NAUI has built their reputation and standing in the diving community upon the training of safe, competent divers. The cornerstones upon which that training rest are the standards we use to provide entry level courses to beginning divers. Many instructors feel that those standards may be too restrictive upon instructors, and that by following them to the letter they are not able to expose the students to the breadth of diving experiences needed to produce qualified local divers. The purpose of this month's forum was to see which parts of the standards instructors find overly confining or unsafe.
The responses received tended to be lengthier than usual, because the members involved felt the need to explain in greater detail why current standards were felt to be too superficial for their local area. In general, the primary reasons instructors were inclined to prefer teaching in more demanding environments were that (1) the newly certified divers would be diving in those environments immediately upon certification, and (2) that more adept and abler divers were produced as a result of such exposures.
The two primary reasons it was felt that there was no need to exceed national standards were: (1) students had ample opportunity to take advanced and specialty courses to learn to dive in particular environments, and (2) that engaging in these activities would expose the instructor to potential lawsuits in the event of any accident occurring.
When queried about advanced and specialty courses, many experienced instructors stated that while they sound good in theory, in actual practice few divers go on in continuing education courses. One instructor even goes so far as to state that he would not issue an entry level certification card without training the diver in cavern and deep diving techniques, because he felt not to do so would be place those divers in jeopardy based on the prevalence of local spring diving sites in his region.
Read the following views, and think about your local practices and needs. Feel free to comment on the thoughts expressed herein. Comments received will be appended to a Members' Forum column in a future issue.
QUESTION: "Should Instructors break or modify national environmental standards for entry level instruction to suit local conditions if those conditions could place the students at increased risk? Have you done so, and why?"
A. I now do as little teaching as possible because I feel I am being told to do things I feel are dangerous; namely shallow water checkouts. In diving a person deals with the same physics laws as a pilot. No one tells a pilot it is safe to fly low. Just as a pilot has no room for error when he is low, a diver has no room for error when he is shallow. The most dangerous diving accident is an air expansion problem. There is no chance to help someone in 30 feet of water because that is where the greatest expansion takes place. We are putting the most inexperienced divers where there is no chance or time to help them. In shallow water a new diver will relate to the surface for safety instead of solving problems on the bottom. The diver who checks out in shallow water has a false sense of security.
In the Palm Beach area 90% of the diving is done at depths of 80 feet in current utilizing drift diving techniques. In our area the shallow reefs are the ones furthest from the inlet. There is more chance for students' fears to build--more chance for sea sickness--more chance for surge--and more chance for poor visibility. Water conditions have far more impact than depth, especially when visibility is 60 feet or better on deeper reefs and often less than 20 feet on shallow dives.
Our divers train in an eighteen feet deep training tank. After their fifth dive they are far more comfortable in our 80 feet deep conditions than many visitors are (including instructors). Divers who do their training dives in these conditions are also far more competent than those who do their first four dives in shallow water. Divers taught here in current and deep water are far more able to adapt to conditions elsewhere. Most of the problems seen in Palm Beach are caused by divers trained elsewhere.
I would not presume to tell someone in California how to teach cold water beach diving, and I resent someone sitting in an office telling me how to teach in an area in which I have done 7000 dives in 20 years and taught hundreds with a perfect safety record.
I think that diving conditions are so varied that uniform rules for teaching are impossible. I would like to see certifications issued listing the type of environment encountered during training (salt/fresh water, current/calm water, depth, etc.)
‑‑Norine Rouse, NAUI 1040; West Palm Beach, FL (Director of the Norine Rouse Scuba Club, a NAUI Pro Facility. Has taught all levels of diving. Recipient of the John Stoneman Environmental Award for her work with sea turtles, and Diver of the Year for Underwater Boston.)
A. No. Instructors should not break standards to suit local diving conditions; specifically depth changes in Openwater I. Instructors can combine Openwater I and II programs. Students make the requirements of Openwater I and then continue on into an Openwater II class further developing their diving skills. Today's students, more often than not, exhibit a keen interest in advancing their diving careers. Developing your programs to include 60-80 feet dives avoids placing students in a risky situation as they continue learning from you, the expert.
This has obvious advantages for the student, but also has significant benefits for the instructor. Variety is added to the instructor's program and the dual program increases marketability. It will most likely be a course the competitor is not offering.
As a former Branch Manager, requests for waivers for depth standards, age limitations, and instructor/student ratios were received. I found generally they were not consistent in specific areas; in fact most instructors and dive operators were opposed to changes in depth and instructor ratio modifications. Modifying age limitations should be evaluated on a case by case basis, depending on the physical and mental capabilities of the potential students.
--Valerie Rutledge, NAUI 7596; Miami, FL (Past South Atlantic Branch Manager. Teaches entry level to ITCs. Has spoken at several ICUEs. Recipient of NAUI Outstanding and Continuing Service Awards.)
A. I believe an instructor should teach his students to dive the type of environments they have available in their area. Where I teach, we have 19 inland dive sites that are either cavern, or are over 60 feet deep. Offshore our most popular dive sites are deeper than 60 feet. Where do you think my students will dive when they get out of my class? If you think only the four shallow sites available, then I have a bridge I'd like to sell you!!
An instructor should take the time and have the flexibility to train students in an entry level class to dive deep, dive caverns, or meet other environmental conditions if that is the type of diving the students will be doing once certified. Few students go beyond entry level training, so if 80% of the local dives are cavern dives, then cavern diving should be taught in the entry level class. It is much safer to do this than let the student (now certified diver) learn the required skills on their own. (and hopefully survive!) This is true especially if the environment is more hazardous than the one a student would be exposed to in the "optimal" conditions generally set forth by national standards.
The variation in what is taught should be controlled by the local environmental conditions, and the experience of the instructor. One may need to teach longer courses, but that is far better than teaching five dive "short" courses, cheating the students on information they need to dive safely in their local area, and running more certification courses that teach less!
--Barry Kerley, NAUI 5611; Tallahassee, FL (College Instructor and dive store owner. Past Training Director for the National Association for Cave Diving (NACD), ITC Director, commercial diver, and dive safety officer for the National Park Service. Has trained over 2200 divers.)
A. Yes, "advanced" environments exceeding common "national standards" may need to be addressed and dove by entry level students upon occasion. The environmental conditions which are deemed appropriate obviously vary by area. For example instructors in some other areas consider drift diving outside environmental standards for entry level training, but our students will drift dive immediately after certification (in Cozumel and in local rivers). For this reason it is necessary to introduce this environment during the entry level open water dives.
‑‑Susan Lucas, NAUI 6306L; Richardson, TX (Private professional instructor, entry level courses to ITC Director. Very active in Dallas Chapter activities.)
A. I believe that an instructor should violate national environmental standards only if safety is a problem. The safety of the student comes foremost in the decision. If an area has needs to vary from national standards, then regional instructors should be able to make that judgment and receive a waiver from headquarters to do so.
Standards are guidelines to insure a safe program, but environmental conditions change on a daily and individual basis. Waivers are necessary.
I believe many instructors are taking the easy way out by just following the standards and doing all of their certification dives in such controlled conditions that it actually limits the students to unrealistic local diving conditions. In other words, students are not prepared to dive in a realistic diving environment.
--Mike Gomez, NAUI 9244; Panama City Beach, FL (Co-Owner of Panama City Dive Center, a NAUI PRO Facility. Teaches primarily Openwater I and private classes, some ITC staff experience.)
A. To use national environmental standards in every situation would be like allowing a recreational diver to perform ordinance disposal underwater just because both descriptions call for a diver. Entry level acclimation to open water should be done in controlled and optimal conditions, however the environment that a diver is subjected to should play an important part in every student's training.
Items A and B on page V-48 (under Methods) of the Standards Manual tell us we must train to the environmental conditions that the student will encounter during diving after training, and open water dives are to include the skills appropriate to the level and area of certification. To train a diver for the local conditions in Tennessee student to instructor ratios must be altered to where a firm level of control is accomplished. Can you imagine an 8:1 ratio on a red mud bottom with 5-10 foot visibility (on a good day) before the first time students landed?! What works well in California or Florida may not work in Tennessee.
NAUI standards specify our purpose as instructors is "to insure the safety of the student." Safe standards have to be interpreted to where the instructor feels in 100% control. If this means 20' dives, introduction to other modified or specialized techniques, or other environmental conditions, we as instructors should be able to modify environmental standards as necessary. This may require longer hours and more training to accomplish. But isn't NAUI "The Quality Difference"?
‑‑Harold McIlwain, NAUI 8751; Nashville, TN (Owner of Diving Adventures, a NAUI PRO Facility. Has taught levels from Introductory to Advanced, including Specialty Courses.)
A. Diver training is a service to fill the need of developing competent divers. These divers should be competent to the degree that they can dive in the conditions in their geographic areas. For instance, in California divers undergo surf training, which is essential for the diving on the West Coast. On the other hand, along Florida's Gold Coast (Miami to West Palm Beach) our prevailing conditions do not involve surf entries. In fact, typical dives along this coastline are either anchor or drift dives in depths ranging from 70 to 115 feet.
Most likely, the first dive charter a newly certified diver participates in upon completing a dive course will be in these depth ranges. In my 28 years as an instructor it has been my observation that dramatic changes in breathing rates occur between 70 and 100 feet. These changes are primarily due to the increased density and students not adjusting to a slower rate of breathing to compensate for this density change. With proper training and supervised diving to these depths, students can be introduced to correct breathing habits by the instructor. Maintaining a current policy not to exceed 55 feet, it is not uncommon to see newly certified divers place themselves in low air situations by breathing through their air too fast on their first unsupervised dive to these depths. Again, this could be avoided by proper supervised diving and direction of the diving instructor to be included in an entry level course.
In my and several other experienced Gold Coast instructors' opinions, it is totally irresponsible of the training agencies and instructors to avoid training students to the level of diving conditions prevalent in this geographic region. While it is true that in much of the U.S.A. 100 feet is cold and murky, thus thought of as a "deep dive," in Florida and the Caribbean these are safe, common diving depths. I implore NAUI to amend their standards to allow the instructors to train students to the common level or type of diving in the locality where the training takes place as part of the entry level class. This latitude would be typical of what NAUI has always stood for: training safe divers under the guidance of competent instructors.
--Tom Mount, NAUI 2423; Miami Shores, FL (NAUI Professional Educator. Teaches Openwater I through Advanced classes, Underwater Photography specialty courses, and staffs ITCs. Has authored several textbooks and many articles on diving specialties and safety. Spoke at several ICUEs. Past Director of the National Association for Cave Diving (NACD) and past Training Director of the YMCA Scuba Program.)
A. Yes. Fortunately, within the U.S. I have not been in a situation where that has been necessary. However, there are places where our standards are inappropriate. One example is use of a divers down flag. While teaching in Saudi Arabia, use of a flag raised strong concerns. Such use has been interpreted as signalling between groups of terrorists. (And machine gun holes in students are deemed eminently unacceptable!) Fortunately that position is beginning to change due to the education of government officials.
Another example is the use of buoyancy compensators by free divers. A properly trained and weighted free diver should not require a BC.
‑‑Scott Munro, NAUI 6791L; Bellevue, WA (Former North Pacific Branch Manager; has taught all levels from Openwater I to ITCs. Operates a video production company. Recipient of NAUI Outstanding Service Award.)
A. Placing a BC on a skin diver will cause some loss of mobility, but one must examine the purpose for the additional equipment. In this case, it is to provide an additional safety margin for the diver. While a person can be perfectly safe if properly weighted in a wetsuit, ditching the belt if a need for greater buoyancy arises; the prevailing legal mien is such that as a defendant an instructor would probably be found negligent by not being safety conscious should a plaintiff's suit be filed. The general attitude is that you must give the student the tools to dive safely.
At UCLA we alleviate the mobility loss by placing the students in small horsecollar BCs initially, later moving them to stabilizing jackets for later skin dives and the scuba dives. However, I occasionally will personally skin dive without a BC in a non-teaching situation, depending on my wetsuit for emergency flotation.
--Dr. Glen Egstrom, NAUI 937; Los Angeles, CA (Dive Officer for University of California , Los Angeles. Member NAUI Board of Advisors. Past President NAUI. Has taught all levels from Entry level to ITCs. Has authored many textbooks and articles on diving safety, and has lectured extensively. Recipient NAUI Outstanding Service Awards.)
A. No, for one simple reason: legal liability. In many cases if a plaintiff can show deviation from the national teaching standard on the part of an instructor named in litigation proceedings, then a case for negligence may well be better established regardless of the instructor's best intentions. I would recommend obtaining a written waiver from standards from NAUI before altering the content of a course even if such alteration served to exceed the standard and did not increase risk to the student.
In over 75 appearances in litigation as an expert witness in diving and marine fields I have seen such apparently innocent actions by an instructor used against him in many cases. Stick to the "book" and cover your ass is my legal opinion.
--Bret Gilliam, NAUI 3234; New Orleans, LA (Author, expert witness, active dive instructor)
A. Minimum national standards are just that: the absolute minimum knowledge and skill level required for entry level scuba certification. Environmental standards for that course consist of basic, general knowledge necessary to conduct safe diving under various water conditions. If unique local conditions demand special considerations, appropriate instruction and training should be included in addition to current standards. If divers venture to other regions, as many do, they will be more familiar with the new environment, and therefore will be safer divers.
--George Safirowski, NAUI 8921L; Hackensack, NJ (Contract Instructor for Lifeguard Systems, teaching all levels of diving to ITCs, as well as Underwater Photography, Video, and Diver Rescue specialties. Has done videography for many underwater projects.)
A. There is no need to violate standards and it is a very unwise practice. Most of the objections stem from an incomplete knowledge of the standards or a misinterpretation of them. A great deal of instructor latitude is allowed and encouraged; instructors are to exceed the standards minimum when appropriate and waivers can be requested for specifics when student safety will not be jeopardized. For example, from the Standards Applying to All NAUI Diving Courses:
"Exact curriculum content, difficulty of skills, course fees and length of class beyond minimums are to be keyed to to the class size and location... and area standard of practice." from II., D, p. v-47.
"Open water is defined as as any body of water with environmental conditions similar to those the student will encounter during dives in the area following training. If these vary greatly, open water training dives should vary accordingly." from V, B, p. v-48.
NAUI's strength stems from the good judgment of its individual members. The standards are written to capitalize on that, and do not present any single way to go about teaching the entry level program. The instructor is expected to insert additional local environmental training to attain the objective of producing a safe, adequately trained diver. To do so in no violation. To not do it would be.
--Mike Williams, NAUI 3413; Montclair, CA (Editor, NDA News. Wrote the 1984 Revised NAUI Standards. Taught entry level through ITC in numerous U.S. locations and in Europe. Outstanding Service Award recipient. Former Director of Program and Product Development at NAUI H.Q.)
A. Divers should absolutely be prepared to dive in the local environment, but placing entry level students in currents and caves and at depths in excess of 60 feet is not the answer. The basic skills of diving need to be demonstrated in water that is shallow and relatively still. If these conditions are not typical of the local diving, two options should be considered: (1) offer of include "orientation" dives following the Openwater I course, or (2) promote and offer the Openwater II course, which is perfect for orienting divers to activities and conditions.
A diver absolutely needs more than five dives to be considered safe and competent to dive deeper than 60 feet, in currents, etc.
--Dennis Graver, NAUI 1103L; Montclair, CA (NAUI Director of Education. International authority on diving and diving education. Recipient of numerous diving awards.)
NOTE: The views expressed in this column are opinions held by the individual members referenced, and are not those of NAUI or the editors of NDA News.]Questions for the next issues:
Questions for the next issues:
For the January/February issue: "What is the minimum number of dives required to produce a competent openwater diver for your particular location or environment? For an advanced diver? Why?"
For the March/April issue: "Should NAUI sanction solo diving, perhaps by offering a solo diving certification? Why/why not?"
All members are encouraged to respond. This column is for you, the membership, to develop. Answers should be kept fairly brief, preferably no more than two or three paragraphs. Responses to each question will be collated by the editor, condensed if necessary, and printed in this section. New questions may also be posed for discussion. Questions should be concise, and should stimulate a wide cross‑section of the membership. Include with your responses or questions the following information: your name, address, phone number, NAUI membership number, dive‑related employment, past diving accomplishments, and a review of your dive teaching experience. Send your materials to Jeffrey Bozanic, c/o NDA News, P.O. Box 14650, Montclair, CA 91763‑1150.
Compiled and Edited by Jeffrey Bozanic, NAUI 5334L
NDA News, Jan/Feb 1989, pp. 10-14.
Environmental Standards Violations
NAUI Members' Forum #9
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