Wednesday, March 21, 2018

An evaluation of diving off Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Not the act of diving, but the logistics of diving and what you need to know

Isla Mujeres is a small island in the Caribbean Sea, about 8 miles off the Yucatán Peninsula and coast of Cancún, Mexico. The island is almost 4 1/2 miles long and a little over 2,000 feet wide. While it's not my intention to sell the island to travelers thinking of their next Mexican vacation, the island is not terribly overcrowded, the diving is pretty good, and the people are friendly. Click HERE to download several maps of the island that include:
  • Getting to know Isla Mujeres
  • Hotels and rental properties
  • Downtown attractions
  • Downtown restaurants
  • Restaurants around the island
  • Attractions around the island
  • and a "Golf8 Cart Tour"
My girlfriend and I stayed in Cancún and took the bus to the ferry terminal and rode over. It only takes 15-20 minutes and several of the boats are catamarans making the trip relatively smooth. We decided to do several days of diving. The dive shop offered a three day package of six dives which took us to several shallow reefs, MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte), and a couple of wreck dives.

The first two days of diving were pretty good. I don't have the stomach I used to as a kid so I always recommend taking a seasickness pill or two for the boat rides to the dive sites. The horizon is often in view and if the wind isn't blowing too forcefully, the ride won't be that rough. 

I was quite surprised at the size and details of the statues but the amount of sea life on the shallow reefs was the most impressive part of the dives. With relatively shallow dives in the 30 feet range it was easy for me to do 50+ minute dives and even finish with a sizable amount of gas left in my cylinders. These dives weren't particularly difficult however as I'll talk about a little later, I would have preferred a little more structure and organization around the dives.

There are lots of dive shops on the island so I did a little work to research what I wanted from them, the price I felt was adequate for what we got, and where we got to dive. As expected, the owner of the dive shop was friendly and helpful and the Divemasters were eager to please.

I planned this dive trip a little differently as we had other plans on the mainland and since our entire trip wasn't going to revolve around diving, I felt that this would be a great opportunity to take as little equipment as possible, see what rental equipment would be provided/offered, and have a perspective on the experiences that many of my students would have when off to their dive destinations as "referral divers."

We took our own regulators, dive computers, dive masks/snorkels, weight belts, dive lights, octo/console keepers, wetsuits, an SMB, a finger spool with line, and an underwater video camera. We rented BCD's, tanks, weights, and fins. While I expected that the equipment would be exceptionally older, they weren't as old as I thought they would be. 

So, let's talk about my experience, what I expected to happen, and what I really wish would have happened. 

Paperwork. We started our trip with a very limited amount of paperwork. We were not asked to show our cert cards or logbooks. The trip before this in July of 2017 to the Channel Islands was similar. The dive boat told us that it was our responsibility to have the appropriate training for the dives we were going to do. While this would have made sense if the introductions to the dives sites were a little more detailed, since the dive sites of the day were often decided at the last minute, divers wouldn't have had the opportunity to choose different days, dive sites, or opt out if conditions were not within their comfort zone. As a note, the paperwork was not certification agency paperwork.

Ironically, while I am pretty comfortable and capable of extraordinary diving conditions, as I get older I prefer to go a little slower and expect the quality of the dives (and conditions) to supersede the number of dives. When students tell me where they are going to complete cert dives (referrals), I feel that a more thorough plan is going to be part of their educational process. While I wasn't caught off guard, so much of the day on the water went faster than I wanted it to and have to admit that I took way too much for granted that I never do when I organize dive trips, excursions, and certification dives!

Rental equipment. While tanks and weights aren't traditionally taken when traveling, some of the things I teach my students (and that I will be modifying for my lessons) were off or incomplete. The tanks did not have current hydrostatic inspections (hydros) after the manufacture dates and there was no visual inspection stickers. I don't know what Mexico's laws on hydros are of what the shop's position on visual inspections are... While I was able to see the compressor that was used for air fills, I didn't inspect it or make it obvious that I was giving it a once over. While I didn't think about asking to see a certificate of inspection testing the air for contaminants from an outside agency, it will be on my list.

The BCD's were somewhat modern, non weight-integrated, jacket styles with standard inflators. I didn't do the BCD inspection I teach my students as they assembled our gear for us. I did move the BCD's lower as they were too high for my liking but that did get their attention. In one instance, the tank strap was not fed through the last slot on the plastic buckle. The octos hoses were bent over and fed through one of the d-rings on shoulder straps. 

The weights weren't standard uncoated lead weights but I think they were originally in kilograms but were not legible. They assembled the weights on our weight belts. The reason I brought our own belts was to make sure of an appropriate length I insist on. Belts that are too long present the risk of being tucked in and belts that are too short are difficult to ditch in a hurry.

While my girlfriend got full-foot fins on all three days, I got heel-strap fins but they did not have boots for me. They gave me neoprene socks. As expected, the fins did not fit well and rubbed off skin on my heels and the top of my toes. Suffice it to say I will never travel without my own boots and fins ever again! I never did in the past and perhaps I thought things would be different. I had the same experience in the past so to expect that anything was different was short-sighted. The last day and last dive my girlfriend thinks that the full-foot fins she got were the wrong size.

The boat. The boat was an open body fiberglass boat with an outboard motor and a standing station for the driver. The driver stayed with the boat during all the dives but I don't think he was a boat captain or had any experience outside of personal or on the job training. I did not ask. The boats do have to follow the harbors and beaches recommendations on departures. I believe the owner of the shop told me that a harbor master used to be in charge of this but it is now the responsibility of the the Mexican Navy. There were not life jackets on board; no emergency oxygen; no AED; the assembled BCD's and regs laid on the bottom of the boat and each other every time we hit a wave; there was a radio on-board. I did feel that we were going too fast for the trip out to the wreck on the third day. I got sick on the boat after the first dive. My girlfriend and I did not do the second wreck dive later that day.

Dive briefings. While I'm not sure that the Divemasters had an emergency action plan, I would lean on the side of "NO" as it was not part of briefing. The briefing talked about where we were going to dive but was lacking a formal "BWARF," "SEABAG," or "START" (PADI, NAUI, and SDI's dive briefing acronyms). We did get the hand signals for all of the sea life we were going to see and it seemed that the Divemasters were ringing their noise makers continually as they pointed out the fish. I'm proud to say I think we saw everything on the cards below!
If I was briefing the dives we did they would have started at the dive shop with an introduction of everyone to each other and then: 
  • Site
  • Environment/Emergency
  • Activity
  • Buoyancy
  • Air
  • Gear 
I'm proud that my briefings for open water divers are easily a couple of hours long. My perspective is that my students have never been in all that cold-water gear, wearing 70lbs of equipment, in 50 degree water, have ever dove in the Puget Sound, and there are special considerations about the dives we are about to undertake. While none of the divers on our Isla dives were completing certification dives as students, I knew nothing about them, their experiences, training, number of logged dives, and I never asked to see their logbooks! 

When I look back at everything that happened during the three days with our dive shop (not disclosed on purpose), I have to be honest and say that I blew it! With that said, if I was this complacent, even though I know I could have take care of myself and my girlfriend in the event of an emergency, I was never inconspicuous about being an instructor. I always like to think that I'm "on duty" but the reality of this experience is that I didn't want to step on anyone's toes. If I didn't want to and I'm the barber, I can guarantee that my students would not either!

Evaluation. I have an open water weekend in three days and while I will cover everything needed, it makes me really wonder what my referral students are experiencing on their open water weekends. I think it's fair to ask if everything needed is done, and while those are my general expectations, I can't control what other instructors and dive shops do. I feel comfortable sending my students that meet my standards to their dive destinations, however if my recent experience is any indication of what is out there, I might need to do more. I think a checklist for them to follow has potential however there is the possibility for an adversarial response from those that receive them. 

Here is a video of complete equipment assembly and testing that I teach at the pool and expected that I would do at the dive shop in Mexico...

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

I got a compliment from a student. It's on the NAUI website.

#scuba #scubadiving #nauiInstructor #whosyourdaddy #lookwhaticando
#naui #nauiworldwide

Holy shit! Look what I can do...!!! No one ever told me I got a compliment...

Who did it?

Monday, March 5, 2018

Response to Cave Diver Harry Article: Proper weighting

There is so much more about proper weighting. This is a great topic! Here is a list of things that are not talked about enough when it comes to proper weighting and that all new divers should be trained on! Oh, wait. I do... Does Patty? Who is this Patty everyone keeps talking about?

-- Aluminum cylinder or Steel cylinder: do you know the buoyancy characteristics of the cylinder you're diving on and when will a change of buoyancy be problematic. At the beginning of the dive, having too weight for how much air you'll be using out of your aluminum cylinder and at the end of the dive and not having enough if you take your tank down to 500psi. Starting the dive over-weighted only with the understanding that you must be cautious entering the water. There might be as much as a 5lb shift! If you are in steel, just because the tank stays negative you should still do a weight check. Consider the tanks ballast! If you switch from a LP steel 72 to LP steel 120, you will NOT need the same amount of weight on a belt/harness.

-- Did you learn to ditch your weight, a weight belt, in the pool only to have a weight harness in open water and NOT practice ditching the weight? Ditching weight from harnesses like the DUI is not easy for everyone. Similarly, integrated BCD's that are too tight might not release the pockets easily. You must practice ditching your weight in open water and your dive buddy must try to ditch your weight, too. Doing a BARFW and/or telling someone how you ditch your weights is NOT a proper buddy check.

-- Doing skills on your knees and negative is not a realistic for emergency skills. In the pool, meh... In open water? You MUST be neutral and in diver position so you can immediately decide if you're going to do a swimming ascent or buoyant ascent. If you are negative and run out of air, you are likely to start climbing the invisible ladder. See video on the YouTube "Diver Panic."

--CESA is done kneeling or standing are not representative of being out of air. Do the skill where you are neutral, at depth, then arch your back and get in a kick or two to be in the correct orientation (in a position to make an ascent). If you are going to continue swimming to the surface, your inflator MUST be in your left hand so you can orally inflate your BCD when you surface. In a real OOA situation, by the time you get to the surface from starting neutral there won't be much of a struggle to stay on the surface even without ditching weight (if properly weighted). If you are negative, you MUST ditch your weights and follow EBA procedures. Break the CESA into two parts: getting into proper position THEN a swimming ascent -- but separately.

-- Practice orally inflating the BCD underwater when air sharing with a buddy. Don't just say you're okay to go to the surface if you're negative. If you are negative, you need to add air to your BCD before trying to swim to the surface. If you are in a 2-piece farmer john wetsuit at 100ft and sitting on the ground and run out of air, you will NOT be able to swim to the surface until you get neutral. If you ditch your weight at 100ft, hold onto something because you'll be in orbit as soon as you breach the surface.

-- If you go to a warmer climate and a change of weight is necessary, don't let the Divemaster tell you to put 20lbs on! DO A NEW WEIGHT CHECK. Geeez, really?


Sunrise Motel, Hoodsport, WA. 101ft descent and swim to shore. Blog: Ave...

#scuba #scubadiving #divecalculator #deepdiving #pugetsound #hoodsportwa

Average Depth Calculator (spreadsheet) Download and why your dive computer is just an expensive calculator. Decompression theory...

For those that haven't used tables in a while, you can watch my two videos on Dive Tables by clicking on the two links below if you want to re-familiarize with them. Even if you don't, the tables basically tell us how long we can spend at particular depth for any given first dive. This assumes that the diver is making a direct descent from the surface, reaching their planned depth (but not going past it), spending an amount of time there, and then making their way back to the surface. The dive times that one uses in the tables above accounts for the total time in the water (including descents and the ascent). A safety stop is recommended but not part of this number. The diver can consider the end of the dive at 15ft and do their safety stop for 3 minutes after which they would exit the water.

NAUI Scuba Diving Tables: an Introduction and Question 53 of 63. How to use dive tables

The beauty of the dive computer is that it will calculate how deep you are at any depth and at a particular interval (the intervals below are one minute in duration however there are computers that you can change this value to as little as every 5 seconds but it will use more battery power), then add the next depth to that interval and divide all of that by how long one has been in the water. You could do this manually but your entire dive would be doing math, not exploring the amazing dive site you're on! Once you get to your 2nd, 3rd, 4th dive, all but a few could do the math quick enough and it's more likely you'll start making mistakes. One depth and one time is easy to plan for.

This first example below is a typical dive to boat #1, approximately 45ft max depth starting from the shore, looking around, and then making one's way back to the shore. The ocean floor at Sunrise Motel makes a gradual slope to the boat and when one averages the time one spends at any particular depth and then averages it among all the others, you can see that even a 45ft max depth dive, is really a 25ft dive!

If you go back up to NAUI Dive Tables on the top of the page, you can see that a 45ft dive has a maximum dive time of 80 minutes. I don't know about you but 30-45 minutes is a pretty good dive in 50°F water. So if we are taking on have of the amount of nitrogen that is allowed, our risk of DCS is low. If we then go to the table and look for 25ft, we have to drop to 40ft which gives us 130 minutes. Again, a very conservative profile.

These values are from the entire dive starting at the surface, descending to the ocean floor (101ft), then making my way back to the shore. At one minute intervals, one could do the math, but why?

Here is the entire video:

Now, if we look at the dive I dive from the surface above the deep boat, as I average my depths together, even this 101ft dive averaged over a 30 minute total dive time to all those varied depths only gives me an average depth of 44ft. Wow! Not only is my 44ft dive for 30 minutes rather conservative, if I was to use the dive tables for this dive, I would only get a total of 15 minutes in the water. But wait! 3 minutes to descend, 3 minutes to ascend, and only 9 minutes of bottom time. That sucks! Who wants to do a 9 minute dive?

What does it look like on my dive computer when I finally got close to my max depth? Not too far off from dive tables. At 94ft, that would give me 22 minutes according to the dives tables, and when I finally got to 101ft, only 15 minutes.

So, when someone says that dive tables are SOOOO conservative, well... NOT really. We have to be conservative due to the limitation for most divers' (technical decompression divers using tables on a wreck, excluded) inability to calculate a bunch of math in their heads.

Now, here is the crux of my point about dive computers being expensive calculators. Is there any real difference between a $2,000 computer and a $50 used computer you bought on Craigslist? Not as much as you might think...

Don't get me wrong, the dive computer has other features that are great to have. They log your dives, they tell you how fast you are ascending, they tell you how long you have to wait to fly (without waiting the default 24-hours), they do all the math for you, etc. 

When you have some time, download the calculator and play with it. Everything except the column should be locked so you don't change the calculations performed in each cell. The idea behind understanding what is happening to the nitrogen dissolving into your body is important! Tables or computers, it's up to you. 

WARNING: This also doesn't mean you can blow your bottom time because you'll make it up in the shallows, either. You require specialized training in order to do decompression dives and there are considerations you have to prepare for, but if you want to learn how, I can teach you how to do it safely. This overview is part of the understanding you need to know about.

Descending to 101ft to deep boat #3 at Sunrise Motel Hoodsport Washingto...

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

What you're really paying to get scuba certified. Did you read the fine print?

Advertised prices are not always your entire cost to get certified!

"Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten." --Gucci

When it's time to get certified, you have a lot of choices. For some, price is the most important factor. After all, if you can't afford the lessons, certification can seem out of reach. Well, I've got good news and bad news. The price that is advertised is often just what you pay the instructor or dive shop to learn! If you've wanted to know what it costs to learn to dive, this may help you figure it all out. Scuba is an equipment intensive sport and with all activities that have a steep learning curve, if you aren't aware of all the costs you might not get what you're paying for.

Here is the "Top 10" of what it may or may not included and an explanation:
  • The educational materials
  • Learning in the pool
  • Transportation costs
  • Required purchases
  • Dive shop overhead
  • Referral fees
  • Equipment rental
  • Certification dives
  • Lodging and meals
  • Certification cards
  • BONUS: Fun!

Educational materials: Do you have to buy educational materials? Today, educational materials aren't just books. A lot of learning is done with "e-Learning" (online internet-based education). If you think about it, it's a great tool for the modern society. However, it also has it's drawbacks. What are you really learning? As with a lot of self-study programs, without a live person to direct the student, all but only the very motivated take the extra time to commit themselves to learning on their own. In that regard, should scuba diving be something that you do learn on your own? One certifying agency only teaches with e-Learning methods with begs several questions. Is the student completing the material to just get through it so they can go diving? We all want to go diving but is the education a means to an end or is it part of the entire educational process that is used to lower the risk associated with diving already. Another agency charges $185 for theirs. If everyone's online educational program is the same, why does each member of a family have to buy their own module? If you or your children went to college, we know very well that educational materials are incredibly expensive. To that point, at the end of the semester, everyone is in line hoping to sell it back before it becomes obsolete and they are left holding the bag. What are you going to do with the educational materials once you are done with it?

In order to remedy this, I don't charge for access to online educational courses! That's right. I've paid for it already and provide it to the student in a "loaner library" format. And if you want a hard copy book and DVD because you don't have access to the internet, no problem. I'll bring you the printed material. The reason I've decided to do this is that I remember my college days and very often had no idea why I was buying the books I did. Not only that, but sometimes it turned out that the instructor didn't even use it. I use educational material as a stepping stone along the path... Not everyone learns the same way, and because of this, I let them learn what they can without a worry that if they don't understand something that they will fall behind, put themselves at risk, or even not complete the course. Once the student completes their "self-study" we meet for a six hour review and cover the concepts, theories, and applications of what the student learned on their own so that by the time we're through, the student has truly achieved complete comprehension.

Learning in the pool: I once heard an instructor say that the pool is "an open water simulator." I couldn't disagree more. Not only is the pool nothing like the ocean, it is warm, safe, clear, and clean! The ocean is a living, diverse, multi-faceted environment that requires training to dive in it. Hence, why certification dives are required. When you watched your parents driving, wasn't it different once you got behind the wheel? Of course. Additionally, I've heard that the pool is a place that the student is required to "master" the skills needed to dive prior to open water certification dives. Really? If you master the skills in the pool, wouldn't that dictate that certification dives are not needed? Believe it or not, I've had students that did great in the pool but didn't do so well in the ocean. The pool is not a simulator of anything but diving in the pool! If you just want to try scuba and see if you like it, the pool is a great place. If you want to be a scuba diver, you have to do it in the ocean (or open water body of water that is available to you; lakes, reservoirs, etc.). Some shops insist that their students spend a lot of time in the pool and upon the completion of their certification dives, that skills is just not there. What happened?

In my honest opinion, the pool is only a place to introduce skills to the student. The pool is comfortable. It can also be a crutch. You can stand up in the shallow end of the pool. Because of this, it is an easy place to introduce all of the equipment, skills, and expectations that are necessary for one to eventually become a scuba diver. One doesn't have to be a great swimmer, however confidence is crucial in order to be a diver -- at any level. One's confidence in a pool is often incredibly different than in open water. I introduce the skills to the degree that the student has demonstrated that they are ready for the open water -- then we go to the open water! I look at it this way. Certification dives are going to tell me if the student will receive their certification card, not the pool. To that effect, what happens if the student needs more pool time? Who pays for that? What if there are others in the class and in the pool? Who gets the full attention of the instructor? Since all of my classes are private and taught to the individual or group that starts together, everyone is on the same schedule and a support system for each other. The stranger in the class that is doing fantastically deserves the same attention to detail as the student that really does need that extra attention. So in the end, the pool is just a means to an end. You don't learn to scuba dive in the pool. It shouldn't determine the amount of training you are going to receive.

Transportation costs: If you are taking a traditional program at a traditional dive shop, that means 3 or 4 weekends of class, sometimes class and pool. How are you going to get there isn't that big of a deal. Americans love their cars and just about everyone drives. But think about that cost for a minute. Each trip cost more money. Gasoline isn't free. In some parts of the country, it's quite expensive. Not only that, but traffic! For those that live in some of the larger metropolitan areas, traffic is horrific. I don't know about you, but the amount of traffic, the drive, and how long it will take to get there is a big consideration for me. Once class and pool are completed, many often have to drive to their dive destinations. Those that are not staying there will have to return each night. Many live by the water, however, many do not. How many trips will you make just to get your certification done?

After your self-study, I prefer to meet only one time to do my educational review. In fact, most never thought they could make it through one six hour session, but I have a secret -- classrooms are the worst place in the world to learn. Some are fun, but just like office meetings, most want to be somewhere else. I do one six hour session at Starbucks! Not only can one take a break at any time, no one feels like they are interrupting to get up and go to the bathroom. One can get up and stretch at any time, not to mention get a cup of coffee or something to eat. Add that to the fact that my educational program is fun and that nobody falls asleep at Starbucks, programs that stretch out the education for a month are missing the big picture. People are busy. Let's get the educational portion done and go diving!

Required purchases: Are you required to buy anything? Some shops say no, others make it mandatory. Masks, snorkels, boots, and fins are the foundation of one's person snorkeling system, however, I'm not a big fan of snorkeling. Yep! You heard it right.... After all, I love scuba diving. Snorkels don't know much underwater and for all intents and purposes, I hate surface swims. I rather start and finish my dive in the same place. Swimming on the surface with 75 pounds of gear is not only uncomfortable, but it's not efficient. Scuba equipment works best underwater. With that said, I do own my own masks, snorkel, boots, and fins but should the student be required to buy it? In my opinion, as far as scuba diving education goes, no. But here's why. Very often, the sale of this equipment is to increase the margin one makes on already under-priced scuba education. Of all things that one shouldn't reduce the cost of is the education that is going to teach you the skills necessary to dive safely, stay alive, and have lots of fun! Yes, diving is fun, but you don't have to own equipment to have fun.

I believe that if shops spent more time focusing on building relationships and promoting scuba diving, equipment sales would happen on their own. On this note, an unsettling trend is happening that I feel necessary to mention. Some will go into a dive shop to get information about the particulars of certain equipment and then go buy it on the internet. Not only is this wrong, I feel that it's pretty close to stealing. If one is just browsing and they have no intention of buying, then no harm no foul. But if someone is going to take time away from the employee or store owner and then reward another business owner that is selling the product for a few dollars less, that shop is now at a loss. Being an independent business owner is a lot of work. Some do it because they love while others because they don't want to work for others. Whatever the reason, if someone else is going to spend their time, energy, effort, and resources to learn about a product and provide that information to you, it is not free! Beside, how do you know that the shop won't give you a discount, match their price, or even beat it? My prices are not set in stone because I realize that there are other ways to get compensated for the hard work I do. I need cash to keep my lights on and a roof over my head, but if I offer a discount to someone that refers two others, we both win.

Dive shop overhead: As I just mentioned, running a dive shop is lots of work and lest not forget, it is a business! There is nothing wrong with a business making a profit, either. In fact, I'm not sure why one would not want to do most work and not get paid for it. Scuba is no different. With this said, it's important to remember that in order to keep the door open, a dive shop must sell a product that has enough margin to make it worth while for the one engaged in that enterprise. Scuba diving equipment has this kind of margin while education within the dive shop does not. Lights, rent, inventory, employees, insurance, taxes, and instructor salaries have to be paid. When I first did my cross-over from another agency to NAUI, the Course Director helped me to understand that I shouldn't teach for free if not pay others to learn to scuba dive. As the years have gone by as an independent and private scuba diving instructor, I've learned how to run an efficient business by not having the overhead that a dive shop does. In fact, I do it on purpose. I don't want to sell scuba diving equipment to make a living. That doesn't mean that I won't be given equipment to sell for a diver that can't dive anymore, but in this case it's not to make a profit, but to help out two parties.

There's an old joke in scuba diving... "If you want to make a million dollars in scuba, start with two!" This says a lot. Because I have less overhead, two things happen. I get to offer private and thorough scuba diving lessons without having to cut corners. I love teaching, but the great thing about what I do is that I get to scuba dive! I love to dive, too. So, when I reinvest some of what I get into the cost of going diving, even in the cold waters of the Puget Sound, it's not a price of doing business for me, it's the benefit of doing business. I live to dive and when I see how much my students love it and how well they do, they love it as well. I can't put a price on this kind of experience.

Referral fees: Believe it or not, I actually know of a dive shop that made their customers pay a fee to write a referral to their dive destination to complete their certification dives. I can understand if there was a cost to the dive shop, however the universal referral program is pretty straightforward. Someone wants to complete their certification dives at their dive destination (usually in a warmer climate). The referring instructor acknowledges that the student has completed all the educational requirements, demonstrated skills in the pool, and that the student is ready for open water dives. While there is some disagreement as to who taught the person to scuba dive, that's usually based on ego and not actual precedence. Nonetheless, the only concern I really have is the quality of instructor that will be receiving the students. I wish I had a steady stream of students being handed to me with to know effort involved.

One way that I help to remedy the process is to promote completing the certification dives here, in the Puget Sound. While I charge $100 additional to complete the dives here with my students, after the cost to drive to and from the dive site, meals, additional air fills, wear and tear on my equipment, lodging, and the certification card coming off the top, I've actually spent more than the $100. In some regards I understand that those things have an expense associated to them. The dive shop has the potential to charge for the equipment rental as well as supplementary sales opportunities. Since I don't have a rental fleet and don't sell equipment, that opportunity is lost. There have been times for which students have purchased their own gear and in that instant the shop just made a greater profit than what I did in the 40 hours it took to complete the certification process. The one thing I can't put a price on if they complete the dives elsewhere is being able to see my students accomplish their goal and become a diver.

Equipment rental: I regularly hear people say that they just want to try it and see if they like it. Sorry, but scuba diving is not a new flavor of Girl Scout Cookie. If you don't like the cookies, you throw away the box and try another. You don't need to keep eating cookies and force yourself to like them. While scuba diving is not for everyone, in a sport that takes years to master, giving up on it after the first weekend is like saying you know all you need to know about parenting by the time of your child's first birthday. One doesn't have to be phenomenal to experience the magic of scuba diving, but you need time to make that decision. I promote diving at least 24 times a year -- twice of what NAUI promotes and I encourage new divers to not decide to hang their fins up until they have at least 100 dives under their belt. 24 dives a year is only one day a month where you do a couple of dives in that day. Compared to the 150 dives a year I average, it would take a similar person like myself a lifetime to have accumulated the same experience.

The logistics alone of going to the dive shop, trying on equipment, renting it, heading out to your dive site, doing the dives, and returning the gear to the shop with cleaned gear is a workout on its own. When you own your own gear, you will dive more often. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to own new gear, but the investment in gear is an investment in oneself. Because of the high cost of entry to the sport, it's logical that some might not even own their own used gear. There is a lot of gear out there and most of it will last a lifetime with proper care. Some rental gear is better than others but one has to ultimately decide on the value of the experience. Owning or renting won't change one's abilities nor ones confidence, but the value of owning ones gear only comes from seeing how scuba will benefit the diver. I don't rent gear but as far as the costs involved, the rates I see seem to be high. I want students to return and continue their education because I believe that ongoing education builds skill competence. It's in that competence that confidence emerges and with confidence one minimizes risk. If one can rent an automobile for 1/1000th of the cost of ownership, why do dive shops rent the equipment at 1/20th of its cost? I believe that when the focus is education is where the focus should lie.

Certification dives: Sometimes it seems like you're only jumping through hoops in order to scuba dive, but safety is never something that ever be taken for granted. Diving with an instructor should mean that you can count on that person to do everything in their power to make sure you come home safely to your friends, family, children, and loved ones. There is risk in just about anything that has fun attached to it but the difference between breathing underwater and playing a round of golf is obvious. I'm sure that there has been injuries on the golf course, but no one would think that you might not come back after a quick nine. It's because good instructors manage risk that the student puts their trust in instructors all around the world. The majority of them do exactly what they are suppose to do, however, how would the student know if they aren't following standards and policies?

Part of your certification must include an overview of what your certification entitles you to do. The instructor has a limited amount of time with you and if you're not going to take them with you to supervise everything you do, the diver must be capable of fixing any obstacle that presents itself while underwater. The goal of the instructor isn't to issue certification cards (the certification agency does that), it's to give the newly certified diver everything they need to get into the water, but more importantly, get out of the water. Most modern education spends just enough time covering risks, poor choices, and skills as they hope that you will continue your education with additional courses. While I wholeheartedly want you to take more courses with me, I don't want you to wait until "advanced training" to learn how to make good choices. Learning how to dive is the first step, lots of diving is the second step, and the next step is learning when not to dive. There will always be time to dive, but when divers choose to follow an instructor blindly because they are told, "I've been doing this for 30 years!" that instructor is not the best choice for you.

Lodging and meals: There's definitely an appeal to go diving in Fiji, Bora Bora, Mexico, and Hawaii. Going to those places without diving is amazing, too! If you're going to travel to a dive destination, spending money on getting there is a reality. However, there's always a new destination, a place you've never been, and another check mark on your bucket list. Wherever you go, the thing that always stands out is the food and the people. Food and people are the foundation of community and for me, relationships are the most important part of what I do. Yes, I want you to dive and have a good time, but more importantly, I want the adventure to change your life and give you something that lasts a lifetime. If you are going to learn to dive with me, I'm not just going to teach you how to dive, but how to live! Scuba has transformed my life in ways too numerous to mention here, but the greatest gift that came from it are the people that continue to be a part of my life. I realize that some just want to learn and be left alone, but the trust that forms during the education, pool sessions, and diving really is life changing. There are few activities in life where you have to give your complete trust over to someone in an environment foreign to the human body.

What do I recommend? Spend money on the adventure and not how many stars your motel or hotel has. I only take my students to one motel for diving in the Pacific Northwest. The destination is less expensive than the rest in town, but the thing that stands out is how welcome I am when I get there. I feel like I've come to visit friends I haven't seen in a while and it's always exciting to see them once again. It's not about customer loyalty or what that business will do for me, but how they treat me and how they will treat you. This is something that you cannot put a price on! I know for a fact that I am the only instructor or dive shop that only has one destination and it shows. You'll know how special you are when you return and the owner welcomes you back by name! 

Certification cards: It seems interesting that after all that work one has to pay an additional cost to receive proof of certification. While that's part of the world we live in (to keep your driver's license valid, to receive a diploma, to maintain professional credentials), I'm not going to do that. Not only do I think of that certification as an award, it's an honor when I order it and have the opportunity to present it in person. I've never met another that doesn't appreciate something as much than a gift that is given to another and in person. It's an opportunity to reflect upon the accomplishment that certification brings as well as the adventure that the graduate is about to embark upon.

At times, it's even felt like the end of the vacation -- the end of summer camp, if you can remember that far back. Some of the greatest moments of my life have come from seeing the culmination of the effort that I have put into something and I want you to have that same feeling. Please insist that the last part of the process that comes with your certification is not a credit card receipt. You deserve a hand shake or hug! You've earned it!

BONUS: Fun, safety (getting in and out of the water), and the overall experiences are an important part of the learning how to scuba dive! There are so many cheap things available in the world today and the fact is that you don't always get what you pay for! As an independent and private scuba diving instructor, diving is my goal! Sadly, the industry reports that upwards of 80% of those that receive an introductory certification never dive again. I don't want my students to become a dropout statistic so when you want to dive, call me! Not only will I make the time to go with you to dive, I don't charge for it. If dive shop and dive clubs need your money to be a part of your continuing enjoyment of the activity, please walk away. You family doesn't ask for a "visitation fee" and neither should the scuba industry. As a mentor in the dive community, it's my gift to you!

When I ask kids why we do a second dive, they always answer: BECAUSE IT'S FUN...!!!

Do you?

Friday, February 9, 2018

Not from around the Pacific Northwest? Want to try out some of the best cold water diving in the world?

Do you love diving in the Puget Sound and would like a tour of my favorite dive site? Join me at Sunrise Motel & Dive Resort in Hoodsport, Washington and I'll take you to see Moon Snails, Anemones, Crabs, Sea Pens, Prawns, Feather Dusters, Jellyfish, Starfish, wrecks, a tire reef, fish habitats and a diverse group of fish including: Rockfish, Ling Cod, Pipefish, Perch, Painted Greenling, and Sailfin Sculpin!
If you we're really lucky, maybe we'll see a Giant Pacific Octopus, Dogfish, or a Six-Gill Shark...!!!
Shore entries are super easy here and we can average 25ft to 45ft in the shallows with a couple wrecks at 85ft to 95ft. For those adventurous divers with a Deep Diver certification, access up to 130ft is doable and Technical Divers can join me up to 150ft with Advanced Nitrox and Decompression Procedures.

Come visit and I'll take you on a tour!

#scuba #scubadiving #coldwaterdiving #PugetSound #HoodsportWA #PacificNorthWest #scubatour

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Is it really that hard to find a good scuba diving instructor?

Is it really that hard to find a good scuba diving instructor?

With good planning it can be more accommodating than even your local dive shop.

I teach all over the country. So, in order to get done in the time that I'm alloted for, I have to know the material that I'm teaching, I have to know how to manage my time, and most importantly I have to be able to think on my feet. What this means is that the unpredictable nature of the ocean can't be a surprise to me. I don't take it for granted. When you live right next to the water, many do...

Good instructors don't modify their training standards when the conditions are perfect, they use that time to reinforce how easy it is to get complacent and points out how and where that serene environment can turn ugly, quickly! A study about human factors in scuba diving illustrate that one-third and greater of the first major factors faced by divers include:
  • Complacency: 44%
  • Overconfidence: 39%
  • Error in judgement due to lack of experience: 36%
  • Inexperience in that environment: 35%
  • Poor and/or failure to communicate: 33%
While it could be easy to conclude that until that time which the student develops skills to mitigate those items listed above, issues will occur. However, this really isn't the case. Of the 775 surveys completed, 317 reported that they were instructors! That's 41% of the respondents. To say that least, just because you have a good time in class and the pool, your instructor may not be as experienced as you need them to be.

So you might say that instructors and dive shops are supervised by the certification agency for whom they issue cards and buy educational materials. Sorry, but NAUI, SSI, PADI, SDI, TDI and others each have their own standards. Primarily, those certification agencies are marketing companies. The ones you've heard of the most is usually the one that did the best job of getting your attention. Now, there are similarities that are followed as agreed upon from the member organization, The World Recreational Scuba Training Council, WRSTC, but the WRSTC only have developed "minimum training standards." Whenever one teaches for the lowest common denominator it can be expected that many will slip through the cracks -- instructors and students.

Dive shops are in the business to sell scuba equipment. They have to. Regrettably, competetion from other shops, larger competitors that give price breaks on volume and internet sales make competing in the market difficult. It's not impossible, but the "mom and pop" dive shop on the corner works long hours and loyalty is hard to earn. Keeping the lights on in the store, paying employees, taxes, licensing, insurance, marketing, inventory, and incidentals consitute the greatest portion of the overhead the typical dive shop has to deal with. Running a busines is not easy. Just because it's scuba doesn't mean that the lights don't have to get paid or they won't get shut off...

What does this mean for the independent instructor? We still have to pay the bills, pay taxes, renew our licenses, have insurance, and market ourselves, but the overhead is so much lower. Myself in particular, I don't have a store front, employees, and inventory like rentals. Because of this, I end up making more per student. My overhead comes in different forms. I love scuba and I love teaching divers but I won't do it while paying the student to learn. Many independent instructors underprice their services to match what group classes often cost. Private courses in every industry are always more expensive. Even the local dive shop will charge more for them. In the end, what this means is that I have to provide a service, your training, and it has to be miles above the rest! Why would anyone pay more for private lessons that only teach what you get in the group version. It is expected that the private instructor gives more. I feel that the student deserves it, too.

In the end, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If you are going to compare the two, one has to prove it. Satisfaction is subjective and hard to prove. Just read the plethora of reviews from just about any dive shop. You'll find no shortage of wonderful complements recognizing how much fun they had. Scuba is fun! Why do it if it wasn't? In any activity, the results of bad training are different. Scuba education is not like taking tennis lessons. If you don't learn well from your instructor, you just lose the game. If you don't learn enough in scuba, the consequences are significantly greater. I often say that training should not be to teach you how to get into the water, but how to get out of the water.

In the decade of teaching I now have under my belt, a couple of industry leaders stand out in how they influenced the way I teach. The proof is in the pudding... Can the student demonstrate what they've learned in a manner that would indicate they can now dive without the instructor. When I'm asked how to determine if someone is a good scuba diving instructor I tell that person:
  • The best instruction isn't about following standards, checking off boxes, and how much experience one says they have.
  • You'll know if you're well trained when you can decide not to go diving and make that decision without an instructor intervening.
  • If the instructor issues a certification card before you are emotionally and confidently ready, you will never grow into it.
  • Just because you pay for training doesn't mean you get the certification. Certification alone does not guarantee competence.
After telling them, they always know...

Read a little more about these concepts in the following two articles:

Dive Training Magazine: July 2012. Editorials: Addressing the Issue of Diver Competence. Text by Alex Brylske

Diver Magazine: January 21, 2014. Dive Training Today: A Perspective. An industry and training veteran says A poorly trained diver is a dropout statistic waiting to happen. Are you one of them? Do you agree? Text by Bret Gilliam

My response: 6 problems with the modern schooling system

I believe that there is a system problem in traditional forms of education. For me, I saw that the traditional way to teach scuba wasn't working and I was NOT going to follow in the footsteps of the past. Some say that scuba is just a sport... and the activity might be, but you have to learn about physics, physiology, and the technical aspects of the equipment to understand what is going to happen underwater in order for it now to kill you.

I see the dive industry in this vary predicament right now. People learn in different ways but the industry is moving into more elearning and less mentoring approaches. I give scuba 2 years for this house of cards to come tumbling down. There is a high correlation to traditional educational practices. As populations grow, the system is going to insist that the only way to meet all their needs is more elearning. I believe the answer is going to be more educators and mentoring or a Soctratic form of education -- smaller groups. If it doesn't happen, the innovators that the video spoke of will be the only onew that will be able to lead us into the future.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Response: Running a Local Dive Shop: It’s managing 6 businesses in 1. How can you do that?

Running a Local Dive Shop: It’s managing 6 businesses in 1. How can you do that?

I’ve often said that there are some that can teach well but can’t sell anything and keep the lights on. There are also many that can run a successful retail enterprise but couldn’t teach their way out of a paper bag. Herein lies the problem. As you’ve mentioned, most can’t master all, so they default to 2 or 3 that are important to them. That ends up being their downfall.

I’ve been an independent and private instructor for over 4 years now while I’ve been certified to teach going on 10 years. I’ve got a pretty diverse background from a bachelor’s degree in social work and working in that industry for 5 years to spending 10 years in banking and finance after that. It wasn’t until I quit the bank job that I discovered what was missing in my life — scuba!

There’s an old joke in the dive industry that if you want to make a million dollars in scuba, start with two! This epitomizes the precarious nature of not being a well rounded entrepreneur. It wasn’t until I crossed-over to NAUI that I was actually given business management skills as part of the scuba process. As I had come from SSI which was strongly store driven, equipment sales oriented, that I could see how having to do everything was absolutely critical to financial success.

Of those of us that are old enough to remember how Bruce Jenner won so many Olympic medals, he did that by just being acceptable at all of the events rather than trying to be the best at one or two. Ironically, you don’t have to stay at acceptable if you are willing to reevaluate yourself, find areas where you can improve upon, and most importantly, admit when you can’t do one of those parts alone and bring someone in that can.

I don’t agree that bigger scuba is better as Sports Chalet defines too big to fail in scuba (although they had their hands in almost every outdoor activity). As you mentioned above,

 “To this day, the profitability of a local dive shop typically depends on selling dive gear at high margins after selling courses as a lost leader. That is obviously the wrong way of doing it, nowadays — but that will be the topic of a future article.”

I believe that this premise is backwards. After two years of working at a local dive shop and hearing “ what’s in the pipeline” too many times, memories of the bank (the bank I was working for was Washington Mutual) almost illicits a PTSD-like response. I quit the bank job in 2006 because I could see what was happening to the industry but to a greater extent what was happening to the people. Their employees were filled by greed and getting the job done at the expense of the customer. The customers were also to blame. They wanted it quick, fast, and easy. When the time came to put their trust in the system, they chose to run the other way with all of their cash. It doesn't matter how much inventory one has if you have no cash, you'll crash. So the housing bubble of 2008 left the industry, the consumer, and any resemblance of trust in the gutter. If you cut corners, it will catch up to you.

I see scuba having that same two year window before the crash. Anyone that has worked in an industry long enough starts to see "the writing on the wall." I have a 4 year head start this time and now I also have an infrastructure in place that the local dive shop can't catch up to... The first part of the gap is moving towards e-learning. It's everywhere now. You can get just about every degree without stepping foot in a classroom. It's not the education that's the problem, its that e-learning hasn't become another tool to help students succeed, its become a gateway to take people out of the equation. If you let the student teach themselves, they will either learn that they don't need the instructor or do as little work as possible to accomplish their goal — just get through the lessons so they can go diving — not learn about diving and safety so that they don't become statistics.

Without giving away my secrets and as cleverly worded above, that will be in a future article... Suffice it to say, I've offered free training and cash to anyone that has just completed an online course to take the final exam I give my students and no one has ever taken me up on the offer. Some of it may be that they just don't have the time but I seem to be leaning towards the suspicion that they feel like they are going to be made to feel guilty that they would do poorly. What's ironic about this is that the same analog is happening in the real world. Students are graduating with worthless degrees and are in loads of debt with nothing to show from it. If you are going to go into a foreign environment with a literal ton of water over your head only to find out one's training was inadequate, a few more dollars invested in better scuba diving education is more than a reasonable price to pay!

A second issue facing scuba is the certification agencies, themselves. Again, it's not the agency directly but the fact that we're a self-regulating industry. The only accountability is the court system and since that system has it's own issues, until stronger accountability exists, divers will continue to get hurt and even die. To extend the analogy, a program came to the Pacific Northwest to teach divers and dive professionals about educational shortcomings... The program featured insight into concepts like "normalization of deviance" and "cognitive dissonance." The irony of this is that these concepts aren't new. In fact, they've been used for decades in training programs of all modalities and levels of complexity but those that teach scuba believe that it's something that can be taught in a specialty or advanced course (for more money) at a later date.

With an 80% drop-out rate and failure for many to continue diving, the first introduction to the sport cannot be abbreviated. Many in the fields of scuba thought that these insights were so revolutionary as to almost be missing from scuba instruction altogether —  that they were not being taught to divers and that's why dive accidents continue to occur. Agency standards are quite clear not to mention that WRSTC guidelines are only the minimum requirements for certification. If you teach for the lowest common denominator, you produce the lowest common denominator...

When divers don't learn about equipment, about physics and physiology, about the aquatic environment, about decompression theory and then fail to demonstrate proper skills, techniques, and procedures, what does that certification card represent? When I say don't learn, I mean retention. Retention has to apply as you will need those skills underwater, if not when you don't need them, definitely when you do!

While much of what I've mentioned is a systems problem, your article illustrates the holes that are before the industry. The solution is not to fill them or cover them up, but start from solid ground from which a solid foundation can be built upon. Thank you for bringing your insights to the table. I love reading about these concepts and hope that many more will continue to contribute this community.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Response to article, PADI sold to Mandarinfish Holdings, article

I have Google "Alerts" set up and remember getting the news back then about the acquisition... 

I spent 10 years in finance and it was my evaluation that for the price they paid, every certification they issued was worth about $23. When I ran the same valuation for my business, each certification I issue is valued at $223.

Now, I don't have the overhead they do, however, if I could extend the analogy, anytime that your customer is worth less than a dinner at Taco Bell, it is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

I left Washington Mutual in 2006 because I saw behaviors that lowered the value of each customer. Two years later (2008 housing collapse), Kerry Killenger took one of the largest and oldest financial institutions from an $11Billion corporation to zero! The irony of their demise wasn't that they didn't have the collateral to stay solvent but they lost their cash when customers asked for reassurances that their money was safe. When "20-something year old" bankers couldn't explain to their customers (many of them with memories of the Great Depression) that their money was safe, it started the run on cash and without cash, the FDIC stepped in and closed their doors.

It would seem like a good deal for the investors, but I get the feeling that it's a hedge fund bet... What's happening is they see an upcoming boom in the economy where people will have lots of disposable income and are going to throw it into recreational activities like scuba. Because PADI can produce it cheaper, faster and easier, no one will be able to compete and before you know it, the production of divers will be relegated to the likes of the "TV Dinner" or "Happy Meal" -- cheap, fast, easy AND bad for your health!

Because PADI does the best job of the marketing of scuba, the industry will be known for the product they produce. When people think of scuba, they will go to PADI.

Like all industries, theirs will be the cheaper alternative and PADI will be the Wal-Mart or Dollar Store of scuba. The Gucci family is known by the quote, "Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten." The wave of the future is going to be the independent instructor that turns out divers and not "McCertifications." 

When Elon Musk can rewrite the automotive industry as Lee Iococca did in the 80's, watch for the individual to save scuba!

If you're an instructor and want to survive, it will not be your certification agency that is going to save you. If you can't build relationships with people, innovate, and understand that shareholders and stockholders aren't who you're working for (the dive shop) you are going to fail like Washington Mutual and Detroit did.

The industry has two years left! I'm not a financial guru or have a crystal ball, but I know what's wrong with scuba -- their regulator is free-flowing...!!!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

If your 2018 New Year's Resolutions include more travel and learning a new skill or hobby, then scuba is for you! Let me teach you how to scuba dive.

According to Statista* "24% of respondents say they want to travel more and 22% want to learn a new skill or hobby..."

Guess what? You can do both if you scuba dive! The great thing about scuba diving is that you can dive all year long, all over the world, see amazing animals and creatures that exist no where else, build confidence and even overcome obstacles.

So, what are you waiting for? As an independent instructor, not only can I teach you how to dive, but I can do it on your schedule with individual and personalized attention.

Learn to dive in the Puget Sound and everywhere else you go will be relatively quite easy. When you use what you learn here at your tropical dive destination, your dive experiences will be that much more fulfilling!

Call me today and start tomorrow.

JCA Elite Scuba


Monday, January 15, 2018

Night, Deep, and Navigation Specialty Spectacular! $250 over 2 days. Get real certifications for real diving experience.


These specialties will prepare you for some of the most challenging diving in the Pacific Northwest. NAUI's training is already the highest in the recreational dive industry and I always make sure you get a lot more. Don't settle for an advanced certification that doesn't open up diving opportunities. Only one spot open for the individual looking to bring the new year in with excellence! Includes: Deep, Night, and Navigation. Overnight stay on January 21, 2018 (lodging fee not included but rates start as low as $44). Cert card fees included.

#scuba #pugetsound #portlandOR #vancouverWA #seattleWA #naui #deepdiving #nightdiving #navigation