Being a dive instructor in the Pacific Northwest is not particularly difficult, but there are some things that I've learned along the way that make it easier. Making it a little bit easier comes from a great respect for the ocean and an understanding that the new diver is taking everything you tell them as the truth. If you don't have the answers, don't make it up or try to figure it out as you go.
Regrettably, the instructor is often under pressure to perform without assistance from another instructor, assistant instructor, or divemaster. They often have the pressures from the dive shop to get everyone done in the two days that were scheduled. Unfortunately, once an instructor believes that certification is granted upon completion of skills and dives, they order cert cards even if they believe that the student should get more dives in. Confidence is difficult to teach, however teaching students to be competent will build the confidence that each of us has within us. Confidence under pressure is particularly important during dive training. I would rather dive with a confident diver that fixes issues underwater and overcomes the urge to bolt to the surface than one that can perform mask clearing a dozen times yet is scared shitless every time they do it.
The dive industry typically allows one instructor to take up to 8 students at a time during certification dives. I don't know how this number came into existence, but in my opinion, that is way too many. I prefer two to be my maximum. One on each side. One for each hand... If we run into zero visibility conditions, I can grab onto each one and make our way out of the silt or back to the surface. Not knowing where your students are only becomes a problem if you never find them, but it usually means a couple of things. First, problems never occur. That is unlikely, although individual issues that are dealt with as they occur don't compound and eventually snowball into unmanageable issues. Secondly, those that have problems every dive, but because nothing bad ever happens, sets the norm lower than it should be. If divers expect to get separated, it will happen. If divers failure to communicate clearly, it will happen. If divers use more air than expected (into reserve limits), it will happen...
Being able to see more that one diver at a time is impossible if everyone is following the instructor, and incredibly difficult if everyone is side by side. On a typical day in the Puget Sound, 10 feet of visibility isn't unheard of. So, if a one student is on the left and one is on the right, more than 2 students just won't work... Does that mean that another diver on each side is responsible for themselves or is the diver next to them going to fulfill that role?
One of the issues I saw that is particularly disheartening is that not every diver has a dive buddy. Often, individuals sign up for scuba diving by themselves, and if they end up being the odd diver, they have to be the third wheel. Not only is it difficult to be that third diver, today's new divers are often socially and inadequately adept at getting to know strangers, let alone welcoming others into their circle. While this doesn't have to be the case, when the instructor fails to create a homogeneous group, you'll often see divers setting up equipment on their own, failing to have a buddy check their equipment, entering the water by themselves, but worst of all, exiting the water by themselves. Diving with a group takes coordination that is not part of a typical dive plan, especially not part of the typical open water course one attends today.
I'm aware of several instances where these things and more have failed the scuba diver. Large groups inevitably get separated and depending on the comfort level of those within that group, being aware and able to act outside one's planned dive buddy is often neglected. There's a certainty that all of those divers don't have similar diving experiences not to mention haven't been keeping up on their diving skills. Have you ever heard, "Jimmy hasn't dove in a while, will you go with him?" How about, "Who needs a dive buddy? [hands go up...] Great, you two dive together." Instant dive buddy is not a good idea, but being responsible for a diver that hasn't sought out a refresher course is a risk that recreational divers shouldn't be placed in or expected to fill. With that being said, refresher course are not created equal!
I witnessed several small things that independently were minor, but collectively seemed like that either the instructor, the shop, or even the group failed at.
- Everyone was in a hurry to get dives done and leave the dive site on day 2 and not do any additional dives after completing their open water or specialty certifications
- The dive site was left with garbage or other leftovers from individuals that failed to make a general sweep and inspection before leaving
- A couple of divers had broken equipment yet no one was able to fix it, had the tools for it's repair, spare parts, or even a suggestion of going to the local dive shop (half a mile away) to be able to do their dives
- A diver left the dive site before completing their certification dives without telling the instructor in charge while another failed to check in with the motel to let them know they are on the property or staying in a community room
- Scuba gear was left out and in piles on the ground possibly leading to stepping on or stumbling over it, not to mention the possibility of loss or theft
- Rinse bucket was left filled and not emptied or cleaned
- Some divers failed to pay for additional air fills and the instructor had to settle their bill
- One diver thought that lodging was included in the cost of their certification
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