One of my favourite PADI Specialties to teach is the Digital Underwater Photography Specialty. It can be great fun, but also usually you get to see a big improvement in your students’ photography skills.
The course requires two open water dives, the first of which can be conducted in confined water. Completing this first dive, and the first knowledge review, would also allow you to certify your students to DUP Level 1. I prefer to teach the full Specialty – two knowledge reviews and two open water dives – and certify my students as DUP Level 2 Divers. I also conduct a confined water dive. I aim to schedule this course over two full days:
Day 1: Classroom session in the morning and confined water session in the afternoon
Day 2: Two open water dives
On the first day, I spend the morning in the classroom. We review the students’ knowledge reviews, and get to know the camera they will be using on land first – both in and out of the housing. During the knowledge development session I make sure my students understand all the main concepts – shutter speed, aperture, white balance, depth of field, ISO, scene modes – and make sure they know how to make these adjustments on their camera both in and out of the housing.
In the afternoon of the first day we hit the pool and put everything we learned in the classroom into practise in this relaxed setting, where we can take our time and practise changing our camera settings, and getting good shots. I take a few objects into the pool so the students can practise focus, white balance, and depth of field. I try to find some everyday objects with a few different colours – including red – too to help practise adjusting white balance, and to see how the different scene modes show the different colours. Whilst in the pool, I also emphasise, and practise, taking photos with good buoyancy control, and without touching the bottom.
On the second day of the course, we head to open water to put everything in to practise with some cool marine life too. I also take the coloured objects to the ocean to practise white balance adjustments at different depths during the first dive too.
We also spend time finding some cool creatures that are conducive to practising photography. I focus on creatures that don’t move very far, or very quickly, like nudibranchs, morays, lionfish, clownfish etc., so the students can practise the PADI S.E.A. method…
Using a delayed SMB is a skill many dive professionals take for granted – as they have used them so often. Many forget that first attempt at using one, which often doesn’t go as planned. Ask an instructor who teaches the Divemaster course regularly – they often see the struggles of that first try. There are also many options for using one. The chances are that if you ask ten dive professionals about their preferences for using/stowing a delayed SMB, you will get ten differing answers…
Firstly, let’s clear up the difference between an ‘SMB’ and a ‘dSMB’. ‘SMB’ stands for surface marker buoy, also commonly known as ‘the safety sausage’. The difference between the two is, basically, where they are inflated – an ‘SMB’ is inflated at the surface, or permanently inflated, whereas a ‘dSMB’ (delayed surface marker buoy) is inflated underwater towards the end of a dive. An SMB can either be towed for the whole dive, or just used at the surface to signalling the boat if you are a little further away than you thought.
Personally, I much prefer to use a dSMB at the end of every dive. I like to have a marker on the surface to keep boat traffic away as I ascend with my students, and am not fond of towing an SMB for the whole dive (I don’t dive in areas where this is required by law).
The PADI Delayed SMB Diver Distinctive Specialty is designed for instructors to teach their students how to safely master this skill. The aim is for us to talk through the different options and try a few different techniques, and the student can decide which they prefer. We can show them the different methods of inflation – alternate air source, oral, exhaled bubbles, LPI – and also the difference between a reel and a spool (and the different designs of both). We can also discuss and show the option for deploying a dSMB without a reel or line too, and the advantages of an orange line over a white one. I like to mark distances on my lines too so students can see their depth when reeling in and show them how that works. This is also useful when teaching wreck or navigation dives/Specialties.
The students then get to practise this skill under controlled conditions with instructor supervision. We talk them through the different options during the knowledge development first, and could even do a confined water dive to practise first too. During the open water dives the students get to first try the skill in a stationary position, and then from mid-water on dive two. The more different options they can try, the better. Once deployed, the students then have to swim with the dSMB and make a controlled ascent, reeling the line in. After a safety stop, a final ascent to the surface is made, and the dSMB is stowed for the next dive once back on the boat.
The correct and safe use of a dSMB is an extremely valuable skill for every diver. It’s a great course to teach, and students get great satisfaction when they master the skill. As a dSMB Specialty Instructor you can also offer dive one of the Specialty as an Adventure Dive during your Advanced Open Water Courses – another reason for obtaining this Specialty Instructor rating. I would recommend adding it on to your PADI IDC course, or including it in your MSDT Prep programme…
If you’d like more information about this, or any other, PADI Specialty, feel free to send me an email and ask for further details…
At Go Pro In Paradise we are trying to push more and more towards neutrally buoyant skills during our PADI IDC programmes at PADI CDC Lanta Diver on Koh Lanta, Thailand. We are trying to stay off the knees, and teaching more on fin-tips or in mid-water. The dive environment is becoming ever more fragile, and we need to train the future generation of divers to be even more environmentally aware, and with even better buoyancy skills than in the past. There is no need to spend any time on the knees during diver training – we should promote proper weighting and positioning in the water right from the first moment new divers get their heads under the water.
It starts with Confined Water Dive #1 of the Open Water Course. During our IDCs, the first time we take our IDC Candidates in the pool we conduct a CW Dive #1 workshop, and teach our candidates the importance of not over-weighting their future students, and how to get them neutrally buoyant before proceeding with the rest of the skills in CW Dive #1. We achieve this by teaching the ‘Breathing Underwater’ skill as an introduction to the fin pivot (as described in a previous post). All other skills in confined water can then be performed on fin-tips.
We also then conduct a neutrally buoyant skill circuit, with all skills demonstrated on fin-tips – staying off the knees.
After this skill circuit, we then conduct a Confined Water Dive #5 workshop, where we teach our IDC candidates how to help their Open Water students to make the transition from performing skills on their fin-tips to now performing them mid-water whilst swimming around the pool neutrally buoyant. We also highlight the importance of correct weighting and the value of practising swimming in shallow water without touching the bottom or breaking the surface – demonstrating good trim and horizontal body position.
For the rest of the IDC, we then expect our candidates to perform all their teaching presentations in this manner. Hopefully we can do our bit to inspire the next generation of PADI dive instructors to teach better buoyancy, trim, and environmental awareness in their future Open Water Courses…
As a new instructor, the Navigation Adventure Dive can seem a little daunting – there’s lots to do, but we also want to save some time to swim around and explore the dive site too. It’s a dive we conduct often – it is a compulsory core dive on the Advanced Open Water Course. We obviously need to make sure all our students meet performance requirements, but we also want to work efficiently to allow that time for exploring the dive site and practising actual diving !
The first thing to consider when planning a Navigation Adventure Dive is when and where you will conduct this dive. I would never plan to conduct this dive as the first dive of an Advanced Open Water Course, I would prefer to see my divers in the water first. Ideally, I like to conduct Peak Performance Buoyancy as the first dive of an AOWC, and certainly before the Navigation Dive. Another thing to bear in mind is depth and site selection. It’s preferable to conduct the Navigation Dive on a shallow site, with relatively open sandy areas. Also, a site with little or no current is ideal. Aiming for a shallower site is another reason not to plan this as the first dive of the course. I prefer to plan my Navigation Dives as either second or third dives of the course – it’s also not a nice dive to finish the course with for the students.
Now let’s have a look at the performance requirements – what the students must achieve…
Okay, so we need to get ourselves organised before we tackle those performance requirements. We need to get our instructional equipment together first. Our students should each have a compass, as per PADI standards, for every Adventure Dive. But for me, we also need a reel/spool – that’s how I measure the 30 metres for skill #2, and I also then use it as a baseline, and a way of measuring performance requirements, for the other skills. I have a reel and a spool, and I have marked them both off for distances every five metres. I also made sure when I bought my reel and my spool that I selected ones with orange lines, rather than the more common white. The orange line is much easier to see (when using a dSMB, or conducting wreck penetration, as well as when laying it on the floor for Navigation skills). I then marked my lines every five metres as below:
Once I have laid this line out, carefully avoiding damaging any aquatic life, I am ready to start the skills with my students. If there is a slight current, I will try to set the line perpendicular to it. Skill #1 will be combined with all the other skills and monitored throughout the dive. Skill #2 is pretty straight forward, but the trick is to avoid this turning into a race along the line. I am very careful how I brief this skill – I brief that the 30m swim should be at a normal dive pace, and that I will set the speed by swimming in front of the students, emphasising that they should not overtake me. I instruct the students to count their own kick cycles, and I time the swim. The number of kicks and time can then be noted on the Adventure Dive Data Carrier slates. I perform this skill twice – once in each direction to ascertain an average. This is especially important if there is a slight current.
The next skill is the natural navigation swim, returning within 15m from the start point. This is a skill that needs to be briefed well too. We need to emphasise what features to look for in the reef formations/topography, and also to point out that often things will look different when returning in the opposite direction. I brief my students to look back at a reference point as they pass it to get an idea of how it will look on the return leg. I also brief the importance of slow relaxed swimming – the normal dive pace – and tell them how many kick cycles I would like them to complete before turning around. I start this skill from the centre point of my 30m baseline – the 15 metre mark. I now have 15 metres of line either side of the start, so I can very easily see if the students have met the performance requirement, which is to return within 15 metres of their start point.
Skill #4 is then combined with skill #5. Correct positioning/handling of a compass to swim a reciprocal heading. I also remind the students they can also incorporate some natural navigation techniques as used in the previous skill into this exercise – especially if there is a little current. For the skill #4 element of this reciprocal heading swim, I do emphasise that the compass must be level, and that the lubber line must be pointing in the desired direction of travel, but I do not insist they hold the compass in the manner pictured below during the entire exercise – because nobody dives like this, ever – it just needs to be held correctly when checking the heading/direction !
Rather than insist on the above position, I brief students to use natural navigation in conjunction with the compass – keeping the compass level, point it ahead, and pick out a natural feature in line with the lubber line, then when they reach that feature, they can again hold the compass level with the lubber line in the correct direction and pick another natural feature – this is a more natural, ‘realistic’ way to navigate with a compass. This is also a much better technique if there is any current – if people just stare at the compass in a current they may not notice they are being pushed off course. Also bear in mind that nowadays people may be using a digital compass on their dive computer, so you might need to cover how to calibrate and use that version of a compass. Again, we need to cover how many kick cycles before turning in the briefing. I also start this skill from the same 15 metre mark on my baseline, so I can check that they meet the performance requirement of returning to within six metres of the starting point – I have a mark on my baseline five metres either side of the starting point…
With both skill #3 and skill #4, if conditions are good enough, and my divers are also competent enough, I can send two buddy teams off simultaneously if I have four students. I assign one member of each buddy team the task of navigating with the compass (setting the heading by pointing the lubber line in the correct direction and rotating the bezel so the north arrow is between the two index markers), whilst the other will be counting their own kick cycles and tapping the shoulder of the buddy to signal time to turn around. To turn around, the buddy member with the compass just needs to turn their body until the south arrow is in between the two index markers.
Before I allow a buddy team to begin the swim, I position myself directly in front of them, blocking their path, until I am happy they have set the compass correctly, then I move to the side and let them begin. Once buddy team #1 has started, I position myself directly in front of the second buddy team until I am happy their compass is also set correctly before I allow then to swim. Once the second buddy team have started, quite often the first buddy team is arriving back, and I can have them swap roles and repeat the skill. This helps me work more efficiently and have time to explore the dive site once all skills are completed:
Once everybody has performed each role for the reciprocal heading compass swim, the final skill is the square pattern. For this, I also get the two buddy teams swimming in different directions at the same time (conditions and competency allowing) to work efficiently:
Again, I start from the 15 metre mark of my line and use the marks on my line to gauge whether they have met the performance requirements of returning to within eight metres of the starting point. I prefer to use the Suunto SK8 compasses for this dive too, as they have all four cardinal points on the face, and not just a north arrow. This makes this square pattern, and the search patterns in the Rescue Diver and Search & Recovery Specialty, much easier too. Again, for the first heading, the students need to point the lubber line in the right direction and turn the bezel until the two index markers are over the north arrow. Now, when they come to make the first 90 degree turn, for a turn to the right, they do not need to touch the bezel, they just need to turn the body until the east arrow is between the two index markers, and on the next turn, the south arrow between the two markers. For a left turn, they would turn the body until the west arrow is between the index markers.
I ask the students to set the first side of the square to follow the direction of my baseline (as in the picture above). This means their final leg of the square will be back towards the line, so again I can see how close to the start point they finish. And once more, when the buddy teams return, I get them to swap roles and repeat the skill. The conditions will determine length of each side of the square – if the conditions are good enough, I will have the students use the same amount of kick-cycles as it took them to complete the 30 metre swim earlier (This is PADI’s recommended size for the square), but if conditions are less favourable, I may shorten this to suit (as in the example picture above).
Another key to making this dive run smoothly and efficiently underwater is to practise these skills on land before the dive. I like to do this with a towel over the students’ heads, so all they can see is the compass, and to learn to trust it (and me!).
And that is basically how I try to run the Navigation Adventure Dive. As I mentioned above, sometimes conditions or student skill level means I need to adapt my approach a little. But this is the Advanced Course, and the students, as certified divers, should be good enough to swim a short distance away from the instructor, and allowing them that little extra freedom will also help them become more confident divers…
If you have any questions about how I run my Navigation Adventure Dives, or would like to take an Underwater Navigator Specialty Instructor Training Course to see it first hand, please feel free to email and ask for more information…
The PADI Fish ID Specialty is for me one of the most misunderstood of all PADI Specialties. Often (wrongly) sneered at by Instructors, and much maligned by dive professionals. The point to remember is that this Specialty is not for dive professionals, but for new or novice divers. And when taught properly, this target audience will gain much from taking this course.
Every Divemaster and Instructor should be able to identify the majority of the common fish/marine life in their local area. But remember the point is for them to pass that information on to new divers.
It’s also not just a case of taking a fish slate underwater and pointing to a fish then showing the new diver a picture of it on the slate with the name. The idea is that we teach the new diver how they can learn to identify fish for themselves. Perhaps they will be diving in the future without a dive professional.
When I teach this Specialty, I teach people to focus on family groups first, and then, when back on the boat, to get the books out and find the exact species. With this approach, divers don’t need to start at page one, and flick through every page of the book until they find the picture they are looking at. Rather, they know straight away to start with the angelfish section, for example, then can look for the nuances in colouration to find the exact species, perhaps with the aid of the picture/notes they made on their slate during the dive. This is how the Specialty should be taught. And a new diver will enjoy this and gain a lot of knowledge and enjoyment from this, and more importantly, will want to keep diving to discover new species and creatures.
The contents page of this book includes outlines of the shapes of major fish families and is perfect to use during your dive briefings. Then after the dive, your students can look here first, and then know which section of the book to head to next to try to identify the species they saw and drew during the dive.
During the dives, I like to focus on the common reef fish in my area. I am not looking to identify the ornate ghost pipefish, or the frogfish, but am paying more attention to different types of butterflyfish, angelfish, and anemonefish. I let, and encourage, my students to draw whichever fish they like, but I will also point out a few that I want them to pay close attention to – some that are difficult to identify for a beginner. I usually get them to draw longfin bannerfish and moorish idols, and a couple of different types of anemonefish, to see if they can spot the slight differences.
I think this is a great Specialty for Instructors to be able to teach and offer their students, especially after the Open Water Course. If you would like to know more about teaching this Specialty, feel free to send me an email, and see when I am next running a Specialty Instructor Training Course. Or if you are a PADI Divemaster, join us for an IDC and add this rating on at the end of the programme.
If you have been teaching a while, you might be considering your next steps, and maybe even planning on attending a PADI CDTC and becoming a Course Director in the future yourself. The PADI IDC Staff Course is the first step on the instructor development ladder.
As a certified PADI IDC Staff Instructor you will be able to assist Course Directors with IDC programmes and share your wisdom and experience with new PADI leaders. The IDC Staff Instructor course provides you with extensive knowledge of the PADI IDC process and prepares you to positively shape the next generation of PADI Professionals. It’s also a great career move, and opens up more opportunities…
So, what do you gain from the training ? After certification you will be able to:
There are two options for the IDC Staff Instructor course. The most popular is to sit in on a full IDC programme. You start a couple of days before the IDC itself, learning about the psychology of evaluation and how to evaluate the candidates IDC teaching presentations. Also during these days you will need to pass the PADI Dive Theory and Standards Exams again – with a higher passing score of 80% this time. You will also need to deliver one Confined Water and one Knowledge Development Teaching Presentation again. Also with higher passing scores than on an IDC programme. Then it’s time for the IDC candidates to arrive, and you sit back and relive the IDC experience from a different, more relaxed, perspective…
As a PADI Instructor with teaching experience already, you will be able to take in more information now you are on the other side of the fence, and more relaxed. You will absorb even more of the valuable information stored in the heads of our experienced Platinum PADI Course Director, and help pass this on to the IDC candidates. You will also help deliver the extra workshops and seminars added to Go Pro In Paradise IDC programmes to help the IDC candidates hit the ground running after the IE, and see how we try to focus on teaching our IDCs neutrally buoyant.
The longer option outlined above is perhaps the better option. You will get more practice getting to grips with the evaluation process for Confined Water, Open Water and Knowledge Development presentations. However, for those short in time, there is a shorter four-day option. During this option you will still learn the basics of becoming an IDC Staff instructor, but you will not then see everything put into action in a real world IDC setting. Following this shorter option though, you can always come back when you have more time and gain that experience staffing an IDC at a later date.
If you are interested in improving your teaching skills and knowledge, and becoming a member of the PADI Instructor Development team with our highly experienced Platinum PADI Course Director, then please drop us an email for further details. If you are already a PADI IDC Staff instructor, we also offer programmes to help you get more staffing experience, as well as Master Instructor and CDTC Prep programmes…
During PADI IDC training, it’s not uncommon for people to struggle with the hovering skill. This is a basic buoyancy skill, and should be mastered during the Open Water course, but all too often it is not – it is taught, but not to a mastery level. There is one simple trick I learned which made it much easier for me to get my Open Water students to mater this skill – and it comes down to understanding the situations in which we would hover whilst diving…
Another factor in helping your students master this skill is how you have taught the preceding skills up to this point in their training – they should already have a basic understanding and feeling of neutral buoyancy at this point.
In Confined Water Dive #1 we teach the ‘breathing underwater‘ skill. This should be the first skill to teach, and if you haven’t lazily over-weighted your students, they should already have a good understanding of how breathing effects buoyancy. When we reach Confined Water Dive #2, we have our students master the neutral buoyancy skill – usually by the ‘fin pivot’ method. Now the students really get to grips with how changing lung volume changes depth too as they ‘rise and fall in a controlled manner, during inhalation and exhalation’.
Making the transition to the hover in Confined Water Dive #3 should now be relatively easy, but you can make it even easier for them still. During the briefing for the ‘fin pivot’, I explain to students that this slow deep breathing is a good pattern for when they are swimming around a dive site – slow, relaxed, deep inhalations and exhalations. When it’s time to brief the hover, I remind them of this, but add that if you want to stop to look at something, it’s best to change that breathing pattern to slightly shorter breaths. If the lung volume is changing less, the change to the diver’s depth will be less, and they can have a good look at that nudibanch on the wall…
The next thing I do, to make it easier for them, is to give the student a visual reference. I stand next to them with my hand in front of them, and brief that the idea is to use their lungs to keep their eyes level with my hand. If their eyes go above my hand, they should exhale a little, and if their eyes go below my hand, they need to inhale a little. Once they have the level right, the shorter breaths will help them hold that position.
This visual reference makes the skill much easier to master for the student. In Confined Water Dive #4, when hovering is repeated with oral inflation, I start the skill the same way, but then remove the visual reference once they have their level, and now they should be able to hover perfectly without a visual reference, as they may have to do during a safety stop on a real dive…