Connect with us


Preparing for GUE Tech 1

GUE Instructor Evaluator Guy Shockey explains how to prepare for GUE’s Tech 1 course. That’s right. It requires pre-class preparation.



By Guy Shockey. Photos by Andrea Peterson unless noted.

You completed your Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) Fundamentals class and achieved a Tech pass [The OK to begin GUE’s technical classes]. You started your GUE journey with the dream of diving some amazing wrecks or reefs in the 45 m/150 ft range, and now you’re turning your attention to the next stage of your journey. And, you’re starting to ask yourself the question that I am asked many times each year: “How do I prepare for GUE Tech 1?” 

You might assume you have a reasonable chance of success if you enroll in a GUE Tech 1 class the day after you receive your GUE Fundamentals Tech pass; however, most Tech 1 candidates take some time to consolidate their previous gains before moving forward. It’s important to note that this training hiatus is not a requirement; moving from Fundamentals to Tech 1 isn’t like the transition between Tech 1 and CCR 1 (or Tech 2) where you are required to do a particular number of experience dives. At the same time, it’s not a bad idea to ensure you can consistently meet the buoyancy and trim requirements before choosing to do the GUE Tech 1 course. As a friend of mine said, “If Fundamentals is like sipping from a water fountain, then Tech 1 is drinking from a fire hose.” Tech 1 is not the place to find out your Fundamentals Tech-pass skills are inconsistent. The course is very busy, and if you fall behind on the first or second day, it’s unlikely you will be able to catch up.   

Buoyancy and Trim

Tech 1 is all about midwater buoyancy and trim. You must be able to build a secure and non-moving platform at any depth you wish. Tech divers are creatures of the blue-water, and we must be at home wherever we are, regardless of where the bottom is. We seldom have anything but our teammates, our instruments, and a line to keep ourselves where we want to stay. Exemplary position—keeping in three dimensions—is a necessary part of “building our platform,” which is where we can communicate, manage issues, and make decisions. Think of this platform as the floor of an elevator where you and your teammates are lying on the floor facing each other. The elevator moves up and down, but the teammates do not move relative to each other. Your team moves up the line in formation and levels off at the new stop, but they don’t really change position relative to each other. This is the “platform” that we build to bring our team back up to the surface. 

  • Subscribe for free
  • Halcyon Sidemount
  • Area 9


Part of your Tech 1 class is “skill refinement,” so you should expect to polish your existing kicks. Even if you just finished your Fundamentals Tech pass the day before, there is likely still room for improvement, and this is your chance to make “very good” even better! Expect the same for your maneuvering kicks—back kicking and helicopter turns. You will find that your back kick is your most useful physical skill in building your platform, and you will use it all the time. Having a weak or ineffectual back kick will make your job that much more difficult. 

Valve Drills and S drills

Your first dive in your Tech 1 class will likely be very similar to your last dive in your Fundamentals class. In my classes, you will swim to 10 m/30 ft, you will deploy an SMB, then move up to 6 m/20 ft and do a round of valve drills and S drills while maintaining your platform on the line. You won’t move around and travel in the S drills: This is an exercise in buoyancy control and precision positioning while being task loaded. This is basically a “show me” dive so that I know where the baseline is on your fundamental skills. Based on your performance in this series, we can adjust our immediate timeline for moving ahead. 

Situation Awareness

Throughout years of teaching technical diving, I’ve become more and more convinced that the single biggest strength a technical diver can have is strong situation awareness. This capacity bolsters everything else and can make or break a dive. You began learning how to develop this in your Fundamentals class when your instructor task loads you with maintaining team positioning while also swimming around a circuit and performing various skills and drills. It likely seemed difficult to juggle everything at the beginning, but the skill develops quickly, and in Tech 1 we make this a bigger priority. 

Consider doing a bench press in a universal gym. You can apply all your strength to pushing the bar upwards, and if you do so unevenly, it doesn’t really matter: You are able to transfer all your strength into upward motion to make the bar move upward. Now do the same thing with dumbbells. You will find that you need to use many “helper” muscles to stabilize the dumbbell, and that you need to focus and manage these muscles in addition to the actual primary work of pressing the dumbbell up. This is what we do in Tech 1: We are going to create scenarios where you will do something like manage a valve failure but, while doing so, you will be required to use your “helper muscles” to monitor depth, time, current, team position, and your equipment. You can’t simply put your head down and follow a scripted sequence of events to resolve a valve failure. There is much more going on, and you will learn to increase your situation awareness capacity by stretching it and using it. 

Skill Development

We’ve identified which skills to hone and what we will focus on in Tech 1. So, the question becomes, “How do I practice them?”

One of the best drills you can do is swim out to 10 m/30 ft of water, deploy an SMB, then move up to 6 m/20 ft and do a round of valve drills and S drills. This sounds simple enough but, as always, the devil is in the details; it isn’t so much “that” you do it, it’s “how” you do it. 

You should expect to be held to the same standard as your Fundamentals Tech pass with respect to buoyancy and trim: a 1 m/3 ft buoyancy window and 20 degrees of trim. I have watched students practice and practice with the “this is good enough” mentality, but if it isn’t inside the standards listed above, then it isn’t good enough. 

You need to be honest with yourself about your performance from these two perspectives because—rest assured—your instructor will be honest with you! This is probably the most common thing that I see: students practice a lot, but they don’t practice well. “Practice perfectly to perform perfectly.” If you don’t hold yourself to a high standard, and “good enough” is okay, then you will spend the first day or so in Tech 1 class doing remedial trim and buoyancy work. This can mean that you run out of time and don’t complete your class. Deploy your SMB, move up, clip a double ender at the 6 m/20 ft mark, and challenge yourself to keep that double ender right in front of you. Then get to the point where you remove the double ender.

Make a pact with your teammates to hold each other accountable for your performance. Agree to be totally honest with each other. Ask for—and expect—feedback from your teammates, and provide the same. If you do this, then you will breeze through your first dive on Tech 1, and you will have the foundation you need to move on to gas switches and valve failure resolution. You won’t be chasing the skills, and  you will have to absorb only the new material. You won’t have to play catch-up, and your days will be challenging, but rewarding—and even fun!

Photo by Conor H. Collins.

Tech 1 is a very rewarding class to teach. Here, the students’ lights start to go on, and they understand the “why” for many of the things we did in Fundamentals. It often isn’t enough to just have something explained to you: Having a visceral experience that demonstrates the “why” and the “this is what can happen when you don’t do it” is much more persuasive, and this happens frequently in Tech 1. There is also a lot of new classroom material, so being “squared away” in your diving will free up some mental capacity to learn and understand the new theory. 

Tech 1 can be one of the most rewarding classes you will ever take. You will come away with confidence, increased capacity and skill, and a whole new world of diving experiences will be open to you. Have fun, and enjoy the journey!

Subscribe for the InDepth Newsletter

See Companion story: Becoming a Technical Diver: My Dive into GUE’s Tech 1 by Annika Andresen

Dive Deeper:

InDepth: Anatomy of a Fundamentals Class by Guy Shockey

InDepth: The Flexibility of Standard Operating Procedures by Guy Shockey

InDepth: Situational Awareness and Decision Making in Diving 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.


Why I Became a GUE Instructor

Jon Kieren had been an experienced tech diver and instructor for years when, curious, he took a Global Underwater Explorers’ Fundamentals class, a prerequisite to GUE’s technical and cave training. Soon, he didn’t just want to be a GUE diver. He wanted to be a GUE instructor. Kieren writes about the draw of GUE and why he started over with a new agency.




by Jon Kieren. Photos courtesy of SJ Alice Bennett.

I’ve had the pleasure of working in pretty much every aspect of the diving industry over the past 15 years or so. I’ve been an instructor and boat captain in the Caribbean, worked in the training department of a large training agency, served as a consultant for equipment manufacturers, and traveled all over the world teaching as a full-time cave and technical instructor trainer. Many would have said I’d reached the highest levels in the diving industry. 

So when I decided to start all over from scratch to become a Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) instructor, many of my friends, peers, and students scratched their head a bit and wondered why I would want to invest so much time, energy, and money to teach things I had been capable of teaching for years with other agencies. The answer was I wanted to commit to excellence. “Can’t you do that by teaching for other agencies?” they would ask. Not really.

Over the years, I had become quite frustrated with almost every aspect of the dive industry. Low-quality instruction, lack of accountability from agencies in accidents and quality assurance, manufacturers releasing equipment that created more problems than it solved, and dive shops and instructors at all levels racing to the bottom in terms of quality — all of it was making my blood boil. When I “saw the light,” it was refreshing, inspirational, and a huge relief. I finally found an answer to many of the issues I had been banging my head against the wall trying to solve for years. Here’s how it went down.

In 2016, I left my job in the training department of a large agency after five years of frustration. I realized I could make a larger impact on the industry working with one or two students or instructor candidates at a time. I moved from south Florida to north Florida’s “cave country” to teach full-time as an independent instructor. It was a bit scary to not have a guaranteed paycheck, but I was determined to make it work. I was hungry to improve as an instructor and knew I could do better. The problem was, after working at the highest levels with some of the biggest names in the industry, I didn’t really know where to turn. 

Enter Mark Messersmith. He’s a GUE board director, instructor evaluator, chief operating officer of dive equipment manufacturer Halcyon, and one of the nicest guys around. I had gotten to know Mark a little bit over the years, and always appreciated his laidback and super supportive demeanor. When I approached him about GUE training, he asked, “Why?” Knowing my background, of course he knew the answer, but I think he wanted to hear it from me. 

  • Halcyon Sidemount

Fundamentals: Where the Fog First Lifted

I first started down the technical diving path when I was working in the Caribbean as an open water instructor and boat captain, and I came across GUE in my research. I was immediately put off by the standardization and team-diving philosophy, and decided other agencies would be a better fit for me. Of course I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but my thought was, “There can’t be just one way to do EVERYTHING.” Plus, I really enjoyed solo diving at the time. After moving through the ranks over the years and working with hundreds of technical, rebreather, and cave students, I had the opportunity to work with several GUE-trained divers. Most of them had only taken Fundamentals, the prerequisite to GUE’s technical and cave training courses, but two things were consistent with all of those students: The classes were easier to teach, and they were way more fun. We would be able to start cave or tech diving straight out of the gate and not need to spend three or four days on basic skills. I wanted to know what GUE’s secret was to create such solid and consistent divers, and that’s when I approached Mark.

To answer his question, I was honest and told him I wanted to steal as much as I could from the Fundamentals course to incorporate into my classes. He just smiled through his mustache and said, “OK.” We scheduled a class, and I got to work watching all of the skills videos and practicing on my own in order to prepare. To say that I was nervous when class started was an understatement. I think I hid it pretty well, but what if I didn’t meet the highest standard for Fundamentals and get GUE’s coveted tech pass? What would that say about me as an instructor? Mark’s casual style put me at ease as we began, and I was able to focus. When Mark got to the third slide of the first lecture, it was like the fog had lifted and I could see everything clearly for the first time. I knew the trajectory of my career had just shifted and I’d be starting all over. “This is going to be expensive,” I thought.

So what’s on that slide? A simple statement that was the answer to all of my struggles: “End the disconnect between training and passion.” As Mark explained the issues in the dive industry, of which I was all too aware, he also explained how GUE addresses those issues. From the top down, GUE’s board of directors members and instructors are passionate divers and explorers, no exceptions. This changed everything for me. One of my biggest frustrations was recognizing that at the very top of the industry (senior managers of the agencies), almost nobody was an active diver. Presidents and VPs were diving once a year for social media posts to create an illusion they were still active and passionate—many of them with very limited teaching experience and making decisions on standards at the highest levels of technical, cave, and rebreather training when they had only been in a cave once or dove a semi-closed rebreather a couple of times back in the 90s. 

This lack of passion filters down through the industry. It’s amazing how many instructors (technical, cave and rebreather included) refuse to get in the water if they aren’t being paid. Even with my limited experience at the time, when I went to work for the agency, I would have my head in my hands thinking, “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” when sitting in on big meetings as industry heads for all of the agencies were in my opinion focused more on how to keep standards low and profits high rather than on safety and quality. 

A Commitment to Excellence

But now, staring at this slide, we discussed the ways GUE is focused on keeping quality at the highest level and inspiring divers to be passionate, competent, and capable of incredible conservation and exploration efforts. We discussed the global GUE community and all of the remarkable things they accomplish. It was so clearly the answer to everything.

I didn’t just want to be a Fundamentals diver. I wanted to be a GUE instructor. As I started on the path, I started to really realize why “Commit to Excellence” is printed on the back of our t-shirts. I was pushed harder than I had ever been in the past, with support and encouragement. The goal was always to improve, no matter what we were doing: from parking our cars at the dive sites to be courteous and leave room for others, to maintaining perfect stability in extremely task-loading situations, and developing the best instructional and evaluation techniques. There was never a time in any of my classes where I was told, “Good job.” It was always, “Good job, but here’s how we can make it better.”

My Tech 1 (and later Tech 2) instructor, Guy Shockey, made a statement that I remember every day. He explained that he chooses to be a GUE instructor because when he wakes up in the morning and gets ready to teach a class, he knows without a doubt that he has the capacity and resources to teach the best class available. So when I’m on my way to the shop or dive site to meet my students in the morning, I keep that in the back of my mind. I have the capacity and resources to teach the best class available. It not only gives me confidence, but keeps me honest. There are no excuses and no room for shortcuts. Commit to excellence. 

We are held to that standard of excellence through several mechanisms. We have strict annual renewal requirements to ensure we are actively diving and exploring so that students are learning from someone still passionate about what they are teaching. These requirements go far beyond what is typical in the industry, and we are actually monitored for meeting them.

  • Area 9

Staying Current (And Competent)

Most agencies have some form of “currency” recommendation, meaning you’re supposed to teach or assist a class every few years. However, there’s no oversight to ensure instructors are meeting this requirement. There’s loads of instructors out there (tech instructors and instructor trainers included) who haven’t taught a class in five-plus years. There’s nothing stopping these instructors from going out and teaching a class at their highest level. Sure, if something terrible happens, the agency and insurance company will likely drop the instructor, showing that they violated a standard by not remaining current. But at that point, it’s already too late. Students pay the price. Even if there isn’t an accident in training, it’s very likely that students will not have received adequate training and will be more at risk in their post-training diving activities.

GUE instructors need to show dive logs verifying we have conducted at least 25 non-training dives each year, half of which need to be at or above their highest teaching level. This ensures that when you sign up for a GUE class, you can be sure the instructor in front of you is still active, current, and passionate about what they are teaching you. 

All GUE instructors, instructor trainers, and instructor examiners are required to be re-evaluated at their highest teaching level every four years. Nobody is exempt from this rule, as it means that we are consistently ensuring everyone is teaching the same things, to the same standards, without drift. 

Scuba diving is a physically taxing activity, and the more aggressive the dive, the more physically fit the diver should be. Even on fairly benign dives, you never know when the current or seas might pick up, or when a failure could result in extended decompression times. We believe that having physical fitness requirements that are consistent with diving goals is extremely important. No smoking allowed for any GUE diver or instructor, and we require swim tests at every level of training. 

Instructors have to meet pretty stringent fitness requirements each year. We have to be medically evaluated for fitness to dive, maintain a low Body Mass Index (BMI), conduct timed swims and diver tows, stair climbs and equipment carries over long distances, all of which verify our ability to assist our students in emergencies. This is surprisingly absent from other agency’s renewal requirements. There are lines in the renewal agreement about being fit to dive, but there’s no oversight, and they don’t even require a medical exam.

We also have a 100% quality assurance process, meaning every student completes a quality control form. This is not only so our QC director can identify any drift from the standards or issues with our conduct in class, but also to help provide feedback on how we can improve the training we offer. We encourage our students not to just tell us what we did well, but treat us how we treat them in the debriefings and include areas we can better support their growth, because there’s always some room for improvement.

I don’t mention all of the renewal requirements as a flex, but rather to show that it takes a significant investment for GUE instructors to remain in current teaching status. Someone who isn’t committed simply won’t remain current. It was a huge draw for me, as I had seen how the minimal standards typical in the dive industry contribute to the disconnect.

For me, as an instructor, the benefits of GUE go beyond the high-quality training, standardization, and community. The opportunity to work toward ending the disconnect between training and passion as well as the continuous commitment to excellence are what keep me motivated. Not a year has gone by since my Fundamentals course that I haven’t seen significant growth as an instructor, and I don’t see that changing until I hang up my fins.


InDEPTH: The Economics of Being a Tech Diving Instructor by Darcy Kieran

Other stories by Jon Kieren:

InDEPTH: I Trained “Doc Deep” by Jon Kieren

InDEPTH: SUMP POTION #9 by Jon Kieren

InDEPTH: Grokking The FATHOM CCR: My Dive into the Nuts & Bolts with the Inventor by Jon Kieren

Jon Kieren is a cave, technical, and CCR instructor/instructor trainer who has dedicated his 13-year career to improving dive training. As an active TDI, IANTD, NSS-CDS, and GUE Instructor and former training director and training advisory panel member for TDI, he has vast experience working with divers and instructors at all levels, but his main professional focus resides in the caves. In his own personal diving, Jon’s true passions are deep, extended range cave dives, as well as working with photographers to bring back images of his favorite places to share with the world. 

  • Subscribe for free
  • Halcyon Sidemount
  • Area 9
Continue Reading


WordPress PopUp Plugin