the collection. OK, Egypt remaining first choice for UK divers was almost a foregone conclusion despite its economic and political issues, because the Red Sea remains a great-value destination with a predictable climate and exciting wrecks and reefs, all the better for being less-dived than they once were.
Also, realising that UK divers are unfazed core visitors, Egypt’s tourism people were more focused on this market last year.

That said, for the first time that we can remember a Mediterranean location has grabbed the runner-up spot, and it’s the Maltese Islands (Malta, Gozo and Comino) that have done the trick.

They were over the moon to come third last time round, but pushing the mighty Maldives into third place is some achievement. If this success can be attributed to Malta’s range of wrecks, wildlife, topography and shore-diving, it is also true that UK divers have been looking to find good but economical diving closer to home. This is underlined by the destination that polled the fourth most votes in 2013 – the UK itself!

The Maldives looks set to remain a UK diving favourite for as long as the low-lying islands remain above water – but could the ever-increasing prices at its prestigious resorts have helped Malta to leapfrog ahead of it

DIVER Tour Operator of the year
1st Scuba Travel
2nd blue o two
3rd Oonasdivers

Difficult as these times may still be financially, it seems that the well-proven operators in the travel industry are getting it right and providing customers with what they need at manageable prices. Which is our way of reporting that there was no change at the top of the pecking order among dive tour operators in 2013, with the same three names finishing in exactly the same order as in 2012!

Coming out top once again was Scuba Travel, whose team was once again able to rely on its loyal fan base to pile on the votes. Scuba Travel arranges diving packages all over the world and we can only conclude that a lot of divers must be enjoying themselves. We make this the eighth DIVER Award the company has scored since it started in 1995!

In the runner-up slot again was close rival blue o two, which not only arranges worldwide travel but is unusual in operating its own fleet of blue-prefixed luxury diving vessels. These now number four in the Red Sea, and it has recently added blue ’Honors Legacy’ in the Maldives.
Oonasdivers, also closely associated with the Red Sea, particularly southern Egypt, clearly knows how to satisfy its customers and win return business, and once again it steps up to take third place.

One thing we know is that if you haven’t enjoyed your holiday, you certainly won’t be voting for the people who sold you the package!

DIVER Liveaboard of the year
1st blue Horizon
2nd VIP One
3rd Whirlwind

As in the Dive Centre of the Year category, Liveaboards revolves around high-turnover players of the Red Sea, and blue o two tops the popularity poll once again, but this time with blue Horizon – the third time the vessel has triumphed in recent years.

Last year’s victor was blue Melody, which has slipped just outside the 2013 top three. Meanwhile last year’s other top-three boats have slipped their moorings and changed places, with VIP One moving up to second while Whirlwind drops to third.

VIP One is operated by Red Sea Diving College, which always scores highly in the popularity stakes, while Whirlwind is part of the Tornado Marine Fleet and won the title in 2011.

What we can tell you is that voting is very close in this category, but in the end it’s all about consistency, and simply being in the top three from year to year speaks volumes about the popularity of all these Red Sea boats.

DIVER Dive Centre of the year
1st Camel Dive Centre, Sharm
2nd Red Sea Diving College, Sharm
3rd Emperor Divers, Sharm

As with Tour Operator, so the Dive Centre category features the same three apex names, all outfits based in and around Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt.
However, this year brings a switch at the top as Camel Dive Centre reclaims from nearby Na’ama Bay rival Red Sea Diving College the first place it won in 2011, with Emperor Divers Sharm retaining third spot.

Camel started in 1986, Red Sea Diving College in 1991 and Emperor Divers the following year, so these are companies that have weathered more than a few economic and political storms in their time. Despite the overall fall in tourist business across Egypt in recent years, British divers have proved to be stalwarts of the country’s tourist industry, and between them these dive centres can call on a lot of loyal customers to attest to their quality.

Camel now offers an express speedboat service that can reach the Straits of Tiran in 20 minutes. Red Sea Diving College has its own liveaboard VIP One, and Emperor Divers has a fleet of five. Mini-safaris combining shore-based dives with a few days afloat are proving popular.

DIVER Retailer of the year
1st Simply Scuba
2nd SCUBAPursuits
3rd 4th Element Diving

No change at the top among purveyors of fine diving equipment, as Kent-based Simply Scuba and SCUBAPursuits, both of which are past masters at the art of online selling, carry all before them.

SCUBAPursuits also has three physical outlets in the Midlands – in Cannock, Stoke and Solihull – and a background since 1995 in dive-training that feeds into its retail success.

Winner Simply Scuba, however, is mainly online, carrying some 70 brands and very good at making its virtual presence felt in the market. Scuba is just one of eight areas of activity in the impressive Simply operation.

The newcomer in the top three is also mainly internet-based. 4th Element Diving, not to be confused with divewear manufacturer Fourth Element, started life 15 years ago as a dive centre in Stockton on Tees and runs online stores dedicated to various scuba brands.

DIVER Newcomer of the year
1st Canon Powershot S120
2nd Liquid Sport
3rd Poseidon Se7en

In this category only, DIVER allows itself discretion to look through the votes and pick out new products or companies that seem to us to be innovative.

The Canon S120 garnered a lot of votes for Product of the Year, and Technical Editor Nigel Wade believes the camera covers the bases as far as innovation goes.
“It has a new processor (shared with the G16) and almost unlimited buffer that allows constant high-speed 9.4 fps shooting without slowing down,” he says. “It’s claimed to be the slimmest camera available with a f1.8 aperture lens, and all that plus a load of other features would give it my vote.”
Runner-up Liquid Sport has made an impact importing and distributing high-performance watersports equipment, including the popular Big Blue photo and video lamps, Aquabionic fins and Ursuit and Sharkskin suits.

And in 2013 Poseidon delivered the successor to its MKIV closed-circuit rebreather in the form of the Se7en, boasting “seven new benefits” – G7 electronics; Bluetooth; Dive Management System; Rec or 100m Tec versions; and service and support, mouthpiece and cover enhancements.