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First Class Diver Syllabus

This section taken from the BSAC instructor manual contains an outline of what the qualification represents and how to achieve it.

As the highest diving grade of the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC), it's expected that divers will have a broad range of capabilities and experience, some of which may not be possible to obtain from within their own branch.

Diver overlooking Muckle FluggaThe following pages provide advice to enable instructors to assist First Class candidates to source and obtain appropriate training and experience. It will also suggest ways to support them throughout this process.

What is a First Class Diver?

There are only hundreds of divers that have reached this grade since the formation of BSAC. Now, more people than ever are going for First Class and BSAC are committed to increasing the number and quality of First Class Divers. The qualification carries considerable gravitas within the diving community. A First Class Diver is the highest diver grade available within the BSAC and is defined as a diver who has: a high level of practical diving skills and knowledge beyond BSAC Advanced diver the ability to organise groups of divers and lead major diving expeditions to achieve specific aims or objectives the ability and knowledge to contribute to the BSAC at a branch, regional and national level.

Why do it

There are many reasons why divers want to achieve First Class success. Some of the main drivers are:

  • for pure personal achievement
  • RIB expedition
  • to be at the very top of the BSAC diving community and therefore a role model for others within the branch / centre, region and country
  • to confirm their diving ability by being assessed by the most experienced instructors in the BSAC at a national venue
  • to confirm their ability to run safe but challenging regional, national and international diving expeditions
  • to learn more about diving than can be found within the branch / centres
  • to meet new people with similar aims and learn from them
  • to progress on from Advanced Instructor to National Instructor; you must have achieved First Class status to qualify for the National Instructor assessment
  • to fill the final page in the Qualification Log Book
  • its fun!

What is the process

The process breaks down in to four stages: registration, preparation, assessment and success.

These are detailed below.

FCD Registration ScreenStage one - Registration

The first step is to register with the First Class Diver Chief Examiner. This can be done by registering online here.

Candidates will be asked to complete a form which they send to the First Class Chief Examiner. Once received, they are provided with detailed information on how to become a First Class Diver.

This includes advice on how to complete any outstanding pre-requisites and contact details for their local FCD coordinator.

There is a great deal of information available on the website which will give the candidates a better perspective of what is expected of them.

Stage two - Preparation

First Class Diver preparation differs from the other diving grades in that there is no set training program, instead there is a support network to assist candidates with their preparations.

Development to this level is achieved by divers exposing themselves to a broad range of diving experiences and progressively developing their own abilities. The most important factor is encouragement and support from regional First Class Diver co-ordinators, regional / area coaches and members of their branch / centre in particular their Diving Officer / instructors.

What qualifications & pre requisites do divers need before the assessment

The candidate must:

  • have completed 100 Dives in a range of conditions since qualifying as an Advanced Diver
  • have attended a BSAC Chartwork & Position Fixing course (or equivalent)
  • hold the BSAC Diver Rescue Specialist qualification - awarded following completion of Lifesaver; Advanced Lifesaver; -; First Aid for Divers; Practical, Rescue Management and Oxygen Administration
  • hold the BSAC Diver Cox'n qualification (or equivalent)

How do candidates access support

There is a structure in place to guide the path to First Class success which is outlined below.

First Class Diver preparation pack

This can be downloaded from the website and provides guidance to plan their preparation for the First Class Diver assessment. The pack provides information on ways in which they can develop themselves and their diving to aim for the correct standard and includes an up to date relevant reading list.

First Class Diver coordinators FCD Candidates preparing together
As a part of the regional coaching team most regions have a First Class Diver co-ordinator.

Their role is to help create links between candidates, enabling them to meet, exchange ideas and assist each other to prepare. This contact with other candidates from outside the immediate branch environment will expose them to a wider range of attitudes and ideas which they can then use to the benefit of diving within their branch.

Where necessary, the regional co-ordinator can assist candidates with their preparation, either by facilitating specific events and / or suggesting suitable preparation objectives. In addition they help forge links with any other local sources of support such as the Regional Expedition Diving Schemes (REDS)

Information event
This event will be arranged by the First Class Diver co-ordinator's and presented in conjunction with a National Instructor who is also a First Class Diver assessor. This event will outline the route to First Class Diver and will give candidates the opportunity to ask questions and be fully informed. The presentation may be attached to a practical diving event.

Personal Mentors
RHIB near surfAll candidates will be provided with a list of potential mentors arranged by the regional coordinator.

This will be someone who is a First Class Diver or National Instructor who can provide the candidate with a yardstick to help them to assess their own progress relative to that of the First Class Diver standard.

Regional Expedition Diving Schemes (REDS)
These promote adventurous diving expeditions and exploration at a regional level. They are typically inter-branch activities complementing branch diving activities by promoting expeditions which benefit from the experience of others. These expeditions are particularly valuable for the development of potential First Class Divers as they enable candidates to be exposed to a wide range of diving techniques and attitudes.

BSAC courses
In addition to the prequalification requirements, First Class Diver candidates are encouraged to experience a wide range of Skill Development Courses to fill in gaps in their knowledge or practical skills. Details of courses are available from BSAC website and their regional coaching team.

How can the branch / centre help

If they are not First Class Divers themselves, it may appear that there is not much that the average instructor or Diving Officer can do to help divers prepare for First Class success. This is actually far from the truth as there are many ways in which instructors can provide assistance. It will be more in the nature of coaching rather than the more 'formal' teaching used for previous qualifications.

It is not unusual for the first reaction to expressions of interest in obtaining the First Class Diver qualification to be indifferent or even negative. This is quite wrong: the branch / centre, its instructors and Diving Officer have much to gain from helping divers to prepare for this qualification as the candidate will mix with, and learn from, a wide spectrum of divers outside the branch / centre.

Bringing this experience back into the branch / centre will enable the branch / centre itself to broaden its range of diving activities for the benefit of all its members. Support and encouragement to candidates throughout their journey will help them to retain a positive frame of mind.

Identifying training and experience requirements
Once candidates have obtained the preparation pack, instructors can then assist candidates to identify what training and experience they need to prepare for the assessment based on their intimate familiarity with the candidate's current level of knowledge and experience.

Development of knowledge
Instructors, by the nature of their interest, read around the subject thereby developing a broad spectrum of knowledge. This knowledge can be used to assist the broadening of the candidate's knowledge base,either by specific tuition, or by suggesting a suitable reading list to augment that supplied in the preparation pack.

Planned preparation
Having identified what development is required, instructors are best placed to assist divers to plan a programme suitable to their needs. They can make a valuable contribution to the ultimate effectiveness of the programme because of their understanding of the need for a structured and progressive approach.

Instructors also appreciate the need to build in suitable refresher training of existing knowledge and skills which have not been regularly exercised. This programme could comprise a combination of activities, some of which can be conducted within the branch, some of which may require attendance on training courses or support programmes external to the branch. Due to their knowledge of the BSAC training structure, instructors can also advise how to access such training & support.

Consolidation of skills
Building into the programme sufficient opportunity to exercise new and existing skills and knowledge is of paramount importance.

A significant aspect of being a First Class Diver is the ability to organise a wide range of diving. As the candidate gains new skills, these can be practiced in conjunction with organisational skills by encouraging the candidate to organise different types of diving for the branch. This provides a win-win situation where the candidate consolidates all these skills and in the process broadens the range of branch / centre diving activities. The latter is particularly true where alternative techniques or skills learned outside the branch are used to the benefit of branch diving.

Instructors can do far more than just encourage divers to organise such activities. By participating in such activities, instructors should maintain the role of 'coach' by continually evaluating the diver's performance and providing constructive feedback.

They can also learn something new!

Where the activity is beyond the bounds of the instructor's own knowledge or experience, constructive feedback is still possible. You do not need to be a concert pianist yourself to know when a pianist plays a wrong note, although you may not know what the correct note should be. In a similar way, by monitoring the diver's performance, instructors will be able to provide feedback on areas which appear to them not to be working very well, although they may not be able to immediately advise on how performance could be improved.

This will require a discussion with the diver to help them to determine what corrective action is required so that further feedback can be provided on a future occasion. If divers wishing to progress to the First Class Diver qualification do not receive support from their branch / centre they are likely to go elsewhere for it. The branch / centre will then lose a valuable member and the opportunity to benefit from the further development of branch diving activities.

Stage three - Assessment

The First Class Diver assessment is unique and quite different than other diver grades described in this manual. It is conducted by assessors specifically appointed by the First Class Diver Chief Examiner who is an experienced National Instructor appointed by the National Diving Officer.

The assessment takes place out of the branch environment. All elements are conducted at locations specified by the First Class Diver Chief Examiner. The three major elements of the assessment can be completed in any order. It is recommended that the theory instructor assessment is completed first as this prepares the candidate for the development of the expedition plan and the oral questions during the practical assessment. The three elements are:

Diving knowledge
A First Class Diver will have a very wide knowledge of diving matters.

The written assessment consists of a one hour paper and requires detailed knowledge of decompression, equipment, medical issues, seamanship, diving techniques and general knowledge. Short answers and some diagrams are required; it is not multiple choice.

The examinations are held twice a year at venues designated by the First Class Diver Chief Examiner.

Expedition planning
Candidates are asked to produce a detailed expedition plan for a minimum four day expedition for a group of experienced divers. The choice of site will be determined by the First Class Chief Examiner. The plan needs to contain details of the dive sites, accommodation, boats, equipment needed, detailed plans with timings, safety information, diving techniques and detailed passage plans marked on a chart.

This element is conducted as a home assignment and can be completed out of the most hectic part of the diving calendar.

Practical assessment
FCD Practical exam - lunchtime This two day, highly practical event is aimed at assessing the 12 criteria which are:

  • Personal diving skills
  • Dive Leading Underwater on both assessment days
  • Attitude of the candidate
  • Safe, effective dive management
  • Contribution to leadership
  • Contribution to teamwork
  • Practical position fixing
  • Response to emergency
  • Achievement of dive operation objectives
  • Seamanship skills
  • Practical diving knowledge

The candidate is continuously assessed over two days on these twelve elements. The structure of the assessment is very flexible and can consist of an assessment over two days of expedition diving at our traditional examination venues though a bespoke event which could be part of a candidate organised expedition.

Information will be issued to the candidates in advance of the assessment about the nature of the diving and requirements so they can prepare in advance.

Both days involve challenging diving under relatively tight time constraints so that the candidate's leadership and team working skills can be assessed.

The diving platform can be skippered boats and / or boats where the candidates have complete control such as 'hard' boats or rigid inflatable's (RIB's).

The exact form of the assessment is in the hands of the lead examiner and may be changed subject to location. At the end of each day a report will be given to the assessors by each candidate team.

Following the two day assessment the candidates will be asked to prepare a report on a project completed during the assessment.

Stage four - Success

FCD on a mixed gas diveOnce successful the candidate will be invited to the Diving Officers Conference where their certificate will be presented by the First Class Chief Examiner and the National Diving Officer.

The person achieving the best performance on the First Class Diving assessment each year will receive a Kowalski torch in recognition of their achievement sponsored by Lighthouse diving.

Every year the candidate who is judged to have had the most meritorious performance in a BSAC National Instructor or First Class Diver examination is awarded the Wilkinson Sword. This engraved sword mounted on a wooden stand is awarded by the National Diving Committee following a decision by the National Diving Officer and Instruct Training Scheme chief examiners

First Class Divers are able to apply for the BSAC Expedition scheme grants which are designed to promote:

  • experience of BSAC members in safe but challenging expeditionary environments
  • personal improvement in diving experience / skill levels by groups of individuals who have the potential to cascade that experience to other members
  • improvement of a group of divers to aspire to a higher level of achievement by exposure to leadership or presence of a First Class Diver in an appropriately challenging expeditionary environment
  • inter-branch expeditionary diving and to ensure that cascade of experience occurs as broadly as possible
  • expeditions that would normally take place in the territory of origin of the group of divers rather than a 'subsidised overseas holiday'.
The Expedition Manual

FCD Essential Reading

The Expedition Manual should be considered essential reading for all First Class Divers. Written by past and present FCD Chief Examiners.