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By Guy Shockey
Header image from the GUE archives.
Divers are attracted to GUE training for a variety of reasons, some of which may include a desire to increase their level of comfort and safety in the water and continue their diving education with world class instructors. Some divers might be experiencing dissatisfaction with their previous training, or they might simply want to begin their training in technical or cave diving. The reasons are as varied as the individuals. For most divers who are already open-water certified, the first step in the GUE training ladder is the GUE Fundamentals course. So, let’s talk about what a Fundamentals course is, what you should expect, and what actually happens in the class.
Fundamentals is a four-day course that includes a minimum of 30 hours of instruction. The course consists of both academic class work, out-of-water drills, and instruction in the water. You will most likely also participate in a pool session as well, where you will be expected to complete your swim test and your breath-hold swim test.
During your classroom work, you will cover several subjects including but not limited to buoyancy and trim, streamlining and equipment configuration, propulsion techniques, situational awareness, communication, breathing gas overview and dive planning, and gas management. Many of these subjects will be familiar to you from previous diving courses, but in the case of Fundamentals course, you should expect a superior standard of instruction compared to what you have received previously. Note also that the diving portion of the class is conducted using nitrox 32, GUE’s basic standard breathing gas. If you are not already certified to dive nitrox, you will also come away with a nitrox certification.
One of the central tenants of GUE instruction is the importance of the team in diving. Consequently, your course will begin with an introduction of all your teammates as well as your GUE instructor. GUE instructors are experienced divers and educators and truly enjoy sharing their experiences with their students. In many cases, you may not be familiar with your course mates, and this introduction serves to begin the team-building process. Your instructor will also take this opportunity to spend some time introducing GUE as an agency.
Simple Things Done Precisely
It has been said that the GUE Fundamentals instruction can be best summarized as “simple things done precisely.” While nothing about Fundamentals is complicated, you will still be expected to achieve a particular objective standard of performance before you earn a passing grade in this class.
This objective performance standard is spelled out clearly in GUE Standards. Even though your instructor will go over this with you very thoroughly at the beginning of your class, you should review it for yourself on the GUE website. For the majority of divers, this will be the first time in their diving education that they will have been exposed to an objective performance standard. There is no subjectivity here: you either meet the performance standard or you don’t.
On this basis, your instructor will then decide if you have met the performance standard criteria for:
a) Receiving a Technical pass, the standards of which are quite high, and which is necessary for you to continue your GUE training in either technical or cave diving
b) Achieving a Recreational pass for those who plan to continue rec diving
c) Receiving a Provisional pass, requiring that you practice and return later for re-evaluation
d) Failing the class
As was mentioned, the performance criteria are not complicated in and of themselves. For example, maintaining neutral buoyancy throughout the water column is not a difficult task, but you will be expected to maintain a “buoyancy window” that is either 1 m/3 ft or 1.5 m/5 ft depending on whether you are looking for a “Tech” pass or a “Rec” pass.
You will be expected to demonstrate advanced propulsion techniques such as the frog kick, the modified frog kick, the flutter kick, the modified flutter kick, and the back kick. Again, these propulsion techniques are not difficult, but they will require some practice. You will also be expected to maintain a certain standard of “trim” in the water. Trim refers to your ability to demonstrate a horizontal attitude in the water. You will also need to demonstrate a series of drills in the water while maintaining buoyancy and trim. This sounds simple, but it is probably the most difficult part of the course since a little task loading can complicate an otherwise reasonable demonstration of buoyancy and trim.
Creating Thinking Divers
GUE students are expected to come to GUE classes with the required equipment as specified in the course outline. During the first part of your class, your instructor will go over all your diving gear thoroughly, will provide a critical review of your equipment, and will offer suggestions on its appropriateness and fit.
That’s when you can start asking questions: GUE divers are thinking divers and do not adopt a particular piece of equipment or gear configuration for a less-than-optimal reason. If you want to know the “why” of something, ask. There are no “because” answers in GUE: each question has probably been addressed somewhere by someone, and if your instructor does not have a logical and concise answer, they will find it for you.
The rest of your course will consist of both classroom lectures as well as open-water diving, where you will practice and demonstrate your skills. These water sessions will be somewhat different than what you may have experienced in your previous diving training. This is not a case of “follow-me” diving but hands-on education where you are expected to organize, lead, and run your own dives.
A team captain will be appointed for each dive,, and they will be expected to lead the divers in the water as much as a sports team captain marshals the players on the field. This role will be rotated throughout the team, and everyone will get multiple opportunities to lead dives. Your instructor will evaluate your progress and provide you with meaningful feedback and concrete suggestions.
This feedback will also be supplemented by your instructor’s secret weapon: video review. Each dive session will be recorded on video to assist in the debriefing. The power of a video replay is extremely effective! You will be able to see, in glorious HD, how you are progressing. It takes the subjectivity completely out of the equation and provides useful information for your instructor to assist in helping you to correct mistakes as well as allowing you to reinforce existing good skills.
As mentioned, you will be expected to complete your swim test and your breath-hold swim test. Ironically the swim test seems to be one of the most dreaded parts of the course, yet it is also the part of the course which you can easily prepare for and practice beforehand!
Consider that, as a diver, you are in open water, and the only thing keeping you from drowning is your life support equipment or your ability to float or swim. It only stands to reason that you would be able to demonstrate a moderate ability to swim! If you feel this may be a problem, I would strongly suggest taking a few lessons beforehand and work on your swim technique.
You should expect to spend a lot of time in the water and need to make sure your exposure protection is sufficient. Make no mistake: this course is intense and comes fast and furious. Your instructor will allow as much time as possible for you to practice or repeat your skills during the course, but the course does have an expiration date. That said, there are several things you can do to make the most of your time in the water.
To recap, it’s important to come to class prepared by having done all the required reading and pre-class exercises. You and your teammates are investing a good deal of time and money in this training, and it is not fair to expect the rest of the class to receive less value for their training because you did not do the preparatory work. Also, keep in mind that the course is intense and often goes into the evening. You will be tired and perhaps want to skip the required reading. Don’t make that mistake. None of your previous training will make up for not being prepared.
Next, if you are unsure about the equipment requirements, contact your instructor for advice. These requirements are very specific and are there for your benefit. You will understand why once you start the course. If you are fortunate to have the opportunity to dive or socialize with GUE trained divers, ask them about their gear arrangement. Moreover, if you decide to take the class in double cylinders, get some experience with them beforehand. A Fundamentals class is not the place to experiment for the first time with a new drysuit or a new set of doubles. Don’t add to your task loading by having to manage new equipment.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, find some GUE divers in your area and dive with them. They can be a useful resource regarding your upcoming course. Mentorship is a very important part of GUE diving, and I don’t know a single GUE diver who wouldn’t be willing to help a newbie with advice, and most likely be inclined to jump in the water to help with skill development.
GUE Fundamentals is all about simple things done precisely. Students consistently come away from the class feeling that they received good value for their dollar. Remember, when beginning a journey, the knowledge of where you want to go is essential. Also necessary is an understanding of where you are when you begin your journey. At the completion of the GUE Fundamentals course, you will have a very clear picture of where you are in terms of your diving. The nature of the course provides everyone with an objective, standardized frame of reference.
You will also have a very clear picture of where you are in relation to the baseline for diving competency. Remember that it doesn’t matter where you are in this learning curve so much as it matters that you know where you are. Many problems and incidents in diving come from unprepared divers encountering unexpected circumstances. The real value of the Fundamentals class is that it will show you exactly where you are on that learning curve, and it will substantially move you along it in just four days!
Guy Shockey is a GUE instructor and trainer who is actively involved in mentoring the next generation of GUE divers. He started diving in 1982 in a cold mountain lake in Alberta, Canada. Since then he has logged somewhere close to 8,000 dives in most of the oceans of the world. He is a passionate technical diver with a particular interest in deeper ocean wreck diving. He is a former military officer and professional hunter with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science. He is also an entrepreneur with several successful startup companies to his credit.
Learning from Others’ Mistakes: The Power of Context-Rich “Second” Stories
Proper storytelling is a key to learning from the mistakes of others. Human Factors consultant and educator Gareth Lock explains the power of context-rich stories to inform and help us to develop the non-technical skills needed to make better decisions, communicate more clearly, and lead/teach more effectively.
by Gareth Lock
Header image courtesy of Gareth Lock. Divers from Red Sea Explorers’ examining a magnificent gorgonian coral.
Diving can be a fun, sociable, and peaceful activity; it can be challenging and technically difficult; and it can be a way of escaping the hustle and bustle of modern life. Sometimes new wrecks are discovered, caves have new line laid in them, new encounters with wildlife are experienced, and in many cases, courses are completed where both instructors and students have learned something new.
However, it can also be scary, harrowing and frightening if things don’t go to plan or if the plan was flawed in the first place.
Fortunately, the majority of dives which take place are the former and we consider the outcomes to be positive. If we think about it, the goal for every dive should be to surface, having had an enjoyable time, with gas reserves intact and no-one feeling physically or emotionally injured. But how do we achieve this goal considering the inherent risks we face while diving?
The easy answer would be to have effective training, to have the correct equipment, and to have and apply the right mindset. These three things together then lead to safe diving practices. You could say that the majority of safe diving practices and safely designed and configured equipment comes from feedback following accidents, incidents, and near misses. You only have to look at the work which the late, famed cave explorer Sheck Exley did in terms of cave diving fatalities and his “Blueprint for Survival” to see how procedures and equipment have evolved.
What do we learn?
There are accident and incident reports available to us. What do we learn from them? Bearing in mind that the majority of reports which divers see are either in social media or summarised in reports like the Divers Alert Network Annual Incident Report or the BS-AC Annual Incident Report.
For example, the following incident reports are written in a style similar to those you would find on social media or in an organization’s incident report.
An inexperienced diver entered the water to provide support for a guided dive to 24m. They got separated from their buddy, made a rapid ascent to the surface after nearly running out of gas. They were recovered on the boat without any symptoms of DCS being present.
A diver on the final dive of a rebreather training course entered the water from a dive boat. The diver swam to the side of the boat to receive their bailout cylinder to clip on. While sorting their gear out alongside the boat, they appeared to go unconscious and descend below the surface. The diver was recovered from 38 m/124 ft and despite CPR and first aid being applied, they were pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital ER. On inspection, the oxygen cylinder on their rebreather was found to be turned off and the controller logs showed that the pO2 had dropped to 0.05 while they were on the surface.
How much learning do you get from these reports? What emotions did you feel while reading them? What did you think was the primary cause of each of these events? If you were to choose two or three words to describe the causes, what would they be?
Human error? Complacency? Inexperience? Rushing? Not paying attention? Overconfidence? Naivety? Arrogance? Stupidity? Who was it? Where was the instructor? Were they certified? Which agency? Were they qualified?
All of these are normal responses, and they make up the first story.
The First Story
The first story is the narrative we hear, and we start to make immediate judgments on. We can’t help making judgments, even when we try not to. We make judgments because we compare the stories we’ve just read or heard to our own previous experiences. We match patterns to what we ‘know’ and then fill in the gaps with what we think happened, all the time thinking about whether it was the ‘right thing’ to do based on our own experiences.
This ‘filling in gaps’ is normal human behavior. Because our brains are constantly trying to make sense of the situation when we don’t have enough information about a scene or a situation, we reflect on what we’ve seen, read, and heard in the past and then make a best guess or closest fit. During this process, we will be subject to a number of biases, and one of the strongest at this stage is called confirmation bias. This is where we think we know the answer to the question, then as we read or hear something in the story that aligns with our reasoning, we stop looking any further because we have confirmed our suspicions.
In many cases, we carry on and don’t think anything of the learning opportunities presented because we know what happened, we know that ‘we wouldn’t do that’ because we would have spotted the issue before it became critical. We often make use of counterfactuals (could have, should have, and would have) to describe how the incident could have been prevented.
Unfortunately, this means that often we don’t learn. There is a difference between a lesson identified and a lesson learned—a lesson learned is where we make a conscious decision to accept how we do things based on the conditions and outcomes, or we actually put something in place which is different than what was there before and see how effective it is to resolve the problem encountered.
If we are to make improvements, we need to look at the errors, mistakes, and deviations that were made. However, we must recognize that errors are outcomes, not causes of adverse events. If we want to stop an adverse event from occurring, we need to look closer at the conditions which led to the error occurring i.e., the error-producing conditions.
The easiest way to look for error-producing conditions in an event that has already happened is to get those involved to tell context-rich stories. This becomes the second story.
The Second Story
Second stories look much deeper than what we first hear. They look at the context, the local rationality, the conditions, especially those conditions which might lead to errors. Ultimately, they expose the inherent weakness and gaps in any system, where the system includes people, paperwork, equipment, relationships, the environment and their interactions.
Second stories also highlight how divers and instructors are constantly adapting and changing their behaviors/actions to deal with the dynamic nature of diving. They describe ‘normal work’. This adaptation could be moving dive sites, increasing or reducing the time for a course, the order in which skills are taught or the amount of gas used/planned for a dive. Second stories describe the difference between ‘Work as Imagined’, which is what is written down, what is expected to happen, and against which compliance is assessed, and ‘Work as Done’ which is what actually happens in the real world and takes into account the pressures, drivers, and constraints which are faced by those on the dive or the course.
The easiest way to see what a second story looks like is to tell it, and the following account is the same recreational event as above but told as a second story.
An Advanced Open Water (AOW) diver with around 50 dives was acting as an ‘assistant’ to the instructor and dive-centre owner on a guided dive with five Open Water (OW) divers and recent graduates from the school they themselves had learned at. The AOW diver felt a social obligation to help the Open Water Scuba Instructor (OWSI) who was leading the dive, because the OWSI had done so much to help her conquer her fear of mask-clearing during her own training. However, she was also wary that, over time, her role had moved from being a diver on the trip to being almost the divemaster by helping other divers out, which she wasn’t trained to do. In addition, the instructor regularly asked her, at the last minute, to help out and change teams to ensure the ‘experience’ dives happened.
On this particular occasion, the AOW diver was buddied with a low-skilled OW diver who acted arrogantly and did not communicate well. In fact, she didn’t believe that three of the five on this trip should have received their OW certificates, given their poor in-water skills. As they approached the dive site, the visibility could be seen to be poor from the boat and the surface conditions weren’t great. The instructor said to the AOW diver, “Don’t lose the divers. I want you at the back shepherding them.”
They entered the water and descended to 24 m/78 ft and made their way in the poor visibility. On two occasions, the OW buddy had to be brought back down by the AOW diver as they ascended out of control. At one point, the OW diver turned around quickly and accidently knocked the AOW diver into the reef. Unfortunately, the AOW diver became entangled in some line there, and the OW diver swam off oblivious to the entanglement. When the five divers and instructor reached the shot-line ready to ascend, the instructor realized the AOW diver was missing. The instructor couldn’t trust the five divers to ascend on their own and didn’t have enough time to wait at the bottom and conduct a search, so the six ascended. On the surface, the buddied OW diver said that the AOW diver had swum off looking at fish in a certain area.
In the meantime, the AOW diver had managed to free herself; but in her panic, while stuck on the bottom, she breathed her gas down to almost zero and had to do a rapid ascent. She surfaced, feeling very scared and sick with panic, just as the instructor was speaking to the other six on the surface. On seeing the AOW diver break the surface, the instructor swam to her but turned and shouted at the other divers, admonishing them for abandoning their buddy on the bottom. The AOW diver felt very alone and wanted to give up diving as she was not given the opportunity to tell her side of the story.
Observations on potential contributory factors and error-producing conditions:
- Deviation of standards on the part of the instructor/dive-center owner taking OW divers to 24 m/78 ft, maybe driven because of the need to generate revenue and offer something unique.
- Authority gradient between the instructor and AOW diver meant that the AOW diver felt they couldn’t end the dive before they even got in the water or once in the water.
- Inferred peer pressure to help out when they weren’t qualified or experienced enough to act in a supervisory role.
- Poor technical skills on the part of the OW divers and the AOW limited their situation awareness to be aware of hazards and risks.
- Limited awareness on the part of the instructor regarding the location of all the divers during the dive.
- Positive note – good decision on the part of the instructor to ascend with the five OW divers in poor conditions and not keep them on the bottom or get them to ascend on their own.
A full account of the second event can be found here where you can also download a guide which contains more detail than the video covers and also gives you details on how to run a learning event at your dive center or in your own classes.
We can see that the learning opportunities have increased in the second stories. They allow certain issues to be identified like time pressures, financial pressures, peer-pressure, authority gradient, teamwork, leadership, decision-making and situation awareness. These aspects are rarely captured or recounted in the narratives we see online or in incident reports. There are a number of reasons:
- They are often considered ‘common sense’,
- Our brains are constantly looking for simple answers to complicated or complex problems, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to find an individual or piece of equipment to ‘blame’ rather than look wider.
- Those involved don’t consider these factors to be important so they don’t write them down.
- Those involved don’t know about these error-producing conditions or human factors so they don’t know to include them.
- There is no formalised and structured investigation process for diving incidents by diving organisations to facilitate the capture, analysis and sharing of second stories.
Telling second stories isn’t enough to create learning though. We have to work out how to change our own behaviors, and that is where the free materials and courses which The Human Diver provides come in. They help develop these non-technical skills in divers, instructors, instructor trainers, and dive center managers/owners to help them make better decisions, communicate more clearly and lead/teach more effectively. Ultimately, it is about having more fun on the dive, and ending each dive with the goal described at the start of this article intact and creating learning in the process.
Since 2011, Gareth has been on a mission to take the human factors and crew resource management lessons learned from his 25 year military aviation career and apply it to diving. In 2016, he formed The Human Diver with the goal to bring human factors, non-technical skills and a Just Culture to the diving industry via a number of different online and face-to-face programmes. Since then, he has trained more than 350 divers from across the globe in face-to-face programmes and nearly 1500 people are subscribed to his online micro-class. In March 2019, he published ‘Under Pressure: Diving Deeper with Human Factors’ which has sold more than 4000 copies and on 20 May 2020, the documentary ‘If Only…’ was released which tells the story of a tragic diving accident through the lens of human factors and a Just Culture. He has presented around the globe at dive shows and conferences to share his passion and knowledge. He has also acted as a subject matter expert on a number of military diving incidents and accidents focusing on the role of human factors.
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