This is the time of year that my course schedule for the upcoming summer really begins to gel. The holidays are over, winter has set in, people start thinking about the upcoming dive season and what they would like to accomplish this year. Some divers set their sights on getting additional training and taking their diving to a new level.
Once a person decides to participate in a course with me, the first question is usually “What should I do before class?” Good question, thanks for asking. Let’s talk about class prep a little bit. We can divide it up into four areas: academic, equipment, in-water competency, and administrative items.
Let’s talk about academic preparation. When you think about it, we don’t have a lot of face-to-face time together given the amount, and importance, of material we have to learn. After all, we’re talking about life support training here folks. The work you put in before we meet will only make our time together more beneficial and meaningful. Once a student has enrolled, I get them an eLearning access code or send them the manual, depending on the course. You should complete the eLearning module, or read the manual and complete any workbooks or chapter reviews before class. Make a list of questions you have so you can bring them up in class. Personally, I don’t mind if students e-mail or text questions to me as they read through the material. Preparing well before the class means I don’t have to spend time covering topics you understand, allowing us to spend more time on concepts you may need help with or more time in the water.
Equipment plays a big role in technical diving, especially if you’re just transitioning from recreational diving to technical diving (as in the Adv. Nitrox/Deco Procedures course). I always provide students with a list of required equipment well in advance of the course. You should look it over and make sure you have everything. If you need to buy a new piece of equipment, it’s a good idea to contact the instructor and ask if there are particular brands or models of widget they prefer. It’s no fun to show up to a class with a brand new DecoMaster 3000 dive computer and find out it’s not appropriate for the course. Besides, sometimes if you don’t have a particular piece of equipment, your instructor will let you try some different models to help you make a sound purchasing decision. That was the case when I did my cave diver training years ago. The instructor told us not to buy reels before the class. If we already owned some, he said bring them, use them, see if you like them, but he had just about every size and type of reel you can imagine. We got to try all different kinds, saving us the trouble of buying an unfamiliar piece of kit and only then finding out we didn’t like it.
Have your equipment serviced well before the start of class and make sure everything is in good working order. When you pack for the course dives, make sure you bring all of your gear. Don’t let your course get derailed by the cry of “Oh s**t! I forgot my fins!”
In-water competency, otherwise known as diving, is the most fun part of any scuba course, but can also be the most challenging. What should your competency level be when entering the course? If you can already perform all the course requirements perfectly, then you may not get much out of the course. If on the other hand, your first course dive is also your first dive in a dry suit, first dive in doubles and first dive in cold water, then you’ve been set up to fail. You should have at least some basic competency with the equipment keeping you alive. Practice diving in a dry suit and doubles. Get your buoyancy and trim sorted out. Have your dive buddies watch you and critique you. Better yet, get someone to video you so can see how you look in the water. Try some of the skills required in the course, even if you can’t do them well. You don’t have to show up on day one with all the skills practiced to perfection, but some practice before class will make the course dives a lot more productive.
Lastly, we have administrative items. If you’re enrolled in a technical diving course, you’ve obviously already taken a number of scuba courses and should be familiar with the standard forms used in every scuba course, namely the liability release and the medical information form. I prefer to deal with the liability release on the first day of class, so I don’t ask students to do anything with that prior to our meeting. The medical form, on the other hand, should be dealt with long before the course meets. As you are probably aware, the form lists lots of medical conditions. If any apply to you, you need a physician’s signature on the form in order to participate in the class. As soon as a student signs up for a course, I e-mail the form to them so they have ample time to get an appointment to see their doctor to discuss their medical readiness for the course. It is imperative you show up to the course with a completed (correctly) medical form. If your medical history necessitates you get a doctor’s signature, and you show up without it, you’re out of luck. You cannot participate without a properly completed medical form.
Other paperwork I like to see students bring to class are their log books and photocopies of their c-cards that I can keep for my files. You don’t have to dig up every single c-card you’ve ever gotten. I don’t really need to have copies of your Underwater Pumpkin Carver or Underwater Basket Weaver card, but the main cards like Open Water Diver, Advanced Diver, Rescue Diver, Nitrox Diver, Deep Diver are nice to see.
In closing, let me give a couple final tips. Come to class with an open mind, ready to learn. Also, learning something new can sometimes be stressful, but try to remember to relax. Remaining calm and relaxed will make the skill easier to accomplish and you’ll have a more enjoyable dive. Hopefully, these tips will help you get ready for your course.