By James A Lapenta
This is the time of year when many or you are likely doing your checkout dives for classes you’ve taken during the past winter or early spring. You’ve got your Open Water or maybe Advanced Level certification. Now it’s time to make some decisions. What do you do with those new skills? What do you do with the sense of accomplishment you now feel?
Some divers will take the card and head off for that trip or dive that they now have access to. Others will elect to take a full specialty course in one or more of the areas they have just been exposed to. A third group will take the new skills and knowledge they have gained and seek to polish it. They will do a number of shallow dives for the express purpose of improving their newfound skills. Others may do a combination of all of these. Which is the right path?
I would hazard a guess that most of my students would pick the third answer. For the most part, they would be correct. Not always, though. The reason that I say that is that the majority of divers taking an Advanced Level class are doing so not long after their Basic Open Water course. This is not always the case but is common.
Then there are those that choose to take the second path. They enjoyed a dive in the course so much that they want to get the knowledge of the full class before going out on their own. What matters is they see the value of the full class and how it will add to their knowledge, skills, and overall safety in every aspect of their diving. When a diver decides to take this path, I like to see them just go out and dive before the course.
Taking class after class, with no dives independent of an instructor’s presence, is not necessarily a good thing. I have seen it foster a dependence on a professional being present for dives that is not conducive to diver development. Dependence on a dive professional has resulted in disappointment, injury, and worse.
Where I recommend the divers proceed slowly is in the third group. It is often the case here that the class is the first time you have been exposed to the dives you’ll do at that level. When this is the case you should realize that these new skills and new knowledge take some time to incorporate fully. They do not become second nature overnight. They only become instinctual with practice and repetition. How much depends on several factors. These can be:
The level of training in the advanced class. The number of dives in the class. How the dives are structured. The order they were presented in and how they build on each other. The conditions in which they took place. The amount of classroom time spent in the course. The experience and training level of the instructor. The material added above the minimum standards. The amount of actual course time involved.
The level of training in the advanced class. As I have indicated in this column and in my books, there is a range of quality for training. This quality, in the form of knowledge, skills, and practice time affect the level of training you receive. Add to this the experience and training of the instructor to shape the overall class presentation. Your input and ability to push yourself just a bit further will also affect it.
The number of dives in the class. Though this is usually set firmly, it doesn’t mean you can’t ask for more. Though the number may be set it does not mean that they are not flexible.
How the dives are structured. This is another area that can make or break a class. The dives should be organized and follow a clear and easy to understand path. They should progress through the skills so as to flow, if you will, where each either builds on the previous one or introduces a new one that is not contradictory.
The order they were presented in. They are presented in the course in the manner listed for a reason. The dives are done in that sequence to build on the one before it.
The conditions in which they took place. Ideally, you want to train in the conditions in which you dive. That is where you are going to see the most benefit and gain the most valuable experience.
To me, it does not make sense for someone who plans to do most of their diving in colder water, with less than stellar visibility, to take advanced training in the tropics. The amount of classroom time spent in the course. Self-study is nice and can augment the class, but it should never take the place of it.
The experience and training level of the instructor. Instructor experience plays a large role in getting a class that will take you to a new level as a diver. The training level of the instructor can be an indication of how open minded they are to new ideas and how seriously they value education.
The material added above the minimum standards. When looking at any training you should find out how far above standards the class goes. Minimum standards are rarely adequate to prepare you for any new environment or discipline. As such you should try to avoid those that teach by the book and offer nothing extra.
The amount of actual course time involved. While there is a limit to how much time most people are willing to spend on any training, there are benefits to not going the quick route. You don’t have to spend weeks on a recreational dive course after the Open Water class in most cases for subsequent training.
You will make mistakes. Your buoyancy and trim will,on occasion, be terrible. You will forget something. None of these is the end of the world. They don’t mean you’re a bad diver. They mean you are human and we make mistakes. Let them happen and learn from them. That will make you a great diver and excellent role model.
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About James Lapenta
James Lapenta from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, a Diver, dive Instructor, Author and owner of UDM Aquatic Services has been diving since 2004.
He is a Scuba Educators Instructor # 204, SDI/TDI Instructor # 16810, CMAS 2 Star Instructor # USAF0012000204
For more on basic skills and education pick up a copy of either of my books