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.

The London IDC June 2014

The second London IDC has just finished this time with Aquanaut and Dive Wimbledon candidates. The ethos of the London IDC is to bring quality London dive centres together to pool their candidates to make much busier IDCs. This has a double advantage, for the dive centres it makes the IDCs a more profitable enterprise but it also makes the IDCs more enjoyable and useful for the candidates, IDCs benefit from having larger groups as the candidates can watch multiple presentations of a variety of different skills as well as seeing how different dive centres do things in slightly different ways.

We began on Friday night with a skill circuit at Putney Leisure Centre.  In total we had 5 IDC candidates (Rick, Sam, Wiktor, Cheryl and Mark), 2 Staff Instructor candidates (Billy and Laura), 3 Staff Instructors (Kristine, Steve and Geoff) and me. Coordination is the key to things like this and it was immensely helpful to have Staff Instructors along too to help with the evaluations. This is another massive advantage of running bigger groups in that it means there’s a real need for the Staff Instructors to come along and help out. The skills were already at a really high standard so things were looking good for the rest of the program.

Putney pool

Looking good in the pool,. Thanks to John Southill for the great picture

We also had a plan to workshop some of the new open water course skills too so we had some DMs and other instructors along as well as Lynne the owner of Aquanaut. It can be a little intimidating even for big, bad Course Directors like myself(!) to suddenly have about 16 faces swivel towards you and watch you demonstrate new skills but we all had fun trying the emergency weight drop and tightening a loose cam band. By the end of the session we had everyone hovering in horizontal trim which was a fantastic sight to see!

Classroom

Pizza in the classroom. Note sun outside

The next day was spent in the classroom doing lectures. Sam amused us all with his non digital, unbound version of the instructor manual which caused him endless frustration in every lecture that required the candidates to check standards (pretty much all of them). Pizza was consumed, coffee was drunk and the day was done. The next morning saw us at the pool practicing our confined teaching presentations. The pool was at a posh public school but something had happened to the water (maybe they had dissolved naughty pupils in it) which meant it was somewhat cloudy. We took this in good spirits as preparation for open water the next weekend and everyone did incredibly well.

Instructor manual woes

Sam discovering he’s in the wrong section again

In the afternoon we headed back to the classroom for teaching presentations, where Sam amused us again by wrapping paper around a workbook and calling it a PPB manual. They love stuff like that on an IE.

Not a PPB manual

Not a PPB manual

I then jetted off to Malta for some sidemount fun(it’s a hard life) before zooming straight back to Heathrow the following saturday morning and directly from there to Wraysbury. I had one of those mornings where the world aligns for you and I landed at Heathrow at 9.25 and was at Wraysbury just after 10. After the sunshine in Malta and the sunshine whilst we were all locked up in the classroom the previous weekend, the UK obliged by sending a torrential downpour for most of the day, leading to the use of a transit van as the base for delivering dive briefings.

Once in the water the vis wasn’t fantastic and once again the candidates did a superb job running their teaching presentations in some tough conditions. They cracked straight on unaware of the ariel jostling for position amongst the evaluators trying to get in close enough to grade the proceedings.

We ended the day with some knots and lift bags and a DSD workshop that saw the candidates attempting to control some really quite abysmal DSD students. It was another excellent day.

Our last day was spent in the classroom wrapping up lectures and finishing up in the Aquanaut shop before a celebratory beer and paperwork sorting at the Norbiton and Dragon.

Aquanaut

Aquanaut

Massive well done to all the candidates for working so hard and all the staff instructors who came along and assisted on the program too, it wouldn’t have gone so smoothly without you.

Bring on the IE!

Speciality Instructor training

To be a fully rounded instructor regardless of where you’re teaching there are a few specialities that you need to have under your belt. Here in the UK the most important ones are drysuit, deep, search and recovery, wreck and nitrox. If you can teach these specialities you’ll be more employable and more likely to get to do a wider variety of courses than just running referrals in the pool! Specialities are the most fun courses to teach, you’re usually dealing with qualified divers wanting to learn new skills, that means you’re not trying to ‘sell diving’ to someone you’re teaching them new cool stuff. It’s also really important to be able to up-sell from an Advanced Course to specialities as this will often be a newer divers first taste of activities like wreck or drysuit.

Teaching lining off

Teaching lining off

I do a ‘UK Specs Weekend’ that covers these 5 specialities. This also primes you for MSDT as you require 5 specialties to qualify and means you can then go onto Staff Instructor and then hopefully help out on our IDCs!

Earning instructor specialities is a little more involved than many people think. For each speciality, amongst other things, you’ll need to do a knowledge development presentation and then in water demonstrate all skills involved including running an open water teaching presentation just like you did on the IDC. If a speciality has 2-3 dives then most of the time the instructor speciality can be conducted in 1. If the speciality has 4 dives then it’s 2 at instructor level.

I normally run the course as follows:

Day 1:

Drysuit: 1 dive

Search and recovery: 2 dives

Nitrox: Theory only, no dives

Day 2:

Deep: 1 dive (based on deep run as a 3 dive course)

Wreck: 2 dives.

As you can see this is a full program and we cover lots of stuff: Skills, drills and tips for teaching drysuit and search and recovery and then a lot on the control and supervision of deep and wreck courses which is vital to understand in the UK. I have heard of some individuals getting over 10 specialities signed off in a weekend. This isn’t possible and should raise a few eyebrows if offered.

Mark and plane

Mark using a real plane as a non diving related training aid!

The weekend can be run alongside an IDC before candidates attend an IE. This can be really useful as it gives another weekend practising the skills required to pass the IE. The candidates simply process the speciality instructor certs after completing the IE.

The cost of a UK Specs Weekend is £500 as an added bonus I’ll also let you come back on another weekend and complete any other specs you might be interested in, for example Equipment, SMB or navigation!

See here for a full list of available specialities courses