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Welcome to BrashTalk #25, The Newsletter of the Polar Tourism Guides Association

In This Issue:


From the Chair

Hello from Svalbard,

We have recently concluded PTGA’s Annual General Meeting and it’s my pleasure to update you on the latest happenings and strategic outlook for the foreseeable future.

First off, I can report that PTGA’s membership and certified guide recruitment have each increased exponentially over the past period. This is a clear testament to the need and enthusiasm for professional development and acknowledgment within the industry. On behalf the board, I thank you for your support and I can promise that we will continue to create meaningful professional opportunities for you on all fronts.

On the back-end of the business, PTGA has strengthened and stabilized our (non-profit) financial position over the last period, which has in turn in turn has allowed us to strengthen our administrative systems and hire some additional help in the office. We are ready to think big again and PTGA is poised for another significant step in the growth of our offerings for all guides.

Notably, we will focus on expanding your access to professional training and certification. A major outlet for this continues to be workplace-based training and assessments in partnership with polar operators. We are also developing an online learning platform that will further increase access to foundational skills training. This online platform will allow guides to pass tests and earn PTGA certifications for certain foundational skills.

Taking a broader view of the industry, there continues to be growing momentum toward required guiding certifications from the likes of governments, polar operators, and even shipping and insurance companies. PTGA is well placed to be a provider of those certifications, as our framework is purpose-built and matured. We anticipate that certified PTGA Polar Guides and Senior Polar Guides will be readily approved for any formal requirements that could be implemented, such as what we’ve experienced with the PTGA firearms handling certification in Svalbard. In fact, PTGA President Graham Charles has been “on tour” for the last three weeks in Europe, meeting with various polar operators and training providers who have recently signaled interest in adopting PTGA’s framework.

Lastly (and most important to me personally) is PTGA’s continued focus on connecting guides from all corners of the polar community. We will continue to provide meaningful forums for learning and sharing from each other. The popular Speaker Series will continue, and our social platforms provide a forum for asking questions and sharing ideas. You’ve also likely noticed we are now hosting Pre-season Summits for the Arctic and Antarctic in collaboration with AECO and IAATO, and we intend to make these summits a regular feature at the onset of each new guiding season. Stay tuned on the Polar Guide Group on Facebook and @PolarTourismGuides on Instagram for upcoming online events.

In summary, it an exciting time for us all at PTGA and I appreciate you being part of it. On behalf of the Board of Directors, thank you. Have fun out there, and be safe.



IAATO Associate Member and Annual Meeting

PTGA received acknowledgement of our IAATO Associate Membership after a special meeting of IAATO members in March. We are thrilled to formally be part of IAATO and look forward to supporting IAATO’s mission and working with members toward elevating guide competencies in the Antarctic.

In April, PTGA’s President Graham Charles attended the IAATO meeting in Hamburg and had this report:

It was a privilege to be welcomed by IAATO in Hamburg and to be able to attend the meeting as an Associate Member. It was great to see old friends and reconnect with people from many sectors of our industry. I had meetings with all of our Accredited Provider Companies and discussed PTGA with a good number of other interested parties.

It is clear after such a busy southern season with a number of high-profile incidents that people are thinking hard about measured guide competency, what this means and how to achieve it. The needle has shifted and PTGA is an excellent option for guides and companies to utilise.




Arctic Pre-Season Summit 2023

PTGA held its first ever Arctic Pre-Season Summit on May 7. We had an exceptional team with Lauren Farmer project managing, Alex Cowan moderating and panellists from throughout the field, including AECO, Visit Svalbard and the Svalbard Guide Association.

We covered updates from the Canadian Arctic, Greenland and Svalbard. Given the current state of affairs and ambiguity around new rules and regulations and seasonal compliance it wasn’t surprising that we spent a lot of the session on Svalbard related topics.

The rules for various wildlife watching, landing restrictions, active polar bear disengagement requirements for zodiac cruising operations and announcements about increased compliance checks throughout the season definitely generated questions and active discussion. All guides are encouraged to actively seek additional information and clarifications from their employer. It seems there are many ways you could break the rules this coming season if you just operate how you used to prior to Covid.

The Summit is online to watch at your leisure. Find it Here

We will host our next Antarctic Pre-Season Summit in October 2023. If there is a particular person you would like to hear from in the panel, please drop a line and let us know.

Where our members are located

An interesting graphic showing where our membership is based (sorry Punta Arenas and Ushuaia – the graphic cut out these important towns with strong PTGA membership)


Memberships Outstanding and Accounts not Claimed

Your new account will include inputting payment details for membership renewals into the new secure TahDah system to ensure your membership does not lapse.

A reminder that as per the PTGA Code of Conduct, if you are not a current financial member then your guide status and/or any qualifications you may hold with us are void. You may not use any PTGA Guide status or pre requisite qualifications to advertise yourself or include in job applications.

Answers to common questions about the TahDah Terms and Conditions

When people Renew or Join PTGA they are asked to tick some boxes acknowledging TahDah’s terms and conditions. Some members have asked why they have to do this or if they can opt to not tick that box. We discussed this with TahDah and this is the answer:

We are governed by GDPR law and will not send unsolicited emails if the member does not opt-in to Tahdah emails. This is on the first page when someone creates an account. However the Tahdah system will send mandatory PTGA emails such as payment confirmations, membership renewal reminders etc.

As Tahdah is the software that runs the PTGA membership database, the system will retain information so PTGA can manage your membership. PTGA have a legal obligation to hold these details for at least 7 years (for audit purposes). If PTGA membership is used to show evidence of ability, professionalism, experience and qualifications/training then PTGA have a right to keep this data (via Tahdah software system).

A user cannot use the Tahdah System and PTGA cannot manage that member without them agreeing to Tahdah’s T&Cs.

Note that PTGA is unable to directly access any payment details. TahDah stores all financial data securely and handles the actual payment processing.



Antarctic Wildlife app updates

Pam Le Noury and Jim Wilson (creators of the Antarctic Wildlife app) are in their annual review period and will provide a FREE app voucher for anyone who has material or corrections that can be incorporated into the update. You can contact them here

This excellent tool is a great addition to any guides smartphone. You can find it at your App store.

Shore Operations and Situational Management Qualification

By request of our Accredited Provider partners, we are drafting a syllabus for a foundational shore operations and situational management qualification. The scope is for any personnel working in teams on shore excursions and the aim is to identify a contemporary professional standard of care, briefing skills and situational management of excursions with considerations of operating within a dynamic and time-constrained environment.

New Pro Deals

Alexandra has been busy in her role and recently added The North Face, DryShod Boots, Mont, Keen and Arctic Edge to the Pro deal offerings for members and guides. Sign on to the Members Only area and check it out.

[Note Pro deals are for members and status guides only. You must have claimed your new account in order to access the Member-Only pages on the PTGA website.]


Status Guides are required to revalidate every 4 years. Those who are due for revalidation will have received notice. If you have any questions please get in touch.

Advisory Board Update

Rupert Krapp has been on our Advisory Board for over five years and has offered excellent advice and counsel from his home in Longyearbyen. He has recently finished his doctorate studies and has chosen to move on from this advisory position. We extend our deepest thanks and gratitude to Rupert and wish him all the best for his future endeavours.


Training and Development –  Describing Positions on Radio

by Rusty S Hackle
This is a radio conversation that took place during a Zodiac cruise in Antarctica many years ago. Does it sound at all familiar to you?Driver: “Hey, E.L., we got Orca!”
E.L. “Where are you?”
Driver: “Um, well, we’re between two islands, looking towards the mainland. I’m looking straight at the really big mountain.”
This went back and forth for a couple of minutes until to everyone’s relief someone else finally managed to break in and make a transmission of their own:“5 o’clock from the ship. 3 miles.”I have heard enough radio conversations where people are unable to describe their location or the movement of wildlife over the radio because they don’t know the geography of the area where they work, they don’t know which way north is, or generally they don’t know how to describe a position.When we can’t quickly and accurately describe our location, or the location of an animal, we sound incompetent regardless of what we are otherwise capable of. This is compounded by the fact that we are broadcasting this apparent incompetence to the E.L., all of our colleagues, to the bridge officers and to any guests who are in hearing range of a VHF. Sometimes it is crucial safety information we are trying to convey (for example when describing the position and the speed and direction of a polar bear) so we should know how to get this right.
Basic: The easiest thing to do is to describe a location in relation to another object, the position of which everyone knows. If everyone can see the ship then it can be very useful. At its simplest you can say “I’m at the ship!”. But if you’re not right next to it then you need to add a bearing and a distance. You can use the clock system (but beware of the ship swinging at anchor) or a compass bearing. Whenever you’re using the clock system it needs to be in relation to an object with a defined orientation (like the ship which has an obvious bow and stern) which people can see — I did once hear someone use the clock system with their own head as the reference point, with the result being that everything was between 11 and 1 o’clock. Always offer direction AND distance — this can be in a system of measurement like miles, or as a proportion of the distance to some other well known point, like “9 o’clock from the ship, halfway to shore”.
Intermediate: If the ship isn’t useful then it helps to know the geography. iSailor or Navionics has made this much easier, and of course there’s always the charts and the plotter on the bridge.Instead of “I’m between the big rock and the main island, along the coast from Dorian Bay”, say:
“I’m between Casabianca and Damoy”

This is clearer and the transmission is shorter. It also makes you sound competent to anyone overhearing the message, like guests.Instead of “I’m with humpbacks out in the middle of the Neumeyer”, say:
“I’m with humpbacks 1500m directly west of Casabianca”
This is MUCH clearer (the Neumeyer is 15 miles long) — now other drivers know exactly where you are, they can estimate how long it will take to get to you and they know which way to go to get to you.Advanced: Talk to each other about the geography. One team this EL worked with in Svalbard all carried compasses, and had them out of their packs, either around their necks, in an accessible jacket pocket, or sitting on a Zodiac sponson. On the drive to shore, the shore party would confer with all of the drivers on a generally agreed-upon north. This didn’t have to be exactly in line with actual north, but would be a direction that would best neatly divide up the operational area, allowing staff to be extremely clear on the radio about where bears and other wildlife were and which direction they were moving in. Instead of left and right, they said north/south/east/west. A radio call if a bear showed up during a landing would be along the lines of:“We’ve spotted a bear. It is on land three miles west of the landing site. It is walking in your direction, ETA 45 minutes”.

We can all see that this is an excellent radio call. All the relevant information has been communicated in about 5 seconds — the EL knows where the bear is relative to her position and she knows which way it is moving. And because the team agreed which way west was, there is no possibility for confusion.

Back to Basics: Don’t start talking on the radio until you’ve worked out what to say. Do all your stammering and ums and uhs and ahs in your head before you hit the PTT button. Keep that message short and sweet, with no extraneous details. Remember that while you’re speaking nobody else can. Make sure that everyone who hears it, whether fellow guides, bridge officers or guests, thinks you’re a pro.

Guano Happens

It’s an immutable fact that for every big incident if we were able to look back through all operations we would find a number of smaller incidents, near-misses and causal factors leading up to that bigger incident. Now is a critical time for our industry to consider how we can improve our reporting and most importantly sharing near-misses and smaller incidents particularly with guides. These are the people at front-line of the next big thing and they should be able to access any relevant information so they might stop the next big accident before it happens.

[ed note – It was fantastic recently to attend a weekly social gathering of Svalbard guides organised by the Svalbard Guide Association (SGA) and during that time guides shared accounts of near-misses they had recently had in their day-to-day work. This sort of discussion is healthy valuable for the whole industry]

This Guano Happens is a near-miss and exactly the sort of thing at the very least your teams/colleagues should be sharing with each other and reviewing in-house. Nothing manifest happened and ultimately good SOP (kill cord) saved the day. But it is ‘something’ and deserves to be noted and registered because it is these seeming small things that will add up to the next big thing.

If any of you have had this sort of near-miss please get in touch with us and share. It is good for our entire guide community and we need to do this.

I was running a second or third shuttle to the landing site. Sea state was calm, no wind, a little drifting brash. While conditions were calm, the situation at the ship was a little chaotic due to turbulence caused by dynamic positioning, inexperienced ABs, poor communication and the lack of a clear standard operating procedure for lowering Zodiacs while dynamic positioning was engaged.

My Zodiac was empty apart from one new staff member, and we were discussing the confusion at the ship as I drove the short, straightforward shuttle back to the landing site. I was driving quite slowly around a rocky point when the throttle was wrenched out of my hand, the bow launched towards the sky and the Zodiac was spinning out of control at full speed. I realised I’d hit a piece of brash and opened the throttle as I was knocked off balance. 

My colleague and I both crouched down and the Zodiac righted itself. I saw that the engine was still running and we were speeding towards a rocky point. The throttle had swung hard left and was out of reach from my crouched position, so I pulled down on the kill cord. The Zodiac quickly came to a stop, and I checked in with my colleague. We were both fine, albeit a little surprised and shaken. 

The contributor offered discerning self-learning points:
  1. Be aware of complacency especially on calm days in familiar environments. ed – The Familiarity Heuristic is a regular contributer to Guano Happens narratives.
  2. Disorganized operations can have unknown flow-on effects with other things going on. If things are chaotic, especially at a transition zone (ship-zodiac or shore to zodiac) take a moment to breathe and consciously refocus before starting a new task.
  3. Unexpected things have a habit of popping up in the polar regions. Constant vigilence is a powerful tool in ambiguous environments and a mind state that is easily attained if you practise.
Be safe out there

Membership Updates 

PTGA members – 562
Senior Polar Guides – 243
Polar Guides – 196
Provisional and Full Assessors – 42

Congratulations to our recent status guides:

Polar Guide: Callum Findlay, Alexander Frei, Andrea Krezja, Andrew Miller, Christopher Chafer, Christopher Croxson, Daniel Lewis, Denniss Eltermans, Emily Gregory, Fredrik Dokka, Geaoge Cowan, Hilman Permana, Isabel Zuern,
Jack Alscher, Jan Nicholas Enkaviski, Javier Cotin, Jessica Minns, Justin Anderson, Luara Mony, Leslin Jones, Magdalena Maas, Manuel Jaramillo, Miguel da Silva, Nick Bredenkamp, Nikita Steele, Nil Rhodes, Rosalie Steffen, Santiago Arias, Sebastian Parra, Shawn Kerr, Tyler Stern, Victoria Laroque.

Senior Polar Guide: Anja Wied, Bruno Cazarini, Mirko Chiappani, Tania Jeken

Assessors: David Begg, Alex Cowan, Stephi Walker

Provisional Assessors: Bruno Cazarini, Nina Gallo, David Berg

Senior Assessor: Stephi Walker


Be your best guide. See you next time.