Once again Diver readers have shown that they care, by voting in vast numbers for their favourite people in the multi-faceted world we call diving. So who's in and who's out? Who will be at London's Savoy Hotel to collect those bronze Diver Awards, more coveted than a reef-hook in a 10-knot tidal flow? Read on...
With so many big diving-equipment brands competing for this award, it's always a surprise when the same brand wins. The big news this year is that Mares for once did not win this award outright, as it has done for the past four years running. The ever-popular brand was swept into second place this time by another giant - Scubapro.
"It's been a great year for product development and innovation," said Mick Robertson of Scubapro UK when told of its triumph. "I want to thank our excellent network of authorised dealers and all Scubapro-equipped divers for their support. It's not before time that we won!"
Runner-up Mares found itself in good company with the British brand Apeks, which was placed third.
However, it should be noted that other popular brands, including Buddy from AP Valves and Sweden's Poseidon, were hot on their heels.
Diving computers were at the forefront of voters' minds - but not just any diving computers. This time round, it seemed that many technical divers had taken up their pens and voted.
Clear winner was the Suunto Vytec, big brother of the popular Suunto Vyper. This computer allows divers to track their dives using up to three different nitrox mixes, and it can also be gas-integrated by a radio link with the primary supply.
A rather clever marketing ploy by the manufacturer is to offer the computer with the gas-integrated transmitter-unit as an optional extra, making its entry-price attainable for a wider public.
"Excellent!" exclaimed John Sinclair of Suunto UK when he heard of his company's success. "This award is especially appreciated by Suunto because the Vytec was voted for by Diver readers, and British divers are widely known to be the most technically minded in Europe."
Close behind the Vytec came the Delta Technology VR3 computer. This goes further into the realms of technical diving by offering additional options such as use with mixed gases other than air/nitrox and it can even be integrated directly with the breathing loop of a previous winner, the Ambient Pressure Inspiration rebreather.
Third place was taken by Poseidon's avant-garde Xstream regulator, yet another product aimed mainly at technical divers.
For the third year running, the Egyptian-based company Emperor Divers, which has centres in Nuweiba, Sharm, Hurghada and now Soma Bay, swept the board in the voting for most favoured dive-centre.
When they were told of their company's continuing success, owners Terry and Theresa Simpson said: "We're over the moon to have won this award three years in a row. We never forget that it's our customers who dive with us and the people who work for us who keep us where we are - at the top."
The sheer numbers of visitors clearly play a big part in this category and two well-attended British dive centres were not too far behind in the voting. Stoney Cove, the ever-popular inland centre in Leicestershire, gathered up a high number of votes to come in second. This reflected the huge amount of investment in improved facilities that has continually been made by its operator. Third place was taken by the busy Puffin Dive Centre of Oban in Scotland.
Probably the most vigorously contested of all the Diver Awards, we have concluded that the elections for US President in Florida were a gentlemanly affair compared to the efforts to which some stores will go to gain this particular prize.
It seems that many retailers covet it and would do anything necessary to win it! Thousands of entries were received, many filled out in the same hand-writing and with the same pen, but our adjudicators do take time out to unravel the voting and find the readers' favourites.
We are pleased to be able to say that SDS Watersports of Sheffield won fairly and squarely for a second year in succession. "With so many dive shops out there, we see this as a fantastic achievement," said Arthur Balderson of SDS Watersports (pictured third from right with his staff). "This is the third Diver award we've won, and we are the only dive shop that's managed to do that.
"I put it down to the dedication of our staff, their attention to service, and, of course, the undoubted loyalty of our customers. It makes a great start to our 10th anniversary year."
Runner-up was Aberdeen Watersports, which is a new name in these rolls of honour, and in third place came a centre that has been high in the running for the past few years, Go Dive of Derby.
This award is always hotly contested and never more so than this year. Newcomers to the front of the grid included some relatively small specialist operators with their own loyal client base, but inevitably it was the high-volume operators who took the top prizes.
Not to be outdone after last year's uncustomary absence from the number one spot, Regaldive came first, closely followed by relative newcomer Neilson, which specialises in multi-sports holidays, and with Aquatours in third place.
"Yes!!!!" was the reaction of Andreas Elia of Regaldive (shown centre, with staff). Once calmed down, he went on to say: "We're extremely pleased to have won this prestigious award yet again, although we will never be complacent. The team at Regaldive works very hard to ensure that we offer the best possible service and value for money to all our clients.
"We say a big thankyou to all the readers of Diver who travelled with Regaldive last year and who took the trouble to vote for us."
With no blockbuster bookshop success such as The Blue Planet to clean up in this category this year, it was left to more modest publications. First place again to a BBC volume, The Shark watcher's Handbook by Mark Carwardine and Ken Watterson. This is a diver's guide to sharks which tells you where to see them and how to identify them when you do. It has obviously proved its accuracy and acceptability as a practical handbook for divers.
Mark Carwardine, who is a broadcaster as well as a writer, was agreeably surprised. "It's great news," he said. "Divers know about these things and it's good to be accepted by people who are not simply armchair enthusiasts."
Kevin Gurr's exhaustively compiled manual Technical Diving from the Bottom Up won second place in this category, while sub-hunter Innes McCartney's video The U-boat Wrecks of Operation Deadlight came third.
We're relieved to find that this category is not normally hotly contested. This year, Dosthill Quarry's toilet facilities at Tamworth earned the now expected mention and runner-up spot (come on now, voters, you're taking the piss!) but the unlucky winner was exceptionally unlucky.
Erich Ritter, the shark behaviourist who escorts groups of divers to snorkel with the massive bull sharks of Walker's Cay in the Bahamas, has always insisted that they are not dangerous. He likes to prove it by wading among these predators while they are feeding on fish scraps.
This year, while making a film on the subject, Ritter was proved wrong. He sustained serious injuries from a shark attack and nearly lost his life. We are told that, although he lost part of his leg, his organised shark encounters have actually grown in popularity since the incident!
Erich Ritter was unavailable for comment, but he probably would have said: "Pull the other one!"
Our seven category-toppers are not the only award-winners. Diver reader Justin Colman, from Hove in Sussex, is the fortunate diver whose name was drawn at random from among your many entries. We had the pleasure of telling Justin that as a result he and a companion had won free trips to Kenya.
"Wow!" said Justin on hearing the news. "We had just been talking about where we could go for a holiday this year, and I'd almost forgotten about the Diver Awards entry. I've never been to Kenya before."
Justin trained with the BSAC in Brighton and worked in Koh Tao as a diving instructor before moving back to become a teacher. It was in Thailand that he met his partner Runa Macleod, who will accompany him on the prize holiday.
Justin and Runa will be heading for Kenya's first all-inclusive beach resort, Turtle Bay Beach Club (www.turtlebay.co.ke). The trip is organised by tour operator New Century Reservations (0207 836 9660, www.newcenturyres.co.uk) .
The dive centre offers a choice of 20 buoyed dive-sites in Watamu Marine National Park available to visit on daily trips, with night dives on request. The sites are said to offer a rich diversity of corals and marine life, including reef sharks and green turtles.
The draw was random but for the record, Justin voted for Mares, the Delta VR3, Gozo Aquasports, Wittering Divers in Brighton, Aquatours, Kevin Gurr's technical diving book and "that bloke who got bitten by a shark, because it was inevitable - stupid" (see below).
Twenty-five other readers whose names were also drawn can look forward to receiving handsome limited-edition Diver Straight Down The Line T-shirts.