How to Recruit the Right People for Your PSD Team

by Dr. Thomas Powell:

In the world of public safety, special operations teams often appear to be elite, or in some way special. The reality is that special teams are typically made up of volunteers who work hard to maintain or achieve membership. They are average men and women who took on the challenge of membership and put in the extra time and effort. Similarly, the hard work of some often makes many look good and carries the load for individuals who do not fully commit to team needs. I am sure that everyone reading this has been assigned to a team at some point in your life. On this team you had someone who did not carry his or her weight, but to accomplish a task or to get a good grade the other members drove on and got the work accomplished. Sadly, this person who goes along for the ride is often somehow found on public safety teams. He or she is there for the t-shirt and badge and just will not go away. They have no business being on the team and you cannot depend on them when times get difficult. For this reason, if you are seeking to create or bolster the membership of a public safety dive team, you must work hard to recruit the right type of people.

Recruiting is a process that can be very difficult. First, you must be fair to all potential applicants. In our modern litigious society you cannot show favoritism or treat people in different fashions based on things such as gender, ethnicity, or religious beliefs. That factor recognized, you need to decide what type of people you want on your team. Determine measurable factors that you want to see in your divers.


One measureable factor that is valuable for any dive team is fitness. Many people like to think that being physically fit means you could proudly also get a job as an underwear model. This is not at all what you should be seeking. Instead, you want divers who will not quit when they are tired. You want to know that when things get tough, they will push through and be dependable to other members. To assess this factor, you can easily establish an initial swim test (or other type of fitness test) prior to team acceptance. Similarly, you can also establish regular swim tests for active members to ensure they do not become complacent in the realm of fitness. In regard to liability, make sure that every applicant is prepared to show up with a signed medical form for your records as a prerequisite for membership. Someone may appear physically and mentally ready, but in the world of public safety, a doctor needs to make that call. You may as well make sure things are good up front in regard to medical clearance.

Experience and education

Second, experience may be critical. You may be seeking individuals who are already certified as recreational scuba divers to avoid initial basic training needs. You may also be seeking individuals with a certain quantity of time-based experience in public safety, or who have accomplished other training needs such as an emergency medical technician course. Again, these requirements are easy to document and proof of education can be required and presented prior to member acceptance. Determine what your needs are and search for these types of potential members.


Next you need divers who are committed to the team. Attending one meeting a year and skipping training each month helps no one and ensures that member is not prepared for operations. One thing I encourage all dive team leaders to do is to establish a requirement within a team’s standard operating procedures or guidelines that outlines commitment and attendance requirements. Prior to joining the team, new members should be required to sign a copy of these guidelines to ensure all parties can be held to an acknowledged standard. For the sake of record keeping, this process can be repeated with team members each year (or after any changes to the documentation) to refresh everyone’s minds and to maintain current documentation.

Market your team

Once you know what types of divers you need, you have to market your team for recruitment. Find places where the types of people you need work and play. If you can find groups of people who are already representing themselves as what you need, go to them first! One example may be within other special teams, or public safety groups. If people show interest, sit them down and talk about what your team does, the truth of what you need, and what is expected. Those who seem skeptical are already not what you are seeking. The people who are motivated will  often be apparent or take the steps to follow up with you.


Once you have found a pool of applicants, test them. Put them all through an evaluated swim test, and if they are already divers, develop a points scale and determine how well they can perform some basic underwater skills. In certain cases, even bring in an outside instructor to evaluate new applicants in an objective manner. Make sure all applicants are treated equally, but also make sure they have what you need.

Lead by example

Lastly, always lead by example. If you want fit and hard-working divers, then show them what you want. Lead from the front and set a team standard. If they swim today, then you swim with them. If they are in a course, make sure you are sitting in the front row. Be the boss by defining what the team needs in your own actions. You may not be the best, but you will always be dependable.

Recruiting for a dive team can be difficult, and in many cases your candidate pickings may be slim, but do not just accept members to fill seats. Once they are members your quality members will be forced to carry extra weight if anyone is not committed. Find the people you need and make sure they work just as hard as you do. If you do this, your team should find success on some level.

– Thomas Powell – Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC

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