The tricky question of neutral buoyancy and teaching….

Undersea Girl

Undersea girl is severely chastised for her poor trim and excessive weighting…

One area that has raised a few tricky questions over the last year has been the subject of neutral buoyancy, particularly in the context of teaching. This has caused a few problems mainly down to what I believe is a little bit of a misunderstanding of the intent. I’ve had discussions with people that have asked me why PADI have changed the rules and can’t see the benefit of this, all the way through to people getting a little over zealous in their approach and treating confined water dive one like a Tec 40 skill circuit.

Amidst all the loud shouting on the internet and the current climate of fear, where people are afraid to post pictures of divers having fun in case the Trim Police or the Sidemount Stasi come out to castigate them on enjoying themselves instead of ensuring their tanks are perfectly aligned, I thought it might be handy to have a little summary of what, in my opinion, this all means in practical terms for a working instructor:

The new Open Water Course has the following performance requirements in confined water, specifically related to hovering and trim:

  • Hover using buoyancy control for at least 30 seconds, without kicking or sculling.
  • While neutrally buoyant, swim slowly in a horizontal position to determine trim. Adjust trim, as feasible, for a normal swimming position.

Everything else that follows is simply related to these skills. Notice that nowhere do the performance requirements state that hovering should be performed in flat ‘tec diver’ style trim, but by the same count, notice that neither do they mention the Buddha position….

This is because all the Buddha position stuff is just a training technique, not a PADI method or ‘official’ version of the skill, anymore than hovering horizontally is. If you teach either of these techniques you will be meeting the first performance requirement above. However only the horizontal hover will help with meeting the second performance requirement.

Whatever your viewpoints on the best way to teach hovering, I think you will struggle to argue that a correctly weighted diver in a horizontal position has less control than a diver hovering in a Buddha position, a position that has no application to the real world.

Rather than just accepting the way your instructor taught you and their instructor taught them, all PADI is doing is encouraging us to look at our teaching techniques and see whether there might be a fresher more modern approach to meeting the performance requirements.

One point that has been raised in the context of the hovering skill is the ‘without kicking or sculling’ part of the performance requirement. This doesn’t mean hovering without twitching a butt cheek, it means arm or leg movements that are clearly being used instead of buoyancy control. Some gentle movement of the fins to help keep the legs in place behind the diver when they are clearly neutrally buoyant is perfectly acceptable and infinitely more desirable than someone cross-legged floating upside down holding their fins…..

So what’s the real world lesson here? First off let’s look at trim: Describing it as ‘tec diver’ style trim is already a bit of a red herring. Being in a horizontal position, head up, legs in line with your back, knees bent and frog kicking for propulsion is pretty much the best position for any diver to be in (strong currents etc not withstanding). I don’t believe there is anything wrong in positioning this as the goal and ideal for new divers coming into the sport all the way through to instructors and divemasters. However, do I believe that being able to hover like this makes you a good instructor? No. Do I believe that new divers must be able to dive like this to have fun and engage with Scuba? No. Do I believe that some instructors become overly fixated on technique and forget that most people sign up to diving courses so they can have fun and see fish? Yes.

Like everything, experience and judgement comes into play here. As an instructor, your goal should be to dive in trim so as to set a good role model example and you should endeavour to teach your students to maintain good buoyancy and to also dive, correctly weighted, in horizontal trim. I have a short clip here with some tips on how to hover horizontally and how to help your students too.

However as dive professionals you’ll also need to deal with all the vagaries of teaching in the real world, pool time and space, differing student abilities, poorer visibility, cold water, drysuits etc. it’s down to you, to do your best with what you have. If you have loads of space then it’s a great idea to have all your students hovering horizontally in a circle however if it’s a busy pool session it’s probably not very considerate if they’re all kicking everyone else in the head. In practical terms you’ll find that some people will engage with buoyancy easily and you’ll be able to have them hovering whilst completing skills whereas others will really struggle and simply getting them to understand and demonstrate neutral buoyancy will be a challenge.

The one most important thing you can do that doesn’t take up extra space and does very little to change the flow of your lessons is to introduce neutral buoyancy as a ‘state’ not a ‘skill’. As soon as your students learn how to become neutrally buoyant, leave them to it. They can simply rise and fall with their inhaled breath from their knees or fins both during skills and whilst waiting their turn. You may decide that some skills are better performed by having them become negative again to give them more control but this is up to you as the instructor to use your judgement. Make sure that once you introduce hovering as a skill you give them plenty of time practising and moving in the water, adjusting their weighting and kit as necessary. Try to move away from beginning every skill by getting everyone to dump all the air from their BCDs! Once the students know how to hover allow them to continue to hover, wherever possible, so they are constantly practising.

As always remember that the performance requirement is the most important thing. Make sure you understand the difference between that and a teaching technique, which is simply a means of meeting the performance requirement.

As a final thought, a little bit like the legions of ‘clean eating’ exercise freaks telling everyone to eat kale when the reality is most people would probably happily give up a few extra years in the nursing home for the occasional sweet, bacon sandwich, I can’t help but feel, that as an industry, we have become rather too obsessed with technique, presenting skill as an end game in itself rather than emphasising the fun and adventure of diving.

Whilst there’s no denying that divers who are uncertain of their skills are more likely to give up diving and a solid foundation lays the basis for enjoyment and continuing education, dour fixation on perfection should not become a barrier to people coming into the sport. So embrace change, teach modern techniques and give your students the best foundation of skills that you can but remember all the time that diving is supposed to be fun!

Why Become a PADI Tec Instructor?

Tec Instructor

Becoming a tec instructor is not for everyone but for those with the ability and interest it’s an incredibly rewarding experience that not only broadens the range of courses you can teach but also gives you plenty of useful skills you can apply to your recreational courses too. Becoming an entry level tec instructor is also not as difficult as you might think.

A PADI Tec Instructor is able to teach the Tec 40 rating which is a brilliant introductory tec course that really bridges the gap between tec and rec. It can be taught in a variety of ways to suit the centre you work with. Many instructors, myself included, use the course as a means of teaching basic tec skills and dive planning as well as introducing the standardised technical rig (either backmount or sidemount) but what you may not know is that the course can also be taught using a 15l single tank and pony set up. Tec 40 divers are qualified to dive to 40m and manage up to 10mins of deco with the option of using a stage of up to 50% nitrox to pad their decompression.

To read more go to our sister site at Helldivers

 

What to Bring to Your Instructor Exam

kitchen_sink

Thanks to Maryse Dare for the inspiration on this blog post. It’s one of those things that gets discussed a lot on an IDC so I thought it would be useful to put it all together in one place. So here is a definitive list of everything you should and shouldn’t bring on an IE.

First of all, you are regularly told throughout your IDC not to fear the IE, to relax and enjoy it, that everyone is on your side etc etc but very few things with the word exam in their title are relaxing and enjoyable (the words general, common, entrance and also rectal spring to mind) and it’s unlikely you will be leaping out of bed fist pumping the air with joy on the morning of your IE. However, there are things you can do that will lessen the stress of the whole experience.

Most important is to be prepared and ensure that you have every thing you need.

  1. Paperwork: Your Course Director should give you a giant wodge of paper to take to the IE. Whilst it’s important to ensure that this is all filled out correctly, what is absolutely, vitally important is that you bring a copy of an in date medical form signed by a doctor. If you don’t have one of them, you will not pass Go.
  1. The correct attitude: There are minimum passing scores for an IE. This doesn’t mean that this is the benchmark standard for a diving instructor. What it really allows is some leeway for otherwise completely competent people to have a ‘moment’ during exam conditions. I haven’t seen many centres advertising for mediocre instructors so strive to be as good as you can and then go, you’ll find the whole experience much more rewarding.
  1. The right exposure protection: IEs are a little like adult film sets, there can be a lot of waiting around for your turn to perform (apparently). That waiting around can also take place under the water so it’s crucial that you are wearing enough gear to stay warm. Don’t decide to wear your thinnest undersuit so you can be ‘flexible’ or ditch the gloves to aid in knot tying if it means that 30mins into the dive you’re borderline hypothermic and your hands have become inoperable numb claws. It’s also important for the pool too. First off remember a wetsuit, I nearly forgot mine on my IE which meant I could have ended up doing it in my pants, something no PADI examiner should have to witness. Swimming pools aren’t always that warm either so consider a full suit (they’re better for horizontal hovering too).
  1. Your basic kit: Take all your usual kit including spares, now is not the time to stress about mask straps, buckles, o rings etc. The IE is also not the time to test your new drysuit or BCD. Making an arse first ascent to the surface entangled in a liftbag is not considered to best way to run the skill.
  1. Specialised Kit: You’ll need to ensure that you have all the other toys too. You will definitely need to have the following: Ropes (decent thick pieces of rope, not your shoe lace), liftbag, SMB and compass.
  1. A streamlined approach: You need to be streamlined in two ways on an IE. First of all your kit should be tidy and simple. Whenever I see an instructor candidate walking towards me in a giant flapping monstrosity of a BCD already partially incapacitated by neon yellow curly lanyards and retractors a small piece of my soul drifts away, lost forever in some corner of Wraysbury. You don’t need all the slates, just the slates you need. Also remember one of the great advantages of diving in a drysuit is that they have pockets. Put all your stuff in there, including your snorkel if you like, and be streamlined. Secondly you should have a streamlined approach to your presentations. In a real world scenario of course you might choose to spend more time elaborating on various key points but remember on an IE that it is unlikely that the examiners or other candidates have any doubts about how to clear a mask so keep your briefings and debriefings short and sweet.
  1. Tanks and weights: You won’t be supplied with any kit for the IE. ANY KIT.
  1. Your Game Face: This is an American expression. The English translation would be to conduct yourself with quiet, dignified stoicism. Running about flapping breathlessly with your drysuit round your ankles is not a good look during the IE.
  1. A calculator and an eRDP for the exam: You are not allowed to use your phone as it can be potentially used to cheat. You can use a calculator on a tablet and also download the eRDP app from PADI to use on your tablet as well though.

What not to bring to the IE:

  • A giant crate full of junk to use as non diving related training aid. We live in a digital age. Use your smart phone or tablet to access t’intenet and creatively illustrate your point.
  • Ankle weights: Take them off, you don’t need them.
  • Split fins: If you booked a swimming lesson and your instructor turned up wearing armbands, would it inspire confidence?
  • A hangover.

So there we have it, make sure you do all the above and you’ll be fine. In fact, you will definitely pass!*

*Please note, you will not definitely pass.

 

New combined PADI IDC and OCR Level 3 Diploma in Management

In some exciting news the London IDC alongside PADI and White Rose Training are now able to offer an OCR Level 3 Diploma in Management alongside the PADI IDC! The OCR Diploma is eligible for a learner loan from the government which makes the course incredibly accessible. To give you some idea about how all this works, here are some key questions answered:

WHAT IS IT?

The course is called an OCR Level 3 Diploma in Management. OCR (Oxford Cambridge and RSA) is the leading awarding body of accreditations from GCSEs to NVQs. The course is aimed at those who will or would like to take a management role in the workplace and deals with all aspects of management from coaching and mentoring to training and development and conflict management. The course results in a recognised, useful qualification which maybe in itself a proof of competence for a job role or can add value to an existing set of qualifications.

HOW DOES IT RELATE TO THE IDC?

The PADI Instructor Development Course already covers many areas that are required as proof to show competence for the Level 3 Diploma. As an example, the IDC teaches the use of various techniques for putting together teaching presentations whether in the classroom or under the water. During these presentations candidates will show the ability to effectively use their Divemaster assistants as well as evaluate and critique performance. These are just some of the areas where the Level 3 Diploma and the IDC overlap. This means we can use these parts of the IDC to teach the skills which the candidates can then demonstrate to meet the requirements of the OCR course.

IN ADDITION TO THE IDC WHAT ELSE DO I NEED TO DO?

The IDC runs in almost exactly the same way as it normally does. The only 2 major differences are that an individual completing the Level 3 Diploma will also complete an online e-learning portfolio before, during and after the IDC. This is essentially where you’ll demonstrate how the lessons learnt during the IDC can be translated into more general management practices. This is the bulk of the OCR course which is independently assessed in an on going way by White Rose training and PADI.

There is also an extra module which needs to be completed for the IDC which is a ‘Diving Business Management Course’. This is a diving specific course which goes into far more detail of the business side of the dive industry. For example you’ll learn more about gross and net profit, margins and how to price products and courses.

WHO SHOULD TAKE THE COURSE?

This is an excellent opportunity for anyone looking to get into the diving industry as well as earn a useful business qualification which will assist them in applying for other non industry specific jobs. Given the eligibility of the course for government learner loans, it’s a great opportunity for people who are put off by the initial up front cost of becoming an instructor. It’s also excellent for someone looking to change their career or anyone wanting to do a more in depth, business orientated instructor course.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

As a OCR Level 3 Diploma the course is eligible for an Advanced Learner Loan from the government. These loans are potentially open to anyone resident in the UK over the age of 19. They are relatively simple to apply for and work in a very similar way to student loans in that you won’t need to start re-payments until you are earning over 21k and the payments then start very small, coming out of your PAYE, and tracking up with your income. The interest paid on the loan is at inflation plus a maximum of 3% dependent on your income.

The OCR Level 3 Course costs £2500 all of which is eligible for the advanced learner loan.

The PADI IDC costs £1199 to include the extra 2 days of the Diving Business Management Course.

PADI will provide the course materials, instructor application and IE for free.

HOW DO I SIGN UP?

Very simply by contacting us! The application for the learner loan is very easy to do and we can guide you through the process.

 

Candidate Spotlight: Dan Mills

Dan Mills

Our latest candidate spotlight is on Dan Mills who completed his IDC in 2014:

“I started diving in 2005 gradually gaining experience and progressing through the PADI system until completing Divemaster in 2012. I hadn’t really pictured myself as an instructor but I’ve always enjoyed training and coaching in my regular employment and I love diving so it seemed to make sense.
“I embarked on the IDC with Alex in the autumn of 2015 and passed the instructor exam at Whittlesey in the November.
“Of course we all learned a great deal during the IDC, fine tuned our own skills and really thought about the delivery of PADI OW courses and beyond. Alex created a relaxed atmosphere with room for debate, provided encouragement and fair critique and we developed considerable camaraderie within our cohort.
“I find I can get fairly frequent part time work as a freelance instructor for Aquanauts in Kingston, Diving Leisure London and Puerto Rico Diving in Gran Canaria. I genuinely enjoy introducing new divers to the sport, meeting people and making new friends.
“Since passing the IE, I have been lucky enough to spend time with Alex on Specialty Instructor weekends and attained MSDT.  As well as being an awesome diver, Alex is tremendously knowledgeable. His approach though is pragmatic and realistic and his slightly sarcastic sense of humour means that his courses are both enjoyable and memorable.  I have always felt comfortable checking my understanding of a standard or asking for advice or guidance. Even when it’s a topic from a recent blog (that I obviously missed) responses are patient, professional and generously given.  Nearly two years on, I’m looking forward to repeating the IDC – this time with the aim of becoming a Staff Instructor.
“Longer term I am planning to return to the Canary Islands, where it all began for me, and taking up the reins full time running the dive centre.  I’d like to think that while the London IDC made me the instructor I am, I will still be able to call on the support and friendly advice that will help continue my development as a PADI professional, even when I’m two thousand miles away.”

Why Become a PADI IDC Staff Instructor?

PADI IDC Staff Instructor is the last core recreational course before Course Director. It’s a real achievement to attain Staff Instructor so I thought I’d list three of the main reasons to push for the rating and also how to start:

1.Teaching IDCs.

PADI IDC Staff Instructor allows you to teach the Assistant Instructor part of the IDC. This is a great course to teach as it keeps you directly in touch with the standards and updates to the PADI system. It also makes you an invaluable member of the dive centre’s teaching staff as you can promote and aid the dive centre’s instructor development courses.

The London IDC has grown in success over the last couple of years and by becoming a Staff Instructor you can help to engage new candidates and also assist on the IDCs themselves. When we have lots of candidates, Staff Instructors are invaluable to the process. You won’t just be hanging about watching, you’ll be an integral part of the team, running teaching presentations and evaluating the candidates. I personally believe that helping run an IDC is one of the most rewarding jobs you can do as a diving instructor.

2.Master Instructor

After you attain Staff Instructor you’ll be able to begin working your way towards the Master Instructor rating. This relies on teaching AIs and also staffing IDCs. It’s not easy to attain and carries real kudos too.

3.Refreshing your skills.

Even if you’re not too fussed about teaching AI or Master Instructor many Staff candidates comment to me how useful they found sitting in on the IDC again without the pressure of the IE at the end. You’ll be able take everything in again as well as learn about new teaching methodologies. You’ll then be able to apply this to your everyday recreational courses. For example, we cover the neutral buoyancy recommendations for teaching all courses now including hints and tips for getting your students into trim and how to exercise control whilst neutrally buoyant.

What does the PADI Staff Instructor Course involve?

When should you think about staff? To start off, you’ll need to be a Master Scuba Diver Trainer which means having 25 certs and also 5 specialities. I did my Staff exactly one year after my OWSI and just after attaining MSDT.  There’s no great value in waiting until you have 100s of certs under your belt to do the course as, a bit like Advanced following on from Open Water, the information you’ll cover will be useful straight away.

The Staff course itself is fairly straightforward. We need to cover 4 short lectures and you’ll also need to repeat the exams scoring 80% instead of 75%. You’ll need to do a knowledge development presentation and also a confined water presentation scoring a minimum of 4 instead of 3.5 and 3.4. After that you’ll audit a full IDC learning how to evaluate the teaching presentations and matching scores with the Course Director. As such we can run the PADI IDC Staff Instructor course anytime we have an IDC running.

For more information have a look at the course page and also please do drop me a line!

A few thoughts on the new padi open water course

Last weekend I finished an IDC for the lovely Aquanaut in Kingston and Dive Wimbledon. We had a great time and I know the candidates will nail the IE. As part of the IDC we spent some time discussing the new skills in the updated Open Water Course and practising those skills in the pool.

One of the things that came out of the practise sessions is that there is definitely a little more investment of time in the new version required to deliver a valuable course.

Both of these centres just like Diving Leisure London and Big Squid offer a quality Open Water Course/Referral. They all charge in the region of £400 for the full open water and just under £300 for the referral course. They don’t do one day groupon deals for £80 (plus course materials, plus PIC etc etc). My views on groupon can be found here…..

The price of an open water course hasn’t changed much since I started in the UK industry over ten years ago. However in that time VAT has increased, rent, rates etc all have gone up.

All these centres are running with a group of students over four days for a full course or two for a referral making it around £100 per day to learn to dive. Personally I think this is a total bargain especially as that is pretty much all inclusive too. Really it should cost more and I’m hoping to see the price of an open water rise to around £450 and a referral to £300.

I’m not aiming to point out the impossibility of delivering a course to the same quality level as the aforementioned dive centres when you’re charging a third of the price with 3 times the number of students and half the time (oh I just did) but more to express my hope that the demands of the new open water course will begin to affect the ability of low cost/high volume operations to actually meet the required standards.

Without entering into specifics, the main differences between the old course and the new are an emphasis on trim and buoyancy as well as the student demonstrating the ability to plan and conduct dives as a buddy team. Buoyancy in particular is a hard concept for many students to grasp over a two day referral let alone one. Introducing trim (ie hovering in a more horizontal position so as to be more efficient and less likely to damage the marine environment) adds a greater level of difficulty.

Trying to bash this stuff out in an afternoon (except in one on one situations) is going to lead to divers who are unprepared for the open water dives and perhaps, just perhaps, the centres overseas that receive these students will begin to question more firmly how the referral course was run.

The new open water course is a fantastic opportunity for quality dive centres to differentiate themselves from the others. Let’s make a big deal about the new skills and how the extra time and smaller groups offered over a 2 day referral course will lead to much more confident divers.

Personally I’m really enjoying getting instructors up to speed with the new course so we can all begin to create happier, confident divers who are much more likely to continue their diving education.