A simple comparison between GUE and other recreational agencies

It’s pretty common to get a blank stare whenever we mention Global Underwater Explorers (GUE). Many divers have not and would not hear about GUE unless they were curious about technical diving. Partly because GUE is a non-profit organization, there’s not a lot of marketing money going into promoting GUE among the diving public. Most existing instructors and dive centres are affiliated to PADI, so that’s what usually comes to mind when people think of diving.

With GUE, I consider differences between them and other recreational agencies as starting from the basic philosophies of how one views diving and what its role is within the world. In other words, the very soul of the organization.

Primarily, the other agencies are focused on recreational diving, but GUE was rooted in the exploration and conservation fields. In these types of diving, skill and good procedures are a must, because such dives have specific objectives. The organization focuses on building divers with the adequate capacity to accomplish tasks in the water, rather than to simply survive in the water.

The primary course in GUE’s curriculum is the Fundamentals course. Its main objective is to get the student diver stable underwater. My students joke that we spend a week in the pool just to be able to do nothing! It’s not that simple to stay perfectly still in a specific position while doing a specific drill underwater, but that’s exactly what we work on – to build buoyancy and propulsion skills to a point where it is possible to do that, and to also be completely relaxed while at it.

The importance of being relaxed and yet in control of one’s position in the water cannot be overstated, because if you are totally focused on the diving skills, then you won’t have the capacity to appreciate the environment, much less actually accomplish a task.

I personally see this as an enabling skill, because with it, all other things that you might like to do in the water – taking a photo, stopping to look at a nudibranch, posing for the camera, taking a closer look at a fish, etc – become a lot easier when you are stable in the water, and in full control of yourself and your position. You also become a nicer diver to dive with, because you are more aware of your surroundings and are better able to assist your friends if they have trouble with anything.

Lastly, you’ll also learn more about the different risks that diving creates, such as decompression, gas limits, and accident prevention. It’s really quite a comprehensive course!

In contrast, the recreational agencies promote courses that were developed by the World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC), with a focus on minimum training standards that all recreational scuba training agencies have to follow. (GUE is not a member of the WRSTC, by the way.) The primary training goal of these courses is to teach emergency procedures to student divers, rather than build the comfort and stability of the diver.

Teaching emergency procedures is, in my opinion, a more reactive way to approach diving education. Rather than just focusing on what to do after something has gone wrong, why not adopt a more proactive style, which involves teaching the prevention of accidents? I truly believe that if a diver is comfortable and stable in the water, then more often than not, that diver will have an awareness of the environment, and thus be better able to react and make a good judgement call on what to do to rectify a situation if it presents itself.

Of course, I’m not advocating that we don’t teach emergency procedures, but these procedures shouldn’t be all that the course curriculum focuses on. The “softer” skills of “how to be” in the water should be balanced with the “harder” skills of “what to do”.

There are many other differences between GUE as a training organization and the recreational agencies, most notably the GUE’s strict adherence to standards with 100% quality control forms for all students, stricter instructor requirements, and stringent fitness prerequisites.

The key difference between GUE and other dive training agencies is, essentially, a philosophical one: What defines a good diver?

Personally, I think GUE answers it best. In its efforts to build and accurately assess diver competency, GUE’s stringent standards make sense, even if such indicators as stability and awareness are harder to measure.

Leon Boey is a GUE, HSA and PADI instructor based in Singapore and Bali. He runs the dive education centre Livingseas in Singapore, Bali and Jakarta. Diving since 2005, he first fell in love with wrecks. He enjoys all sorts of diving, and loves being surrounded by fish.

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