Ice Diving Course Report: The Horror Story

Recently, I had written about how ice diving courses have become seriously flawed. You can read about it here. In that post, I promised you a story. This story is about the ice diving class I took to get certified in ice diving. So sit back and enjoy. I don’t think any scuba diving class could get any worse than this.

Ice Diving Class, Gone Horribly Wrong It was the winter of 2004. I had just finished up my rescue diver certification and a handful of specialties. Already enrolled in the divemaster program, I thought I would take the ice diving class so I could continue to dive all year round. I had all of about 30 total dives under my belt. Around 20 of them were training dives. Told you I was a reformed card collector!!!!

We met at the dive store and drove to a lake about an hour north of where I lived at the time. Our classroom took place at a fire department’s firehouse as there were some firefighters in the class along with me. Everyone got there and we sat down for our lecture. The lecture consisted of how to cut the hole, signs of hypothermia and a brief mention about different ice types. Lecture lasted all of 30 minutes. No mention of gas management.

We wrap up the lecture and head to the lake. Cutting the hole was easy as a few of the firefighters hanging out with the class were already ice trained. So they had the hole cut by the time we got there. I was a little bummed because I like using chainsaws.

As we start gearing up for the dives, a few of the firefighters get to dive first. They conduct a quick 20 minute dive and get out of the water. All of the firefighters get to go first, but I got to tend a couple lines and acted as a 90% ready diver.

At this point, I should mention that the instructor was not in the water. Major standards violation number one here. Both PADI and SDI require the instructor to be in the water at all times when students are in there. No indirect supervision allowed. My instructor never even got out of his street clothes.

Getting back to the class, now it is my time to get in the water. At the time I was diving Scubapro MK18UL. Those are the aluminum regulators. As soon as I got in the water, the regulator started to free flow. Even after tuning it down a bunch, it just wouldn’t stop free flowing. I never even took a breath off of it. So to allow some of the other students to continue to dive, I got out of the water and the instructor tried working on my regulator. The entire time, two other students were already in the water conducting ice dives without the instructor present. Everybody got to do at least one dive for the course. I get one more shot at getting back into the water after doing some modifications to my regulator. I gear up and get into the hole. I’m alone. The instructor hooks up the line to my harness and says to enjoy my dive. By myself? I ask. Yup, he said. As soon as I get the regulator under the water it starts to free flow again. I come back up. The instructor tells me to just do a few circles under the ice sheet while breathing off of a free flowing regulator. I’m thinking to my self “I’m a divemaster candidate with 30 total dives, I can handle this.” So I did it. That was my one ice dive. It lasted about three minutes and almost drained my tank completely.

After all of the dives were done, we meetup back at the firehouse. The instructor congratulates all of us for a successful class. At this point I’m remembering something I read on PADI’s web site that the class was three dives conducted over two days. When I asked the instructor about the duration, he said it was more of a recommendation. Enter major standard violation number two.

We get back to the dive store to process certifications. He hands me my temporary ice diving c-card. I asked “But I didn’t get any dives in.” His response, “That’s OK. I’m not going to be running another ice diving class this winter. So I couldn’t get you done anyway.” Here’s major standards violation number three. So I ask, “Shouldn’t I get a refund or something.” Response, “I don’t give refunds.”

So to put this in a nutshell for everyone out there. My ice diving class was conducted in only one day, no instructor was present in the water with students, and I was still certified after conduction zero ice dives. All three of those are major standards violations.

If you are thinking about taking an ice diving class, do your homework first. Even if you never plan on doing any ice dives again, you should still get a safe class.

About Duane Johnson

Duane Johnson is the founder of Precision Diving and runs a scuba diving blog to help scuba divers improve their diving skills and enjoyment. He teaches recreational and technical scuba diving classes in the Chicago area. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @PrecisionDiving.


  1. Nick Bostic says:

    So is that instructor still teaching?

  2. Jan says:

    Why did you not report him? I mean there where enough people to witness this bad class, especially firefighters should have an active interest in getting proper training.

  3. Jan,

    At the time, I was extremely new to scuba diving. I blatantly trusted the instructor new how to conduct the class. Basically, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I had also just enrolled in the Divemaster program. Rocking the boat with the dive store owner wouldn’t get me employed as a DM. I took my business elsewhere shortly after anyway.

  4. Heather says:

    Wow, that is seriously disturbing. Ice diving is no joke and shouldn’t be taken so lightly. I actually really enjoyed my ice diving class, did one ice dive last year and plan on trying to get one in again this year. It’s funny when you tell people that you ice dive though, they tend to look at you like you’re crazy!


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    Ice Diving Course Report: The Horror Story…

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