Thursday, 22 December 2016


Fast forward 6 months from completing my Expedition Plan, I was booked on my practical exam. 

The Practical Exam
The Practical Exam Guidance which gives guidance, the format, the exam criteria etc… can be found on a downloadable pdf here, however in summary the format is follows:
· Duration; 2 days (ish!).
· Skippered boat (in our case) or self-driven RHIB.
· Plan and execute mini-expeditions to include:
 Research and survey a given site.
 Research and survey a given wreck.
 Survey and map a given site.
 Research and carry out a marine biological survey on a given site.
 Complete a comparison survey on two given sites.
· Pre-dive planning.
· Post dives conduct a presentation.
· Post exam (within 2 weeks) submit a report (which may be published on the BSAC website here).
· 12 assessed areas which are:
1. Personal diving skills.
2. Dive Leading Underwater 1.
3. Dive Leading Underwater 2 (usually with a different examiner to 1).
4. Attitude of the candidate.
5. Safe, effective dive management.
6. Contribution to leadership.
7. Contribution to teamwork.
8. Practical position fixing.
9. Response to emergency.
10. Achievement of dive operation objectives.
11. Seamanship skills.
12. Practical diving knowledge.

The Exam
Unfortunately, due to deploying overseas and then moving jobs (within the military) I was unable to carry out any of the organised prep events so I was very much on the back foot to begin with.  So much so, most evenings leading up to the exam were spent in the office.  I did try to cancel but the local organiser wouldn’t let me.  Boo him.

In addition, communications with BSAC leading up to the exam weren’t brilliant.  This was nothing to do with headquarters, rather the exam organiser.  However, it was finally resolved and with a week to go everybody knew exactly where they needed to be and when.

Day 0.5 – Friday 1 July 2016
This year’s exam was based at the Mount Batten Centre in Plymouth.  The 4 other candidates arrived either Thursday evening or Friday morning to give themselves a day to prepare.  They were also lucky that they had met on the first prep event and had continued their preparation as a group.  Again, putting me on the back foot, although I was able to participate in 2 conference calls with the group the week prior.

Having already discussed my lack of prep earlier, the theme continued as I was unable to leave work as expected, but despite giving myself an extra 2 hours, I arrived 20 minutes late; 1920 instead of 1900.  With everyone waiting for me (and the local organiser), the start of my exam wasn’t going to plan.  After initial introductions, the event boss informed us that due to the weather the initial plan that had been sent out had changed.  This didn’t particularly suit the group but it suited me given my late arrival, although their original planning wasn’t entirely wasted as a number of the elements were transferrable.  We split down the tasks and planned for the Project Dive+ which consisted of:
· Conduct an accurate survey and record the features at 4 different locations (1-2.5 tonnes anomaly) and complete any appropriate paperwork.
· Locate 2 wreck sites and provide accurate position information and transits where possible that can be used by other visiting divers to the area.
· Deliver an initial project summary briefing to the project team and others on completion of diving activities.
· Be prepared for an emergency of some sort. 

+“The focus here is delivery of high quality diving at the level of a First Class Diver that would be expected if the divers were leading a team to accomplish a particular task in greater detail. The higher level of task loading compared to the Expedition Day will usually mean that sites of shallower depth will be considered.
- Set up and execute a large jackstay search, thoroughly searching the area and recording co-ordinates of search accurately using GPS.
- Carry out a detailed survey of an object (or part of an object) and produce an accurate drawing. This could be a wreck, shallow cave, building etc.
- Produce an accurate photo mosaic of an object or site ensuring scales of the object.
- Lift and shift and major underwater object.”

I was the outsider so I decided to take a step back to get a feel of the group, and carry out any tasks required rather than lead the session.  Andy Hunt, the First Class Diver Chief Examiner, was to be examining me for the next 24hrs.  As usual for me, under exam pressure I fluffed a couple of questions but was at least able to signpost to the correct answers.  After a long evening, I got to bed at 0100.

Day 1 – Saturday 2 July 2016
I arrived the Mount Batten Centre to setup ready for a 0730 rehearsal as briefed.  However, it was just me and the boss with everyone else arriving at 0800.  Ok, breathe, don’t let it get to you. 

After the day brief by one of the other candidates we carried out dry runs of the dive.  There were a few miscommunication errors that could have been avoided had we done a rehearsal however it showed the importance of a dry run, especially for complex work such as surveys.  We knew the underwater part would go smoothly.  I then hurried everyone onto the boat, loaded up, and we then set off.  We were already behind time!

The boat we were to use was North Star skippered by Gary from South West Diving which was an ideal platform for the dives as it had plenty of deck space.  After a HOTO from the Day Manager I gave a dive brief as I had volunteered to be Dive Manager for the first dive (site A).  A top tensioned shot was prepped by 2 of the candidates whilst the remainder were kitting up.  Once on site it was deployed however it became obvious almost immediately that the counter weight had interfered with the main line.  The buoy was too low in the water and was moving with the current.  It was swiftly recovered, turned to a simple shot and re-deployed.  Once the current was checked and I was happy, the first wave of divers (2 pairs) were deployed.  At this point, I was still the Dive Manager but it had been agreed that we would shot site B ready for the next candidate and the next wave.  However, due to the proximity to the divers bubbles this was aborted.  It was agreed to shot site C despite its proximity from the divers.  My concerns were acknowledged and we carried on.  Unfortunately for the said candidate, he had incorrectly written the marks so the shot went in 1nm in the wrong direction.  I did inform said candidate that sites C and D should be shallower than A and B, not deeper.  Once the mistake was realised the task was stopped as my divers had surfaced, and once they were on board it was nice to hear that the shot was only a few meters off the mark (which turned out to be an anchor).  At this point I did a HOTO with the next candidate.

The incorrectly positioned shot was recovered and the original plan was followed; site B was shotted, and again was an anchor.  But was it the same anchor as site A?  Much was debated at the end of the day.  Back to the exam, site C was then shotted.  This was to be my dive.  Once kitted up and carried out our buddy checks, the boss initiated a scenario of missing divers as no formal HOTO between the dive managers was carried out.  I gave the candidate my thoughts and advice but was promptly shot down.  No arguments; it’s their task.  As the scenario unfolded, little did we know that the boss had arranged the scenario with the lifeboat who were exercising their new crew.  IT was a nice touch for all concerned.  Once the scenario was finished, I finally got to dive.

Descending the line, it was apparent it way too long for the depth of water so it took a couple of minutes to get down to around 11m.  Upon reaching the shot the lift bag was out so I spend a minute putting it away (the signal to the other pair that the item had been located was lift bag out). 

Andy and I headed North as planned only to find another candidate and examiner behind us.  It turns out the bag had come out again.  Once back at the shot, we headed East whilst they headed South, and only after a few metres, voila, an anchor.  I went back to the shot to partially inflate the lift bag, and then once back at the anchor, inflated a DSMB which was attached to a clip-on weight.  That way the co-ordinates could be re-checked on the surface.  As a pair, we video’d the anchor before taking a number of measurements.  The other pair arrived and continued the measurements as our time was up and it was agreed that they would recover the equipment.  The DSMB could be recovered from the surface.

We did not dive site D, as was our plan due to timings (although we had the details if we had to use it as a backup).  Once the diving was complete, we moved on to the second task; wreck location.  It was intended to carry out the first on the wreck of the Glen Strathallan, however this was soon abandoned due to adverse weather. 

Back at the Mount Batten Centre we quickly unloaded, dropped off our cylinders at InDeep and headed up to the classroom where we had 15 minutes to prepare our presentation.  At this point, timings were out of the window as we were already 1:30 behind schedule.


Once the days diving was ‘closed’ we were briefed for Sunday and started planning the Expedition Day+ which consisted of:
· Locate a wartime wreck within Bigbury Bay.  Provide accurate details of its location.
· Provide evidence of the current state of its structure from the boilers to either the bow or stern of the vessel (video and /or photographic).
· Determine the exact height of the main boiler and highest point of either the bow or stern section (whichever area has been chosen for the survey) above the surrounding seabed.
· Locate 3 wreck sites and provide transits where possible as well as up to date GPS positions (with the fourth being the Bigbury Bay wreck).
· Provide a bad weather back up where the recording of underwater environments/ structures can be recorded in a similar manner to those for your primary site. 
· 8 hour window.
· Deliver an initial project summary briefing to the project team and others on completion of diving activities.
· Be prepared for an emergency of some sort. 

+”The focus here is delivery of high quality diving at the level of a First Class Diver that would be expected of REDS Expeditions or in the role of a support diver on a technical expedition. The underwater work will generally not be as intensive as for the diving project but provides a purpose for the dive. The lower level of task loading compared to the Project Day will also permit sites of greater depth to be considered.
- Produce a site map for publication on BSAC website, magazine (Scuba) or dive guide (tides, position, accurate sketch). SCUBA magazine has a specification for the format of a wrecked article on which to base the report.
- Outline marine life survey (Possibly use Seasearch reporting format – seek Environmental Officer Guidance for projects).
- Outline wreck survey (Possible use NAS reporting format, Hydrographic Office format) including where appropriate the use of video and camera equipment to record site.
- Scientific Project (e.g. assessment of use of new equipment, assessment of water quality, measuring underwater visibility, collection of marine life samples for analysis).”

By this point I was starting to feel more relaxed about the exam.  Despite the bad start and lack of preparation, I felt as though my Dive Management went well as did my dive.  When reading this, it all sounds pretty straight forward, however, there are 6 National Instructors watching at all times.  In addition, when not diving or being directed, your observer is questioning your diving knowledge continuously throughout the day, all the way from planning through to presentation.  But if you don’t know an answer, they’ll happily coach you and act as a mentor, or at least mine did. 

As I had already got my Dive Manager ticked off, I decided to volunteer myself for Day Manager.  Timings would be essential as we all still had to locate and confirm a wreck as no-one was able to complete one today.  Once tasks had been allocated I stepped up and led a bit more during this planning session as I had gotten to know everyone and felt less like the outsider.  Additionally, this dive (Persier) was the one originally planned for Saturday so most of the prep work had already been conducted.  It was a case of amend a few bits and formulate a firm plan.

As Day Manager, I was to work out the timeline and dive details under the watchful eye of Dom, my observer for the next 24hrs and boss of the Joint Service Sub-Aqua Diving Centre (JSSADC).  During planning, I was the only one who collected their cylinders.  Everyone else was content to do it in the morning but I wanted to be ready to go first thing.  By 2000 everyone was finished, so a much earlier evening.  The rest of the group headed to the hotel downstairs before heading off for a meal.  I decided to stay in the classroom and spent 20 minutes relaxing by laying down on the floor!!!  I then tidied up the classroom before joining them in the bar for a drink.  After the one I headed back to HMS Drake where I was staying, but not before briefly meeting my dive club who were in Plymouth diving.  It was great to completely relax, laugh and joke about the day, and generally spend an hour unwinding.  I bid my farewells as I still needed to prep my day brief and finally called it a day at 2300.

Day 2 – Sunday 3 July 2016
Like the previous day, I arrived early, unloaded, analysed my gasses and the drop tank, and rehearsed my brief whilst waiting for the remainder of the group and the examiners.  My job today was basically heard the cattle. 

Once everyone had arrived I delivered the day brief followed by a dry run of the drop tank, before HOTO to the Dive Manager.  Timings were much better today and we left ahead of schedule, and, the weather was improving.  On site, the wreck was located, shotted and confirmed before the boss called a hard stop.  Change of plan.  Rather than dive in waves (the Dive Manager has to dive) the decision was made to put all dives in in one wave, and, we had an extended bottom time.  Once I had re-planned by deco plan, it transpired than Andy Hunt would be diving with us today as a team of three as his buddy (the Dive Manager) was ill so bailed out.  I re-briefed the plan for Andys benefit, as well as another buddy check and we dropped in. 

We were now the last group in, so once at the shot (located at the boilers) we could see the other teams were busy with their surveys (on the boilers).  I moved the shot to ensure it wouldn’t get caught on the recovery before heading North to survey the rudder.  It was an enjoyable dive.  Like yesterday, I video’d and took dimensions while my examiner was the scribe, although I did have to keep an eye on Andy as I think he liked doing the touristy bit a bit too much.

At the end of the dive I bagged off and we did our deco in the current, finishing off with a group selfie taken by Andy.  Once we surfaced and were back in the boat, there was again another hard stop.  We had real suspected DCI.  No exercise/exam play.  And I was nominated by the boss to deal with it. 

“Hang on, am I under examination?”  I thought to myself.  No extra added pressure.  I won’t add any further details.  If you wish to know more, it can be read in the BSAC 2016 Annual Diving Incident Report. 

At this point, we were back behind schedule so we made best speed to carry out the remaining wreck locations.  I did mine on the Le Poulmic which also included a dive by the candidate who still needed their second dive.


And the last one was conducted on the Breakwater Fort.  And not forgetting, like yesterday, all day there was the continuous barrage of questions to test your diving knowledge. 

Once all the objectives had been achieved it was back to the Mount Batten Centre where we had 15 minutes to de-kit followed by another 15 minutes to prepare to the presentation.  I then followed this up with a day de-brief before handing over the boss, and then finally, the long trip home.

The report
Post exam we had 2 weeks to write and submit our report from the weekend, and the requirements were as follows:
· Survey report on the wartime wreck located in Bigbury Bay and how it has changed since 2006.
· Full and accurate data for the magnetic anomalies located in Cawsand Bay.
· Details of the dive on the Le Poulmic.
· Analysis of the achievement (or not) of the set objectives for each task.
· Daily dive log sheets.
· Big Anchor Project recording forms for the anchors found.
· Photographic / video supplement (Linky).
· Email and hard copy to be received by 17 July 2016. 

Unlike my Expedition Plan, I’ve not included a download link.  Why?  As with my pictures, I’ve only posted my work as I haven’t asked permission from the group to publish theirs, hence the report is not linked and additional names are not mentioned.  However, examples can be found on the First Class Diver page.

For future candidates, I would strongly recommend setting parameters before you start.  We all had our task areas, however as we didn’t specify fonts, formatting, etc… the final edit took much longer than it should have done.  We handed it in after version 15!  I would also recommend setting up a group Dropbox where you can centrally dump your work.  It also then creates an open source, although make it clear that only one individual has the master document open at any one time to save duplication, or worse, loss of work.

I would strongly advise to properly prepare for the exam, and not to tip up late and unprepared like I did.  This includes getting to know your other candidates.  Agree who is bring what to the exam, and who is preparing what to save duplication of effort (such as passage plans, weather, tides, dive site history, equipment etc…).  Do the prep events, use FCDs as mentors, and lastly, relax.

Despite not having the best start, it was clear to me that the way we dive in the military (under Joint Service Regulations and the use of SADS (Sub-Aqua Diving Supervisors)) makes the jump from AD to FCD much less, and prepared me more than I realised at the time. 

Suggested equipment list
I brought the following (not exhaustive):
· Normal SCUBA.
· Twinset.
· Stage cylinder(s).
· Drop tank complete with line, buoy, regs etc…
· Trapeze (not used).
· O2 kit (used for real).
· Analyser(s).
· Shot weight, line, buoy, lift bag.
· Spare rope (to make emergency drop tank using a spare stage cylinder).
· Tools, diving spares etc…
· Tape measures.
· Dry bag with dry kit, hand held VHF, hand held depth pinger, casualty slates etc….
· Planning kit (charts/plotter/books/magazine cuttings etc…).
· Computer.
· Printer.
· Laminator.

On the 11th August I found out my result.  A merit!!!!

Shocked is an understatement, especially given my prep, or lack of prep to be more accurate.  The overall merit grade was broken down into the 12 areas listed at the start of this blog which came to 8 individual merits and 4 individual passes.

Please do not take this result as the exam is easy, I assure you it is not.  You only have to speak to any previous candidates (whether pass or fail) and they will tell you a similar story.  And if you buy me a beer, I’d happily tell you more of mine. 

Look out for the final instalment shortly; the theory exam.

The boring bit!
All opinions expressed in my articles are my own and may differ to other instructor’s and agency guidelines; by no means are they wrong and I would not wish to disrepute any of them.  This article is for information only and should not replace proper training.

Safe diving!

Timothy Gort
BSAC, PADI & SDI/TDI diver training
l Mob: 07968148261 l Email: l

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