Crowley's Blog - What is a Dive Guide? - Ch. IIa - Covert Activities - Dive Briefings
by, June 20th, 2012 at 05:08 PM (998 Views)
By far and away the most important aspect of my life as a recreational dive guide is ensuring that our divers enjoy themselves on holiday. And that is it. There's no discussion to be had, that is the objective of our existence. People pay lots of money to get away from the hundrum monotony of a race that the rats have already won, bask in glorious sunshine and dive some of the most spectacular reefs on the planet.
Already I can hear the chorus of "what about safety!? What about training divers to dive safely!? And what about blahblahblahblahsnooze..." I have heard it all before, often during one single thread on ScubaBoard, but divers don't come to this type of resort looking for a particular policy on thisthatortheother aspect of diver safety, they just expect it will be there, like tanks. A dive centre takes people diving - therefore it must be safe, right? Just like my doctor is a doctor, right? And not a secret methadone addict.... Right!?
Technically, I have almost zero responsibility for the people who follow me underwater. Seriously. I'm a tour guide. I follow some basic (but well founded) procedures, lead certified divers around a dive site so they get to see the best parts of it, and point out interesting features and animals (which includes other divers, from time to time).
This is not so different from being the jolly character with the microphone who is presenting the information on a tourist bus. They are responsible for certain basic (but well founded) procedures such as "sit down and buckle up, don't attempt to exit the bus when it is moving", etc., and then to put on an interesting show for the customers. The bus guy could also be a monotonous burned out bore with marital difficulties and an alcohol problem, which doesn't make the tour so interesting or make people want to come back, but meh. it's a one-off situation anyway, right?
If somebody on that bus decided to unbuckle their seatbelt and wander around, then the tour guide might ask them to sit down and buckle up - deflate and descend, or perhaps look at the interesting building on the left, nor the right - the manta is over there, that's a plastic bag, or perhaps watch in abject terror as somebody throws themselves out of the window from the top deck - something for which - assuming he made a correct briefing about sitting down and buckling up - he can in no way, shape or form be held liable.
I am pushing the analogy a bit here, but the point is that there is only so much that, as a dive guide, you can really be expected to be responsible for. I made a good dive briefing and told them that they should not randomly float to the surface, and when I catch them randomly floating I signal deflate and descend - and they generally do, often oblivious to the safari boat passed mere inches above their hairstyle, but that's by-the-by. What I have no control over is somebody who was taught that "this button makes you go up" - which really happens by the way - and then makes an uncontrolled ascent, breaching like a young porpoise in heat, and blames me because I didn't include inflator mechanism operation in my dive briefing....
...and here's a funny thing - on a daily trip out of Cairns in 2008 I was forced (as an MI) to sit through a briefing which included how to safely operate scuba...
...Sorry, but I'm not teaching an Open Water course during the dive briefing...
... because Actually, the dive briefing is on of those covert operational activities where you start to figure out what mayhem the forthcoming dive is going to bring. Imagine - you are one of two guides on a boat with 20 divers you have never met before (happens all the time), with varying levels of experience - and sorry but "number of dives / level of certification" does not automatically mean "good diver". I've seen freshly baked OW divers out-dive people who claim to have worked as instructors and I feel so very, very sorry for their students as I tell them that no, they are not going to Ras Mohamed until they learn how to dive properly.
Important thing to remember: It's a dive "BRIEF"ing, not a dive "GOES ON FOREVER"ing. People came here on holiday to be entertained, not to be bored sensless. It would be like rocking up to your venue of choice to watch your favourite rock band only to find that you and 10,000 other metalheads have, due an administrative error, rocked up to an accountancy lecture.
So a guide can blab about this that and the other during a dive briefing, but with a boatful of people who came here to go diving, not listen to a presentation about the benefits of renewed socio-economic progress in the interior of my bellybutton, what you say in a dive briefing has to ensure that people understand the plan (or lack thereof), understand possible deviations from the plan (interference from Camel Dive Club going the wrong way), and what do do in the event that plan A, B and C don't work, which is mostly "follow me, because I dive here twice a week and I know where I'm going"
You have to have the confidence to stand in front of this small crowd of people and not only make sure they get off to a safe start, but inform them, instruct them, and entertain them. This is where I think it's like being a mini- rock star or comedian, doing the same stuff every day but really, the feedback from the audience is what can make or break the "show". An audience who isn't interested starts to throw rotten tomatoes, and wants their money back.
Safety cannot be ignored - of course not - but this is an audience whose attention you have for a few minutes at the most. You have to be quick, precise, authoratative and at the same time instill a sense of trust in those ten random people behind you. It's a HUGE responsibility, actually, from the moment I meet my guests in the morning to the moment I leave the pub in the evening!
And Zero Responsibility? Yeah Right... I think that's chapter III in the making....!
Some quotes from my own briefings:
It's very important that you surface close to the reef. Surfacing in the blue might lead to a haircut from a boat propeller. I know I need a haircut (and I really do), I also don't want to cut my head off at the same time.
I am not an air policeman. I am not going to ask you every 2 minutes "how much air?!" I rely on you as good divers to show me when you reach 100bar and 60bar. This helps me keep the group together underwater. Also if you don't give me air signals, I don't care who you are, you're going to be confined to the beginner dive sites for the next 20 years. Meshi?
Surface conditions [at Jackson Reef, Tiran] mean we have to finish the dive here. I don't care if you have 150 bar left in your tank or we have only been diving for 20 minutes, we surface here. If you don't surface here and you get pushed into the swell on the outside reef, please try to let the crew know which colour of flowers I should send to your funeral before the boat lands on your head. But anyway, with the route I like to take take this should be 50 minutes or so before we have to abort.
A Whale shark was sighted here yesterday.
It's not going to be here today.
Look out for Nudibranchs.
Those are a patched-together mismatch of quotes I use in my briefings but if you get it right, inexperienced divers will follow you to the Abyss and back if you said they could, experienced divers know that you know what you're talking about, and they know that you are not, under any circumstances, going to tolerate any crap. Meshi?!
The really covert part of the dive briefing, however, is not what you say, it's what you see. I think that dive briefings by a guide should be made without wearing sunglasses. Okay, that's sometimes impossible in the blazing sunlight of Egypt, but establishing eye contact with the guests can, as in any group situation, prove very valuable when it comes to issues of trust.
But - sometimes I like to make my briefings wearing sunglasses, so my eyes can wander while I present the routine ... er... routine... and note that the big fella over there with 50 dives isn't listening because he think he's seen it all, and I already know he's not going to give me air signals, so therefore I stress the importance of doing so in the briefing, or that another person is super nervous because I mentioned the possibility of seeing fish, also the captain is going in the wrong direction and that bikini is...well... just too... small... (mirrored sunglasses, naturally)
You can tell a lot from the way that people react to a dive briefing, and a good guide should be evaluating their divers as they make that briefing, but it is quite a subtle art. Although I write this from a professional's point of view, I would encourage holiday divers (just like I used to be) to look a little more deeply at their guide's briefing - what does it really say?
Sometimes - not every day - but sometimes - I get to make dive briefings like this:
"Wanna go diving? Cool, follow me"!
Next Chapter - the subtle art of air checks!
Brevity is not a talent I ever learned, sorry about that.