Becoming a dive instructor
Towards the end of my time as a DMT, I began to seriously consider diving as a career, and decided to take the next step and start my Instructor Training Course. The ITC is an intense two-week ordeal involving academic, confined water, and open water presentations, all graded on a strict scale, making sure all integral points are covered. The academic presentations were 25 minute lectures on different sections of the open water manual and extremely easy to fail: if your presentation was too long or too short, you automatically were given zero; each presentation had to have at least three environmental messages and three safety statements; you needed to sell your students both a continuing education course and a piece of equipment relevant to your topic; and you had to keep the students’ interest whilst following an outline. Originally a daunting task, especially due to my habit of talking extremely quickly when nervous and general difficulties with physics (an important topic in diving), I grew to enjoy and excel at the academic presentations, especially in the area of aquatic life.
The confined presentations had the instructor candidates in the pool, where we were given 3 random skills and 1 minute to prepare a perfect pre-dive skill briefing. Skills in diving are extremely important, and range from clearing your mask of water to hovering motionless in one spot for one minute. Proper briefings had to include introductions, what skill you would be performing and its practical application, as well as a brief description of the skill. We then had to perform the skill at “instructor level”, meaning clearly and slowly executing the skill while highlighting the most important parts. Our “students” – the other candidates – were to perform the skills while making mistakes, and the instructor was supposed to catch the problem, fix it, and have them correct it. After each skill was satisfactorily completed, we were to congratulate the student and remind them what they messed up on – “positive reinforcement”, as SSI calls it. After repeating this for each skill given and following up with a correct de-briefing, we were given our grades, feedback, and what to remember for next time.
The open water presentations were easily the most nerve-wracking as they were the one part of the Instructor Exam that must be flawless. Make one mistake on an open water presentation and you had to re-do the entire exam at a later date. While extremely similar to the confined water presentations, being in open water offers one major difference: safety. If, at any point, your student was in danger, you would automatically fail the exam. This meant that any sort of buoyancy skill in open water needed constant contact with the student performing the skill as well as keeping an eye on the other students. There were no skill demonstrations by the instructor in open water, so you had to ensure your briefings were perfectly clear and everyone knew what was going on – leave something out in the briefing and you could be sure it would come up as a mistake from a student.
The last part of the ITC involves a rescue assessment – before you can become a dive master, you have to become a rescue diver, and to be able to pass your exam, you have to be able to complete a “rescue assessment”, which involves bringing an unconscious diver up from the bottom and bringing them back to the boat while performing the correct steps.
The ITC prepares you for your IE, or Instructor Exam, that happens at the end of the two weeks. Spanning over 2 days, the first day of the IE involves an academic presentation in front of the other candidates and your two examiners and your confined water presentation with 2 skills. Fail any part of day one and you’re allowed a re-do and can still pass the exam. Day two, however, was open water presentations and rescue assessments, and any mistake on that day means an automatic fail.
Day one of my IE was uneventful enough, with an excellent grade on my presentation on buoyancy and almost-perfect confined session. All through the ITC we had been working so hard to get to the exam, and pass it, so when the actual exam began you can imagine how nerve-wracking it was for all the candidates. After the first day, while you are incredibly relieved, you still can’t relax because the next day is the one that really counts, so you practice your briefings over and over, go to bed early, and try to convince yourself that you’re going to pass.
Day two of my IE, while nerve-wracking, was nothing short of amazing. It definitely had its stressful parts – like during another candidate’s presentation, when we were all kneeling in the sand, and my examiner pointed out that there was a massive jellyfish centimeters from my head – but I got to see my very first whale shark, which I took to be a good omen, and sure enough, by the day’s end, I was an SSI instructor. The rescue assessment was particularly interesting, because we did a beach rescue, which I have never done before, and as I was the only candidate who had not done my oxygen provider course – mine was to be the day after the exam – I spent a good 20 minutes being given oxygen while the other candidates practiced, and finished the exam on a whole different kind of high.
I was well on my way to having one of the coolest jobs in the world.