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Welcome to BrashTalk #20 The Newsletter of the Polar Tourism Guides Association.

In This Issue:


From the President’s Desk

Dear Members & Guides,

Kia Ora from Wanaka, New Zealand.

I can quite easily say that 2021 hasn’t been what I thought it would be.

We are living vicariously through the excitement of guides and our partner companies who are heading south this season and we hope this is a successful kick start for our industry and precursor to a good Arctic 2022.

For all guides heading south – please be aware that it may have been a long time since you were out in zodiacs in the polar environment, leading hikes, loading at gangways and making quick situational decisions about what you do next. There is no question you will be out of practise and not as sharp as when you were last on the job. Give yourself a little more time, don’t push it on that first boisterous gangway or surf landing. Make sure to get a feel for the snow and conditions under your feet again. Make decisions based on the reawakening of your skills and judgement and take the time to give situations your full attention.

PTGA is in good shape and we have met our targets for the year. We are moving forward driven by member support in that we have a viable and relevant guide standards process, we are gaining more traction every day, and we have a lot of value-added opportunities for guides across the spectrum of polar and expedition cruise guiding.

As the year draws to a close and we produce our 20th edition of Brash Talk and the final one for this year, on behalf of the PTGA Board of Directors I would like to wish everyone a safe and fun season whether you are going south or not.

Finally, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a new PTGA member recently. We were discussing what it is to have an association representing professionalism and all the extra work that now goes with proof of competency and keeping currency and I found myself apologising for the extra work. It was an enlightening moment when this guide suggested that the work that goes into something is actually the point. The work required to build a portfolio of qualifications, the work required to show proof of continual professional development, the work we do as professionals and all that goes along with it in today’s world is why polar and expedition guiding is a great choice of job and career and is evolving in a really positive way. All of it.

Nga mihi

Graham Charles

PTGA President

How do I get my PTGA Drive a Zodiac certification accepted by a shipping company?

With the start of an Antarctic season 21/22 just over the horizon and the constant change in rules and regulations, some guides are taking contracts with new operators. We’ve fielded a number of these questions in the last couple of months and would like to share some ideas with you:

The shipping company wants me to show an RYA certificate to drive zodiacs but I have my PTGA Drive Small Boats/Zodiacs; all the prerequisites and also some advanced endorsements. How can I get my PTGA award accepted by the company that owns the ship?

We’ve dealt with a number of these and have yet to have one fail.

Shipping companies have their systems like everyone else and one of these to cover their safety, insurance and legal requirements is that Zodiac driver’s show some proof of certification that they can drive a zodiac. RYA has been around for years and has the quickest and easiest brand recognition. Does this mean it is fit for purpose for expedition cruise or polar guiding work – no. But it exists and generally the shipping company is less concerned with the syllabus detail as long as the paperwork is in place.

The best process so far is to explain you are a PTGA qualified Zodiac driver (you may need to explain what the PTGA is) and send them all the paperwork (syllabi) that supports your Zodiac Certificate or even better, hand deliver it on board so you can explain it all.

Understand that ‘inside’ your Zodiac certification are all the prerequisites (Navigation Skills, Communications and Working with Small Boats/Zodiacs) and these are very useful measures of ‘other’ competency to protect the company. Include the syllabus for Driving Small Boats/Zodiacs and request they really take a look at what is measured. Add any Advanced Endorsements you might have (Strong Wind Driving, Crane, Polar etc) and explain how these ‘bolt on’ endorsements work and what value they are to risk mitigation and liability protection and you should be good to go.

At any stage if the shipping company needs verification of who the PTGA is and your standing in it, encourage them to email us and we will back you up 100%. That’s why we are here :-).

Membership Fees

We would like to thank all our members and corporate members for continuing to work with us through Covid times. Now, more than ever, it is crucial to keep your membership and certifications current and subscribe with the PTGA. As the industry moves forward, there is more and more talk of guide standards and requirements to show proof of competency. The PTGA will continue to support you by offering the best-in-class professional qualification framework and recognition of professional competency and through the many valuable guide resources available on the website, like our ongoing Speaker Series, Virtual Learning Environment, Resource Library, and more.

We do recognize that, for some guides, membership fees can be a financial hardship. The PTGA Board has discussed all means possible to ease the burden from our side without going broke ourselves.

We are doing all we can to help lessen the burden for those who may be feeling squeezed:

  • We have kept our membership fees level for over three years.
  • We have reduced the annual fee for Assessors to the same as standard membership because of lack of work.
  • We have developed inexpensive online assessment programs for a number of qualifications.
  • We have reduced PTGA Admin hours to a minimum to keep things lean and mean.

Online Assessments

PTGA has developed a series of online assessments for a limited number of our qualifications. We have been trialling online assessments over the last while and believe the process we have is robust, accountable, and most of all accessible to anyone with an internet connection. We are offering introductory pricing through the end of 2021 to help guides unable to attend in-person assessments and who may be facing financial hardship due to the recent drought of work.

We are able to offer assessments in:

  • Navigation Skills for Polar Operations
  • Communications for Polar Operations
  • Presentation Skills

These awards are a great way to start building your resume of PTGA qualifications. Communications and Navigation Skills are mandatory pre-requisites for many of our other qualifications. They get you underway so you can focus on training and development for Driving Zodiacs and Leading Hikes.

A quick reminder that PTGA assessments are an examination and not a training program. If you would like training aimed at the exam and the PTGA syllabus to prepare for it, feel free to reach out and we can provide recommendations for training.

If you are interested in any of our online assessments, please drop us a line.

Revalidation for Status Guides – Class of 2017/18

As part of our ISO accredited qualifications and testing scheme, every four years guides need to supply evidence of continued performance in qualified areas and proof of continual professional development (CPD). It’s like what you have to do with your first aid certifications but without going on a course.

We are fully aware that Covid has restricted most of our ability to work, but there is no need to worry – we’ve got you covered!

Currently the people due for revalidation are those who gained status in 2017/18.

The minimum industry work requirement over 4 years is >60 days. If you already have more than 60 days logged since 2017/18 you can submit a Revalidation portfolio. If you still need to log some days and need to wait through 2022 – no problem.The concept of a revalidation process is new to many folk. A quick call to us can save you time, so let us know if you are struggling with the concept, process or requirements and we can help.

For those folk with qualifications from back in 17/18 a refreshed portfolio and new certificates will be important tools for your next four years to prove standards of competency to IAATO/AECO and the Svalbard Govt.

A Revalidation Portfolio of Evidence must show:

  • Logged time in relevant areas/qualifications
  • Not less than 60 days active work in the Polar Tourism Industry
  • A commitment to Continual Professional Development (CPD)*
  • Attestors who we may contact if required
  • That any required 1st Aid or other prerequisite qualifications are current.

*CPD may include additional professional experience, private study, specific training, participation in lectures, seminars, online tests or development programs, refresher courses, conferences or internal company training (courses or training must include evidence of content such as agenda, learning plan or confirmation from facilitator).

We strongly recommend giving your revalidation some thought prior to the deadline date. If anyone has lost copies of their original certification and have no idea what qualifications you have – drop us a line.

Guide Status and Industry Recognition

Congratulations to IAATO for the recent Polar Guide Week initiative. It’s fantastic to see individuals held up as role models of excellence in the industry. Of note in this selection of 8 guides there were five PTGA Senior Polar Guides. Of this group, three are PTGA Assessors. We feel that for a random selection of IAATO member company guides this is an excellent representation of industry qualified guides and shows the degree to which our community of professionals makes up the fabric of the profession of polar and expedition cruise guiding.

Svalbard Guide Standards

Currently there is a draft document outlining a broad range of new regulations to tourism, and access with a range of site restrictions. Guides standards are part of this document and discussion. PTGA is engaging with the Norwegian Ministry’s comment process. Our aim is to represent our members’ interests and provide assistance to AECO and other stakeholders working toward the same goals in Svalbard. We will keep you updated as things develop.

Guide Authors and Creators

Robyn Mundy (Senior Polar Guide and PTGA Assessor) has a new novel, Cold Coast, being published at the end of October. Cold Coast is a historical novel set in 1932, about Wanny Woldstad, the first female trapper in Svalbard. Part of the story is shown from the perspective of an Arctic fox! Congratulations Robyn and check it out. Cold Coast.


Jamie Watts (Senior Polar Guide and PTGA Assessor) has produced the book Antarctic Marine Wildlife which is a complete, concise guide to the wildlife of the Antarctic Peninsula, Weddell Sea and Scotia Sea, including South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, biologically the richest areas of Antarctica. As well as the conspicuous and spectacular marine mammals, penguins and other seabirds, this book gives an overview of all organisms in the marine ecosystem that supports virtually all of Antarctica’s wildlife, from krill and other plankton to seafloor invertebrates.This field guide is beautifully illustrated with color photos and plates throughout of all the major animal and algae groups. It is a concise yet complete reference for visitors and for seasoned expedition guides, and to anyone interested in the unique wildlife of the area.The book gives an ecological overview of the region and it’s subareas, and covers all the region’s marine life, as well as giving a year-round calendar of marine wildlife events.

It is available on Amazon in the US, Europe, UK, Japan and Australia, as a paperback

The Dolphins and Whales World Guide app released by Senior Polar Guides, Pam le Noury and Jamie Watts in 2014 has just had a big overhaul. Species have been added, some removed, illustrations and images updated Deraniyagala’s beaked whale.

This is a great tool for marine cetacean spotting novices and guides alike when you need to quickly work out if you are actually looking at a Deraniyagala’s beaked whale there is no more convenient way to quickly check than on your app which works offline. You can even narrow down your search for the area you are in, and compare similar species side by side.

The update is released for apple users and soon to be in the android version, if you already have the app just check for the update and enjoy.

The apps are an ongoing passion project and Pam and Jamie really appreciate any feedback, comments, corrections and especially if you would like to contribute a good image or two – please reach out.

Congratulations Robyn, Pam and Jamie.

TahDah MMS

We have a test version of our new member management home base! This will revolutionise how guides can interact with their own profiles in the PTGA and qualifications environment. Guides will be able to access all their own material, find training courses, and keep up with important news closer to real time. With looming proof of competency requirements on the near horizon in all areas of operation, this platform and access to your qualifications will be integral to any guide’s annual work scheduling and compliance. Stay tuned for updates and we hope to have you logged on by the end of the year.

Training and Development

Steer the Stern – Rusty S Hackle

When people first learn to drive a tiller-steered boat it is not intuitive to learn that when you push the tiller left the boat goes right. Most of us are used to steering cars, where we turn the front wheels and the back wheels follow. But when we steer a boat we are doing something very different — we are steering the back of the boat instead of the front. Don’t think of using the tiller to turn the bow left and right and instead use the tiller to push the stern left and right. When you push the tiller to port the stern goes to port and vice versa. The tiller is pointing where the engine is going. This is more intuitive and thinking this way can improve your handling.

The boat as a whole pivots about an axis that is somewhere in the middle of the floor, so the sideways movement at the stern is matched by the bow moving in the opposite direction which gives rise to the illusion that you are steering the bow. But this means that if the stern is close to an obstacle it may strike it even if you think you are steering away from it.

When you push the tiller to port, the engine will go to port. If there is a rock or chuck of ice there, while the bow will turn away from it, the stern (and maybe the engine too) may crunch right into it.

Here the tiller is over to the left and the Zodiac is pivoting clockwise. This driver thinks they are turning away from the submerged rock but they’re actually about to trash the prop. When you push the tiller over, look where it’s pointing because that’s where your engine is going.

We know to face the direction we are moving the boat. I try to go further than this and watch both where the boat is going and separately where the engine is going. In open waters this doesn’t particularly matter but in close quarters (e.g. amongst ice or kelp or in shallow rocky water) this can matter quite a lot. Thinking about this also helps with coming alongside gangways and marinas.

So for better close-quarters handling remember that the Zodiac pivots and to steer the stern.

See you next time.

Firearm Skills for PBE Overview

The Expedition Guide Academy offered its inaugural Polar Bear Safety & Firearm Handling course in Copenhagen, Denmark. The course was run over 2-days with some pre-course online learning. They had 13 participants from as far away as the USA, Switzerland, and Iceland with a range of experience from zero to >20 years.

A morning in the classroom had the team stripping weapons down so they could better understand how they work and how to best maintain them during expedition operations. From the classroom, the team headed to the virtual reality setup to practice new concepts before heading to the cine-range to shoot static and moving targets.

The second day included a thought-provoking theory session with Dr. Nikita Ovsyanikov on polar bear behavior and non-lethal strategies for operating in polar bear habitats. This component was very well received by all and was the highlight of the course for many.

The course was a great success and participants left with very current skills and contemporary knowledge for operating safely in polar bear habitats. The course will run again in 2022.