The NI Experience

Here is an personal view of what happened on the National Instructor Exam in 2003. I've tried to keep it as factual as possible, and wrote it on the following Friday, when it was all still fresh.

The lead-up

David Wakelam and myself were providing RIBs for the event, and so wanted to get there reasonably early and sort the boats out. David had been in Plymouth the previous weekend and had left his boat at Queen Anne's Battery Marina. We arranged to meet up at the Mountbatten Centre on the Wednesday evening, but in the end David didn't make it down until the Thursday morning.

Thursday was spent getting the boats into the water, buying fuel and oil, and unloading equipment into the storage space that we had managed to obtain (a fairly small equipment cage in the gents changing rooms). Other, more convenient, equipment storage is available, but had all been booked out before the local organiser got to book the facilities at the Centre.

The whole weekend looked to be difficult. The UK Formula 1 Powerboat Championships were being run in Plymouth over the weekend, and they and their entourage had got to the Mountbatten Centre before our local organiser, so the larger bedrooms and most of the additional facilities had already been booked out by the time that Sophie Rennie (the Local Organiser) was asked to make bookings (remembering that Bovisand finally announced its closure in January).

The powerboat race was also expected to be a restriction, as both the race and practice courses were within Plymouth Sound, and the whole Port was officially closed for extended periods over the weekend, and other areas had restrictions from Friday to Sunday. The Queens Harbourmaster had released a Notice to Mariners on their web site (well they did after I reminded them to!), and this contained all the navigation and timing information we needed.

Maggie Driscoll arrived mid-afternoon on the Thursday, and Eugene Farrell and Marcus Allen arrived mid-afternoon on the Friday. Sophie came over on Friday afternoon to finalise arrangements and leave us directions to the pool on the Saturday.

The examiners/candidates meeting/brief was planned for 19:15 on Friday evening, but flexible as we were dependent on MV Maureen arriving in Plymouth from Dartmouth around 17:30/18:00 and then getting examiners and their kit on board.

In the end, the weather was so dire (SW 8/9 if I recall) that MV Maureen didn't even attempt the journey, and the briefing was re-planned for Saturday morning. The examiners told us what elements we would be doing on the Saturday, although it was down to us what order we wanted to do them (within the constraints of pool bookings etc).

The Exam

The Saturday

The examiners duly arrived at 09:00 on the Saturday and we had our belated exam briefing. Further items on the Saturday included:

1) The Video Assessment - this time an example of a TIE presentation.

2) The Classroom Presentations. We broke up into two groups, one using the classroom on the ground floor of the centre, and the others using one of the candidates bedrooms. I think that the Local Organiser will be asked to book two rooms next time!

3) The Pool Lessons, which were held at Plymouth College in Mutley. The journey there was less than straightforward, with congratulations from all to the Local Organiser whose directions included us going the wrong way up a one-way street!

4) The planning session for the Hardboat Day the next day.

The planning parameters were:

  1. The Dive Briefing should be held on the MV Maureen on the Sunday at 07:00 and would be leaving Dartmouth shortly thereafter.

  2. We were to plan an ERD-type dive on the Sevilla to a depth of 40m and a run-time of 60 minutes or more. Decompression was to be done using a rich nitrox mix. Four of the examiners diving with candidates were using rebreathers. The examiners were available for a while to agree dive plans and profiles before they returned to Dartmouth. Apart from normal dive tasks (tying wasters, lifting shots, deploying trapezes), no additional tasks were set.

  3. We were to plan a second dive on the Lord Stewart. We would be advised of our dive partners for the second dive during the day. The objective of this dive was to dive with a potential First Class Diver candidate, assess their performance, and advise them on whether they should attempt the exam in four weeks time.

  4. The MV Maureen was to return to Dartmouth by 17:00 at the latest (one suspects to allow her to get a place on the Pontoon which is available from 17:00, or perhaps just to put some sort of limit on the day)

  5. Additional sites for candidates to ping were the Rota, the Northville, and the Glocliffe.

The examiners left (I can't remember exactly what time, but about 18:30) after agreeing their individual dive plans, and watching some of the overall day planning).

Finalising the plans, fitting in dinner, and getting our kit together for the next day took much longer than it should have done, and it was finally close to midnight before everyone got to bed.

The Sunday.

An early start! I was up at 04:45 and the majority of us left Mountbatten at 05:15, arriving at Dartmouth at 06:00. The next hour was taken up unloading the cars onto the Maureen, and then finding somewhere to park. Dartmouth, being a small but popular tourist spot has 2 hour max parking everywhere within over a mile from the Town Pontoon, so cars had to be driven away, and candidates had to get back again, all adding to time. There is an effective, if expensive, park-and-ride, but the buses only run every half hour or so, and not at all at that time of day.

The briefing took place on time at 07:00, during which the examiners argued amongst themselves about the 17:00 deadline (which was forcing us to dive the Lord Stewart in a current), and the plan was allowed additional time (18:00-18:30) to give us a more sensible shot at the slack on the Lord Stewart. We got under way shortly afterwards.

Two items about the day that helped make it happen are worthy of note. The first being that the MV Maureen was happy to go out with 10 examiners, 5 candidates and 3 crew. The second being that the NDO (supported by 3 members of the Rebreather Working Group!) gave a temporary exemption to the recommendation of 10 mins max decompression for the rebreather divers.

The weather was due to be a W or SW 4-5 / 5-7, but the day started off reasonably calm, picking up quite a lot in the mid-afternoon.

All-in-all the day went as expected, and more or less to plan. Two of the sites that we were due to ping had fishing boats on them, which meant two additional pingings on the way home, which added a little more time to the day, and we finally arrived back in Dartmouth at about 19:00.

Fetching cars, unloading equipment, and driving back to Plymouth meant that we didn't arrive back at the Mountbatten Centre until about 21:00 - but our day wasn't finished yet.

The plan for the next day was to do the CBL and Rescue Tows, the 1000m swim, the Open water Lessons, and then the Interviews on the Maureen. The chosen site for all of this was at Brixham alongside the breakwater there which would be sheltered from the forecast SW 5-7 (which we had all weekend!).

This meant that we had to get the RIBs out of the water at Mountbatten, and onto the trailers, ready to take them over to Dartmouth the next day (where they would stay for the rest of the exam). We also had to get our kit ready for the next day, and have some dinner, getting to bed sometime after 23:30.

The Monday

Our brief was to get to the Brixham Harbour Wall by 10:00, which meant leaving Plymouth at about 06:45, arriving at Dartmouth around 08:00, loading and launching the boats, finding somewhere to park the trailers, finding somewhere to park the cars, getting under way at about 09:15, and arriving at Brixham actually on time at 10:00.

The CBL and rescue tows were done in shifts with a pair in each boat. When the first pair was finished, they went back for the last candidate who dived with an examiner as their victim. The CBL was conducted to 6m, where the victim was held for one minute before ascending to the surface and commencing the tow for an estimated 50 metres.

While the lift was targeted for 25m just off Berry Head, problems with shots drifting off in the current extended the time, and we ran a little late.

Following a brief lunch we transferred all the equipment to the beach and went into the Open Water Lessons, which were conducted as expected, the first starting at 14:00, and the second at 15:00, followed by the loading of boats and ferrying everything back to the Maureen.

Time was now pressing on, and the Maureen wanted to be back to Dartmouth in time to get on the pontoon at 17:00, so the 1000m swim was abandoned, and the examiners substituted a few rescue scenarios the next day to sort of compensate. I'm not sure that this was considered a success, and would suspect that the 1000m swim will reappear next year unless they come up with a better way of assessing leadership and dealing with emergencies.

Sea conditions on the way back were such that the idea of transferring candidates on and off the Maureen for interviews was abandoned, and these were picked up over lunch the next day.

We got back to Dartmouth shortly after 17:00, moored the RIBs alongside Maureen, and unloaded whatever kit was necessary. We had a review of the events for the day, and a briefing about the following day, which was due to start at 08:30.

Two dives were planned for the Tuesday.

(1) An instructional dive, with each candidate being given a different scenario, such as (a) First Small boat dive (but experienced diver) (b) Pilotage and Navigation (c) Marine Life Identification

In addition, during the dive, the candidate's dive buddy would spend a few minutes demonstrating their instructional skills, and would expect a debrief on how they did, based on the AI/OWI essential criteria, once everybody was back in the boat .

(2) The second dive would be a group task. We were set a task for each boat, the first (two candidates) was to set-up, check, and recover a navigation course, and the second (three candidates) was to shot a site, after which an examiner would drop and lose something. The task was to find it, move it to the shot, and lift it under control.

Both tasks are very similar to the sorts of things that we had to do a few years ago on the First Class Exam, but remember that on this occasion, we are expected to teach every aspect of the exercise, and co-ordinate the various sub-tasks amongst the candidates.

We finally got away from Dartmouth, after picking up cars etc, at about 18:30, and had to get back to Plymouth, be washed and changed, and drive around to the Hoe to meet the examiners for the Exam Meal at the Wet Wok for 20:00. An excellent meal was had, and we got back to Mountbatten at about 23:00.

Planning for the next days diving still had to be done, which took a little time, kit still had to be got ready, and we had to plan to get some spare fuel for the RIBs. Most of us were in bed by midnight.

The Tuesday.

While not towing boats this day, an 08:30 briefing still meant an 06:30 leave, and people getting up at about 05:45, especially Eugene and Marcus who had to check out of their rooms and pack all their gear as they were leaving to go home directly from Dartmouth that evening.

The day went pretty much according to plan, with a few changes due to one sickly examiner, and one of the twin 60hp engines on David's RIB giving up the ghost. The outstanding interviews were held on the Maureen over lunch. The most memorable part of the day seemed to be that it rained heavily and continuously almost all day. Everybody ended up totally waterlogged and, despite being the middle of summer. mildly hypothermic .

We finished more or less on time at about 17:00, and after a quick debrief on the weekend (results were promised in two and half weeks - but took three!), retrieved the cars, unloaded all the kit off the Maureen, drove the RIBs around to the slipway and got them out of the water and onto the trailers. We waved Eugene and Marcus off, and got back to Mountbatten at about 20:00.

A long shower (everybody had got very cold during the day), was followed by a much needed meal and copious quantities of wine at the New Inn in Turnchapel, and we finally fell into bed at about midnight.

The aftermath

Wednesday had a sensible start (07:30 for me and a walk round to the New Inn to pick up my car), then breakfast and all the packing and getting the boats ready for the journey home.

We finally left at about 11:30, and after a long drive (frequent stops for coffee, followed by frequent stops for the loo!), I got home after putting the boat to bed at about 20:00.

So a long week in all - 12:00 Wednesday to 20:00 Wednesday.

It took me a day and a half to catch up on my sleep, wash out all the dive kit, and generally sort things out.

Mark Mumford

This page was last updated on : 06 Sep 2011