Dive Operators Who Need Some Training

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I was recently privileged to be invited on a press trip to the British Virgin Islands. I was accompanied by numerous writers and photographers from the world’s diving press, and the team from the Tourism Office headed by Abigail O’Neil went out of their way to give everyone a good impression of the diving, dining and accommodation available. Part of the deal was that we stayed at a different hotel and dived with a different operator every day, which, although a little arduous in that we had to constantly pack and repack our gear, gave us an idea as to which operations we would choose for a longer stay.

I am always amazed that some magazines send people on trips that warrant a Discover Scuba course, but there were some of us who had somewhat more experience.

The BVI culture is very British, even among those who were born elsewhere but have taken up residence. Most of the diving operators assessed our various individual skills and adjusted the manner in which they controlled what we did. Those that needed it had their hands held. For me and most of my colleagues, I could say that they were so relaxed they were horizontal. They wanted us to get the best material we could for the articles we were to produce and did nothing to obstruct that.

All the operators, that is, except one.

Newly arrived from Colorado where they had recently completed their PADI instructor courses, a young couple ran the dive center at a rather nice resort in the manner that they believed was right. They ran it by the book. I was a little surprised when I boarded their vessel to have my equipment ridiculed but as I pointed out to them in no uncertain terms, it’s the way I dive and I’ve done it on a daily basis for 17 years. We received the usual boat briefing and our departure was delayed because they had left one of our number still on the dock. Other members of my group made up their own minds at this time that the lady in particular was far too bossy.

We picked up another press member, MH, from another island on the way to the dive site, so he had no advance knowledge of these preliminaries. He was a distinguished underwater photographer who had lived in BVI and written the book on it, so to speak. We were going to dive the wreck of the Rhone, which we had already dived before, and in the case of MH, probably hundreds of times.

Our dive briefing included the information that we would be diving to 60 feet and be underwater for 20 minutes. We would all be going in together and come up together.

MH, always first to be suited up, politely asked if he and I could simply go in together and get on with our jobs, to which the answer was a firm “No.” I said nothing. We were going to be with this outfit for only a few hours and I knew what I was going to do. MH had come to a similar conclusion. So he and I jumped in with our cameras and went diving for an hour or so. We both got some lovely material. The others, maybe a little less confident than us, formed a group as requested, got in each other’s way, achieved very little on the short dive and came back angry.

Dive operators have to keep many of their clients, some of whom have very little or infrequent diving experience, on a short leash. However, the art of dealing with people in what is predominantly a people business is to accurately assess first who you are dealing with. This particular dive-center couple had obviously not covered this in their PADI continuing-education course, and I fear they’re on a steep learning curve. There is more to running a dive-center than has been included in the PADI Standards & Procedure manual. It did not surprise me that they did not turn up for the end-of-the-press-trip party.

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12 comments for “Dive Operators Who Need Some Training

  1. July 23, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    John Bantin has shown great restraint in reporting the ultimate horror for all experienced or professional divers: being stuck with a pair of numbnuts Dive Nazis with less experience, but an armful of PADI emblems proclaiming them qualified to ruin diving vacations by their stupid attitudes and failure to assess whom they’re dealing with. In most cases, the “customers” have vastly more expertise than the “supervisors” and chaos ensues. John and I have been together on trips as professional journalists and introduced to various well intended, but hopelessly inadequate, staff who then proceeded to muddy our waters. (How’s that for a bad metaphor?) Usually, we are good-natured about the situation and either one of us tries to diplomatically explain reality to those who most recently drank the PADI Kool-Aid or we simply ignore them and go about our business. We never get physically confrontational although bringing our rapier wit and sardonic perspective to bear on them usually does far more damage.I mean, have you ever seen a 6’5″ string bean like John go “all British humor” on some innocent divemaster with an IQ about room temperature in Afgan cave in winter? It even scares me… and I’m not scared of anything. Sometimes we tag-team the offender with a mutant “good cop/bad cop” routine that leaves them confused sufficiently that we’re over the side and gone for hours before they realize what happened. Either way, we’re going diving and we’re probably not including them in our activities. Good work, John. But now our cover is blown!

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  2. Bazza
    July 23, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    I totally agree with both Johns assessment and Bret’s take on it. I was Talking to MH before I read this article and we both hate the ridiculous Nazi-ism that is indoctrinated into these “professionals” that as Bret put it”have an IQ of an Afghan cave”. I did however expect John to mention names. Maybe not the politically correct behavior but there are several dive operators here that run out of resorts and I would hate for the general public to think they all run with staff who are still giddy from the mind numbing, and might I say, what seems to be very addictive coolaid!

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  3. John Bantin
    July 23, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    Thank goodness they haven’t had to entertain the likes of Bret Gilliam The learning curve might have had the profile of that of a ballistic missile!

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  4. Kerry
    July 24, 2009 at 3:15 am

    Yes, perhaps John was quite restrained here, I am sure I heard tales of the newly minted PADI couple there knowing how much weight John required better then he did and being quite adamant about it. Even if John had been diving with that amount for many years!

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  5. John Bantin
    July 25, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    More to the point – I’d dived all week with other operators with that amount of weight! I was gratified to see the lady in question hanging on to the buoy-line during her ascent and having a hard time making a safety stop because she was too light! I wonder if she learned anything that day? I’ve witnessed similar cases when young people have given advice to veteran underwater film-maker Stan Waterman. He listens politely and then says” Good for you!” What a gentleman!

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  6. July 26, 2009 at 1:42 am

    Mr. John Bantin, great to see you have published this event that had terrorized you and everyone else on that boat (with maybe the exception of a few who did not know better) I was very surprised to see you retain your professionalism and not completely tear a hefty chunk out of the “cool aid” PADI pro! Being on that boat was one of the worst experiences I have ever had, and almost lost my lunch when she had the nerve to make comments about your weights and try to get into it with someone of your stature. Surfacing a dive with 1500 lbs with little to no shots makes any photographer cringe….where is that cool aid anyways!

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  7. TC
    August 6, 2009 at 5:12 am

    I have to laugh at the ridiculous PADI bashing in this post. Exactly the same situation could occur with new instructors from any training agency. I’ve met some hopeless so-called BSAC “dive leaders”, can we expect a BSAC bash in your next post? Agency bashing detracts from your credibility.

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  8. DW
    August 7, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Unfortunately, with PADI’s mechanical approach to churning out dive “professionals”, this seemingly disproportionate criticism is self-inflicted.

    I have dived all over the world (2,000 + dives) with dive staffs from many organizations. It seems that the true meaning of being a “professional” has gotten lost within the self-promotion objectives of PADI literature: being a paid employee has been confused with being a professional.

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  9. TC
    August 9, 2009 at 5:55 am

    “I have dived all over the world (2,000 + dives) with dive staffs from many organizations.” — So what? I’ve been diving for 25 years and have the same # of dives or more. How is this relevant to the argument?

    “It seems that the true meaning of being a “professional” has gotten lost” — How? What is “the true meaning” of being a professional? Why is your opinion on professionalism any more valid than PADI’s?

    “within the self-promotion objectives of PADI literature”
    - News flash: PADI is a for-profit entity. Most for-profit entities promote themselves!

    “being a paid employee has been confused with being a professional”
    - So doctors and lawyers are not “professionals” because they are paid?

    Dude, if that’s the best you can do, PADI is safe for some time yet.

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  10. John Bantin
    August 11, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    Read the text TC and you won’t miss the point (as you seem to be doing):
    “Part of the deal was that we stayed at a different hotel and dived with a different operator every day”

    They were all PADI dive centres….

    It’s not about PADI. It’s about people.

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  11. TC
    August 18, 2009 at 6:37 am

    “It’s not about PADI. It’s about people.”

    Precisely my original point! So references to “PADI coolaid” (admittedly in a comment, not the article) are nothing more than PADI bashing. Precisely the same problem (of naive new opertors/instructors) could occur with new instructors from any training agency. That is the point I was making. It now seems you agree with me.

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  12. Paul Beckett
    March 30, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Yes Very well written there by Mr Bantin.

    There is an increasing number of British Divers, one of whom I am tempted to become who just simply cant be bothered to dive abroad, because there are too many diving hitlers about whose newly qualified instructor stripes apparrently gives them some kind of ego trip and a licence to ruin the experiences of those who want to HIRE THE GEAR AND BE LEFT WELL ALONE!

    I.e. most of us UK divers don’t like being “WetNursed” on dives at home and certainly are not prepared to tolerate it when we pay loads of money out for a decent holiday!

    It’s not about bashing PADI – even though the American litigation culture and “WetNursing” has probably come through via this route in diving, its about getting what you the customer wants. In many cases this is to be left alone and let the guide “Wet Nurse” those who want it or heaven forbid need it……..

    Yes I tend to go with JB on this one and quietly sneak off with another suitably qualified diver – more often than not the guide is a liability.

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