Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Modern refresher courses are insulting and divers need to start asking for more! #scuba #refreshercourse #scubaskillsupdate #scubareactivate

If it's been a while since you've been diving and you're ready to get back into diving, congratulations! I love scuba diving and if you're ready to dive again, I bet you do too.

When I took time off before moving to the Pacific Northwest to teach full time, I knew I would get back into it soon. I ended up taking about a year off. When I started diving again, I didn't take a formal refresher course from another instructor because I'm an instructor myself. I did however create a plan to follow, taking my time and worked my way back to the level I was before taking that break.

That took about two years. Time off takes a huge toll one's experiences and comfort as a whole. If one year off took me two to get back, how long will it really take you?

As with any of the activities that we do often, when we practice we get better and even if one's skills don't improve, they rarely get worse. Even masters in their prospective fields get better if they believe they have something to learn. Interestingly enough, there are those out there that think that getting back into scuba diving is like riding a bike. This is somewhat true but only in the smallest degree.

One can probably assemble the gear, strap it onto their back and drop below the surface of the water, however the physical action of performing the motions and skills needed to be a safe and competent diver after taking a long hiatus will not be as if one never stopped. So, what should be in a good refresher? The easy answer is any area that one feels they need improving on but there are some considerations that most non-professional divers aren't aware of...

Often, divers with long breaks in diving will come back to the activity because of a trip to an exotic destination or itinerary near water. Trips of a lifetime also bring out the rusty and dusty diver. The phenomenon of the "Bucket List" and things people have to "do before they die" are drawing people back to scuba as well.

Whatever the reason, scuba diving is an amazing activity and it's hard to give it up forever. I surely didn't understand why I took at break at all. What does a typical refresher course cost? As with any market, competition can often drive market prices.

However, market prices can sometimes not be a clear reflection of what the consumer needs. I've seen refresher courses for as little as $79, and if the diver has been out of the water for less than a year, a little pool time can seem like all they need.

Those that have stayed away longer often admit they need more than rudimentary education driving prices upwards of $150. In this world of available instant gratification, some want refresher courses to be as easy as possible, often not reflecting what the industry believes they need rather what the customer says they need. Suffice it to say, anyone that takes more than two years off of most activities, especially ones with the inherent risk of death shouldn't be so quick to accept the cheapest and fastest.

Often, even when divers only have time for a short educational review and a couple hours in the pool, divers with 10 plus years between dives have been know to seek these type of refresher courses.

As an analog, I ask students how they would feel about a surgeon performing "minor" surgery on them years after a hiatus. Most are easily reluctant but when considering an activity in an environment foreign to our nature, it's amazing that anyone would settle for less than what they really need.

Any refresher without an instructor supervising their actions asking them to perform the sames skills learned during their initial training, at least a couple of dives in a non-confined water environment, and for all intents and purposes starting from scratch, should always be what one truly considers as the only option! After all, everyone that has surgery always wants the best, irregardless of whether they can afford it or not.

In order to ensure that divers not fool themselves into believing they are better than they really are, personally, I insist that anyone wanting a refresher course from me follow my guidelines:

1) Any diver for which is has been less than 12 months since their last dive will have a 2-hour educational review and will visit the pool with me. The educational review is abbreviated and the time in the pool will cover all the skills needed before open water. This can usually be done in a couple of hours.
2) Divers for which is has been at least 12 months since their last dive but not more than 24 months will have a 2-hour educational review and will visit the pool with me.
The educational review is abbreviated and the time in the pool will cover all the skills a new diver does. After the pool skills are completed, 2 open water dives are completed demonstrating everything done in the pool while in a real world diving environment. 
These 2 dives and skills can even be under the supervision of an instructor at their dive destination. Confirmation of their refresher is not given by the referred instructor until the completion of those dives and skills performed if re-certification dives are conducted elsewhere.
3) Lastly, any diver for whom it has been greater than 24 months since 
their last dive will have the full educational review (like a new student,
typically six hours) and will visit the pool with me to complete all the
work as would a new student.
After the pool skills are completed, 2 open water dives and all open water skills are completed. There are other dive shops, instructors, or dive destinations that will do
the condensed versions of the refreshers they may be looking for, but when I disclose that, I also emphasize how sacrificing quality and thorough instruction is a recipe for injury or death. 
This is one area that I truly believe that the industry must re-evaluate their policies, practices, and standards. You know what the scary part is... People sometimes don't sign up for my refresher courses.

When students wonder why I require more from than other dive shops or other instructors, I point them to a couple experts. This shouldn't be something that I have to explain, sadly if someone is looking to cut corners, they will  ind a way. The 2 articles below clearly illustrate why it is so necessary to change this industry shortcoming.

Please read these two articles some of these insights:

Addressing the Issue of Diver Competence by Alex Brylske

My favorite quote from this article:
"There's also a lot of confusion about exactly what training can realistically achieve. Divers are initially qualified through a certification process, but they remain qualified only through continued experience. In no field can certification alone guarantee
Dive Training Today: A Perspective by Bret Gilliam

My favorite quote from this article:
"Some scuba training agency programs lead divers to believe they are more qualified than they are, with ratings such as 'Advanced Diver' requiring as few as 9 to 10 total dives; and 'Master Diver' requiring fewer than 25 dives." 
If you would like to see what poor training looks like, please watch this video. While no one gets hurt or dies, it's clear that the divers need more than a refresher course!

Another diver comes to the rescue. How two divers almost became statistics. Safe diving practices: https://youtu.be/1LyocSGiXdU

In the end, I make my living as a scuba diving instructor. Hopefully, more will follow my lead and insist that training, safety, and experience precede a paycheck, but the world and I don't always see eye to eye. For what it's worth, even the weekend warrior can find value in my program and the $350, however common sense is a commodity that is often priced way below market value.

Here are some of the aspects of taking a long hiatus from diving that the reluctant diver often neglects:

There is no doubt, the typical American diet is contributing to an epidemic of laziness and morbid obesity. Because of this, it is also realistic to conclude that the physical abilities of the average diver have diminished.

Partner this with the fact that divers are getting older as well as entering the activity in one's later years, there is concern here. NAUI has implemented testing and physical fitness criteria and SDI/TDI requires medical evaluations every year from their instructors. In the past, as instructors got older and fatter, there was no accountability to the standards of health of most agency's instructors.

I remember a time when a large class of students was accompanied by a second instructor and maybe even a couple of Divemasters. Today, while the standard ratio of instructors to students has been relatively the same, more than one instructor or Divemasters infrequently accompanies
today's instructors.

Too often dive shop owners insist on maximizing instructor to student ratios to keep their profit margins high as possible. So, anyone returning to diving and becoming re-certified may be surprised as to the amount of attention and actual training they receive. While in warm, tropical waters with excellent visibility, having a group of 8 might seem feasible, in reality, one instructor is rarely in arms reach of two students, let alone 8.

If divers are returning to the activity and in need of additional attention, it is very likely that they won't be able to receive it as the entire group is also needing attention. Programs are being facilitated towards the lowest common denominator.

Educational materials are sometimes outdated. Not to mention that physical books are disappearing or being replaced by the favorable "e-learning," older students that prefer hard-copies might not absorb the materials as learning modes vary from generation to generation.

Electronic educational systems also assume that the user has access to a computer and even access to the internet. While public access at educational institutions and public libraries are available to some, they might not be available to all.

I've had several older students that wanted the hard-copy books and DVD's to brush up on the education they were rusty on. If electronic education wipes out the hard-copies, a group of divers could be excluded.

Because e-learning and online education and videos are becoming favored, there is also the missing personal relationship that develops in a classroom setting. Electronic education and testing may be efficient, however it doesn't allow for independent thought, opinion, and discussion.

When one has to choose from "A, B, C, or D" or "true or false," it is possible that a student could guess incorrectly while believing they knew the answer. Similarly, the instructor doesn't know where the student guessed or areas of concern. While educated guesses may work in some areas, educated guesses can result in injuries that divers don't fundamentally know about (i.e. driving to altitude after diving).

Teaching to the lowest common denominator is becoming the norm. As experienced instructors retire from the industry, younger and less seasoned professional emerge. I've seen students whom missed questions with blank looks on their faces nodding their heads upon review of final exams missed questions.

Admitting that one really doesn't comprehend the answer is likely to be avoided if it turns out that failing to pass an exam may result in not receiving one's certification card or an update for a logbook.

For those agencies who have the student's take final exams after pool and certification dives, there is almost an expectation that failing the final exam can never happen.

Equipment technology has improved greatly! Not only is scuba diving equipment getting easier to use but the costs of manufacturing has dropped. Profit margins of the high-end systems often drive dive shops to push equipment to divers that are not ready, capable, or need certain equipment.

Because of this, when divers drop out, that merchandise ends up on Craigslist, Scubaboard, or the classifieds where the local dive shops and instructors have little influence over how much education is required for the prospective diver prior to using that equipment.

Not to mention adverse reactions by dive shop owners to those that purchased used, students may find the confrontations uncomfortable resulting in failure to return for additional education, refreshers, or even equipment servicing.

Medical technology has vastly improved! It has been shown that the formation of micro-bubbles and deep stops might be able to reduce the incidences of decompression sickness, DCS.

However, while the science is getting stronger helping us discover more about decompression theory, those wishing to scuba dive are reluctantly admitting less and less if they conditions which could
hinder entrance to scuba diving education.

While it's my opinion that not allowing one to scuba dive because of medical contraindications isn't the solution, creating a safe environment to do so should be, the industry has been slow to want
to take any risk when there is uncertainty.

As my programs evolve, I'm discovering that even my students are taking shortcuts. Ironically, if I'm able to see loopholes in my student's devotion to scuba diving education and I plug those holes with
additional education, additional water work, and a need for subjective criteria for successful completion of my program (i.e. diver attitude, diver confidence, and my gut feeling), other programs very often only follow minimum standards and follow the student with blinders on.

What that means is that ultimately the student completes all the skills on a checklist in order to appease the legal system and in the event of an accident, feels the education is defensible. That doesn't teach the student what they really need because injury and death are really the
highest training standards that each diver should be trained for.

The last thing that I'll talk about is, "resort diving." In my opinion, creating an environment where students can continue to keep "trying scuba" is only setting them up for disaster. I believe that these experiences should only be conducted in pool like conditions and at the very minimal of depths.

There are numerous reports of divers on the second or third visit to these tropical dive destinations with aspirations of scuba diving with the fully certified. In reality, resorts continue to promote scuba without training and the try scuba divers are willing to jump on board!

I've changed my standards so that anyone with time off from diving exceeding 12 months must do an extended amount of education, pool work, and two full dives with an instructor (myself or referred), but I am the only one.

I have never heard of instructors, agencies, or resorts turning away business because its been too long between dives. While the preponderance of divers never have issues, being witness to diver deaths and near fatal injuries only emphasize the need for more remediation, not less!

As an independent instructor, I've found an incredible flexibility to train students to a level I never thought possible. The ironic thing is that not one student has ever told me my program was too hard, too long, or should be faster.

On the other hand, I have heard from a couple of PADI instructors that tried to find fault in the manor which I teach, stating that more is not better and insisting that it better to have the student come back to continue that education.

The reality is, even with the relationships, community, and high standards for safety, I still see many who learn to dive, go on their trips, and never dive again. While I can say that my percentages of drop outs are significantly lower than the local dive shop, many still want to just try it and see if they
like it.

As with all things that take devotion, time, and commitment to master, scuba is no different. Those that dive year after year without long breaks can really see how well they improve, but should also be able to see how much they would have forgotten.

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