THE DIVER AWARDS, now in their 17th year, remain unique in the UK diving trade, weighty trophies that are conferred only on recipients that have attracted the genuine votes of thousands of DIVER readers, online or through magazine forms.
Beware imitators lacking the validation provided by reader voting on a massive scale!
Our experiment the previous year, when for the first time we offered no holiday prize incentive, proved a success, barely denting the volume of entries. So we repeated it for the latest round of awards.
We would like to think that you place your votes purely from the urge to see the right people rewarded – or, at least, because a favoured supplier has asked for your support and you approve of that supplier sufficiently to give it the nod!
The Awards were passed to the winners at the London International Dive Show on Saturday, 14 February, with Monty Halls once again presiding over the proceedings. And those winners will know that, for the next year at least, their trophy or runner-up certificate will be a valuable kitemark of excellence.

DIVER Brand of the Year

1st Suunto
2nd Mares
3rd Scubapro

You might expect the most popular dive-gear manufacturers to be those offering a range of products wide enough to impress divers who, if they don’t buy Brand X fins, might be tempted by Brand X regs or BCs.
First-placed in 2014, and not for the first time, Suunto bucks this tendency. Divers connect it with one thing – computers – and they like its instruments. Also, DIVER probably receives more letters praising Suunto’s aftersales service than it does for any other manufacturer.
The company runs many focus groups in the UK, says Business Manager Ryan Crawford. “I’m grateful to all the divers who’ve given up their time to tell us what they think of us, our products and to help develop products of the future – ensuring that we keep moving forward and providing our customers with the tools they want for their underwater adventures.”
Last year’s winner Mares, a company that does cover all the bases, swaps places with Suunto to take runner-up spot. It launched the MR52X Fusion regulator in 2014, and the Italian flair shown in the design of its products continues to appeal to fashion-conscious divers.
Scubapro is similar to Mares in offering an extensive range of good-quality products at competitive prices, and 2014 saw calculated evolution of existing popular products such as the Everflex drysuit.
That strategy is clearly working well, because after a brief absence it’s back in the 2014 top three.

DIVER Product of the Year

1st GoPro Hero 4
2nd Suunto DX
3rd Apeks Black Sapphire

The GoPro Hero camcorder, third-placed last year, has continued to accumulate the sort of rapid refinements that have propelled it to top spot by a country mile in this category. The
Hero 4 model has proved especially popular.
The compact size and ease of use of this product coupled with the image and video quality make this camera a must for divers who want to record and share via social media their underwater exploits. It’s no great surprise that this tiny package with its plethora of accessories garnered so many votes – but what does happen to all those hours of underwater footage
Brand of the Year Suunto takes second place with its “one-stop shop” DX computer model. The DX was the first wristwatch-style model with a Fused RGBM algorithm and modes that can be used for nearly every genre of diving, from breath-hold to open-circuit air, nitrox or trimix to closed-circuit rebreathers.
Last year Apeks, still most associated with regulators, was in the top three with its XTX200 model. This year it’s back with the Black Sapphire, which is fitting as it was designed to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary.
Our tester Nigel Wade found the Black Sapphire to have performance to match its good looks. It might be a limited-edition model but that doesn’t seem to have inhibited voters’ enthusiasm for the concept.

DIVER Tour Operator of the Year

1st Scuba Travel
2nd blue o two
3rd Oonasdivers

They are the leading three arrangers of diving holidays in the UK, certainly as far as DIVER readers are concerned, and this year’s voting produced exactly the same result as last year – and indeed the year before that – with Scuba Travel in first place, blue o two second and Oonasdivers third.
If it seems a wee bit boring to see the same names triumph every year, remember that it’s stability that we value in any travel company, and divers have clearly come to know that they can rely on these three.
Other respected tour operators may specialise in higher-end holidays but the winners deal in volume and presumably put accessibility, value and service high on their mission statements.
But first place is of course the holy grail. “It’s impossible to explain just how much winning this award means to everyone at Scuba Travel, and this year feels extra special, as it’s our 10th Tour Operator of the Year award,” said Director Angela Nordin. “Wow – who’d have thought we could have achieved so much in the 20 years since we started running trips out of the dive-shop!
“We work hard to keep the quality of our trips as high as possible, at prices that are genuinely affordable, and it’s a wonderful feeling to know that our love and enthusiasm for diving is matched only by that of our customers. Thanks everyone for your continued trust and support.”
blue o two stands out from this trio by virtue of not only being a tour operator but also having its own fleet of liveaboards in the Red Sea and Maldives, which have helped to win it a large and loyal following.
Oonasdivers, always closely associated with southern Egypt, now has an ever-growing portfolio and destinations such as Tobago featured heavily among its 2014 offerings.

DIVER Dive Centre of the Year

1st Camel Dive Centre, Sharm
2nd Red Sea Diving College, Sharm
3rd Stoney Cove, Leics

Last year dive centres in the ever-popular Red Sea destination of Sharm el Sheikh recorded a clean sweep in this category, and this year the top two outfits remain in their 2013 spots, though a very British interloper at third place has spoiled the party for Egypt!
But first the winner, and the news that Camel Dive Centre has held Red Sea Diving College to second place once again.
“British divers have shown us huge loyalty during our 29 years of operation,” said Camel founder and owner Hesham Gabr. “Our divers often tell us that they don’t feel like tourists when they stay at Camel and that they love the fact that all you need for a perfect diving holiday is right on your doorstep. This third award from divEr readers is further motivation to improve and keep deserving our new and old guests’ trust. Thank you!”
Red Sea Diving College, also long-established, has enjoyed multiple successes of its own in this category over the years, helped by having its own popular liveaboard VIP One to complement its shore-based diving and training activities, and a confirmed fanbase.
Meanwhile third place goes this year to a familiar name, for many readers perhaps the first place they ever dived – the National Diving Centre at Stoney Cove in Leicestershire.
The voting indicates that this ever-developing inland facility has as important a place in British divers’ hearts as ever, not only for training or when the weather’s bad on the coast but simply for a good day out!

DIVER Liveaboard of the Year

1st blue Horizon
2nd Whirlwind
3rd Valkyrie

What can you say – when it comes to “mass-market” liveaboards, blue o two knows exactly what it’s doing, which is presumably why one of the fleet, the 41m flagship blue Horizon, has just triumphed in this category for the fourth time and the second year running.
If it isn’t blue Horizon it’s blue Melody in pole position – this British-owned Red Sea fleet knows how to satisfy its clients, and it does carry a lot of potential voters.
Having recognised blue o two’s achievement, the voting at the very top of this category is notably close, so Tornado Marine Fleet shouldn’t feel bad about coming second with Whirlwind, another perennial favourite liveaboard of DIVER readers and up a place from 2013.
Whirlwind is another Red Sea liveaboard in the grand style, 36m long and able to carry 20 passengers. Like blue Horizon it has been sailing the Red Sea for nine years.
The newcomer in third place and another close contender is more of a surprise – mainly because it operates nowhere near Ras Mohammed. The 22m Orkney-based mv Valkyrie has been carrying divers around Scapa Flow dive-sites for some years, and captain Hazel Weaver clearly runs a happy ship. How much does the quality of the food have to do with its popularity Customer service is what the DIVER Awards are all about!

DIVER Retailer of the Year

1st Simply Scuba
2nd Divelife
3rd 4th Element

No change at the top is the headline in the dive-store category, where online maestro Simply Scuba retains its crown for yet another year, streets ahead of its nearest rival in the voting.
Simply Scuba is an authorised dealer for most of the major manufacturers, and Its “loyalty bubbles” incentive scheme must help in building the fanbase. It also has a physical shop presence, in Faversham, Kent.
“Each year this competition gets fiercer, and to win for the sixth consecutive year is a real honour and a reflection of the dedication of our team to keep improving the service Simply Scuba offers,” said founder and MD Gerrard Dennis.
“The dive market continues to make headway despite strong competition from other sports, but it’s thanks to all UK dive stores that the sport remains a passion for so many. To be recognised as the top retailer is an honour and privilege and we will continue to strive to deliver the best service possible. “
The nearest rival was a newcomer to the top three in the shape of Divelife, although it only just beat last year’s third-placed 4th Element Diving back into that position by a whisker.
Divelife also has a thriving online business representing most of the major manufacturers, as well as a physical retail outlet in the heart of the North-west, and in addition it offers photographic and technical equipment, training for the major agencies and servicing.
4th Element (not Fourth Element the dive garment maker) is rather different. Its training and retail outlet in Stockton-on-Tees plus an online operation that majors on Apeks products as well as other lines have helped it to build a loyal following and kept it in the top three.

DIVER Destination of the Year

1st Egypt
2nd Maldives
3rd Malta

Egypt’s political problems continue, and when it comes to attracting tourists to any Middle Eastern destination things still aren’t what they once were, but through it all British divers have continued to support their favourite destination.
Red Sea diving is better than ever as a result of the reduced pressure on the reefs, and good-value holidays are still a feature, so no wonder Egypt retains its lofty position in this category.
“We’re thrilled to have won yet again this prestigious award,” said Omayma El Husseini, Director of the Egyptian State Tourist Office in London. “It’s delightful to receive the recognition from divEr and the diving enthusiasts.”
Egypt was runaway but second and third places were separated only by the finest of margins. The Maldives shaded it, beating last year’s runner-up into a very creditable third place.
The Maldives continues to offer the tempting prospect of exciting big-animal boat-diving and solid house-reef diving from luxury resorts or luxury liveaboards.
The luxury has become more expensive, but adding to the mix now is the prospect of economical holidays on populated islands. The destination has also shown itself willing to tackle conservation issues.
Malta has achieved what no other Mediterranean diving destination has quite managed – a wide variety of shipwreck attractions to suit everyone from beginners to tec divers, including wrecks with real back-stories, plus interesting topographic and marine-life attractions.
But both Malta and the Maldives should beware – this year the UK was breathing down their necks for a top-three spot!

DIVER Newcomer of the Year

1st Hollis Explorer
2nd Suunto Eon Steel
3rd Divesangha

DIVER takes the voting into account but also exercises its discretion in this category, to make sure that it reflects genuine innovation. The category is open to being won by people or companies, though it mainly tends to be products. There’s a special new trophy, too.
Rebreather users are inevitably in the minority of voters, but it was clear that a large number of readers, whether users of not, agreed with our view that the Hollis Explorer rebreather represented something of a technological breakthrough in the recreational market.
Hollis has combined semi-closed single-gas simplicity with closed-circuit electronic gas monitoring to create the world’s first hybrid rebreather – it’s futuristic-looking, lightweight, compact and easy to use, though also expensive, so whether it will conquer the world remains in the lap of the gods.
Suunto picks up yet another accolade in this category. It won Brand of the Year and one reason for that was its Eon Steel, the first dive-computer to combine a customisable bright TFT display with modes including freediving, open-circuit air, nitrox and trimix as standard. A CCR mode will be available for download in 2015.
The company Divesangha Apres-Dive Apparel takes third place. Its garments feature subtle livery in place of shouty slogans and seem to have brought a certain sense of style to the market. They also incorporate an innovative “Hung Dry” feature, and each T-shirt is embroidered with its own number, because we divers are nothing if not individuals!