The PADI Rescue Diver Course is one of the most rewarding courses you could ever do as a diver. Ask any recreational diver which course they enjoyed the most, and the majority with say it was Rescue. PADI call the Rescue Diver Course: SERIOUS FUN. And it is just that, it is a serious topic and you do learn some serious and challenging stuff, but it is loads of fun.
As like any other PADI course, there is some theory involved. The theory for Rescue can be done via e-learning. So this reduces the classroom time and also allows the students to learn at their own pace. The e-learning is also effective as it is interactive with video, sound and words - multimedia study at the students' place can only lead to an enhanced learning experience! This approach allows greater learning opportunities for students who may learn better by reading or listening, or those who need to take it at a slower place. The e-learning can be stopped, paused and re-run as many times as the student needs to understand the learning objectives. This takes the pressure off the instructor and the student, which is a win-win situation.
Normally the course starts off with some review of skills you learnt in the Open Water Diver Course about self rescue. You go over things such as tows, cramp release, airway control, controlling vertigo and alternate air source use.
Afterwards you learn how to evaluate a diver who is stressed, how to recognise and approach a tired diver and a panic diver. You will go through both surface approaches and underwater approaches. There are many ways to approach a panic/tired diver on the surface, and you will go through all the different options. Because every diver is a different gender and size, there is not one correct way to rescue a diver. You will practice different ways and find methods that can help you to adapt to any situation, plus you'll learn the advantages and disadvantages of each approach, so that you can best decide which one to use.
Another rescue exercise you learn is how to handle unresponsive divers at the surface and on the bottom. With the unresponsive diver on the bottom, you will learn different techniques on how to bring them to the surface, and then how to administer in-water rescue breathing. You'll learn how to decide if you must start to remove their equipment or not whilst towing them to safety.
Rescue from shore or boat is another skill that is vital in this course. If you do notice someone that requires rescuing, you don't want to put yourself in danger also. So the first simple step would be rescuing from shore/boat without having to enter the water yourself. You learn ways to use the equipment you have at hand, to respond from the shoreline or from the boat. This includes things such as throwing in an inflatable device, throwing a line or using a piece of equipment to reach out to the diver.
The missing diver exercise is another fun one. You learn the different search patterns that are available, and on which occasions it's best to use which one. Normally there is a mini competition to find a "missing diver" (usually a bright coloured weight belt or surface marker buoy rolled up and weighed down) in groups. This encourages some friendly competition, while learning the different search patterns available.
There is also one exercise that teaches you the importance of providing oxygen to divers who have been rescued. And another regarding appropriate exits from the water. You are taught various ways to assist divers out of the water both at shore and also if you are on a boat (eg. ladder). The type of exit you use depends on the patient's and your weight and size, also if you are on your own or have others to assist you and the condition of the diver that is being rescued (if they're tired, unresponsive, not breathing, etc).
After you have gone through the rescue exercises, the extremely fun part begins. Well for the instructors and assistants on the rescue course anyway! They throw in all the skills that you have learnt in the exercises and put them into various rescue scenarios for you to practice the skills in a safe, challenging environment, role playing real life situations that could happen.
There may be a missing diver, you may see someone panicked on the surface because his buddy is unconscious on the bottom. You may need to respond from shore, or go out and rescue in water. Or your buddy might be just tired and need some help with a cramp, you may have to tow someone into shore or give them rescue breaths. The scenarios follow the PADI training standards, initially, but if there is enough time, (and usually there is plenty) the instructors and assistants tend to brainstorm and think of some more challenging scenarios, (and this is where the real serious fun begins!) This allows you to use as many of the skills that you have learnt in the course so far, so that if you do ever find yourself in the situation you can effectively evaluate the situation, approach and provide assistance. You need to work with the rest of the students, so that things can go as smoothly as possible - we like to foster team work, and it makes the course more fun too! As a team you'll decide who will co-ordinate rescues, delegate tasks and how the rescues will be controlled - which makes for some real fun popcorn moments for the staff involved!
After each scenario you will normally get a debrief from your instructor. This is to allow open feedback to be given and also a discussion of how everything went during the scenario. This positive and constructive feedback allows the students to learn from each other and further bond as a team. Additional advice is also given about certain situations and how they could have been avoided, or other options of how they could have been resolved.
If you're an Advanced Open Water Diver and this sounds like an exciting challenge, and you want to expand your sphere of awareness towards helping other people in your diving community, then sign up for a rescue diver course. It's an essential step for Master Scuba Diver and also a requirement for the first level of becoming a professional diver - Divemaster. Go on, have some serious fun!! =)
Note: to be certified as a PADI Rescue Diver, you also require proof of a current first aid and CPR training. The Emergency First Response course covers everything you'll need to become a proficient responder. In brief, the EFR Course teaches the participant Primary Care, Secondary Care, CPR and normally the instructor will also introduce AED use and an overview to Oxygen Use as well. PADI recommends EFR training for Rescue Diver and can be taken at any PADI Dive Centre offering rescue training. The emphasis of EFR training is that adequate care provided is better than perfect care withheld. And you never know when a situation may occur in your life that requires a response. So it's well worth signing up for EFR training anyway!
(All photos courtesy of PADI and EFR)