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Why do some dive operators treat all divers like new open waters when allowing for experience benefits everybody including the operator?
On a recent liveaboard I was dismayed to see the poor handling of experienced divers. Yes, I understand the vast majority of divers these operations pump through the reef are inexperienced tourists, but failing to recognise old hands is just bad business.
This stuff is important, even the PADI Divemaster manual explains how to spot and treat experienced divers. All it takes is to identify who can look after themselves, and let them do so. Explain to the others that these divers are really experienced and will just do their own thing.
Spotting them a mile away
There were not many experienced divers on this trip, a small percentage really, but I can spot them a mile away.
On being called to the dive briefing, a small number of divers walk straight up to the map and stare for a moment. Reef, sand, location of anchor point, and it's pretty shallow. As the formal dive briefing moves past the ten minute mark I can look around and find each of these divers sitting with identical blank looks or trying to stay awake.
These divers all have their own gear, they didn’t hire much if anything. Not brand spanking new gear either, but a mix of old and new reflecting the process of repair, salvage and replace over years of use. It takes them moments to get kitted up. We cannot enter the water until signed off, but it will be fifteen minutes before the staff realise anyone is ready to go.
They visibly wince as staff members fiddle with their tank valves. The obvious technical divers grit their teeth whenever a staff member does the half turn back then fixes it when the staff move away.
Once in the water it must be hard to hear the staff's shouted instructions to descend on the mooring line, as these divers promptly disappear under the surface while still at the stern.
Advantages of recognising experience
There are so many advantages to recognising and acknowledging experience. Experienced divers will clear the dive deck and be in the water before everyone else is even finished the dive briefing, you won't see them again until just after the last inexperienced diver has climbed back aboard.
Experienced divers cannot help but sell courses for you. Their greater knowledge and confidence is alluring and people will be asking them what courses they should do. They are natural focal points for shop talk.
Experienced divers will sell equipment for you. They wax poetic on the reasons for purchasing an SMB, telling horror stories of when they would have been in real trouble without old red.
Experienced divers know how to spot macro life, have seen it before, and know what it is. There is nothing more certain to get a group fired up about the next dive than sitting around the lunch table pouring over Neville Coleman's '1001 Nudibranchs' and listening to war stories.
Experienced divers are usually more than happy to lend a hand when other divers ask for help, this helps relieve the burden on the dive staff and boat crew .
To end this article, I would like to relate to you an interaction I observed while waiting to enter the water for a night dive:
Staff member: "Are you excited?"
Experienced diver: "Huh, about what?"
Staff member: "The night dive of course!"
Experienced diver: "Oh, uh, not really."
"Umm I have been diving for a while."
Staff member: "Oh... you must have done dozens of dives then."
Experienced diver: "Yeah, sure, a couple of hundred."
Staff member: "Good for you" said as she reached over and checked the diver's tank valve, eliciting an expression of pain from the poor diver.
If you treat experienced divers as if they don't know what they are doing, when people ask they will advise against your operation. Potential customers listen to experienced divers. Are you turning an asset into a liability?