COVID-19 UPDATE: We have continued to run courses and charters, and have implemented procedures to ensure the safety of our students & staff. We have small group sizes and thorough gear sanitizing, all while distancing and wearing masks.

Behind "Ocean Guardian"

As we work our way into 2021 with a glimmer of hope on the horizon that soon we will be able to start taking charters out, our new boat is nearing ready for divers. 

The dream of having “The Best Dive Boat on the West Coast of British Columbia” was born long before we heard about COVID-19.

Captain Roger McDonell has been researching dive boat designs for the past couple of years. 

At last year’s Vancouver Boat Show he spoke with Torry Wannenwetsch from Eaglecraft Boats about their new HLC model (Hybrid Landing Craft) and adapting the concept to work as a dive boat. In June of last year, Eaglecraft Boats had started laying the hull for the new design as a ‘spec’ boat for them to sell. 

Hearing that they were going to build one got Roger thinking that maybe it was time to make the decision to move forward with the dream concept. The key aspect was the divers would be exiting and entering the boat off the front, away from the engines and propellers. 

Safety has always been top on mind for Roger who has run boats on this coast for nearly forty years now. “I had my first dive charter boat back in 1985 while working at the Sportfish Centre in the Discovery Marina. That was about the same time Beaver Aquatics was started by Bryan Erickson and Steve Nagle.” 

His first boat was a 21’ aluminum hulled custom boat originally built for a fishing guide and adapted to carry about 6 divers. The concept was great but the timing was not as cold water diving was not so popular. “It was a challenge to get tourists to come to Campbell River for diving. Fishing yes, cold water diving not so much.”

Skip ahead thirty years and much has changed with diving. Cold water diving with newer, better drysuits and a new breed of photographers and videographers has been blossoming. With social media able to spread the word about the fabulous marine life, interest in cold water diving has come of age.

With Eaglecraft Boats having started construction, Captain Roger made the decision and put a deposit on the first HLC build. “After discussions with Torry about the possibility of incorporating a hydraulic lift into the ramp on the new design, I was convinced to move forward with the plans," says McDonell. “It was my second time working with Eaglecraft Boats to design and built a custom boat having had “Gizmo” commissioned in 2010."  

Although “Gizmo” was designed to work with film crews and marine mammal researchers, in 2017 when Roger started working with Beaver Aquatics to do dive charters, there were a few changes made including the twin ‘fin friendly’ dive ladders added to the swim grid. “Since using ‘Gizmo’ for dive charters we have learned a lot about picking up divers from the water. Most often the concern is getting close to the divers with the engines running and being able to maneuver the boat in these currents.”

Gizmo

The landing craft concept has been used by other companies. Most Recently Steve Lacasse from Sun Fun Divers in Port McNeill starting using a landing craft with the divers on the front instead of the traditional stern loading concept. They use a ladder on the loading ramp which seems to be the common approach.

“Ocean Guardian” takes the concept a step further with the addition on a hydraulic lift to retrieve the divers out of the water after the dive. The 36’ hull allows us to accommodate 10 divers, eight up front and two on the back. The divers on the back have the option of using a ‘backup ladder’ on the rear if they feel inclined to do so. 

The other important features is the ‘wet’ cabin allowing divers to get out of the weather while still in their suits. The heated cabin means the dive season is year round out of our Campbell River location. 

Ocean Guardian

 

So with COVID-19 restrictions still in place, we are holding back booking any charters at this time but hope to soon start planning for a very busy 2021 season and into the future.