The neutral buoyancy debate
Recently, on a near daily basis I’ve been reading articles about how student divers should never kneel on the bottom. The authors say that this is to prepare them for “real” diving.
I want to share my thoughts…
First, let’s look at why the authors are writing these articles in the first place. Now unless they are small scale meant for their own students and divers then they WILL be doing it to try and get noticed. Usually this is an effort to become a well-known national or international instructor and travel for work. Or it’s because they are looking to become published in magazines ect. Obviously the more shocking the material the more likely they are to be noticed.
To the topic in hand. What is being said in all these writings, is that student divers should never be taught to kneel on the bottom. They then usually show a picture of a “typical” dive class with students kneeling on the bottom waiting to perform their skills, this is then backed up with another picture of some divers trashing a coral reef or silting up a cave – both bad things as every diver should know, but not really the same thing. Just because you have knelt on some sand or a pool bottom, it doesn’t mean you’re going to kick the hell out of the reef.
The thing is though, whilst it’s a great ideal to have every student perfectly floating neutrally buoyant. The fact is though, that it’s just not realistic in a Open water class. For us that dive in poor vis, there is no way that an instructor could maintain a safe level of control if all the students were off the bottom. ‘Cos lets face it, they are students and therefore learning!
Good buoyancy control is motor skill, a feeling if you will. Some people do pick it up easier than others, but for the vast majority it takes a little while. I would say, that in nearly 15 years of teaching only a handful of students have had good buoyancy right off the bat. Most do take around 10-15 dives to really get the hang of it.
The problem I think, is that there are too many instructors teaching the absolute bare minimum courses. Yes they are doing everything required, but what is actually required in the course syllabus isn’t that much. For instance every pool dive has “fun and skills practice”, while every open water dive has a “underwater tour” portion of the dive. Now these are quite vague, does 30 seconds count? I don’t think so, and will always give students 5-10 minutes “play time” at the beginning and end of every pool session and end each sea dive only when a comfort or air limit is reached, this usually means at least 45 mins dive time after skills have been performed.
Also, it’s become very common for instructors to push course after course after course, with absolutely no normal dives in-between. In fact, there are even some instructors with almost zero real dive experience.
One example, is people taking the Peak Performance Buoyancy Course (PPB). Now there are times when this would be valuable, for instance when taking on a new student that wasn’t taught properly in the first place. I think that there is absolutely no reason for people to immediately take the PPB course with the same instructor. The fact is that all agency standards state that buoyancy must be “mastered” before Open Water (or equivalent) certification. So in essence, the instructor is saying “I didn’t do my job properly, your buoyancy control needs work, so pay me more money to do something I should have done in the course that you have just paid me to teach you” – this is not on!!
Personally I always try and get a few extra dives in, either during or after the course, to make sure that the student has got to the proper level. Let’s be honest, nobody expects an amazing diver after the Open Water course, BUT an Open water diver should be competent and comfortable in the planning, execution and navigation as part of a similarly qualified buddy team in conditions similar to those in which they trained. In other words, 2 divers finish the course in the morning, they should be capable of going for an easy shore or boat dive in the afternoon…