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   Shortcuts in Training?

    Why would you even consider it.


             In another thread I stated that I would be posting about this. What got me on this track was the weekend I just spent with a student working on his SEI Master Diver certification.  We initially planned to spend the weekend just working on his dives for the course.  What happened however turned the weekend into a learning experience on how to identify problems with Open Water instruction and identify possible dive accidents waiting to happen.            

             It is no secret about how I feel concerning abbreviated courses.  What I saw this weekend only reinforced those opinions and in one instance had me sure that we were going to see a serious incident.  By the grace of whatever deity there may be, this did not happen.  Or only by pure dumb luck it didn’t.  What I am referring to in this instance is the incident that happened on Saturday morning during our first dive of the day.  We were in the water early as we knew that it was going to get crowded fast.  Big groups of OW students were coming in and the vis was going to get trashed fairly soon.  About halfway through the dive we had just practiced a swim thru of a school bus and had circled around to see a group of 6 OW students with an instructor and a DM bringing up the rear.  Vis was now getting reduced and the group was coming thru single file.  After what happened in the Rawlings incident it occurred to me that these people must not have heard of it.  How any conscientious instructor could or would risk taking a group of students around single file is beyond me if they had heard of it.  No one was buddied up, students were bouncing like a line of yoyo’s with very poor buoyancy skills and the vis was such that the ends of the line could not see each other.             

            It was the last that was most disconcerting as my student and I watched a young lady at the back of the line start to lose control and ascend somewhat rapidly.  Luckily the DM was there to catch her by the fin and stop her near runaway ascent.  What was unlucky for her was the way in which he did it.  He grabbed her fin, then her ankle, then worked his way up to her tank valve and literally shoved her down about ten feet to the bottom.  As he was doing this she had her inflator in her left hand and with her right appeared to struggling to equalize.  AT NO TIME DID THE DM MAKE EYE CONTACT WITH HER!  She was kicking trying to maintain some depth and only when she happened to turn to see what had a hold of her did she seem to relax some.  He then was pulling her along by the tank valve trying to catch up with the rest of the group that was now out of sight.  The instructor never came back to see if anything was wrong.  There was no way he was aware of what was happening at the back of HIS GROUP OF STUDENTS, and the DM was in no position to assist the student directly in front of the girl with the problem.  Given the time of day I would surmise that it was the first dive of the day and in some systems this is supposed to be a short tour after assessing the student’s reactions.  Why you would take someone on a tour with such poor control is beyond me.  Why they would not still be in the pool is beyond me.            

           The event that I just described could have resulted in a few things.  First had the DM not caught the girl she could have been hurt in a runaway ascent.  Second she could have suffered a serious barotrauma from being dragged down by the DM and not been able to effectively equalize.  A ruptured eardrum in 65 degree water could have resulted in severe vertigo and outright panic.  At the same time this incident could have taken the attention away from another student who may have stopped to see where the DM was, lost sight of the group, went to look for the DM or group, got separated, panicked, and had his own serious injury.  And no one would have known.  Because no one was buddied up.  What this instructor did was tell every one of those students that any talk about the buddy system was BS.  And he did on their first OW dive.              

           Another cause could have been equipment related.  What led me to this thought was what I saw on the surface.  Between 4 different groups of students I counted 22 new divers and not one octo holder or method to clip off their spg console among them.  I saw new divers and a couple instructors splash with octos hanging behind them, down at their sides, and a few trapped on the left side of the tank.  Gauges were likewise dangling and swinging wildly as they jumped in.  I saw two octos and one console bounce off the dock as divers entered just a bit close.  Not once did an instructor say anything to any student about securing their gauges.  I also saw no buddy checks being done.  Had I been able to positively identify the shop or instructor I would have said something to someone with them.  In the case of the girl I would have filed a QA complaint with whatever agency they were with.  But again it was so crowded and I had my own student to attend to.             

           The incidents of what I call incompetence were not confined to OW students.  We were gearing up when a group on the same dock was getting ready to go in for an AOW deep dive.  The students were being briefed when one of the instructors asked what the procedure was if they overstayed their NDL?  Three of them answered and all three were wrong.  Why are students going on their first deep dive not knowing what the procedure is for overstaying their NDL?  My OW students know how to pull their tables out and look up the emergency deco info for this.  Other agencies teach an extended safety stop.  There was also no talk of gas planning so if they took an air hog on this dive he could conceivably have an issue with running low or out of air.  Why don’t they know beforehand how much air they use?  It’s called a SAC rate and in my AOW class we use previous dives to determine this and calculate how much air they may expect to use.            

           There were some other things that I may detail later but for now what I am trying to say to new divers is ask yourself if anything like this occurred on your OW dives and think about how close you may have come to getting hurt.  Ask yourself if you think you should have been taken on your checkouts when you were.  Yes, they are a new experience but it should not be that different from the pool in terms of basic skills.  Especially in inland quarries in calm water.  Yes, it’s colder and vis may be worse but it is not that different in terms of clearing your mask and recovering your reg.  You are not supposed to be learning these things on your OW dives.  You are being evaluated on your level of competence with them.  If you are not comfortable doing them you should not be there.  You should still be in the pool.            

           Instructors who lead their students single file in OW are asking for trouble.  You are looking to have someone get lost or separated.  For what?  To expedite a class by not teaching and, most importantly, reinforcing proper buddy skills?  Those of you who think it is ok to dive with gear unsecured should have your gear trashed.  You are in fact encouraging it.  And when, not if, something fails you have no one to blame but yourself.  Heck shops that think they don’t need to provide octo holders and clips for consoles could rip students off by making them by their own as part of their personal gear!  At least you’d be trying to say taking care of gear and no danglies are important or, like the buddy system, just paying it lip service.             

           Shortcuts get people hurt.  Short courses show time and time again how they produce divers who barely know how to survive.  And when you neglect training in proper buoyancy, trim, proper weighting, rescue skills, and actual buddy skills you risk the lives of your students and give the entire activity a black eye. 

            Regardless of whether or not it still meets standards.


Posted by jimlap212 on Tuesday January 15, 2013 5:14 pm



Wednesday January 16, 2013 4:15 am
Posted by Kevin Jones as
Totally agree and I am anal about my AOW students and their buoyancy control. Peak Performance Buoyancy is always the first dive of my AOW classes and I expect my students to practice it on every dive there after. Having been trained as a cave diver and a tech diver (by Steve Lewis), my expectations are much higher than PADI's. Due to Rawlings' murkiness, our shop now has a policy of no single file tours and no OW classes that do not have an instructor and at least one assistant with no more than 6 students in the water at a time.
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