Although a majority of our courses are overhead and technical related – cavern, cave, advanced nitrox, etc – we do teach open water courses on a somewhat regular basis. We’ve taught a couple of open water courses this year and have another starting this week. What brings up this subject today is a particular discussion on one of the Internet forums.
A particular instructor has posted in an instructors only section of the forum that an open water course with 6 student go by the following schedule – 3 hours classroom, 6 hours pool/confined water, and 8 hour at the quarry. He claims he is able to teach everything that needs to be taught and produce 6 competent divers who have been able to master the 20 skills required of an open water diver. When I stated I give my students about twice the amount of instruction time, he retorted by saying I was too slow and stupid to be able to get the information across faster. I don’t feel he deserves a response to that. But I do feel our students, current and prospective, do deserve to know why we teach our courses the way we do.
There is a lot of information to learn in the basic open water course. This is the foundation for all other diving courses. At the completion of this course, my name is going on a diver’s card stating I feel that diver has completed all of the requirements necessary to go dive to a depth of 60 feet without my supervision. Our classroom time does take about 5-6 hours. There are 5-6 sections in the open water student manual, depending on the agency. The subjects that are covered are physics, physiology, environment, equipment, dive planning, and many more. Each section also has a quiz which must be reviewed and there is a final exam consisting of 35-50 questions. Finally, we show a couple of videos directly related to the environment we teach and dive in to our students. We believe everything we do in the classroom is absolutely necessary to produce safe divers.
As for the confined water sessions, 6 hours simply is not enough. Each course must start out with a watermanship skills evaluation. Students must swim 200 yards and tread water for 10 minutes. This takes a minimum of 45 minutes to conduct (we let our students rest between skills). We then spend about an hour or two teaching our students how to snorkel and breath hold dive. While a snorkeling course is not a requirement during an open water course, we have found that teaching students how to breathe out of a snorkel, clear their snorkels and masks of water, and equalize their ears during a breath hold dive helps students master the open water scuba diving skills much easier. Once all of this is completed, we begin the confined water sessions. There are 4-5 (agency dependent). We could just teach the skills, have the students repeat them a couple of times and move on. We don’t do that, though. After teaching our students the skills, we spend a majority of the time swimming around the basin and drilling the students over and over so they do have the opportunity to master each of the skills. We also feel that by having our students perform the skills midwater while swimming makes them better divers than having them perform them while kneeling on the bottom. I think you can see why this takes 10-12 hours to complete.
Finally, we head out to our open water sites and conduct the four open water dives. We have our students plan the dives, using proper air management rules. We get in the water and we begin our dive. During the dive, while swimming around, we have the students perform the skills they were taught during the confined water sessions. We stay underwater until the student has reached the planned ascent air pressure. This could be over an hour if someone has a good consumption rate. However, many instructors will spend the minimum 20 minutes on a dive with a majority of it kneeling on the bottom in a semi-circle to perform the skills. During our surface intervals, we also talk to our students about other courses they could take after the open water course. We explain all the possibilities to them. We talk about the dangers of cavern and cave diving without the proper training. We talk about the places we’ve been and the things we’ve seen. After all, diving is a social activity!
So, you let us know. Which format would you rather have? We’re not about to change our format, but if you would rather have the 17 hour course, we know where we can refer you…