Scuba Poker: A Navigational Training Exercise

By Jeff Bozanic

In most scuba courses, underwater navigation using a compass is generally one of the least enjoyable activities that a diving student will be exposed to.  Yet, with a little preparation and equipment, this drill can be turned into an exercise that the students will both enjoy and remember for a long time to come.  That is the purpose of “Scuba Poker.”

“Scuba Poker”

To play, the students are sent out in buddy pairs to swim an underwater compass course.  They are given the bearings of the course prior to beginning the dive, which they write down on their slates.  They then swim the course while submerged.  Each leg of the course terminates at a downline.  Clipped to the downline are clothes pins.  Each buddy team takes one clip from the line, and proceeds to swim the next leg of the compass course.

The buddy teams must remain underwater the entire time.  If they get lost, the must run a reciprocal course to get back to the last station, and begin anew.  If they must surface, they forfeit the opportunity to collect any further clothes pins, and must swim back to the dive entry point.  Normally, once the teams have visited each station, they return to shore underwater as well.

Typically, the course consists of seven legs.

Thus, if all goes well, each buddy team should return with seven clothes pins.  Each pin is numbered.  After the teams have unsuited, they exchange their clothes pins for the playing card that corresponds to the number on the pin.  They then select the best five card hand from the cards which they hold.

The team holding the best hand is awarded a prize.  I generally give each of the winning members a set of dive tables, a logbook, or similar reward.

The exercise teaches or reinforces a variety of skills.  The compass is used to swim a variety of directions, not just out and back on a reciprocal course.  It also reinforces buddy cooperation, slate use, and manipulation of objects while on scuba.

Preparation is the key to running this exercise

All of the materials should be assembled in advance.  Weights, downlines, and surface floats are needed for each of the seven navigational stations.  52 clothes pins or similar clips must be pre-numbered (or 54 pins if jokers are to be used as wildcards).  Each number should be assigned a playing card.  The easiest way to do this is to shuffle a deck of cards, assigning each consecutive card a number.  Besides the list of numbers, a deck of playing cards and the prizes will be needed on the surface.  Besides their standard open water diving gear, each buddy team will need a compass, a slate and pencil, and goody bag to place clips into.

Before the students arrive at the dive site, the instructor should set up the course.  The positions of the dive lines must be placed far enough apart so that the following endpoint is not visible from the starting point of the leg.  The further apart the stations are, the more challenging the course will be.  A flat sand bottom with poor to mediocre visibility works well for this exercise, enabling almost any beach or lake to be used.  If there is a current at the dive site, the legs should be shortened, or the students taught to compensate for drift.

Make sure to review compass use

Use of the compass should be reviewed with the students prior to the dive.  And a complete dive briefing is necessary to explain the rules, as well as contingency plans for the dive (what to do should a buddy pair become separated underwater, etc.)  Of course, normal dive briefing and buddy checking tasks should be accomplished as well.

The teams should be sent out in pairs at five-minute intervals.  This prevents one group from following another instead of using their compass.  Sending the teams out on their own also strengthens the weaning process, increasing their self-reliance instead of depending on the instructor.  I have generally used this exercise for my Open water II and Advanced classes, since these individuals are already certified, and qualified to dive on their own (as long as the conditions approximate those they have been diving in before.)

Several variations of the game are possible.

As in poker, certain cards may be declared “wild cards.”  Alternatively, clothespins of different colors may be used, with the divers only allowed to collect on pin of any given color.  The course may also be run as a timed exercise, with a time limit set for getting back to the beach.  If the buddy pair does not return within an allotted time, their hand is disqualified (unless none of the teams make it back in time.)  This bolsters an awareness on time in the divers, which is an important skill for advanced diving activities. Running the exercise in this manner has been especially successful with Advanced classes.

These are but a few of the alternatives for running Scuba Poker.  Regardless of how it is conducted, however, you will find that its use increases the enjoyment of both the students and the instructor by providing additional objectives and amusement.

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