First Class Diver

After two plus years of effort, I’ve finally achieved the grade of First Class Diver. Whilst the title of Second Class has long gone, who wants to be considered second class by implication of the grade above you. In my opinion, its time for a name change as the arrogance and segregatory implication of the title opposes a lot of what the qualification represents – team work. Enough – I’d like to tell you a little of what was involved, hopefully you’d like to hear about it as well.


After two plus years of effort, I’ve finally achieved the grade of First Class Diver. Whilst the title of Second Class has long gone, who wants to be considered second class by implication of the grade above you. In my opinion, its time for a name change as the arrogance and segregatory implication of the title opposes a lot of what the qualification represents – team work. Enough – I’d like to tell you a little of what was involved, hopefully you’d like to hear about it as well.

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Before taking the exam, a long list of pre-qualifications have to be achieved. These include becoming a rescue specialist, a diver cox, an extended range diver and many more besides. I went from being someone who had never been on a Skill Development Course and resented the idea of paying for such things, to having achieved all that I needed in little over a year. Admittedly, many I achieved through equivalent courses I had attended with other organisations previously. Now of course, in my role as Regional Coach, I organise all the blooming things.

Having got all the pre-requisites, it was time to visit the regional co-ordinator (Mark Mumford) to discuss what I needed to know / practice and how to achieve this. Mark had a CD full of all things useful to diving to help with the theory and a good list of references to boot. A trip to Steve Collards’ secret garage of goodies and most of the books were in my possession.

After many, many evenings, weekends and holidays of solid studying (ask Jo if you don’t believe me), I took the theory exam. This consisted of 60 short answer questions in an hour. Sketching and labelling the heart, veins and arteries or the inside of a piston first stage are not what I would call short answers. As is always the way, if you know it, it’s easy. You need to be 100% up to date with the latest theory and be able to understand and explain the reasons behind it. For example, to know that you shouldn’t raise a casualties legs if you suspect DCI is not sufficient, you need to know why. For full marks you would need to be able to explain why and how you may in fact decide that raising the legs in a certain way is the best, option going against all guidance that is readily available. I think you get the idea.

Next I chose to do my expedition plan. There are plenty of plans out there, and it would be quite easy to cheat. However, to get the most out of it and prepare for the practical exam, this can be used as an ideal opportunity to brush up on planning and chartwork skills. Doing your plan for the same date and location as your exam is very helpful when it comes to the real thing. By the time you have added site info, voyage plans taking account of the tidal drift, accommodation, food, air, timetables, dive plans and so on, this turns into quite a big document.

Finally came the practical exam which takes two days. If like me, your not so hot, you end up waiting a whole year to get to do one of the days all over again! The weekend starts on a Friday night where you are briefed on your task for the following day, the days sometimes get reversed but for me the Saturday involved the RHIB day. As a group, you are given a task to achieve using a couple of RHIBS.

An example of a task is to find and survey something, for us, this was all of the debris around the breakwater fort in Plymouth. Those of you who know the fort, know how much is there, so will appreciate to locate, map, measure and describe it all is no mean task. Doing the task itself only forms a small part of the exam though. From the moment you are given the task, you are examined on team work, leadership, dive planning and marshalling, chartwork, boat handling, seamanship and so the list goes on. At the end of the day the team present their finding and are then given the brief for the following day. Somewhere in all this lot there are air fills to sort, boats to refuel, food to be had and so on.

The second day involved diving from a hard boat. The diving skills are again examined and the diving is expected to be adventurous and decided upon by the group. This year we dived Hands Deep followed by the Rosehill and located 5 other dive sites in between the dives. Again dive marshalling, team work and so on are continually assessed. On this day however, a couple of rescue scenarios are thrown in as well. You are expected to drive the boat and your chartwork and navigation skills are extensively tested. In addition the examiners continually fire theory questions at you with the main objective of task loading you to see how your team work, decision making and leadership skills cope.

Having gone to such efforts to gain the qualification, I guess I’m unlikely to diminish it and I hope I have achieved the opposite here. This isn’t to put you off or make you feel “second class”, its to demonstrate how much you can get out of preparing for and taking the exam. Clearly the exam itself is tough, although second time round, I have to say, I enjoyed it. There was a lot of enjoyment in preparing as well, if you like to be well informed and enjoy learning, this is for you once you’ve had your Advanced Diver qualification for a while. The knowledge and skills I gained are clearly not vital for every day diving, but they are certainly nice to have and have improved my everyday diving. One of the hardest parts for me was to judge when to step in and lead and when to step back and play a team role. The experience is highly recommended, especially the passing bit. However, the commitment and discipline involved in gaining the highest diving qualification there is should not be entered into half heartedly as disappointment will result.

If your interested in having a go, let me know, I’ll be organising preparation events next year just as I have done for the last couple of years.