Room for Improvement: An Instructor Trainer’s Perspective
By: Michael McNeil (IT 13626)
A few dive trips this past year have left me shaking my head, thinking of how much room for improvement we have as instructors, divemasters, and divers in general. Several instances that I witnessed leave me very concerned for the safety of divers and revealed anxiety in divers who may not have been trained properly or only paid enough attention to pass the class. Let’s break down a few instances that leave something to be desired among these core types of divers.
One of my biggest pet peeves is walking by an instructor and hearing “scuba diving is a safe sport”. Ping pong is safe; scuba diving carries inherent risks that we as instructors need to teach students to mitigate, should they present themselves during a dive. We are human and not made to breathe underwater, so of course we have risks. The risks we’re speaking of here include drowning, barotrauma, decompression sickness, and AGE (Arterial Gas Embolism), to name a few.
Are we paying enough attention to the students’ ability and comfort levels or are we giving the easy pass to students to keep the class moving? If a student struggles with a mask full-flood and clear skill demonstration, are we getting them through it so they can do it comfortablyAre we cutting corners? Our students need to be able to control their airway and breathe while swimming without a mask just in case one gets knocked off or a strap break occurs
Are we spending enough time working on ascents, descents and hovering? On a recent boat trip, I observed a group of divers having so many buoyancy issues on a dive I was afraid they would get hurt. I spoke with them after the dive and talked about adding air to their BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) and deflating in short bursts, waiting for the change in buoyancy and lung volume before making the next adjustment. They were very grateful. The next day of diving, I told them periodically to stop doing everything but breathing. (I will only do this when they do not have enough air in their BCD to risk an uncontrolled ascent). When they stopped, they sank and realized how hard they were working swimming vertically. These are simple things that need to be addressed during every open water class to help them develop self-awareness underwater.
We know how to teach properly, but over time we build bad habits and forget what we learned. I had a student call me out this year during an ascent as I was overexaggerating looking at my computer. The student said, “I figured with 8,000 plus dives you should be able to ascend safely without looking at your computer”. I told him I can base my ascent on my bubbles, but what type of example would I be setting for him if I told him to CYA (Computerize Your Ascent) and I didn’t? On a later dive, I noticed a father-daughter dive buddy pair. The daughter signaled that she couldn’t equalize as the father continued to pull her deeper. I was glad to see the divemaster of that group intervene. I walked up to that divemaster later and thanked him for keeping that girl safe.
The first thing I tell my DMCs (Divemaster Candidates) is that it’s time to refocus on diving properly and extinguish any bad habits they developed over the years. Bad habits that they should not be doing in front of students include using a quick air dump to descend. Students look to professionals as role models. If we are demonstrating descents, we deflate in short bursts waiting for a change in buoyancy. Pulling on a quick dump is sending the wrong message.
Divemasters need to remember they are professionals now and should set a good example in and out of the water. You are a divemaster; you should not be adjusting regulators, air2, first stages, etc. unless you are a certified technician. It’s wonderful that you can get parts online and rebuild a reg thanks to YouTube, but you may be setting a bad example, as well as voiding your warranty. And divemasters, remember you can only take students to the limits of their certifications, not yours, no matter what the instructor says!
“It won’t happen to me.” It’s important to know that this attitude can be very dangerous! I’ve seen my share of dive buddies diving 40 feet apart, playing dangerous games underwater, doing extremely dangerous things like ripping regs out and trying to turn off air 50 feet deep. I’ve seen divers buying old, dilapidated gear on eBay and Facebook, not taking care of and getting your gear serviced like you should. Please remember that this equipment is used as your life support while underwater, and this is not the place to save a couple bucks. Please buy from a reputable dive shop and take care of your gear.
Why are we pushing limits and taking chances for an extra 5 minutes underwater? I saw a couple diving and when one ran out of air, they simply switched to using the partner’s octopus. They could have easily surfaced and then did a surface swim in, but one partner still had air and the out-of-air diver wanted to continue the dive. There was only 200psi left in the tank when they got out, meaning that it was past time to call the dive. We need to be better at all levels.
A Call to Action
Pros: Teach them right, teach them properly, and don’t cut corners.
Divers: Remember what you are taught, progress your diving knowledge through continuing education and reading dive articles (like this one). Practice the skills you were taught. Remember, if you don’t use it, you lose it. If that happens, take a refresher course.
All-Level Divers: Take care of your gear, dive conservatively, stay within your training limits and enjoy this sport responsibly!