My Summer Experience: Stephanie Michel

Stephanie Michel
Diving Instructor
Senior, TLEP
Cincinnati, OH

I fell in love with diving when I was 14, but I never really had the time to pursue it until I was offered a dive internship. In January I moved down to Key Largo to work at Rainbow Reef Dive Center for seven months.

I started at the bottom on the docks and as my internship went on I was trained in higher positions until I became a dive instructor. Dock Master was my first position. This consisted of being the first person to the dock at 6:15 a.m. and the last person to leave in the evening once the docks and boats were cleaned and ready for the night. I filled tanks, counted rental gear, issued rental gear to customers, gauged tanks and filled the ones that were low and helped the crew with whatever they needed. It was long hours in the sun, but important for the dive operation to run smoothly.

I next moved to the first mate position. I went through my rescue class, learned CPR, EFR, and how to administer oxygen to any diver that needed it. My rescue course was probably the most fun, yet one of the more challenging courses I went through. It consisted of getting in the water and towing divers that were tired back as well as safely calming panicked divers down. Training consisted of a lot of getting shoved under water, mask ripped off and learning to rescue unresponsive divers in the water. This was one of the courses I learned the most from because I knew the importance of the material being taught.

Two weeks into my internship, I was on the boat for training and the crew on board had to perform an in-water rescue for an unresponsive diver. They gave CPR, had this person hooked up to an emergency O2 and an AED and did it in such a professional manner. It was a long day, the 20-minute boat ride seemed like hours and we had Coast Guard helicopters swarming us. When we got back to shore, the EMS crews were waiting for us and took over. After seeing an emergency happen in real life and how well the crew worked together and kept calm, I knew the importance of the training.

As first mate, we help set up the boat in the morning, check the oxygen tanks on board, help divers in and out of the water, watch for divers while they are in the water and brief the divers on the way back into the dock.

The next step of my training was for my Dive Master certification. This course taught you how to be a professional and leader in the industry. It consisted of mastering your skills underwater, helping out instructors with classes, and learning the physics of diving.

It was challenging but fun to finally be interacting with divers. After my class was finished I started being a Dive Master on the boat. This consisted of prepping the boat in the morning, helping customers with their gear and getting them set up on the boat. We would give dive briefings on the way out to the dive site, talk about all of the signals we use underwater as well as our safety procedures to ensure a safe dive. Once at the dive site, the Dive Master gets in the water with the customers, helps them on the surface with any problems as well as underwater.

I guided divers around dive sites to point out sea life they might not see and to ensure we got back to the boat with a safe amount of air. This was actually a very nerve wracking job at first. I had diver panic on me and try to surface too quickly as well as tell me the wrong air in their tank, so I couldn't plan their dives right. As I continued on I learned what works and what doesn't and could deal with almost any problem that occurred.

This was a fun position because I was able to show people animals they have never seen before and customers were very thankful. I love being able to share the love of the underwater world with other divers. My favorite dive ever I had a 10 year old girl with me on a night dive. She was very nervous- it was her first night dive, so I talked to her separately to calm her nerves. By the end of the dive after she came up onto the boat, she had the biggest grin on her face. She loved it. I love being a part of new experiences for people and that is why I really loved my position.

Lastly I went through my Instructor Development Course. It was a class that taught us how to be safe with students and how to teach in the proper manner in the classroom and in the water. We did a lot of presentations in the classroom, in the pool and in the ocean.

After the classroom portion was over, we went to the Instructor Examination, where we were graded on what we learned. We gave a classroom knowledge presentation, demonstrated five skills in the pool, taught two skills in the pool, taught two skills in the ocean, showed that you have rescue 7 (giving CPR to an unresponsive diver in the water) mastered, and a five section test on the physics, physiology, equipment, skill and the environment and the Recreational Dive Planner. This all happened over a two day period. Once finished I was a certified Open Water Scuba Instructor.

Teaching was by far my favorite thing to do. The reason I fell in love with diving was because my instructors were really cool and loved what they did. I wanted to be the same for my students, so being able to teach people what I love and watch them also fall in love is what makes me want to stay in the industry.

Just like any job, there is always the behind the scenes people as well. Throughout my internship I was in the office for quite a bit time too, planning dive trips, booking hotel reservations and answering any questions people had. Not the most spectacular part of the job, but you learn a lot about how to deal with customers and the organizational skills required to make the dive business work. Without the office staff, the crew would have no divers, so as much as I didn't like being in the office all day, I enjoyed learning the planning portion of the industry and you really learn to respect all of what the office has to do.

Overall, I think this was the best experience for me. I got to meet people from all over the world, and now have friends and connections in all kinds of places such as Egypt and Australia. I learned so much about all of the animals and coral and truly am passionate about diving. It was definitely an experience I will never forget.