Dive Guides From Hell

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Burt Jones & Maurine ShimlockI’m lucky.  Most of the dive guides at the operations we frequent are knowledgeable, helpful, skilled divers who spoil us silly.  They love showing us critters (but enough with the pygmy seahorses already!), and understand the currents and other idiosyncrasies of the dive sites. But a few weeks ago we had to dive with a character we hadn’t seen in a while, (drum roll, please), the dive guide from hell.

From the time he arrived at the dock dressed to kill in a custom wetsuit, this guy was worse than useless.  As the day wore on, he became downright dangerous.  His briefing was basically a command to “follow me”, yet he consistently put us in the water down current from the site. We had to fin like crazy to get to the “sweet spot” while lugging our heavy cameras . Most of the time, the other divers on the boat didn’t make it to the intended starting point. When we asked the guide to check the current before we got in the water, he acted all miffed that he’d have to work a bit harder, made a big show of getting in the water, and still pointed in the wrong direction.

Unfortunately,  several divers with minimal experience were on this boat. These folks were stressed  by the fairly strong currents and the fact that they weren’t hitting the right entry point. Once on the site this so called guide never looked back at his clients, he just cruised the reef at warp speed, then ascended and got back on the boat well before the 60 minute bottom time limit. After the first dive  we ascended to what appeared to be an empty dive tender. If it hadn’t been for the  cigarette smoke enveloping the boat like a stinky fog bank, we would have thought the crew had abandoned ship.  If we hadn’t used our Dive Alerts, they’d probably still be lazing away out there.

To make things even worse, on the afternoon dive this guy carried a camera, his, not a guest’s. Now this group of mainly inexperienced divers was being led by a guide who was preoccupied with finding his own photographic subjects instead of  paying attention to the people he was supposed to watch over.  Camera in hand, he had become dangerous not only to the divers on the boat, but also to the animals underwater.  I’ve witnessed lots of bad behavior toward animals on the reef, but this guy was near the bottom of the animal sensitivity grid. Nudibranchs were de-gilled, crabs tweaked, leaf fish nearly speared with pointers. What a great example he set for the newbies in the group! A few questioned the guide’s tactics, and one even asked if I  ”didn’t think he was a little rough on that weird nudibranch?” Yes, I did, especially when the lovely Janolus  shed all of its cerata while being manhandled.

When he got back on the boat he started futzing with his camera.  We already knew that he was obviously a person far too superior to lean over the side and help another diver with her gear. None of the other crew snapped to either. Once the first two divers were on the boat it seemed as if they were expected to help the rest of the passengers. Whatever happened to engaging the customers in a discussion of what they’d seen or how they liked the dive?

I couldn’t help digging a bit into this guy’s background.  I admit it was difficult sitting next to him during the surface intervals while he chain smoked.  (I did protest when he threw his butts in the ocean.) Seems he wasn’t even a certified divemaster.  As if I was impressed enough, he explained that his rich uncle’s cousin owned the operation, and that’s how he got the job.  When I asked how he planned to deal with an emergency, the kind that might take some training to be able to handle well, he just shrugged and said, “don’t worry, be happy.”

Of course we talked to the shop manager, and asked for a different guide the next day. Of course this is a rare experience, and hopefully not one to be repeated.  Still, it made me wonder how many so called dive guides without proper training are out there leading people.  Should we, the customers, demand transparency?  Should all operations be required to display their employees credentials so that you can see  exactly who you are diving with?  Wouldn’t you rather dive with a professionally trained guide, one that could deal with emergencies, one that wanted you to enjoy your experience and did everything possible to make that happen.  We sure do.

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12 comments for “Dive Guides From Hell

  1. Bret Gilliam
    April 10, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Burt & Maurine have just been give a face-plant into the new reality. And it’s probably only going to get worse, not better.

    Here’s some excerpts from a formal paper I did recently for a “conference” that was addressing causation of diving accidents and fatalities. A lot of these notes apply directly to Burt & Maurine’s bad experience:

    “The dropout rate for divers and instructors is at an historic high. This is particularly significant for instructor and other “leadership” level ratings as it tends to then replace existing “professionals” with those even less qualified. This is due mostly to employment conditions and lack of financial compensation. Although touted as a “career” path by many agencies, the majority of instructors find that they lack the means to obtain a position that will pay them a living wage unless their ratings are supplemented with legitimate extra credentials such as EMS training, maritime licenses, or specific expertise in such fields as photographic training to supplement their value in a retail, resort, or liveaboard position.

    “Since diving has experienced a decline in participation within the last decade, there has been a corresponding decline in experienced mentors for new instructors and divemasters for “on the job” or “in the field” training in actual scenarios. This has contributed to accident rates and the failure to identify early identification of behavior patterns that would have been recognized as potentially dangerous by more veteran diving supervisors.

    “As a general observation from a review of lawsuits and accident reporting, we are seeing more causation of accidents resulting from a simple lack of common sense, maritime experience, etc. since little of this specific training and assessment is incorporated in many agency curricula.

    “There is also a need for enhanced training in evacuation, field assessment and treatment, and perhaps most importantly, disqualification of divers from some activities due to lack of experience before being allowed to engage in more challenging conditions. For example, the September 2009 issue of Undercurrent magazine reported the celebration of a diver’s 25th logged dive… aboard a liveaboard vessel at Cocos Island, a site notorious for the need for more advanced diving skills and the ability to dive independently. How such a diver was even accepted as a customer defies all prudent logic.

    “The role of the remaining (and rapidly shrinking) diving press in print media is not helping either. Just take a casual review of photos showing dangling gear, “octopus” emergency second stages dragging on the bottom, unsuitable equipment, over-weighted divers, etc.

    “Finally, while most training agencies do a credible job of developing worthy standards and procedures for training, many resorts and liveaboard ship operations lack even rudimentary Operations Manuals that address “field condition” protocols for more advanced medical assessment, search & rescue, adequate evacuation methods, procedures for site treatment of decompression sickness with adequate oxygen and delivery equipment along with in-water treatment table procedures, or even sufficient supplies of oxygen with demand masks for surface breathing first aid.”

    And that also applies to a protocol of handling paying guests that have a reasonable expectation of service. Burt & Maurine pioneered diving as guides, divemasters, and onboard liveaboard managers in the Solomon Islands and Indonesia over two decades ago. It’s a shame that they weren’t around to train and mentor the idiot they encountered recently as customers. I can assure you that those two would have straightened him out quickly or sent him packing.

    Ah well, welcome to reality in some places in diving today.

    Some good advice: Be prepared to experience “divemaster dementia” in a lot of places like the Caymans, Bahamas, etc. It’s an epidemic that started in the late 1980s and has now infected a whole new generation of whack-nuts.

    If you encounter bad service or rude behavior on a rip from staff, don’t tolerate it. Vote with your wallet: tell them and the operation’s owner why you’re leaving and not coming back! In the current economy… that’s a big stick that every operator doesn’t want to get whacked with. Word of mouth is huge in diving. Nothing tends to improve an operation more than focused critical input and the assurance that reasonable service will be provided. Or you, and those you influence in your encounters, will take their money elsewhere.

    But cheer up, you could be flying on Spirit airlines that now charges $45 for a carry-on bag. That’s the way to treat the public!

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  2. April 10, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Had one of those in Cozumel, hungover, non-responsive, asleep below deck most of the time, 20 min dive, cloud of tobacco smoke. I gave him the bird when he motioned for us to come up after 20 min. The funny thing is, they where so disapointed when we did not leave a tip!! We fought with this dive op over numerious things and will never be back again, there are many operations in that part of the world that I would rather give my hard earned cash to… Thanks for the great blogs

    Cheers

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  3. April 10, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    I was doing video on a caribbean dive trip. The usual operator I went out with had boat problems that
    afternoon so I hopped on another never before used dive operator. Talk about gestapo dive masters!! I’ve been diving for 40 yrs+ and suddenly had a 20 something newbie standing over me while I gearded up instructing me. In all fairness that basically what this operation did. Hustled cheap dive certifications to anyone that could fog a mirror, sober or not. Getting high before diving was the talk of this dive boat crowd of 20 somethings from Europe also. Finally into the water and ditched that crowd. It wasn’t long though before he came looking for me and tapped me on the shoulder while I was videoing to give me the buddy up signal. I pulled out my reg. and handed to him, you need spare air, right!! I laughed then flipped him the bird. He again gave me the buddy up signal and I flipped him the bird again. His eyes got extra wide and he then swam away not to bother me again. I made it a point to make my dive extra long and the boat filled with newbies were impatiently waiting for me to surface. What the hell do you need to take over and hour for to do your dive. we can do ours and be out of air in 40 minutes or less! Needless to say I sat out the second dive on that two dive morning trip and never went back!!

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  4. RPL
    April 12, 2010 at 1:04 am

    Where did this take place, and what was the name of the resort/operator?

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  5. April 12, 2010 at 2:43 am

    Thanks to all for your comments and to Bret especially for the insights into the back story of this developing trend. I’d just add that standards of training, especially in ancillary skills like maritime and medical training, are even worse outside of the US. Even back when we were staffing IDCs, we had to “pass” people who had lousy buoyancy skills. How can you call yourself a dive instructor if you can’t hover?

    I also agree with “the vote with your wallet” principle, and we did not tip the crew that day. Some people who were on the boat had not arrived at the stage of life where you don’t feel guilty about not paying for bad service, even though it’s expected, and they did tip.

    I will not name the person/operation involved because the purpose of these blogs is to open discussions about aspects of diving, the dive industry,etc., and hopefully educate and entertain, not bash.

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  6. April 12, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    If it can happen to Burt & Maurine, it can happen to anyone! Those of us in the industry try to “vet” our dive operators carefully but occasionally something like this does occur and the ONLY thing we can do is refuse to dive with the offender again and vote with our wallets! Hope the rest of your diving was better after that awful day.

    We are all struggling to keep educating divers and enhance their skills but we’re fighting an uphill battle, I’m afraid.

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  7. Walt Warren
    May 4, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    If this joker is (was) a DM on Provinciales, Turks & Caicos a few years back – I’m afraid we’ve already met him…

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  8. Robert Wilkin
    May 4, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    I have been diving for 31 years. When you find a dangerous dive master or operation, you have a duty to name the names! I have had many years of safe, enjoyable diving. And I am not shy about trying to help a fellow diver avoid a potentially dangerous group. One of the first things I do when diving with a new shop is to go online and look for comments from other divers. If no one will give the name of a dangerous dive master, then we all have a lot more of this to look forward to.

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  9. Jane H
    May 4, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Burt and Maurine have taken a lot of time to write a message which is useless. It’s just a story because they have chosen to eliminate any information that would be valuable to the reader in making future travel plans or to a dive operator who needs to know that his dive guides are not doing their jobs properly.

    What I like best about Undercurrent is evaulations of a dive destination complete with name of dive operator, location and dive conditions. I have 850 dives all over the world and have run into every kind of dive guide and operator. I’d love input that would help me plan my next trip! Burt and Maurine’s blogs would be useful if they stopped trying to protect the identity of the offenders.

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  10. linda rollins
    May 6, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Hello; I was permanently injured by the dive ladder on the Beqa Lagoon Resort boat while diving with Maui Dreams Dive Co. I was shocked by the lack of safety on this trip. Neither Beqa Lagoon, nor Maui Dreams took any responsibility for the safety of their paying customers.

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  11. linda rollins
    May 6, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    It is important for divers to make sure that the Dive Company who sign you up for a dive trip and organize the trip are going to make sure basic safety standards are met while you’re diving with them. Find out if your dive company is going to “out to lunch or on vacation” when they are profiting from you in Fiji. I will never sign up to dive with Maui Dreams Dive Co again.

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  12. mike
    June 2, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    The dive boat was being repaired and we were going to go on a six pack boat. There were 5 divers and 1 bubblewatcher. I was a new diver, but very comfortable in the water. The couple in the group and their son and his friend all were certed. The husband has some medical issues and the dm/guide was told. The wife hadn’t dove in over a year and had some ear issues on her last dive. The package we had all chosen was full service however almost no assistance was offered getting gear or tanks on the boat. DM was smoking on the way out and dropped his butts in the water so I told him not to. The rest of the group had been cautious to say anything but we had asked if it was non smoking and they had said yes. I asked him to stop chain smoking and he finally did. He informed us that it was his boat and he could do what he wanted, the wife told him yes he could and told him to bring us back. The dm stopped smoking and convinced her to continue. DM had us all get in and hang on to the mooring line. Then we all dropped down together. We were then given the signal to go up, don’t know why. Back hanging onto the mooring line we were told to drop again. I asked the dm to look at my pressure gauge since it dropped to 1000psi. He asked why and I explained the drop. He shrugged his shoulders. Everyone dropped but me because now I couldn’t dump air from my bc. I should point out here that my bc and reg set up was brand new, I did tell the dm I was diving with brand new gear. We were only in 30′ of water but current were pretty strong. When I looked back the boat was moving! I was a bit surprised. I decided to snorkel and follow the group. We went over the reef and I then noticed that the dm was about 40′ away going in his own seperate direction. The couple was assisting the son with something tangled. The dm didn’t pay attention at all. He didn’t even notice I was on the surface even though I had used my noise maker. The couple then started just swimming around and looking around. So did the 2 kids. The dm was now not in sight of anyone. I decided that this was probably not a good situation and started back to find the boat. I did find the boat by looking for it’s name and the colors since it had moved to another mooring. I was the first one back to the boat after 40 min and the rest of the group was back 10 min later. When ready to hand my fins up the other captain was not watching for any of us and the bubble watcher assisted us by grabbing our fins. After another 15 min the dm came back. While he was gone the other captain told us that the dm liked to drink a lot. The wife said she thought she had smelled alcohol on him when he shook her had. When the dm came back he asked if we liked the site. I wanted to throttle him. The couple wouldn’t even speak to him and I called the dive and told him to bring us back. He looked surprised that we didn’t want to do the 2nd dive. He said he had a great spot picked out for us tomorrow and was suprised when we all declined! He never gave a briefing or gave us any info about the dive site. I had been there before so at least I had a slight clue. I did learn a couple lessons in this – if you’re not comfortable with the dm it’s time to call the dive, it’s not going to get any better. Alway make sure to look at the boat, colors and the name-the wife had asked the name of the boat on the way out. Needless to say I would not dive with them again. Once back at the hotel during the week we had heard about 3 other groups who were not happy with their dives either with the same outfit. The scary part is that they are very “famous” in Florida and I alway thought they had a great reputation. I ended up using another dm/guide that week fromt the same place since they would not refund our money. I was very happy with him, great dm, great guide, different boat different captain and crew. I told him about the problems I had the day before and we did a shallow dive and told me to have my inflator kit replaced and he put another 0 ring on my pressure gauge. Now that great dm works for another shop and we alway go to them and tip him very well. One other thing, when we were waiting for the boat to be fixed before leaving we heard one of the owners of the dive shop yelling at the guy filling nitrox tanks to “hurry up already you’re filling too slow, why do you all fill so slow that hurts our business we have customers waiting”. All in all very eye opening!

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