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Welcome to BrashTalk #14 the newsletter of the Polar Tourism Guides Association. We hope your season is going well. Social media posts are painting a picture of some superb weather on the Antarctic Peninsula and some balmy days upto 18C!. Plenty to cover in this issue so please explore it and catch up on all our news.

Traveling to your Antarctic season? Stuck in BA or Santiago? Don’t forget to use that layover (or delayed flight or lost luggage) time to grab a coffee or glass of wine and update your log. We have a new simplified log template – check it out.

*Please note – PTGA President, Graham Charles, will be away from Jan 4 – Feb 9 guiding on the Antarctic Peninsula. Our email directory is now:
General email – info@polartourismguides.com
Administration (Pascale) – admin@polartourismguides.com
President (Graham) – president@polartourismguides,com

In This Issue:

  • Seasons Greetings and Year Summary
  • Presidents Pontifications – Recognition of Current Competency 2020
  • PTGA Administrative Assistant – Pascale Terry
  • Executive Order – Abandon Ship: This is not a drill
  • Member Interview – Mike Roberts
  • Scuttlebutt
    • Virtual Learning Environment
    • New Log Template
  • Pro Deals
  • Training and Knowledge (new regular feature)
  • Guano Happens
  • New Status Guides

Seasons Greetings and Year Summary

We’ve done it! We made the 300 member mark.

Season’s Greeting everyone. It seems like a large portion of our membership is out where they are happiest: cruising, playing, climbing, snow shoeing, booking coffees in Ushuaia and creating transformational experiences in the Antarctica. Well done.

What a year it has been for the PTGA. We have gone from strength to strength and support from members, Corporate Members, our assessors, the Board and Advisory Board and interest from new companies has been fantastic. We are definitely on the cusp of the next big phase of development.

A few 2019 benchmarks:

  • We increased our Board to seven members who represent a powerhouse of experience in this sector of polar guiding and ensure our ship is steering in the right direction.
  • We have 116 guides judged competent or above competent at Senior Polar Guide level and 48 to Polar Guide level.
  • We have increased, and will continue to increase, our ProDeal offerings.
  • Our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) platform is providing valuable resource material and getting good use.
  • BrashTalk goes out to over 375 people, we have >870 members in the Polar Guides Group FB page and over 1200 liking the PTGA administered FB page.
  • Assessors are currently sending in Post Assessment Reports thick and fast and people continue to report the process as being well run, engaging and very educational.
  • We have appointed an Administrative Assistant (see below)
  • We were well represented at the IAATO/AECO Field Staff Conference in numbers: 4 of our Board members where there and engaged with a lot of people on PTGA issues. Almost 50% of field guides attending were PTGA members and most held Senior Polar Guide status.
  • Administration Assistant appointed.

For 2020

  • Our Annual General Meeting and election or re-election of Board members will be in April
  • Our 2020 Qualification Review Meeting will be in April.
  • We are looking forward to increasing our Assessor numbers through 2020 with an aim of >50 by year end.
  • We will build more relationships and develop more Training and Assessment Providers so members can more easily access training opportunities in this arena.
  • We plan to visit Longyearbyen in the spring to talk to guides and the SGA, and run some trial assessments.
  • We aim to finalize negotiations with more Accredited Provider companies through 2020.
  • We aim to finish 2020 with >400 members.
  • We are opening another Recognition of Current Competency (see below) option for experienced guides to be recognized.
  • Increase the knowledge base of what PTGA is and what we offer in Greenland and Nunavut.
  • Continue work to establish performance tested PTGA qualifications as the Gold Standard for members, employers and authority stakeholders in the polar tourism industry.

Presidents Pontifications – 2020 Recognition of Current Competency

We received a strong mandate from our membership survey to re-open our Recognition of Current Competency scheme one last time.

Overwhelmingly we have heard from people who are keen to be part of the Association but heard about the PTGA only more recently and/or were too busy at the time to apply for RCC in the first round.

Let’s revisit the concept of an RCC scheme before we move on.


Two years ago the PTGA was a new concept in the polar and expedition cruising industry. The industry itself is relatively new but has been around long enough that there are guides and staff out there who have amassed decades of experience and skills related to the job without any formal measurement of competency to go with this. When a competency measuring scheme like the one the PTGA uses gets started, people appreciate the opportunity to be able to be recognized for their experience and skills they have built on the job in the real world. This experience and these skills have tangible value.

Most start-up competency testing schemes like ours have a grandparenting phase to recognize existing skills and experience of senior members of the group.

One of the issues we’ve discovered with the PTGA that is different from our experience in any other sector is our range. Offering a grandparenting scheme in a single country with one language, easy communication links, time zones and social media that gets to the right people is complex enough. Consider the added challenges for the PTGA and the range we represent: polar and expedition cruise guides are spread all over the world, speak a host of languages and there is no other collective forum that helps put us all together outside of random meetings in bars in Ushuaia or Longyearbyen. Of course, knowledge and understanding about the PTGA has been limited or non-existent in some areas (and still is). Couple this with actual misinformation where detractors in the industry have propagated misinformed refrains that have carried enough weight that people believed them and missed out. “We want another chance” was the call. Critics say “too bad, they missed out, their bad luck”.


The Board voted and decided unanimously to reopen the scheme. There are some changes. We learned a lot from the first round and this new offer takes these lessons into consideration.

The time to review all the material and have confidence our decisions are sound is considerable. We will be remunerating reviewers more realistically this time.

We have learned a lot about what people understand and what they don’t and have altered the explanations and templates to help alleviate this. There are also a lot more people out there (PTGA Assessors) who have a good understanding of what is required for a good RCC application and these people are available to help and cover different locations and languages.

This represents a premium opportunity for people given where the industry is heading and what is just around the corner for all polar guides and especially ship-based guides.

As always, people ask us why don’t we just leave it open all the time? The answer is two-fold. Firstly, as people come into the industry we would rather they interact with our ISO recognised assessment scheme and interact with a senior guides and gain information and recognition of competency through observed performance. This is a better product and this interaction between guides is the strongest and best development tool there is. Feedback from candidates and assessors alike confirms this. Secondly, for the size of the PTGA the RCC scheme, administration management of it and time spent chasing people is too great to be ongoing. Simply put, it is a huge workload we don’t have the capacity to do it all the time.

The material is online. If you are an experienced guide or know experienced guides who wish to stay in the industry and gain recognition for their professionalism and skills as a polar guide this is a prime opportunity to get in and gain status from the only international association designed specifically for guides across all sectors of this industry.

This is a last call.

PTGA Administrative Assistant

PTGA is growing fast and as such the pressure on our administrative systems has increased proportionately. The Board has agreed to a part-time Administrative Assistent role.

We had immediate interest and a strong field of candidates for the role as soon as we posted it.

We’ve chosen Pascale Terry to join us. Pascale will be the person you will deal with in any email inquiries or if you are after information about your qualifications and status with the PTGA etc. We’d like to welcome Pascale to our team.

Pascale is a passionate animal conservationist, protector of the environment, chaser of extreme conditions and adventure addict who loves to explore every corner of our planet with her true love being the polar regions. Her journey into conservation began after she rescued her Alaskan Malamute, Butchy, which changed her life forever. Since then, Pascale has dedicated her life to helping endangered species around the world and shining a spotlight on some of the biggest conservation issues our planet is facing today. She has worked on projects throughout Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North America but her expedition to Svalbard was by far her favorite one yet! She has been able to combine her passion of animal conservation and expedition guiding with her
career as a Project Manager in the television and film industry and brings a unique skill set to the PTGA team.

Pascale calls the Northern Beaches of Sydney home and you will find her either in the ocean, hiking, studying, singing, walking Butchy or chasing the snow around the world.

Executive Order – ABANDON SHIP: This is not a drill

Our Executive Board and Advisory Board consists of guides with years of experience in different sectors of the industry. In this column we will feature contributions from our Board and Advisory Board.

In this issue Advisory Board member Rupert Krapp shares some insight into some ship incidents and encouragement to be as prepared as you can be in your role as expedition staff/guides.

We have all been there countless times, doing the “lifeboat drill”, manning muster stations, checking rosters, and assisting passengers with their life-saving equipment. And many, if not most of us, also have some experience from a medical evacuation at sea, or medevac, most often by means of winching the patient from the deck and into a search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter. But how many of you have had the thought “What if this were to really happen to my ship, and NOT just as a drill? And what happens after we get into these lifeboats?”

As we all know, such large accidents have happened before, and we must assume they will happen again in the future:

  1. In the early hours of 23 November 2007, the captain of the “Explorer” gave the order to abandon ship. The vessel had sustained substantial hull damage in an ice field and was sinking. After several hours in open lifeboats and zodiacs, the 91 passengers, 9 staff and 54 crew were taken aboard the Nordnorge, which transported them safely to a Chilean station on King George Island. (read the first-person account that Rupert shared in the “Polar Guides Group” Facebook page recently).
  2. Late at night on the 18 November 2015, a major engine room fire broke out on the “Le Boreal”, while she was sailing north of East Falkland. The vessel lost all power and had to be abandoned early in the morning. Her sister ship, “L’Austral”, the Royal Navy vessel “Clyde”, and several military aircraft including 2 Sea King SAR helicopters came to her aid, and 90 of the 347 passengers and crew were reportedly airlifted while the rest were transferred from the life rafts to other vessels. Tugs on contract with the British Forces in the Falkland Islands assisted in bringing the damaged vessel to port.
  3. In the afternoon of 23 March 2019, the “Viking Sky” suffered a loss of oil pressure, resulting in the automatic shutdown of all engines, leaving the vessel to drift, pitch and roll violently in stormy seas. The accident occurred relatively close to land in an exposed section of coastline between the Norwegian coastal towns Molde and Kristiansund. There were over 1.300 people aboard this large cruise ship at the time, and in the ensuing rescue operation spanning about 20 hours, 479 of them were airlifted off the vessel, with up to 6 SAR helicopters operating a total of 30 round trips. Sixteen passengers had to be taken to hospitals for treatment, three of them with serious injuries. The ship eventually managed to restart the engines, resumed its voyage under her own power and sailed to port with the remaining passengers and crew.

These are three very different accidents involving three very different ships and very different settings. And of course, Viking Sky is a much larger vessel. The reason why I included her, is that this incident has put Norway’s marine rescue services in the spotlight, and it has subsequently raised many questions along the Norwegian coast. As a result, we are about to get a new SAR helicopter base, most likely in Tromsø, to improve the coverage of these emergency services in the north of Norway and the Barents Sea.

But the big question remains – what if something like this had happened in an area with even less available infrastructure, like the areas where we typically operate?

While it is true that life-saving equipment on the ships that we work on, has been upgraded and improved tremendously since the sinking of the Explorer, I believe that such a challenge is not solved with improved equipment alone. We all need relevant know-how, training, and procedures in place to be able to make the most of the equipment, to understand the way the rescue services operate, and to interact with them in the most efficient way.

STCW courses in basic safety and crowd & crisis control have given many of us a good preparation for making a significant difference in the event of a major problem on a ship. Also, the Polar Code has required the purchase of personal (PSK) and group (GSK) survival kits with an intended requirement of 5 days survival upon escape and evacuation. Still, to my knowledge, only a few vessels have dedicated the time and resources to train crew and staff in such a scenario. I think it would be beneficial for all tour and vessel operators to consider their preparedness for this type of event and to develop routines for working together efficiently.

Both Ponant and Hurtigruten have been dedicating vessel time during their previous Svalbard season on training with the local rescue services in a mass rescue operation (MRO). The Governor of Svalbard, the Norwegian Coast Guard and the Norwegian Red Cross on Svalbard have also been working together for their joint large-scale “SARex Svalbard” exercises, with focus on mass rescue operation procedures. If you are curious about any of those exercises, feel free to contact me for further details.

While I hope that something like this will never happen to you, I also hope that you will be as well-prepared as you can be, as an individual, as part of the onboard staff, or as an organization! Rupert.

Member Interview – Mike Roberts

Mike Roberts is a fully certified IFMGA Mountain and Ski Guide, he has guided Mt Everest 13 times (9 summits), has extensive time in continental Antarctica leading field parties (he is guiding Vinsen Massif as I type), teaches wilderness Emergency Care in his spare time and is a physiotherapist. Despite all this he is one of the most humble, authentic and considered people you will ever meet. Mike has recently gained status as Polar Guide via our Cross-Credit system acknowledging his international guiding awards and a range of other qualifications.

We caught up with Mike because he is now back on the bottom rung of this different ladder and we want to know what he thinks so far:

PTGA: You are already at the very top of many high-level award system – why start into this one?
MR: I’m the first to acknowledge that guiding from cruise ships involves new skills, such as zodiac driving. Coming from New Zealand, where there is increasing emphasis on professional certification in all areas of the outdoor adventure industry, I understand and accept the need to have specific qualifications – some people resist, I go with it. My polar employer, Aurora Expeditions are keen to get their staff accredited with the PTGA and even paid first-year membership fees. Recently, friends who have been ship based guiding in polar regions for many years joined the PTGA (to get their employer off their back!). A sign that the PTGA is being valued; this was influential on me. Importantly, I think the PTGA have a fair and relatively straightforward cross crediting system. Had this not been the case I would have been reluctant to join. PTGA awards are a good option for employers requiring evidence of staff competency.

PTGA: You are new to a ship-based guiding and that tourism platform – first impressions?
MR: I had a great season doing three consecutive trips to Antarctic Peninsula that included the maiden voyage on the Greg Mortimer. I was guiding ski tours, low-key climbing and snowshoeing in new terrain, which was a lot of fun. I felt spoilt having a heated cabin with an ensuite and restaurant style dining. Luxury compared to a remote field camp in the interior!

PTGA: What is it about the concept of testing for minimum competency that you think will be beneficial for the polar guiding and tourism industry?
MR: Having staff tested to a minimum level of competency should increase confidence for expedition operators. Qualifications can be used in advertising and may increase a company’s credibility to prospective customers. For staff, it provides a training framework and clear expectations of required competency. Hopefully companies will create more opportunities for staff training and competency testing. Getting assessed creates a forum for ongoing discussion and upskilling.

PTGA: Do you see any development parallels with this industry and the professional mountain guiding industry?
MR: The guiding skills are essentially the same. Each environment has its own peculiarity that requires different techniques or methods. The obvious difference in ship based polar guiding is the ability to safely transition to land. Overall, there is a lot of overlap, which is the reason cross crediting can be applied from the IFMGA qualification framework.

PTGA: You’ve seen a number of outdoor guiding and teaching qualification schemes grow and develop – any pitfalls you’ve seen from these developments that we should be wary of?
MR: In New Zealand the mountain guides association has remained relevant by recognizing specialities that are collectively required to attain IFMGA status. For example, not every ski guide wants to guide rock (and vice versa). Similarly, the PTGA framework does not require guides to complete all modules to gain recognition. Guides can expand their basic qualifications and do applicable advanced endorsements. The key is for qualifications to be relevant to the industry.

Many years ago a nascent NZ Ski Patrol Association fell by the wayside despite good intentions because industry did not see its relevance or tangible benefits. Over time, an industry recognized certificate in ski patrolling provided by a tertiary education institute gained recognition. Initially, many were sceptical about the value of this qualification, it took several years to prove itself and be valued. This may be the phase the PTGA is currently in.

Similarly, IGO 8000, aiming to implement guiding standards on 8000m peaks, did not last the test of time for a variety of reasons. It was accused of being an elitist cartel, that imposed unnecessary bureaucracy. Add to this a vacuous and semi lawless political backdrop with flamboyant characters who wished to self-regulate on their own terms and resisted the call to ‘up their game’. This example serves to illustrate that the time has to be right, the industry ready, the political system supportive and the framework inclusive.

PTGA: Favourite place as a polar guide and why?
MR: Having spent a lot of seasons in the interior of Antarctica, I’m happy to be at any location not being hammered by katabatic winds! I don’t have favourite places, rather I thrive on visiting new areas, enjoying their intrinsic beauty. Without doubt coastal locations where the ocean transitions into steep terrain with wildlife are dramatic and special. The Dry Valleys are a stand-out location for beauty. It’s taken me a while to appreciate the beauty of the flat-white.

PTGA: Favourite polar hero and why?
MR: Once again, I’m reluctant to be pinned down on favourites. As a pragmatist, I admire Amundsen for his amazing ability to execute an audacious plan safely and effectively, recognizing the value of adventure and exploration in its own right. I’m inspired by Shackleton’s leadership qualities, loyalty and would like to have had a pint with him. For extreme survivability and grit I take my hat off to Mawson. I’m in awe of Worley’s navigation skills under extreme pressure. In modern times Borge Ousland stands out as the real deal.

PTGA: Favourite polar creature?
MR: I’m a sucker for penguins of all types.

Virtual Learning Environment

The PTGA Virtual Learning Environment courses have been getting steady use and positive feedback. They are only available to members of the PTGA and any time you finish a course a certificate gets sent to PTGA Admin and gets put in your Guide Assessment and Learning Portfolio.

We keep track of all formal development and qualifications you have achieved through PTGA resources and our Qualifications Framework and can provide you with valuable back up for proof or learning and/or if you lose all your information when your laptop smashes in the Drake.

Feedback from a member:
Hey PTGA, I finally got around to working through the Thematic Interpretation online module. Super awesome stuff. This should be compulsory for every PTGA member! Well done on pulling that altogether. Great content, super applicable and really aims to raise the bar. Look forward to working through the other ones. Thanks a lot for the work.

New Log template

We received plenty of feedback saying the original log template and structure in Excel was cumbersome to use and too detailed. If you have been using it and it suits your style and personality then continue to use it. If you didn’t like it try this new version which is built around a season of work. If you are still not happy we encourage you to design what works for you and send it to us for consideration.

Pro Deals

We have made a video introduction to how the ProDeals work (click on the image above)

We have received some feedback about a couple of the ProDeal links not working – we think/hope we have sorted them all out. If you run into issues at any time please drop us a line and let us know so we can iron out any remaining bugs.

Gill have offered a 40% discount to PTGA members and details can be found once you are logged in. While they are a marine and sailing goods manufacturer a lot of their equipment is relevant to ship based guides for ocean work, zodiac operations, dealing with wet and cold. Check them out.

Training and Knowledge

The Expedition Guide Academy (PTGA endorsed Training and Assessment Provider) is offering a New Zealand based training course in April 2020 with added assessment against PTGA qualifications. The dates are: April 11-15. Assessment April 16-18. If you are already experienced and just wish to be assessed you can just join for that part of the program. They will focus on all the non-polar Driving Small Boats/Zodiacs syllabus and skills, Navigation, Communications and Leading Hikes in Non-Technical Terrain. This would give anyone a great foundation to be able to apply for work in the polar and expedition cruise industry. Drop Ben and Pernille a line if you want to find out more.

If you have ever wondered about how best to take in coils after a mis-throw with a throw bag and throw again, this short video is worth a watch

Element 8 in Drive a Zodiac PQ is about having knowledge of how to right a flipped zodiac (without a crane). This gives the general idea with a fun twist at the end for someone to end up back in the boat.

Taking Grid and Magnetic Bearingsis an important skill if you wish to gain your Terrestrial Endorsement for Navigation Skills PQ.

Guano Happens

No one has been forthcoming with Guano that happened (or could have happened)!

This is a shame considering that in our Member Survey the most enjoyed and read part of BrashTalk was this column!!

If you have had an incident over the years and are happy to share it with us we would love to be able to share with the wider community so we can continue to learn and grow. We need your stories and anecdotes, even if it was just a near miss.

Help your peer guides not make the same mistakes that have already been made! Fingers crossed for the next BrashTalk.

PTGA Members – 300
Senior Polar Guides – 116
Polar Guides – 47

We are excited about the growing list of status guides, congratulations to:

  • Polar Guide – Bryan McDonald, Mike Roberts, Felipe Micheelson, Zack Kruzins, Michael Bayne, Massimo Bassano, Wendy Hare
  • Senior Polar Guide – John Kirkwood, David Burton, Mark Dalpes, Cheryl Randall, Chris Todd, Iggy Rojas, Cheryl Randall, Martin Berg, Bismarck Sommerfelt
  • Assessors qualifying from Provisional status – Karin Lundstrom, Nico Danyau, Liz Pope, Nate Small

Have a Merry Xmas, Happy New Yaer and a safe and fun season.