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10 Pro Tips to Nail Your Dive Briefing

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How do you give a perfect dive briefing? That’s the question I asked Victor Cordoba, Director of Human Resources at Dressel Divers, PADI Course Director, and active IANTD Instructor Trainer.

Mr. Cordoba has more than 5000 dives as a Dive Instructor in his logbook and almost 30 years of PADI dive briefings under his belt. He has written this article.

Therefore, these tips about dive site briefing are the result of experience.

If you are not a Divemaster and do not intend to become one, this content will still be interesting to you as well. You will know what to expect from a complete briefing with valuable information and a clear guide to diving in a comfortable way.

What Is a Dive Briefing?

A dive site briefing is an informative session, which every person who will dive should listen to carefully. Generally, the Dive Master or the Dive Instructor who leads the group gives the dive briefing.

During the pre-scuba briefing, the Dive Master will go over all the crucial aspects of the dive, especially safety, key instructions, and scuba diving procedures.

 

Why Is It Important to Conduct a Pre-Dive Briefing?

It is important because all members of the dive group will know what to expect. A proper dive site briefing serves to:

  1. set the objective of the dive and the expectations of what we will see;
  2. make the entire dive group aware of the plan to be followed;
  3. make clear the rules, what you can and cannot do.
  4. dive safely. Above all, a dive briefing is a safety tool, as it reviews emergency procedures.

At the beginning of an airplane trip, a flight attendant tells you the altitude at which you will fly, the duration of the flight, explains where the emergency exits are and what to do in case of depressurization, right? This is to teach you how to react. The dive site briefing is something similar.

In a PADI scuba diving briefing, your guide will explain what you are going to do and when. He will list the critical points of the dive, and explain how to proceed in case of what-ifs!

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How Long Is a Dive Briefing? 

The answer depends on the type of diving you are going to do.

For a recreational dive, with little difficulty and not too deep, a scuba briefing should not exceed 10 minutes.

However, I have done dive checklists that have lasted two hours. These were technical dives or cave dives, very specific and with many points to consider before getting in the water.

TIP 1: The scuba diving briefing should consider both the divers’ level and dive difficulty.

What should a dive briefing include? 

In Dressel Divers, we work with different certifying agencies. Perhaps, the one with the most complete Dive Master briefing outline is the one that follows the PADI rules. I am sure you can easily obtain a PADI dive briefing template.

The 10 Points of The PADI Dive Check list

1. Dive Site Name
2. Site Description
3. Your Role
4. Entry And Exit Techniques
5. Dive Procedures

6. Emergency Procedures
7. Signal Review
8. Roster And Buddy Check
9. Environmental Orientation
10. Predive Safety Check

1. Dive site name

Say your name to start the dive briefing properly. It shows confidence.

TIP 2: This is the time to grab their attention: include a BOOM!, an anecdote, a historical fact, ask a question, tell them something relevant that will make them pay attention to you

PADI dive briefing example: Hello everybody. My name is Víctor Córdoba, and I am your guide for this dive to the “Mama Viña” wreck. It is one of the best dive sites in the Riviera Maya. The boat was sunk for snorkeling, but a hurricane gave it away to us divers.

TIP 3: You’ve got their attention. Now keep it. The best way to do this is to tell them the story of the dive. So, include the rest of the points on the PADI dive briefing slate and in the order it prescribes.

2. Site Description

Site briefing: It is time to describe what you will find under water.

Now, the dive site briefing refers to the route, points of interest, topography, depth, compass bearing, etc.

TIP 4: Don’t forget to mention critical points and hazards without dwelling too much on them: divers need to know about them, not be alarmed. Always explain how to avoid these dangers.

Site briefing example:  This dive reaches a 28 m/100 ft maximum depth, while the deck is 15 m/50 ft deep. The boat has its bow facing the prevailing south-north current, which we will take advantage of by starting the scuba dive to the north.

3. Your Role

At this point, you will explain where they can find you during the dive and how to identify you.

Knowing this gives divers a lot of peace of mind because they will then be clear about who to follow, where they can find you, and how you will get their attention if necessary.

Example of a PADI dive briefing: Look at me, please. The one in the wetsuit with the blue stripe and the yellow fins, that’s me. I’ll be guiding up front, and I’ll beep this underwater signaling device if I need to call your attention in case of an emergency. Mario, the guy wearing the red neoprene, will close the group.

 

4. Entry and exit techniques

This point is essential, especially if the dive is from a boat. Dive boat etiquette and protocols are important for comfort also.

Listening to how and when to get into and out of the water reduces the divers’ uncertainty, and stress.

Briefing example: We will board the boat, and before leaving, we will finish assembling the equipment that will be fastened, and leave the fins under the seat. The commute is short, only 10 minutes.  Stay seated, to avoid injuries. Don’t worry! I will tell you when you have to approach the stern of the boat. Then, we will make a giant stride into the water.

Once we are all in the water, we will descend slowly, holding on to the guideline…

… when we ascend, the boat will be there to pick us up. Our boats have long ladders that go into the water to make it easier for you to climb up. If needed, you can take off your tank and pass it to the boat staff, so you can climb up the ladder comfortably.

 

5. Dive Procedures

Now the dive site briefing turns into a diving guide. It is about describing what you are going to do. Some scuba diving procedures are: the direction you will take. If you will use a line to descend, to specify the exact moment when you start the return or explain the safety stop moment.

Always remind them of the importance of monitoring the remaining air, and the buddy system.

Suba Diving briefing example: During the Mama Viña wreck dive, we will circle the vessel 3 times. We will start from the bow and follow the clock’s hands. This is the safest way to take advantage of the current, which is strongest at the bow.

The first lap will be around the hull, where we will surely see some moray eels and schools of Atlantic fish.

The second lap will be around the deck, and we will swim through to visit the bridge, which is easy.

The last lap will be around the tower, from where we will start our ascent back to the surface.

We will be at the bottom for a total of 20 minutes. From time to time, I will give you this signal (and you do PADI air signals) to check your remaining air.

The return to the surface must be done with at least 120 bar / 1740 psi to do it safely, so, check this limit. The ascent will take us 15 minutes, and we will make the emergency stop at 5 meters/ 16 feet depth.

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6. Emergency procedures

Point 6 on the PADI diving briefing checklist refers to the emergency procedures, the “what to do if scenarios”:

  • What to do if dive buddies get separated
  • What to do if there is a shortage of air or lack of air, emergency air source location.
  • What to do if there is an accident.
  • Signaling devices.
  • Local protocols

 

Scuba emergency action plan example: if you lose sight of your partner, the meeting point is the stern, where we will be more sheltered from the current. You wait for a minute. If you don’t find your dive buddy, go up together. At Dressel Divers, we have a detailed evacuation and emergency plan. There is oxygen equipment on all our diving boats and in our centers. Also, we have collaboration agreements with the closest operating hyperbaric chambers.

 

7. Signal Review

In reviewing the scuba diving hand signals, focus on the ones that can save lives if a mishap should occur:

  • the look at your gauge signal,
  • the PADI air signals (special focus on hand signals relaying amount of air left)
  • the emergency signals.

Listening to the Divemaster’s instructions on the meaning of the important signals will help the group know how quickly to end the dive in case of an emergency. This knowledge will improve the safety of the dive.

From trainer to trainer, diving hand signals for fish are fun. Divers have a great time, yes. However, in the end, they only tend to remember those signals and forget the important ones. Explaining animals, they will see is ok, but maybe you don’t need to include diving hand signals for fish in your explanation.

TIP 5: Focus on the vital signals, those that will make a difference, make them feel safe, and will help them deal with an emergency if an accident happens.

Dive briefing sample: if you have problems with your ears when descending, let me know with this signal. I will often ask you if everything is OK with this signal. The 120 bar / 1740 psi signal is this one; remember it. Let me know “I am low on air” with this movement, etc.

 

8. Roster And Buddy Check

This scuba briefing point is about checking if everyone has a dive buddy.  If not, assign one yourself. Take into account each diver’s scuba diving certification level, and put those with similar experiences together.

If there are an odd number of divers without a buddy, you will be the dive buddy of the less experienced diver.

Sample safety briefing:  Jess, Mike, you are both advanced divers, would you like to be dive buddies?  Paul, it would be an honor if you would be my dive buddy.

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9. Environmental Orientation

 The environmental briefing is that part of the scuba diving briefing where we go over all those rules that should be known and respected by all nature lovers who dive. We are talking about the marine environment conservation rules. For example, do not lean on the corals, do not touch them, avoid noise, watch your finning against the bottom, keep your distance from the coral walls, etc.

Environmental policy briefing example: When scuba diving around and through the Mama Viña; remember not to touch anything or take anything with you. Currently, the Mama Viña is an artificial reef full of life, and the animals get scared and may move away. We don’t want that, do we?

 

10. Predive Safety Check

The scuba diving safety checklist is a crucial moment in the dive briefing. Diving without checking that all the equipment works properly is the best way to forget something, and be foolhardy.

Personally, I do check following the PADI pre-dive safety check acronym: BWRAF. It makes it easier for divers to follow the correct order and not leave anything unchecked. Here’s a little trick. If possible, do the check with them on the boat, just before the dive.

Real dive briefing example: Here at Dressel Divers we do the pre-dive safety check following the acronym “Begin With Review And Friend”. Begin = BCD/Buoyancy; With =Weight, Review = Releases And= Air, for ending Friends =Final Check.

 

How to give a dive briefing?

Avoid giving the briefing with the divers are fully equipped. The weight of the equipment, the heat, and the discomfort will prevent them from paying attention to your words.

When giving the briefing on the boat make sure the noise of the running engines does not interfere significantly. Those that are furthest from you or closest to the engine may not hear a word.

Avoid giving the briefing when there are many distracting elements.

That’s right. I should tell you what you should do and not what you should not do.

TIP 6: Give the briefing at a quiet time, when divers are not under stress, with few distractions, and without excessive noise. The dive center is a good choice.

How Do You Do a Dive Briefing?

Keep it short, relevant, and impactful. Yes, I know it is easy to say! I’m sure you’re thinking, “Okay, smarty-pants. How do I make my dive briefing look like this?” Keep reading just a little more.

I am aware that a scuba diving briefing contains a lot of information, but let’s remember that the human attention span is limited. A true divemaster is capable of giving a short briefing. You can make your dive site briefing short by following this advice.

TIP 7: To shorten your dive briefing eliminate technicalities, jargon, and unnecessary details.

In addition to giving the essential information, you have to get them to remember it.

TIP 8: Use supporting material, whiteboards, pictures, and maps. A picture is worth a thousand words and is easier to remember. Always stick to what you say.

Only divemasters who are also masters of communication are capable of making an impactful scuba diving briefing.

I could tell you that a fun team briefing breaks the ice, creates a connection with the audience, attracts attention, and reinforces memory, but I will tell you a phrase that my wife told me when we were engaged “All men want to be lovers, but we just remember the clowns.”

TIP 9: Tell divers a story about them. Make them imagine what they are going to see, look for anecdotes, ask them without warning and if you can, get them to laugh.

Once a Divemaster course student went out to dive with a group of divers to whom she had just explained the briefing. While they were descending, a couple had trouble equalizing their ears, and she stayed with them. By the time they went down, the group was gone. The rest of the divers followed the group of the other divemaster, who was also on the boat. When they ascended, she recombined them and asked: “why didn’t you wait for me?” The answer was: “you didn’t mention it in the dive briefing.”

TIP 10: Everything you omit in the dive briefing will remain unclarified. Don’t be surprised if divers do something unexpected or don’t know how to react.

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