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How to Become an Explorer: Passion, Partnership, and Exploration

How does one become an explorer? It’s a question that has nagged diving educator and innovator Guy Shockey for more than ten years. Last year, he decided to answer that question by collaborating with the Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia (UASBC) to create a unique six-day course titled, “Underwater Archaeology and Exploration Diving.” It’s for divers of all stripes, which he conducted in the shipwreck riddled waters of Vancouver Island in DEC 2021. Here he discusses his strategy in designing the course and what is entailed. What’s more,the five brave students—four recreational divers and one tekkie who took that first course—weigh in on their experience and tell us exactly what they learned.



Text and images courtesy of Guy Shockey.

Header image Sabrina Figliomeni directing the recording of measurements.

A little over ten years ago, I wrote an article for Quest entitled, “Passion, Partnership, and Exploration: GUE and the Local Community.” In that article, I talked about how I had often asked divers the question, “Why did you learn to dive?” And that, based on my experience, the most common answer has always been, “A desire to explore the underwater world.” Then I commented on how it was an exciting time to be a GUE member and how exploration projects were starting up all over the globe. 

I went on to report that, while most projects GUE divers participated in were conceived by GUE members directly, there were other opportunities for divers to keep that initial passion for exploration alive. I suggested that one pathway was to find and develop relationships with like-minded groups who shared the same interest in exploration. I used our Global Underwater Explorers British Columbia (GUE BC) relationship with the Underwater Archaeology Society of British Columbia (UASBC) as an example of synergy and stated that, “By joining forces with the UASBC, we have been able to keep our passion for underwater exploration alive, and at the same time to provide a useful service to an existing organization that shares similar goals.”

What I didn’t write in that same Quest article was that, newly armed with this exciting information, nearly every single student diver would then ask, “How do I join one of these projects?”

I couldn’t answer that question easily—not then, anyway. That’s because most of the projects that generate the lion’s share of interest are “pinnacle” projects that require significant experience and training to attend. This is not surprising really, as gathering skill and experience is a necessary feature of advancement in everything from military and government service to becoming a journeyman carpenter. However, what makes these examples different from what exists in the diving world is that there is a roadmap of how to go from “private to sergeant” or from “apprentice to journeyman.”

In the diving world, while there exists a clear pathway for the dive skills training ladder, there is no readily recognizable means of going from diver to explorer. Telling the student diver to “go out and get some experience exploring” wasn’t really that helpful, because how were they going to get the experience exploring if they didn’t know how or where to start? 

This seemed to be a problem to me, and it continued to gnaw at me for those 10 years. Finally, nearly two years ago, I turned to this question with purpose and asked myself why couldn’t we teach students how to be explorers? I started to break down the skill sets that were necessary to participate in some of the projects I had been involved with and then pondered on how we could teach divers to gain these skills. What started as a thought experiment rapidly gained traction, as it started to become clear that it was indeed possible to provide the means with which to help divers continue to engage the passion that had originally driven them to dive.

At the same time, in the spring of 2020, as Zoom shares skyrocketed and a good portion of the population started to work and learn remotely, I started to work with learning formats that had not really been around 10 years before. I took the early Covid 19 lock down phase as an opportunity to learn about some new learning formats and put the classroom components of my courses onto an eLearning platform. This proved to be successful, and it looked to me that this platform was ready-made for a new “how to be an explorer” course. 

Erin Tempest

“Diving is everything I hate: being cold, the dark, changing clothes, wearing anything restrictive. Keeping myself in it has been a challenge. As the newest diver in the group, to get an opportunity to do something like this and be successful—even on a small scale—made me think that maybe I’m not so rubbish at this. To be able to try out this course and be proficient at it was a huge motivator; my team saw value in me being there, and I was able to come out of this with an appreciation for an aspect of diving I didn’t know I was passionate about beforehand.”

A critical component of this endeavor was something I had written about in the original Quest article when I had mentioned our group’s growing relationship with the Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia (UASBC). It was to the UASBC that I now turned again. 

I approached the UASBC and asked if I could combine their delivery of the underwater archaeology training program they had licensed from another organization with my idea of building an “explorer” program. Their response was decidedly positive but, in a way I hadn’t seen coming. Little did I know but at the time, the UASBC had become more and more interested in developing their own “Archaeology for Divers” program that was more specifically suited to the environment here in the Pacific Northwest. When they were formed in 1975, they had developed such a program but then switched to a pre-packaged course.  My injection of interest encouraged them to revisit their plans, and the Director of Exploration for the UASBC, Jacques Marc, set out to create an entirely new program which he called “Underwater Archaeology for Divers” (UAD).

My plan was to wrap my exploration course around their UAD course and create something unique in the diving world. Participants would learn how to “explore” while conducting real world archaeology diving on known historical wreck sites. In this way, they could learn the various skills and knowledge needed to explore and then use those skills and knowledge in a real archaeology project! At the same time, the entire experience allowed them to connect that original passion that got them into diving with opportunities to do just that.

Divers recording measurements on the Robert Kerr.

When Opportunity Meets Preparation

They say that when opportunity meets preparation, good things can happen. And there were multiple things that combined to give this project some legs. First, I was lucky to live on Vancouver Island, Canada, and to be able to dive in a part of the world that has a long seafaring heritage. The waters in the Pacific Northwest can be challenging for mariners, and for this reason, we have a litany of shipwrecks and maritime accidents. This environment has thus created extensive opportunities for diving on known wrecks as well as continued prospects for searching for wrecks that have not yet been found. 

Second, not only did I have a relationship with the UASBC, but the timing was fortuitous in that while I was looking for some way to collaborate, the UASBC was considering revamping their underwater archaeology training program. Third, my knowledge of eLearning and my experience with using that platform for diving training meant that I had a means of packaging everything up in one bundle and taking advantage of all the things that modern eLearning education can provide. Finally, I am what you might call a “mature” diver, and I can look back on many years of lessons learned to provide some seasoning to what would otherwise be, a more theoretical discussion of exploration. I could provide some real-world experience and give feedback such as, “Yeah, that didn’t work,” or, “We found this to work” and incorporate that into our plans.

In the beginning of 2021, things had finally gathered significant momentum and, while the UASBC was writing their new Underwater for Divers (UAD) program, I started serious work on fleshing out the outline I had been building for the previous year. I am lucky in that I have some terrific relationships with some of the brighter lights in the diving world and when I reached out to them and explained what I wanted to do, they offered to help. Thus, I knew that I was going to have world class experts participate in the delivery of some of the materials that I thought needed to be included in a program such as the one that was starting to take shape. 

The program would start with the UAD course developed by the UASBC and then examine various aspects of exploration diving that were common to nearly all projects. The UAD materials were delivered by Jacques Marc himself, as well as Ewan Anderson, a professional archaeologist from Victoria, BC. I would draw on my 40 years of diving experience to write the primary topics of Logistics, planning, safety and preparedness, and risk assessment. These areas could be broken down into multiple subtopics and, as I put the course together, many of these topics seemed to almost write themselves. 

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I was an early adopter and supporter of The Human Diver (THD) programs developed by Gareth Lock, and I had followed up on this to become one of his first instructors who were certified to deliver THD courses. I couldn’t imagine a better environment to talk about Human Factors (HF) and non-technical skills than the team-based exploration and archaeology program I was developing. It seemed a natural fit to include a heavy emphasis on HF throughout the entire program and Gareth himself volunteered to write, record, and deliver some of the eLearning modules within the course!

I knew that any project needed to be able to generate something at the end of the project, whether it was a written project report, an article, or even a video or something similar. In my view, this was necessary in separating a “project” from simple tourism. To this end, I used the example of including Gareth directly in the program, and I asked my good friend, world-class author and writer, Michael Menduno to help. Michael has been a writer for Scientific American, Wired and Outside magazines, the creator and editor of aquaCORPS Journal and is the current editor of InDepth magazine. He is also involved with innumerable other writing projects where his writing skills and turn of phrase are second to none on our planet! Michael offered to produce a chapter of the program on some of the considerations involved when writing for magazines, social media, or science journals. 

Investing In Exploration

None of this was going to work without me making a substantial financial investment in my belief that this was going to be a program that would attract people from around the world. To this end then, I purchased a 15m (47’) boat from which to run these projects on. I had earlier purchased a 6m Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) as a chase boat, so these two boats would form the backbone of what I needed to get to the wreck sites and dive them safely. 

I chose to go a slightly different direction when I was searching for a suitable diving vessel, and I’m sure part of that decision is based on my untold hours of pounding through the ocean on open boats that were terrific diving platforms, but not exactly providing a lot of “creature comforts”. Here I took a page from my safari boat friends in the Red Sea and I found a boat that would work as both a dive platform, a comfortable, warm, and dry travelling vessel, and even a floating classroom as needed. I spent a good part of the summer of 2021 refitting the boat I purchased and taking what was basically a very comfortable cruising yacht and turning it into something that would suit our needs. We upgraded all the navigation, communication, and sonar to state-of-the art equipment and repurposed existing spaces to create a covered dive deck. We also added a proper diving ladder to the back of the boat and the MV Thermocline was born!

“One day my partner said that Guy had invited us to this course. We had no plans, so we went. Personally, prior to this I had seen no reason to dive wrecks, I always preferred looking at marine life. When you start learning more about the components and construction of these ships and how wrecks are formed, it gives you a reason and a purpose to dive them. Our team worked together on this course to aim for a higher standard, not only individually, but to improve the skills of those around us.” —Donny Michelangelo

We ran our first program just before Christmas, 2021 and this was basically a beta-test of the course.  I was lucky in that I knew I could trust the five students who were basically our guinea pigs to provide some honest feedback we could then use to examine what worked well, what needed to be improved, and how to improve it. If the quantity of useful feedback I received was any indication of a successful Beta program, then we were successful indeed! 

The terrific thing about creating an environment where Human Factors concepts are recognized, nurtured, and encouraged is that critical feedback is a natural byproduct of the system, and I took two weeks after Christmas 2021 to revisit and rework many parts of the program in recognition of the valuable feedback provided by the first group of participants. 

Finally, our Underwater Archaeology and Exploration Diving program is ready for prime-time, and we have scheduled several courses throughout 2022. The syllabus consists of approximately two days of eLearning, followed by six days face-to-face learning. Those six days include two days of land drills and shallow water practice consolidating those skills and techniques first introduced in eLearning, then practiced on land. We also learn how to plot our collected data. We then do three days of actual survey and data collection on a historical wreck site off the East Coast of Vancouver Island from the MV Thermocline. We finish up the program with a day of final survey data plotting, learning how to fill out a shipwreck survey form, discuss artifact conservation and then consider how to present our findings as a report for a magazine, social media, or the like. 

If all the courses are as successful and as much fun as the first one, then the future augurs well for the Underwater Archaeology and Exploration Diving program! It was truly fascinating to watch the teamwork and comradery that developed in the six days the group was together. The program is open to all divers; however, I think that having at least an advanced open water certification and 50 dives worth of experience (or equivalent) will make for a better and more comfortable learning experience.  

It is easy to get task loaded as a newer diver, and a good level of situational awareness is an important part of being able to free up some brain processing power to be able to record and document wreck findings. I chose early on to make this available to divers of all persuasions, and this was part of my agreement with the UASBC. The first group were all GUE recreational divers with only one having GUE technical training. It was clear that having superlative buoyancy, trim, and propulsion skills was a definite “plus” however, this same group came from various backgrounds of experience with one diver having very little boat diving experience. Overall, it was a great cross section of skills, experience, and abilities and the feedback from everyone was invaluable. 

Inaugural class. “Ok, everyone take your seats.”

Several members of our local GUE community were involved with the Beta class and we are all looking forward to this year’s courses. One of the biggest rewards was watching a “group” of divers turn into a “team” of divers and become more and more proficient at accomplishing their tasks while still having a boatload of fun!  I have always believed that “community” is one of the most important parts of GUE and it was great to watch a course like this help grow our community. 

Part of our plan was always to create a schedule of projects for graduates to continue to participate in. This will help provide “purpose” for the “passion” that got those divers into the water in the first place.  Our biggest hope is that participants will have many opportunities to explore and then take the skills they learn to start and promote their own projects at home. Maybe one day, one of the “Everest” divers will be able to trace their steps back to their open water class and see a clear pathway from that first breath underwater to the day they were a senior diver on a world class expedition! ###

“Since completing our dive training, we never had a chance to see our training in practice; our skills were just abstract. On this course, we were able to learn new skills and actually dive as part of a cohesive team, and it gave a ‘why’ to the way we were trained in order to execute projects. I enjoyed running the team as Team Leader and seeing how the team adapted to various situations, such as an aborted dive and shifting the leadership role as needed.” —Charlie Chaudchat

Erin Tempest recording critical measurements.

Learning To Explore

By Sabrina Figliomeni, Charlie Chaudchat, Brad Harris, Donny Michelangelo, and Erin Tempest, 

We’re sitting instead of sleeping in the living room of our AirBnB at 1am  before the last day of class. Three Seattleites, two Calgarians, a comical number of snacks, and a lingering sadness that our project is wrapping up. Our group of five have spent the past six days wrestling measuring tapes, juggling slates, figuring out how to signal our teammate to “move the bloody tape back to the last survey point” underwater, and make it to the boat on time (not our fault, the Universe was messing with us a bit). We are the fortunate, the task-loaded, the punny and perpetually hungry—we are the inaugural Underwater Archaeology and Exploration Diving class.

Guy Shockey designed this program, and it includes a core component of underwater archaeology written by the Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia (UASBC) This course bridges a rather large gap between the wreck exploration community and the scientific archaeology community. Designed for those with an interest in Avocational Archaeology (as in an interest in Archaeology for fun), this course takes you deep into exploring the methods and processes required to plan and execute wreck exploration, and the inevitable data processing afterwards (which is quite satisfying).

Practicing with a drawing frame on a training dive.

Before heading out to Vancouver Island, we were sent the digital portion of the course curriculum to work through in advance so that the remainder of the course could be reserved for classroom Q&A and fieldwork. This course encompassed important topics such as wreck formation, resources for identification, maritime regulatory compliance, survey techniques, managing the actual logistics of an expedition (also called Advanced Cat Herding), and the application of Human Factors or non-technical skills required when facilitating wreck exploration projects. 

Working together as a team of divers towards a common goal turned out to be a challenging but rewarding journey. Prior to the course, for example, we decided to share accommodations. In hindsight, this turned out to be very beneficial: it encouraged team bonding, allowed for after-hours collaboration on project deliverables, made it extremely easy to eat a ridiculous amount of Italian food cooked by one of our teammates, and enabled an environment of psychological safety. Canadians even managed to teach the Americans how to read Metric with measuring tapes and candles in the living room! 

We spent our first two days practicing our survey skills both on land and in Maple Bay, before setting out on the Thermocline – Indiana Jones hats and all. With Guy’s guidance, we put academia to the test on the wreck of the Robert Kerr. We learned how to strategize and refine the execution of our surveys. At the surface, we discussed which artefacts to measure, our plans for capturing the data, and who would hold which end of the tape. Once underwater, we adapted to the shifting operating environment, and adjusted our communications on-the-fly, improvised signals and all. 

Brad Harris

“I was surprised how hands-on this was. Aside from an appropriately timed lecture or two, everything was field work. There was a lot of leadership involved; you’re leading an exploration. It was similar to being the head chef in a busy restaurant, and everyone is yelling at you. I was the unintended fifth wheel on this course, which turned out to be a good thing, creating the ideal team set-up. The online modules and lectures from both Jacques Marc and Ewan Anderson with the UASBC, Guy with Gas Planning and topside logistics (boats, risk assessments, safety), Gareth Lock on human factors, and Michael Menduno on publishing and deliverables got me excited for this week: some of (if not all) the best minds at their craft of underwater adventures in an online platform and class? YES PLEASE!”

Over three days of boat dives, our team explored the wreck site and got our bearings on what exactly we were looking at. After being inadvertently towed onto Danger Reef in March of 1911 and sinking, the Robert Kerr is still identifiable as a ship, though it is showing its age. Resting on her starboard side, the wood has been weathered and eaten through, metal components are encrusted, and debris is scattered about in interesting places after over a century of water movement (and sadly, some human activity). 

We worked to identify key features of the wreck for surveying, grabbed our measuring tapes and writing slates, and headed down to the wreck to begin our tasks. We each took turns acting as the Expedition Team Leader, setting up our dive team to survey specific areas and artefacts on the wreck, collecting the data, and preparing it for plotting. There was some seasickness, an aborted dive which was reset in record time (shot line may have ended up slightly far away from the initial target), and a first stage that didn’t want to do what it was supposed to do. Yet, in the end, we managed to get some pretty good measurements and gained a lot of experience doing it. 

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Back on dry land, between rescuing two teammates from a stuck elevator on the same day (two separate occasions no less), tragically running out of lemon cake cookies, and showing up in public wearing surf change robes, we plotted our data and began to make sense of it. We ended up with a map that pretty closely resembled key features shown on previous UASBC surveys, and we all were extremely stoked when a rectangular object we surveyed actually turned out rectangular on our survey drawing! We plotted, re-plotted, verified and re-verified measurements, leaving behind a map of the portion of the wreck we surveyed, completely to scale. For the next divers taking this course, hopefully your data jibes with ours.

The big question after all the diving, data collection, amalgamation, plotting, eating, cookie-baking, teammate rescuing is where do we all go from here? This is a struggle a lot of divers run into after completing training of any type: how do I take these skills and apply them somewhere useful? This is where we found this experience to be different. With this training, we can now join the UASBC on future wreck surveys, within our skill level. 

The people we met gave us an avenue to pursue (when we’re ready) to start looking at upcoming projects underway and seeing where we can apply our skills. Whether you’re an Advanced Open Water diver or a Technical Diver,  there are projects out there for you. We realized that this opened avenues for us in more than just wreck exploration. One of our team members realized that this was the final puzzle piece on whether she should pursue cave training. Turns out she really likes surveying and data collection in spicy conditions, and suddenly the thought of wrangling survey gear in caves was thrilling. 

Our group gained a lot of clarity on the interests we all held by the end of the course: discovery of unseen wrecks, data collection on an incredibly precise scale, the research and report-writing component—all of these areas of interest are important to these projects—and not every diver likes to do them all. Identifying your interest area, your strengths, and how to pursue that captivation was one of the most rewarding parts of this course, and something that future divers taking it will undoubtedly experience. Wreck survey and exploration aside, the human skills we developed over the course of this week of training proved to be one of the most unexpected outcomes. Regardless of whether we go on to continue applying this specific skill set, we left as better divers, more effective leaders, and stronger teammates overall.

Sabrina Figliomeni

“Every kid has had an Indiana Jones costume in their closet at some point in their childhood (or maybe that was just me – might still have one). To be able to take two things I love in different ways—hands-on history and being in the water—and be able to apply them in a meaningful way, was mind-boggling for me. I could not have asked for a better team environment; our group quickly created a culture that allowed us to challenge each other and to work through our different approaches to running a project. Not everyone gets to take a childhood dream to fruition, but I got to do just that, and I can’t wait to do more of it. Now where’s my hat…”

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Dive Deeper:

Quest 12.4: Passion, Partnership, and Exploration: GUE and the Local Community by Guy Shockey

Guy Shockey is a GUE instructor and instructor 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.


Twenty-five Years in the Pursuit of Excellence – The Evolution and Future of GUE

Founder and president Jarrod Jablonski describes his more than a quarter of a century long quest to promote excellence in technical diving.




by Jarrod Jablonski. Images courtesy of J. Jablonski and GUE unless noted.

The most difficult challenges we confront in our lives are the most formative and are instrumental in shaping the person we become. When I founded Global Underwater Explorers (GUE), the younger version of myself could not have foreseen all the challenges I would face, but equally true is that he would not have known the joy, the cherished relationships, the sense of purpose, the rich adventures, the humbling expressions of appreciation from those impacted, or the satisfaction of seeing the organization evolve and reshape our industry. Many kindred souls and extraordinary events have shaped these last 25 years, and an annotated chronology of GUE is included in this issue of InDEPTH. This timeline, however, will fail to capture the heart behind the creation of GUE, it will miss the passionate determination currently directing GUE, or the committed dedication ready to guide the next 25 years.

Photo courtesy of Kirill Egorov

I don’t remember a time that I was not in, around, and under the water. Having learned to swim before I could walk, my mother helped infuse a deep connection to the aquatic world. I was scuba certified in South Florida with my father, and promptly took all our gear to North Florida where I became a dive instructor at the University of Florida. It was then that I began my infatuation with cave diving. I was in the perfect place for it, and my insatiable curiosity was multiplied while exploring new environments. I found myself with a strong desire to visit unique and hard-to-reach places, be they far inside a cave or deep within the ocean. 

My enthusiasm for learning was pressed into service as an educator, and I became enamored with sharing these special environments. Along with this desire to share the beauty and uniqueness of underwater caves was a focused wish to assist people in acquiring the skills I could see they needed to support their personal diving goals. It could be said that these early experiences were the seeds that would germinate, grow, mature, and bloom into the organizing principles for GUE.

Brent Scarabin, Jarrod and George “Trey” Irvine getting ready to dive.
Jarrod with his Halcyon PVR-BASC prototype.
George Irvine and Jarrod conducting the original DIR workshop.

The Pre-GUE Years

Before jumping into the formational days of GUE, allow me to help you visualize the environment that was the incubator for the idea that became GUE’s reality. By the mid-1990s, I was deeply involved in a variety of exploration activities and had been striving to refine my own teaching capacity alongside this growing obsession for exploratory diving. While teaching my open water students, I was in the habit of practicing to refine my own trim and buoyancy, noticing that the students quickly progressed and were mostly able to copy my position in the water. Rather than jump immediately into the skills that were prescribed, I started to take more time to refine their comfort and general competency. This subtle shift made a world of difference in the training outcomes, creating impressive divers with only slightly more time and a shift in focus. In fact, the local dive boats would often stare in disbelief when told these divers were freshly certified, saying they looked better than most open water instructors! 

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By this point in my career, I could see the problems I was confronting were more systemic and less individualistic. In retrospect, it seemed obvious that key principles had been missing in both my recreational and technical education, not to mention the instructor training I received. The lack of basic skill refinement seemed to occur at all levels of training, from the beginner to the advanced diver. Core skills like buoyancy or in-water control were mainly left for divers to figure out on their own and almost nobody had a meaningful emphasis on efficient movement in the water. It was nearly unheard of to fail people in scuba diving, and even delaying certification for people with weak skills was very unusual. This remains all too common to this day, but I believe GUE has shifted the focus in important ways, encouraging people to think of certification more as a process and less as a right granted to them because they paid for training. 

L2R: Jarrod Todd Kincaid and Rickard Lundgren plotting their 1999 Britannic expedition.

The weakness in skill refinement during dive training was further amplified by little-to-no training in how to handle problems when they developed while diving, as they always do. In those days, even technical/cave training had very little in the way of realistic training in problem resolution. The rare practice of failures was deeply disconnected from reality. For example, there was almost no realistic scenario training for things like a failed regulator or light. What little practice there was wasn’t integrated into the actual dive and seemed largely useless in preparing for real problems. I began testing some of my students with mock equipment failures, and I was shocked at how poorly even the best students performed. They were able to quickly develop the needed skills, but seeing how badly most handled their first attempts left me troubled about the response of most certified divers should they experience problems while diving, as they inevitably would. 

Diving Fatalities

Meanwhile, I was surrounded by a continual progression of diving fatalities, and most appeared entirely preventable. The loss of dear friends and close associates had a deep impact on my view of dive training and especially on the procedures being emphasized at that time within the community. The industry, in those early days, was wholly focused on deep air and solo diving. However, alarmingly lacking were clear bottle marking or gas switching protocols. It seemed to me to be no coincidence that diver after diver lost their lives simply because they breathed the wrong bottle at depth. Many others died mysteriously during solo dives or while deep diving with air. 

One of the more impactful fatalities was Bob McGuire, who was a drill sergeant, friend, and occasional dive buddy. He was normally very careful and focused. One day a small problem with one regulator caused him to switch regulators before getting in the water. He was using a system that used color-coded regulators to identify the gas breathed. When switching the broken regulator, he either did not remember or did not have an appropriately colored regulator. This small mistake cost him his life. I clearly remember turning that one around in my head quite a bit. Something that trivial should not result in the loss of a life. 

Also disturbing was the double fatality of good friends, Chris and Chrissy Rouse, who lost their lives while diving a German U-boat in 70 m/230 ft of water off the coast of New Jersey. I remember, as if the conversation with Chris were yesterday, asking him not to use air and even offering to support the cost as a counter to his argument about the cost of helium. And the tragedies continued: The loss of one of my closest friends Sherwood Schille, the death of my friend Steve Berman who lived next to me and with whom I had dived hundreds of times, the shock of losing pioneering explorer Sheck Exley, the regular stream of tech divers, and the half dozen body recoveries I made over only a couple years, which not only saddened me greatly, but also made me angry. Clearly, a radically different approach was needed.

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Learning to Explore

Meanwhile, my own exploration activities were expanding rapidly. Our teams were seeking every opportunity to grow their capability while reducing unnecessary risk. To that end, we ceased deep air diving and instituted a series of common protocols with standardized equipment configurations, both of which showed great promise in expanding safety, efficiency, and comfort. We got a lot of things wrong and experienced enough near misses to keep us sharp and in search of continual improvement. 

Casey McKinlay and Jarrod with stages and Gavin scooters in Wakulla Springs. Photo courtesy of David Rhea

But we looked carefully at every aspect of our diving, seeking ways to advance safety, efficiency, and all-around competency while focusing plenty of attention into the uncommon practice of large-scale, team diving, utilizing setup dives, safety divers, and inwater support. We developed diver propulsion vehicle (DPV) towing techniques, which is something that had not been done previously. We mostly ignored and then rewrote CNS oxygen toxicity calculations, developed novel strategies for calculating decompression time, and created and refined standard procedures for everything from bottle switching to equipment configurations. Many of these developments arose from simple necessity. There were no available decompression programs and no decompression tables available for the dives we were doing. Commonly used calculations designed to reduce the risk of oxygen toxicity were useless to our teams, because even our more casual dives were 10, 20, or even 30 times the allowable limit. The industry today takes most of this for granted, but in the early days of technical diving, we had very few tools, save a deep motivation to go where no one had gone before.

All in a dive of diving for the WKPP.

Many of these adventures included friends in the Woodville Karst Plain Project (WKPP), where I refined policies within the team and most directly with longtime dive buddy George Irvine. This “Doing it Right” (DIR) approach sought to create a more expansive system than Hogarthian diving, which itself had been born in the early years of the WKPP and was named after William Hogarth Main, a friend and frequent dive buddy of the time. By this point, I had been writing about and expanding upon Hogarthian diving for many years. More and more of the ideas we wanted to develop were not Bill Main’s priorities and lumping them into his namesake became impractical, especially given all the debate within the community over what was and was not Hogarthian. 

A similar move from DIR occurred some years later when GUE stepped away from the circular debates that sought to explain DIR and embraced a GUE configuration with standard protocols, something entirely within our scope to define.

These accumulating events reached critical mass in 1998. I had experienced strong resistance to any form of standardization, even having been asked to join a special meeting of the board of directors (BOD) for a prominent cave diving agency. Their intention was to discourage me from using any form of standard configuration, claiming that students should be allowed to do whatever they “felt’ was best. It was disconcerting for me, as a young instructor, to be challenged by pioneers in the sport; nevertheless, I couldn’t agree with the edict that someone who was doing something for the first time should be tasked with determining how it should be done. 

This sort of discussion was common, but the final straw occurred when I was approached by the head of a technical diving agency, an organization for which I had taught for many years. I was informed that he considered it a violation of standards not to teach air to a depth of at least 57 m/190 ft. This same individual told me that I had to stop using MOD bottle markings and fall in line with the other practices endorsed by his agency. Push had finally come to shove, and I set out to legitimize the training methods and dive protocols that had been incubating in my mind and refined with our teams over the previous decade. Years of trial and many errors while operating in dynamic and challenging environments were helping us to identify what practices were most successful in support of excellence, safety, and enjoyment.

Forming GUE

Forming GUE as a non-profit company was intended to neutralize the profit motivations that appeared to plague other agencies. We hoped to remove the incentive to train—and certify—the greatest number of divers as quickly as possible because it seemed at odds with ensuring comfortable and capable divers. The absence of a profit motive complemented the aspirational plans that longtime friend Todd Kincaid and I had dreamed of. We imagined a global organization that would facilitate the efforts of underwater explorers while supporting scientific research and conservation initiatives. 

I hoped to create an agency that placed most of the revenue in the hands of fully engaged and enthusiastic instructors, allowing them the chance to earn a good living and become professionals who might stay within the industry over many years. Of course, that required forgoing the personal benefit of ownership and reduced the revenue available to the agency, braking its growth and complicating expansion plans. This not only slowed growth but provided huge challenges in developing a proper support network while creating the agency I envisioned. There were years of stressful days and nights because of the need to forgo compensation and the deep dependance upon generous volunteers who had to fit GUE into their busy lives. If it were not for these individuals and our loyal members, we would likely never have been successful. Volunteer support and GUE membership have been and remain critical to the growing success of our agency. If you are now or have ever been a volunteer or GUE member, your contribution is a significant part of our success, and we thank you. 

Photo courtesy of Kirill Egorov

The challenges of the early years gave way to steady progress—always slower than desired, with ups and downs, but progress, nonetheless. Some challenges were not obvious at the outset. For example, many regions around the world were very poorly developed in technical diving. Agencies intent on growth seemed to ignore that problem, choosing whoever was available, and regardless of their experience in the discipline, they would soon be teaching. 

This decision to promote people with limited experience became especially problematic when it came to Instructor Trainers. People with almost no experience in something like trimix diving were qualifying trimix instructors. Watching this play out in agency after agency, and on continent after continent, was a troubling affair. Conversely, it took many years for GUE to develop and train people of appropriate experience, especially when looking to critical roles, including high-level tech and instructor trainers. At the same time, GUE’s efforts shaped the industry in no small fashion as agencies began to model their programs after GUE’s training protocols. Initially, having insisted that nobody would take something like Fundamentals, every agency followed suit in developing their own version of these programs, usually taught by divers that had followed GUE training. 

This evolving trend wasn’t without complexity but was largely a positive outcome. Agencies soon focused on fundamental skills, incorporated some form of problem-resolution training, adhered to GUE bottle and gas switching protocols, reduced insistence on deep air, and started talking more about developing skilled divers, among other changes. This evolution was significant when compared to the days of arguing about why a person could not learn to use trimix until they were good while diving deep on air. 

To be sure, a good share of these changes was more about maintaining business relevance than making substantive improvements. The changes themselves were often more style than substance, lacking objective performance standards and the appropriate retraining of instructors. Despite these weaknesses, they remain positive developments. Talking about something is an important first step and, in all cases, it makes room for strong instructors in any given agency to practice what is being preached. In fact, these evolving trends have allowed GUE to now push further in the effort to create skilled and experienced divers, enhancing our ability to run progressively more elaborate projects with increasingly more sophisticated outcomes. 

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The Future of GUE

The coming decades of GUE’s future appear very bright. Slow but steady growth has now placed the organization in a position to make wise investments, ensuring a vibrant and integrated approach. Meanwhile, evolving technology and a broad global base place GUE in a unique and formidable position. Key structural and personnel adjustments complement a growing range of virtual tools, enabling our diverse communities and representatives to collaborate and advance projects in a way that, prior to now, was not possible. Strong local communities can be easily connected with coordinated global missions; these activities include ever-more- sophisticated underwater initiatives as well as structural changes within the GUE ecosystem. One such forward-thinking project leverages AI-enabled, adaptive learning platforms to enhance both the quality and efficiency of GUE education. Most agencies, including GUE, have been using some form of online training for years, but GUE is taking big steps to reinvent the quality and efficiency of this form of training. This is not to replace, but rather to extend and augment inwater and in-person learning outcomes. Related tools further improve the fluidity, allowing GUE to seamlessly connect previously distant communities, enabling technology, training, and passion to notably expand our ability to realize our broad, global mission.

Photo courtesy of Kirill Egorov

Meanwhile, GUE and its range of global communities are utilizing evolving technologies to significantly expand the quality and scope of their project initiatives. Comparing the impressive capability of current GUE communities with those of our early years shows a radical and important shift, allowing results equal or even well beyond those possible when compared even with well-funded commercial projects. Coupled with GUE training and procedural support, these ongoing augmentations place our communities at the forefront of underwater research and conservation. This situation will only expand and be further enriched with the use of evolving technology and closely linked communities. Recent and planned expansions to our training programs present a host of important tools that will continue being refined in the years to come. Efforts to expand and improve upon the support provided to GUE projects with technology, people, and resources are now coming online and will undoubtedly be an important part of our evolving future.

The coming decades will undoubtedly present challenges. But I have no doubt that together we will not only overcome those obstacles but we will continue to thrive. I believe that GUE’s trajectory remains overwhelmingly positive, for we are an organization that is continually evolving—driven by a spirit of adventure, encouraged by your heartwarming stories, and inspired by the satisfaction of overcoming complex problems. Twenty-five years ago, when I took the path less traveled, the vision I had for GUE was admittedly ambitious. The reality, however, has exceeded anything I could have imagined. I know that GUE will never reach a point when it is complete but that it will be an exciting lifelong journey, one that, for me, will define a life well lived. I look forward our mutual ongoing “Quest for Excellence.”

See Listings Below For Additional Resources On GUE And GUE Diving!

Jarrod is an avid explorer, researcher, author, and instructor who teaches and dives in oceans and caves around the world. Trained as a geologist, Jarrod is the founder and president of GUE and CEO of Halcyon and Extreme Exposure while remaining active in conservation, exploration, and filming projects worldwide. His explorations regularly place him in the most remote locations in the world, including numerous world record cave dives with total immersions near 30 hours. Jarrod is also an author with dozens of publications, including three books.

A Few GUE Fundamentals

Similar to military, commercial and public safety divers, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) is a standards-based diving community, with specific protocols, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and tools. Here are selected InDEPTH stories on some of the key aspects of GUE diving, including a four-part series on the history and development of GUE decompression procedures by founder and president Jarod Jablonski.

Anatomy of a Fundamentals Class

GUE Instructor Examiner Guy Shockey explains the thought and details that goes into GUE’s most popular course, Fundamentals, aka “Fundies,” which has been taken by numerous industry luminaries. Why all the fanfare? Shockey characterizes the magic as “simple things done precisely!

Back to Fundamentals: An Introduction to GUE’s Most Popular Diving Course

Instructor evaluator Rich Walker attempts to answer the question, “why is Fundamentals GUE’s most popular diving course?” Along the way, he clarifies some of the myths and misconceptions about GUE training. Hint: there is no Kool-Aid. 

The GUE Pre-dive Sequence

As you’d expect, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) has a standardized approach to prepare your equipment for the dive, and its own pre-dive checklist: the GUE EDGE. Here explorer and filmmaker Dimitris Fifis preps you to take the plunge, GUE-style.

The Flexibility of Standard Operating Procedures

Instructor trainer Guy Shockey discusses the purpose, value, and yes, flexibility of standard operating procedures, or SOPs, in diving. Sound like an oxymoron? Shockey explains how SOPs can help offload some of our internal processing and situational awareness, so we can focus on the important part of the dive—having FUN!

Standard Gases: The Simplicity of Everyone Singing the Same Song

Like the military and commercial diving communities before them, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) uses standardized breathing mixtures for various depth ranges and for decompression. Here British wrecker and instructor evaluator Rich Walker gets lyrical and presents the reasoning behind standard mixes and their advantages, compared with a “best mix” approach. Don’t worry, you won’t need your hymnal, though Walker may have you singing some blues.

Rules of Thumb: The Mysteries of Ratio Deco Revealed

Is it a secret algorithm developed by the WKPP to get you out of the water faster sans DCI, or an unsubstantiated decompression speculation promoted by Kool-Aid swilling quacks and charlatans? British tech instructor/instructor evaluator Rich Walker divulges the arcane mysteries behind GUE’s ratio decompression protocols in this first of a two part series.

The Thought Process Behind GUE’s CCR Configuration

Global Underwater Explorers is known for taking its own holistic approach to gear configuration. Here GUE board member and Instructor Trainer Richard Lundgren explains the reasoning behind its unique closed-circuit rebreather configuration. It’s all about the gas!

GUE and the Future of Open Circuit Tech Diving

Though they were late to the party, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) is leaning forward on rebreathers, and members are following suit. So what’s to become of their open circuit-based TECH 2 course? InDepth’s Ashley Stewart has the deets.

Project Divers Are We

Diving projects, or expeditions—think Bill Stone’s Wakulla Springs 1987 project, or the original explorations of the Woodville Karst Plain’s Project (WKPP)—helped give birth to technical diving, and today continue as an important focal point and organizing principle for communities like Global Underwater Explorers (GUE). The organization this year unveiled a new Project Diver program, intended to elevate “community-led project dives to an entirely new level of sophistication.” Here, authors Guy Shockey and Francesco Cameli discuss the power of projects and take us behind the scenes of the new program

Decompression, Deep Stops and the Pursuit of Precision in a Complex World In this first of a four-part series, Global Underwater Explorers’ (GUE) founder and president Jarrod Jablonski explores the historical development of GUE decompression protocols, with a focus on technical diving and the evolving trends in decompression research.

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