Why is control important when you are a dive professional
As a PADI professional and particularly as a PADI Instructor we hold a great deal of responsibility each time we take a student into the water, be it the swimming pool or open water. The onus is on the instructor to provide a safe dive and complete that dive or pool session with the student/s without incident. I believe that the core of being able to do that is good student/assistant and dive control. Here we will try and explain why control is so important when you are a dive professional.
Why we need to do more than verbal directions
I sometimes hear the excuse of instructors “I told the student not to do that”. Instructors should not get into the habit of relying on verbal instructions. There are a whole lot of reasons why students would not comply with your verbal directions. If you cast your mind back to the first time you dived and how nervous you were. There was a massive amount of information to take in. Trying to remember buoyancy control, breathing control, stay above the coral, stay behind the instructor, check your air, check your computer, hand signals and on top of that trying to relax and have a fun experience. All add to information overload. This could be one of the very simple reasons why divers forget your instruction. Add to that being nervous, language barriers and the use of new scuba diving terminology can all add up to a student forgetting the simplest of directions.
A dive instructor should brief a student on what they should and should not be doing however the only way to make sure they are doing that is to monitor them and have good communication and control the entire time and act as a good role model.
How PADI Describes Control
Control includes not only deciding when, where and how skills practice will occur but having the ability to clearly communicate your plan to student divers and assistants. Your control and guidance are what makes a dive (or training) progress smoothly and efficiently.
You control a dive by:
a. Positioning yourself, student divers and your assistant in an area and manner that is conducive to performing skills.
b. Positioning assistants where they can observe student divers not under your direct supervision.
c. Monitoring all student divers throughout the dive by making frequent checks yourself and by effectively coordinating supervision with your assistant.
d. Clearly communicating with divers and assistants using whatever means is appropriate and effective.
Good positioning is vital to good control of students. If working alone, either underwater or on the surface all students should be in the instructors’ field of vision during skill demonstrations and other activities.
Further, ideally, the instructor should have good eye contact with the students. All good body language experts start by reading the eyes. Good eye contact, along with body movement can reveal if a student is uncomfortable and possibly about to panic.
All students and assistants if you have one should be placed in your field of vision and the instructor should be close enough to make good eye contact and be in easy reach of the student.
The same rules should apply when positioning an assistant. If the assistant is in charge of keeping the group together, and situated behind the group then the instructor in charge still needs to maintain eye contact and the majority of control.
If the assistant is in charge whilst the instructor is swimming away from the group, they take over the role of control and should be facing the students.
Assistants should be thoroughly briefed and debriefed on what to do if there is any problem with the students and subsequently what to do if a problem occurs.
The responsibility of monitoring students lies solely on the instructor. Frequent checks of air and welfare checks with both students and assistants. Even if the instructor has a certified assistant, all students should be monitored by the instructor and they should not be reliant on the assistant.
After all, the instructor is the leader and should take responsibility of all involved in the dive.
Instructors should consider hand positioning when giving have signals. Hand signals done quickly and just in front of the body may be difficult for a student to pick up. Try and place your hands in an area where they are clear to the student and hold the signal until you see the students’ eyes connect with the hand movement. They should return with a signal to acknowledge your sign. This will often be the OK signal.
Always receive an acknowledgement from your student.
Lucky Escape #1
Many years ago I was working with an instructor on a scuba diving vessel. On the day she had three PADI Discover Scuba Divers. The first-time divers were extremely confident and performed the DSD with ease.
After the dive, the instructor was on the surface with her SMB above her head waiting for the dive boat. The instructor was focused on getting the boat’s attention. The three DSDs were placed behind here and chatting away.
One of the students was getting a little bored waiting and let the air out of his BCD and descended under the water unbeknown to the instructor. The instructor turned to find only two students on the surface and one under the water. As you could imagine this made for a very difficult and dangerous situation for the instructor.
On the boat, the instructor argued that it was not her fault. However, with some simple body positioning, the incident could have been avoided. If the instructor had placed the three students between here and the boat, she could have still signaled the boat and had the students in her field of vision. This way she would have seen the student releasing the air and could have placed an immediate stop to it.
Lucky Escape #2
Another incident that comes to mind also involves three DSD students. On this day the students were entering the water off a boat for their second dive.
One of the students successfully entered the water and had made his way to the instructor. The instructor placed the student to the left of him and asked the student to wait while the others entered the water. The instructor was focused on giving directions to the two that had yet to enter the water.
In the interim, the student waiting decided to do some surface snorkeling. The instructor was not aware of this. Once the two students entered the water, the instructor turned to find the first student some nine metres away, worse, the student was panicking and splashing about in the water.
Again, the instructor stated that he had verbally told the student what to do, however the student was outside his field of vision. Better control of the student, either by placing the student in front of him or even physically holding the student would have prevented a very difficult and potentially dangerous situation.
Not so lucky
I recall a story related to me by former PADI safety guru Richard Evans. It related to an interview he conducted with an instructor who unfortunately was involved in a serious incident with a DSD.
During his questioning, Evans asked the instructor how often he checked on the student. The student replied with an answer of “every couple of minutes”. Evens then gave the instructor a bit more time to consider the answer to which the instructor replied “maybe every minute”. The instructor then changed his answer to “about every 20 seconds”. Unfortunately, all three answers were incorrect. PADI’s thoughts on control of a DSD student is as follows;
• Position yourself so that you or a certified assistant can make immediate physical contact with, adjust buoyancy for, and render assistance to, participants.
• Continually observe participants with only the brief, periodic interruptions needed to lead the dive and to provide assistance to individual divers.
• Do not engage in any other activities, such as taking photographs or video, while supervising participants.
The investigation did not end well for the instructor and he was found liable for the incident. Poor student control was sighted for the reason.
As mentioned at the beginning of the blog, instructors take on a lot of responsibility for the divers they take into the water.
Students do require verbal instructions on what to do however more importantly the instructor needs to constantly monitor students during training and subsequent dives.
Good student monitoring and control is a professional’s best asset in preventing above and underwater incidents and will make sure that the instructor is a safe one and has many years of incident-free teaching.
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