Effective Business Management is about balance


I was asked yesterday to give some thought to exactly what it takes to run a successful retail operation. Any retail operation, even a candy store at the main gates of the largest public school in the state, takes a special mix of skills, but I have to think that running a retail store in the dive industry is a special case.
One disadvantage for me is that I have owned a share of a retail store, but never worked in one, so my list is probably going to be short a skill or two. But after less than two minutes, I had come up with a list of close to 20 hats that the average dive retailer may be asked to wear from day-to-day! See how it compares to yours.
·  Product Buyer
·  Merchandiser
·  Human Resources Professional + Baby-sitter
·  Marketing Guru
·  Salesperson
·  Customer Relations Manager
·  Bookkeeper
·  Cleaner and Coffee Boy/Girl
·  Motivational Speaker
·  Community Advocate
·  Underwater Photographer
·  Travel Advisor
·  Equipment Specialist and Service Technician
·  Educator and Mentor
·  General Contractor
·  Welder and Metal Fabricator
·  Mechanic
·  Website Designer and IT manager
·  Father Confessor
Now the majority of those are self-explanatory; and some less so. But for the record, here’s my take on each of them.


hatsClean.jpgProduct Buyer / Merchandiser


Making the right choices about what gear to sell, has to be right up there with how to display it and how much of it to have sitting around gathering dust out in the stock room; so savvy buyer and display artist is right up there as hats one and two.


Human Resources Professional + Baby-sitter


Opening a shop and keeping it open to suit customers needs, translates into hiring staff in most cases, hence the HR hat. The mention of baby-sitting may simply be a product of my past and experience, and your mileage may vary so we can take that as an optional extra under consideration. At very least, hiring staff, training staff, motivating staff, retaining staff can eat a serious hole into a work week. At worst it can be a bona fide full-time ticket to despair. Certainly it deserves a place on the list.


Marketing Guru / Salesperson


Marketing and Sales are probably two listings that would get the greatest buy-in from anyone in retail. The process of building a marketing plan and the art of closing a sale, are essential to remaining in business… any business! In truth, many would argue that marketing includes sales, but I vote for listing them individually.


Customer Relations Manager


According to most of the textbooks, marketing also includes customer relations since one of the five P’s of marketing is People. Most business people subscribe to the adage that it is easier and more cost effective to keep an old customer than find a new one, and retention is mostly about managing the personal relationship we have with our customers, and since this skill is key to building a loyal following and growing a business, it deserves its own listing.


Well, it’s late April as I write this and the after-effects of the panic to get tax returns in on deadline is still fresh. With all that in mind, bookkeeping and its attendant filing, paper work, basic knowledge of federal tax law, state or provincial tax regulations and local fees and licensing , is a strong enough incentive to add it to the list.



Cleaner and Coffee Boy/Girl


Small to medium-sized business: cleaner (decorator) provider of coffee, hot tea, doughnuts and other refreshments… yep, sounds about right. Even the divisional head of IBM Europe used to arrive with a couple of boxes of muffins for “the team” most Friday mornings. Perhaps a trivial touch but a little boost for morale which can never be a bad thing, so this ‘skill’ is absolutely on the list.


Motivational Speaker / Community Advocate


Including Motivational Speaker and Community Advocate may be a bit of a stretch but I put them in the listing because both are important aspects of growing a business in any sized town or city. Both offer great opportunities to recruit new customers and to increase community awareness of diving; the adventure sport and tech diving represents, as well as the commitment to serve that is part of Public Safety Diving. Presentation made to service clubs, social groups, schools and colleges and the like are hugely effective marketing tools. Because of this, they are on the list.


Underwater Photographer / Travel Advisor


One of the real joys of diving is the visual impact of what is down there under the waves. I’ve read poems about coral reefs and read stories about marine wildlife, wreck diving, exploring caves and lots of other underwater activities, but they all pale beside the photograph that’s on the wall behind my computer. (It’s a picture of a diving flying a scooter over the second breakdown at Jackson Blue Springs.) Photography sells diving.
And while local diving were you are is probably stellar, travel to prime dive destinations, is part and parcel of closing the sale for many dive ops. Actually, the travel advisor hat should really be two; one for being an out-bound operator (sending groups to remote destinations); and one for acting as an in-bound operator welcoming groups to your area. So one hat but it has to be big enough to cover a lot of territory.

Equipment Specialist and Service Technician

Since diving is an equipment-intensive pastime, the next item on the list is a given. Equipment set-up and maintenance is, or should be, a big item on the year-end revenue statement for a successful dive store, and so we have one more hat to wear.


Educator and Mentor

Does your store offer diver education? Of course you do. Formal education and less formal mentoring are part and parcel of being a member of SDI, TDI and ERDI so now issues with this list item.



General Contractor / Welder and Metal Fabricator / Mechanic


I added general contractor because when I owned a share of a retail store, I spent countless hours building stuff and then repairing it. This ran the gamut from replacing slate roof tiles to insulating a crawl space, building a display case, plumbing in a shower and washtub, and converting a Harry Potter sized broom cupboard into an oxygen clean workroom.
I threw in welder and metal worker just in case there was a boat involved in the operations. Same goes for mechanic. Strike these two off the list if they do not apply, but leave them in if there is a charter boat in your future.


Website Designer and IT manager


Probably most of you do some degree of your business over the Internet. Internal networks, public websites, commercial secure servers and generally being wired have all become woven into the fabric of doing business in the 21st Century, so much so that I included website designer and IT manager in the list.

Father Confessor.

I mentioned earlier I’ve never working over the counter in a retail business, but my grandfather owned and ran a couple of pubs and one of many “life lessons” he passed on was about having a willingness to listen to customers and staff when they had to get something off their chest. Never sure why the service industries seem to extend to being asked to comment on everything from finding a suitable university for Junior, to tips on training a new puppy not to pee in the house; but it happens apparently. In a recent study in small businesses operating in the Euro Zone by the Chartered Management Institute, an average of close to an hour of management time each day is spent dealing with personnel issues that fall way outside the purview of business. Add one more hat.

I suspect that if we took apart the required skill set for running almost any business, the listing would be as long as the one above. There is no secret to being successful in business, it takes adaptability and a willingness to roll up your sleeves and try something new. However, there are a couple of things that business people have to face up to if they want their business to truly grow.
Firstly, and probably most importantly, as the business owner, you cannot hope to be good at every skill. You have to balance your core strengths with what your business needs and leave the rest to someone else.
This is one of the most difficult truths for business owners to accept. Getting a small business off the ground often requires its owner to be a jack of all trades. New business owners have to wear a lot of hats and have to present a convincing picture with every one of them on their head. But the really smart entrepreneurs learn to delegate as many tasks as possible as soon as possible, and then stand back and not get in the way.
Perhaps the primary failure point of growing any business is the owner’s inability to hand responsibility AND authority to his managers. Staff who thrive on responsibility (and do not shirk from accountability) are a company’s most valuable asset. Owners who decide which hats they like to wear and “look best wearing,” and who can then delegate responsibility and authority for all the others to others, grow themselves and their business.
But, the best way to mess up this scenario is to miss the second half of the equation; Authority. Giving staff the responsibility to undertake a task but leaving out the part about authority, defeats the object.
Not giving authority is the same as saying “I don’t trust you with this hat… you can wear it but it is mine when I want it back.”  This message is loud and clear to your staff, and to your customers too. Once they understand that you don’t trust your staff, and they will find that out, they will not trust them either.
Most small business owners are skeptical about giving authority. They know there will be mistakes, outright failures, and retrenching periods. The seed change is letting these events pass and writing them off as part of the process of moving the company forward.
The second point is that as the person managing the business from the highest seat in the house – president, CEO, Chairman, call it what you will – you do not need to be an expert in anything; you simply need to recognize one when you see one.
But human nature being what it is we all want to know which skill is the most important for a senior manager / business owner and which hat is the most prestigious. When the head of a large industrial manufacturer was asked to name his most important job, he did not hesitate for a second in answering: “I only have one job, the ability to listen and actually hear what was being told to me. Everything else I leave to the team I work with.”
Now that is a fine looking hat!


Value of Using the Online Leadership Training Programs

 By Dennis Pulley


In 2009 SDI completely revised the divemaster, assistant instructor and open water scuba diver instructor leadership training programs. In addition to updating all of the information presented in each program, SDI achieved another industry first by offering online academics for each of these leadership courses.
The use of online training has been used extensively in many various training settings such as higher education, employment training as well as recreational areas. Attending a class and sitting for hours on end to learn the required information is not always the best option for many students these days. Using the online system, candidates can complete all the pre-course studies online and as such, they will be better prepared to participate in the class.
Some instructors see online training as a potential threat that diminishes the quality of the candidates’ skills and abilities. The reality is that online training simply trades printed material for digital material.
For each of the programs listed above, candidates can sign up anytime and begin their training at their leisure thereafter. Depending on the course structure, the instructor may assign specific sections — or the entire program, to be completed before the first face-to-face academic session. After a candidate has begun a course the instructor can track the student’s progress and detect if he is having difficulties with any of the information. This allows the instructor to target his one-on-one time with the candidate to help improve the student’s knowledge in the areas identified as below average.
Another benefit of using the tracking system is that the instructor can determine if a candidate has any weak areas. Should the instructor determine that a candidate does have a weak area, the instructor may have the candidate prepare a short presentation covering that information. This will require the candidate to learn more about that subject and be able to explain it in terms they are comfortable with.
Since the instructor will not need to spend countless hours in the classroom, more time is available for the practical application, skill training, classroom and water presentations and the “how-to” of working with students and divers.
Trading time normally spent in the classroom for practical time with the students allows the instructor to focus more his attention on helping the students develop their leadership skills. The consequence of this is new dive leaders that are better prepared to lead and train divers.
Dive stores that pre-purchase online training codes have the flexibility to package and price the entire course to meet their needs. For instance, if a candidate is to be hired as an employee, or already is an employee of the facility, the package can be minimal. This may be applied as an employment benefit on contracted based on a specific amount of work after the candidate has completed the course. In comparison, the package for a non-affiliated candidate may include the fees for online training, printed materials, water use fees, gas, training fees and any additional fee. In this scenario, candidates get a single, upfront cost for the entire program.
Dive leaders that enroll in the online academic training also receive a copy of the printed  SDI training materials for the program they are completing that can be used for  future reference.
“The SDI Online Divemaster program revolutionized the way I teach the DM course!  The candidates come to the first session fully prepared, and we spend our time together developing leadership skills and abilities rather than delivering lectures on background knowledge and dive theory.  In the past, I commonly spent 3-4 days in the classroom with a candidate before getting them to the pool.  With the online course, we spent about 6 hours in the classroom, then off to the pool. Best of all, it seems the candidates really learned the material, rather than studying it simply to pass a test.
Brian Shreve
SDI IT-9016
Heartland Scuba
Lincoln, NE

“The online program allowed me to work at my own pace and review the information without someone looking over my shoulder. I especially liked the way the program allowed me to work on my own time schedule vs a typical classroom setting. I was able to complete the pre-course studies according to my personal schedule whether it was two hours a day or six hours a day. The quizzes at the end of each chapter confirmed I understood the material and could not just can skip through it.”


Dan Erickson
Divemaster Candidate
Heartland Scuba

Lincoln, NE


Remember, by using the online training programs an instructor has more tools available to help them follow the academic progress of each student which allows them to tailor the training program to each candidate’s specific needs.


CCR Bailout Philosophy for Cave Diving


By Lamar Hires, co-founder/CEO Dive Rite

There are minimum standards for CCR bailout set by training agencies, and there is the comfort zone. I think people confuse the two.  Training should teach you to evaluate the risk and draw conclusions based on your personal physical ability and personal perception of risk. Sometimes I think divers take the easy way of doing the math. There are many variables for determining bailout needs and reality is never as simple as classroom practice. The experienced cave diver can rationalize anything and practice it to get a memorized response based on repetition. What he can’t control is his breathing rate or the catalyst that triggers the bailout procedure.

To truly determine bailout needs one should consider the circumstances and the factors which lead up to getting off the loop and going to bailout. I understand this from experimenting and building a rebreather.  You never truly know how you will respond when you take your last breath or can’t take one at all. This is sure to elevate your breathing rate and response to the problem.

All this leads to the question “how much bailout is enough?”  The open circuit cave community believes that CCR cave divers don’t take enough bailout because they cannot relate. I try to relate closed circuit needs to open circuit disciplines learned from years of cave diving. I guess after years of starting a dive with about 270 cubic feet of compressed gas I can’t get past the need to have at least 80 cubic feet of bailout gas.  Even if practice gets you out on 30 cubic feet of gas, having at least 80 cubic feet gives you the extra gas to deal with the catalyst that got you off the loop. I think this is the one point training cannot emulate. During training you always know it’s a drill. You wait for the queue and respond. There aren’t any flashing lights or taste of a caustic cocktail. In the real world there are no “abort the drill” signals.

One can argue minimum bailout needs and justify it. On expeditions, bailout needs for closed circuit are rationalized just like the open circuit one-third rule.  Anyone can rationalize their needs verses what’s available. I see it all the time. A dive at home utilizes oxygen for decompression, but on expedition oxygen is not available. Away from a well-equipped fill station  it is ok to do a deep dive on air because it’s a remote area.  I am more concerned about what people rationalize when they have all the resources needed available.

Now the cave diver comes out in me. Redundancy is the key to safety and returning home. For cave diving closed circuit bailout needs should be treated like sidemount, two cylinders for balance, safety and buddy team.  Closed circuit minimum bailout should start with 80 cubic feet just like open circuit and this should be two aluminum 40 cubic feet cylinders for redundancy.  Two cylinders provide multiple advantages:

1)   If you have to go off the loop two cylinders provide the peace of mind that you still have full cave redundancy for the exit. Worn sidemount, these bottles tuck in under the arms for streamlining.  A friend of mine wore a single 80 bailout on a dive and at 3000-foot penetration, 25 minutes away from the entrance his electronics signaled he needed to get off the loop. The diver turned on the bailout bottle to have a HP hose blow. Now he is faced with the dilemma of going back on the loop with indicated failures or to breathe his bailout in single breaths by opening and closing the valve. Not much of a choice. He was able to get back on the loop, but had a major scare.

2)  It is much easier to go from two small cylinders for shallow dives to two large cylinders for deeper dives.  No extra rigging is needed when making this transition so the transition is much easier.

3)  The buddy element is the biggest argument: that is whether to be self-sufficient systems verses the buddy system. I don’t like the idea of single bottle sharing for bailout. I personally will not give up my only full bailout bottle in exchange for a half empty bottle (yes, now the glass is half empty) in hopes that the diver in stress, (yes, he is in stress since he had to get off the loop) has only breathed the bottle down 50 percent before passing it off.

There are three bailout configurations for CCR cave divers: buddy system, self-sufficient, and staged.  I find myself using at least two of them on any given dive. I agree every diver should be self-sufficient, but you should always be ready to help your buddy. CCR divers have more options to them for bailout since their dive is determined by scrubber duration and how much time he wishes to spend based on more physical aspects of the dive. How much decompression are you willing to do? Are you dressed to do the decompression and stay hydrated? Gas supply is usually not a consideration, but bailout is.

Since I subscribe to at least 80 cubic feet of gas for bailout let me share with you several dive scenarios that called for different approaches.

1)  Devil’s Ear – 4000 foot penetration at 100 feet in depth. Since my buddy and I were going to explore some of the side passages beyond the 3000 foot restriction called the Henkel , we opted for a single 80 cubic feet stage each and two aluminum 40 cubic feet sidemount bottles.  My buddy dropped his 80 stage at 1500 feet, while I dropped mine at 3000 feet where we dropped our DPVs.  We went on to explore the smaller side passages with 80 cubic feet of bailout apiece configured in two aluminum 40 cubic feet cylinders.  So the bailout plan was buddy combined with staggered, staged bailouts for the swimming portion of the dive in the smaller, remote passages where we went to self sufficient mode with small sidemount cylinders. This allowed us to explore with less drag and maximize our exploration.

2)  Devil’s Ear – 4200 foot penetration at 100 feet in depth. This dive we had the same penetration as above, yet this was a working dive; a body recovery of a solo cave diver at 4200 feet. The passage was small in places and we knew we would be in zero visibility. Even though my team mate and I were together, we were very busy so we opted to go with two aluminum 80’s each so that if either of us had a problem we could deal with our own bailout needs and still complete the task.  Same dive, but different approach due to conditions of the dive.

3)  Rose Sink – 4500 foot exploration at 140 feet in depth. This dive required the use of all three bailout methods. The dive is a multi-level siphon and the flow increases the farther back you get as feeders add to the total water volume and flow. We staged one 80 each. My buddy dropped his bottle at 1300 feet with a richer mix for the final exit leg and I dropped a bottom-mix bottle at 2500 feet. We dropped DPVs at 3000 feet, keeping two aluminum 40s each for self-sufficient bailout, and then continued the final portion of the dive in a low crawl trying to stay ahead of our silt while we picked up the last of the survey on the last 900 feet of passage.

Based on my experience and the lessons learned from hard knocks received over decades of technical diving, one must evaluate every dive mission based on its needs for bailout planning. If you have the opportunity, talk to local divers to see what kind of planning the open circuit divers use for the site to be sure you use the proper bailout for the dive. Look at the mission, and the team, and then plan according to ability, experience and familiarity with the system.  You cannot make every dive fit the same bailout planning unless you use this as a tool to limit your penetration.  Proper planning of bailout is just as important as planning your decompression or mission. Make sure all team members are up to it and do their part in any team effort of staging gas. Practice various methods and see what works for you.

Lamar Hires is an active diver, equipment manufacturer, designer and instructor. He is well-known for his work to improve general diver safety and specifically for the promotion of common-sense protocols to help manage diver safety in overhead environments, closed-circuit rebreathers and Open-Circuit sidemount kit configurations.

The articles, positions and statements contained in this publication are not necessarily those of SD™ TDI™ or ERDI™ its BOD, officers or
employees.  Opinions, conclusions, and other information in this publication are solely those of the authors and are neither given nor endorsed by the agencies mentioned. Total editorial freedom and expression is solely retained and the responsibility of the editors/writers.

 At left, Dive Rite founder Lamar Hires at the ‘Stop Sign’ in Little River, circa 1980s. Photo: © Wes Skiles


The Year of the Rebreather

Poseidon Discovery – now available för 10,000 diving instructors all over the world

TDI™ (Technical Diving International™), the largest technical certification agency in the world, is now offering training in the sports diver Rebreather, also known as Poseidon Discovery. TDI is seen as an innovator always bringing  new, exciting and functional diving techniques and programs to the general diving public.

All of the 10, 000 TDI-certificated diving instructors around the world now have the opportunity to get educated in the Rebreather system. This means that the possibility för scuba divers to be taught by an Rebreather-educated instructor has increased considerably.

“I would call this the crucial step för the Rebreather to reach the great amount of recreational divers all over the world,” says Kurt Sjöblom, CEO of  Poseidon Diving Group AB. “My prediction is is that 2010 will really be the year of the Rebreather!”



The world’s first closed breathing system for recreational divers


Unlike traditional breathing systems for recreational divers, Poseidon Discovery reuses the exhaled breath. This extends the diving time from 40 minutes to several hours. In November 2008, Poseidon Discovery was awarded the international award “Best of What’s New Award” by Popular Science, one of the largest popular science magazines.


For further information, please contact:  

Kurt Sjöblom, CEO, +46706340552,

Mats Lennartson, Press Contact, +46707902468, 



For further information about diver education from TDI, please contact




About Poseidon Diving Systems AB


Poseidon was founded by divers, for divers. When Ingvar Elfström launched the world’s first single hose regulator in 1958 it became an immediate sensation. The company currently has 30 employees and over 2000 agents worldwide. Headquarters and manufacturing is located in Gothenburg, Sweden.






Teaching Tips: Personal Dive Computers

By Steve Lewis

We get a considerably varied and pretty constant stream of email into our office from divers across North American and from around the world. Sometimes it’s to tell us how pleased they are about the service they got from one of you folks. Sometimes it’s to ask about the quality of diving in some far-flung corner of the Pacific. Occasionally it’s a complaint. But from time-to-time we get asked to explain why we do things the way we do, and these are usually the most fun to answer!

Last week, I got a message from off one of the many scuba-related forums on the web that we monitor. Apparently this diver’s girlfriend had signed up for an open water course and he was shocked to learn that his local dive store had switched affiliations and was now promoting, what his old instructor termed, “SDI’s superior program!”

That happens more and more these days… but he asked what the differences were between the Open Water program he had taken through another sport diving agency and SDI’s. He explained that he was shocked to learn from his girlfriend that SDI promotes the use of personal dive computers (PDCs) rather than making students work through calculations using tables.

During one of our conversations, he said he felt she was being short-changed and that not learning tables was dangerous. He actually said “if sport divers or occasional divers can’t familiarize themselves with the tables then should such an unsafe person be diving?” Frankly, I was a little floored because it seemed to me he was telling me that ALL SDI-trained divers are unsafe, because their instructors have not made them slog through an antiquated system that most divers forget how to do unless reminded on a regular basis.

For the record, let me share with you want I explained to him because you too may run into someone who harbors similar misconceptions, and although I am sure you have your own version of things, the explanation that follows may help you sometime in the future.

Let’s start at the beginning. SDI is different to the other major sport diving agencies because it was created by people who ran a technical diving agency; the biggest technical diving agency in the world, TDI. The men and women who helped put together its curriculum and developed its courses had the strongest background possible in diver education and diver safety, and the attendee list of those early brain-storming sessions read like a who’s who of recreational diving… both technical and sport branches.

Their primary concern was to create an open water course that made diving an adventure rather than a chore, and one that had a sort of “sky’s the limit” perspective on diver education… after all, many of those early SDI instructors had experience exploring exciting spots around the globe that few divers had ever seen. The majority of them had been teaching people to dive in caves, and running diver programs to depths about three-times the “normal” sport diving limits. So their perspective on how far a student could progress was a mite broader than instructors from other backgrounds!

Right from the beginning, SDI brass determined that all SDI-level divers wear a personal dive computer. In the simplest terms, this determination was driven by safety, and not as my correspondent suggested collusion with the dive computer manufacturers! Personal dive computers have evolved immensely since the first brick-sized units available in the 1980s. They have become easy to read, understand and use. Their functions go way beyond those offered by their predecessors… for example, downloadable graphic dive profiles, and logbook functions. And, most importantly, they are the best tool currently available for controlling ascent speed… something we believe needs to be managed because of what seems to be a very strong association with bubble troubles.

Of course the core function of a PDC is to track average nitrogen loading in real-time and give a good approximation of the decompression status of the person wearing it minute by minute (actually, second by second in many cases). Because of this, among other benefits, a savvy diver is able to maximize her bottom time while keeping within the No Decompression Limits of her dive. No table can come close to this level of accuracy and, by inference, offer comparable security. The mitigation of DCS is never zero regardless of what method is used – tables, PDC or some other Voodoo – but for sport divers, a PDC is without comparison.  In short, a PDC is an extremely useful tool within the budget of the majority of sport divers.

Of course the one important proviso is that when a SDI diver graduates his or her open water class, their instructor has helped them to understand the computer’s functions and benefits, and they have been encouraged to read the user’s handbook and discuss anything they did not immediately understand.

Now on the topic of tables. We do not discourage instructors from teaching tables, in fact all our leadership courses (DM, AI, OWI, SIT, IT) have components where the US Navy, DCIEM and Buhlmann tables are used, but extensive research has told us that sport divers and tables do not mix well. In fact, there are strong indications that unfamiliarity with dive tables among occasional divers keeps people away from diving. Because of this and other concerns about table use on multiple dives, CNS tracking and related issues that may have a negative effect on a diver’s well-being, we discourage tables as primary information.

The arguments for tables actually remind me of the arguments that are offered against technological advances in all forms of sport and pastimes, not just diving. I’ve heard people rally against seat belts and anti-lock brakes, airbags and traction control in cars. (Actually, members of my father’s generation despised synchromesh gears!) But of course these innovations are now standard in any late model car. They save lives!

The vast majority of ski hills don’t allow skiers on their slopes without modern bindings and boots. Leather and duct tape are no goes.

The list goes on and in our industry, there are many of you who may remember the cries against SPGs, BCDs and things that we take for granted now. The old way is NOT the best way, and thinking that tables are somehow superior for sport divers is simply nonsense.

Forgive the personal note but my wife, a smart woman in all but her choice of life companion, was terrified of tables when she first learned to dive. It was not the math or the process that scared her, she’s an executive with one of the largest hotel chains in the world and deals with numbers and process-driven protocols every day. What scared her was getting it wrong. She felt the penalty for a mistake using tables was so severe, she was reluctant to dive. A computer solved that problem… now if I can just get her to master the reverse frog kick…

How does the Online Divemaster Benefit Me?


Information about the newest educational innovation from SDI™, TDI™

1.    Q: I’m sold on the benefits of SDI™ online training for open water and specialties like nitrox, wreck, deep, navigation and so on, but why Divemaster?


A: Often, the instructor who is best suited to develop dive leaders is the one person who has the least time available. The perfect solution is blended learning through SDI’s online training. The proven online system moves your divemaster candidates through their academics freeing up valuable instructor time to work hands-on with them to refine their leadership qualities as well as diving, risk-management, and dive business skills.


2.    Q: Do all my DM candidates have to do all the academics online now?


A: No, you can still teach a DM course the way you have always done with traditional classroom.  However, we believe you will find that your candidates come to class much more prepared if they do the program online first.


3.    Q: How do I get my dive center signed up for this program?


A: Simply contact either your local Regional Manager, or HQ and both can assist in setting up your facility to do the program.


4.    Q: If am already using the online program to do Open Water or Specialties is my facility already set up?


A: Yes and no.  Yes your facility is listed in the new website as an active online facility, but no you have to use a different link for this course.  www.sdi-onlinetraining.comleadership

5.    Q: If I have a link off of my own website to the online program for my own students, do I have to create another link to give access to my students for the DM program?


A: Yes, you can get the unique link using your username and password as a login in on  www.sdi-onlinetraining.comleadership


6.    Q: If a student signs up on the website and pays with a credit card directly on the site, what is the amount my facility gets?

A: The facility is issued a $225 credit and HQ takes care of shipping all the materials they need directly to the dive facility, including a DM manual, Knowledge Quest, and other items.


7.    Q: Can I buy access codes at a discounted rate as I do for the other online courses?


A: Yes, the amount of the discount depends on the facility current buying level.

8.    Q: Are all DM candidates required to choose a dive center to be affiliated with when signing up? 

A: Yes, all SDI courses must be taught through a recognized dive center. 


9.    Q: If I purchase codes for a DM candidate, is my dive center automatically chosen and locked in as the facility as it is with the other online courses?

A: Yes, DM candidates that sign up using an access code you provide to them or via your websites unique link are locked in as your students and you are given the credit.


10.    Q: Is there a user manual for facilities to understand better how the system works?


A: Yes, you can download one off of the members section of the website or contact your regional manager or HQ.


Contact your local SDI, TDI representative or call Cris Merz at 888.778.9073 for more information. Cris can also be contacted via email


Deconstructing the Process of Learning and Instruction

It’s fair to say that the goal of most candidates who are working through an SDI or TDI leadership system to earn their instructor rating is to deliver the best possible standard of diver education possible.


The candidates who perform well, do so in part because they come into their IDC or IT program prepped and ready to learn. They arrive having worked on their diving and in-water skills… laps in the pool, mask clearing, gear removal on the surface… you know the drill.


Some arrive with a few miles logged making presentations… as an AI working with actual students or in front of their family and friends… or the mirror. Regardless of the methodology, they make an impression with their trainers because they’ve worked at to gain some experience, and it’s had a positive impact.


And the serious ones come primed for the knowledge review having studied their textbooks and leadership manual to brush up on dive theory –Gas Laws, signs and symptoms of DCS, etc.


But for the vast majority of newly minted instructors there is something standing in the way of them reaching their goal. What’s missing is the ability to read if effective learning is taking place in their classrooms. For lay educators not armed with the tools supplied by a post grad degree in education, or bloodied by the experience of teaching scuba in the real world with real people for a season of two… or three, this is a tough skill to acquire.


As experienced instructors and instructor-trainers, store owners, bosses, we mentor our new instructors but it’s hard to condense years of responding effectively to signs and signals from students into a few words. But there is help.


Gagne and the eight phases of learning


There are several established educational models in use by professional educators such as teachers, textbook writers, computer programmers, et al to develop instructional materials or presentations. We can learn a great deal from “borrowing” those concepts to help make the classes we lead more effective.


The work of American educator Robert Gagné especially had a profound influence on American education and on military, institutional and industrial training. His model is simple and applicable for scuba instruction.


Gagne explained that for effective learning to take place, whether the instruction is taking place in a classroom, on a factory floor or in a swimming pool, the learner must go through all eight of the phases in his model.


He stated that if one phase is ignored or if there’s a partial breakdown that extends over several phases, learning does not take place. It’s therefore primarily important that each of these phrases occurs, and if there is an issue, some person or material must make up the short-coming or effective learning will not occur.


The following paragraphs briefly describe each of the phases of learning presented by Gagne’s model:


Attention. Attention is the phase that pushes information into the student’s working memory and helps to keep it active there. And so for effective learning, the student must focus full intention on the learning activity itself. Although this is listed as the “first phase,” attention is critical throughout the whole learning process.


Expectancy. During this phase, the student realizes that the end result of learning is going to be something desirable. This develops motivation to engage in the subsequent phases of the learning process.


Retrieval of Relevant Information to Working Memory. This phase is entirely dependent on the student and his past learning experiences. During this phase, the student retrieves from long-term memory the structures that will be helpful in learning new information to him.


Selective Perception. This phase describes the student focusing their efforts on the  essential features of the instructional presentation. One important role of an instructor in this phase is helping students to direct their attention appropriately.


Encoding: Entry of Information into Long-Term Storage. During this phase the student remembers information. The information is transferred into long-term memory by relating the new  information to things that are already stored there.



Responding. During this phase the student uses what has been taught. He retrieves and actively uses the information that has been stored in long-term memory, and demonstrates through an active performance that the learning has taken place.


Feedback. During this phase the student determines the degree to which the performance during the previous phase was satisfactory. Positive feedback on a good performance usually serves as a positive reinforcement.


Cueing Retrieval. During this phase the learner practices recalling or applying the information after it has been initially learned in order to enhance retention of the information or to transfer the learning beyond its original context to a new application.



When Gagne stated that a student must go through all eight of these phases in order for effective learning to occur, he did not state that the instructor is the person responsible for causing all eight of them to occur. What he said was that Somebody (usually either the instructor or the student) must see to it that all of these phases occur, but the actual role of the instructor will vary from situation to situation and from student to student.


For example, during phase one an instructor will introduce a topic to be learned in a way that catches the student’s attention and causes them to develop expectancy (phase two) that it would be interesting to know more about the topic.



The Nine Events of Instruction


Based on the eight phases of learning Gagne developed with others nine events of instruction: useful information for us in the context of improving the effectiveness of the training we deliver and the way we coach new instructors. These focus on activities that can be performed by an instructor or by the instruction system itself to promote effective learning. Here is the list.

Gaining attention: Giving a stimulus to ensure reception of coming instruction

Informing the learner of the objective: Telling student what they will be able to do following successful instruction

Stimulating recall of prior learning: Asking for recall of existing relevant knowledge

Presenting the stimulus: Displaying the content and discussing it

Providing learner guidance: Supplying organization and relevance to enhance understanding 

Eliciting performance: Asking learners to respond, demonstrating learning

Providing Feedback: Giving immediate feedback on learner’s performance.

Assessing performance: Providing feedback to learners’ more performance for reinforcement

Enhancing retention and transfer: Providing diverse practice to generalize the capability 


There is something to be gained in sharing this work with new instructors, and reviewing it in comparison with our current classroom/training techniques. In fact we can use the table below to gain a better understanding of how the events of instruction interlink with the phases of learning. Reading Gagne will never replace the benefits of classroom experience, but it may help to optimize it.


Event of Instruction

Learning Phase

How Teacher or Text Does It

How Students Self-Instruct

When to Skip This Event


Gaining attention




Sudden stimulus change.

Call for attention.





Attentional set

Mood management.

When attention can be assumed – when learner is already alert.


Informing the learner of the objective: activating motivation.



State objectives and relate them to students’ needs and interests.

Student selects own objectives. (This usually comes first.)

Almost never – but maybe if the objective is obvious.


Stimulating recall of prior knowledge.


Retrieval to Working Memory of prerequisite information


Give an exercise or review activity to recall previous information.

Student looks for and retrieves relevant prior information.

Often students do this without even realizing that it is happening.

Almost never – but skillful self-learners may do this themselves.



Presenting the stimulus material.



Selective Perception

Text, audiovisual, or voice presentation.

Objects or demonstration materials

Show distinctive features and focus attention on them.

Student seeks out and finds relevant material to provide instruction.

Almost never – although learners may acquire stimulus material on their own initiative.


Providing learning guidance


Encoding: Entry to Long-term Memory Storage

Provide meaningful context.

Offer organizing strategies.

Relate encoding to the objectives.

Student uses rehearsal or chunking strategies.

Student selects storage structures to retain in-formation.

Student employs cognitive strategies

When the learner already possesses effective cognitive strategies.


Eliciting performance




SDI vs TDI Nitrox: Which One and Why

We are often asked why we have two nitrox programs, one under SDI and one under TDI, and why should someone choose to teach one course over the other…. or even consider both?