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Welcome to BrashTalk #21 The Newsletter of the Polar Tourism Guides Association

In This Issue

From the President’s Desk

Kia ora members and guides. We have had over 90 Post-Assessment Reports processed this season so far despite Covid and a reduced industry. This is fantastic! PTGA Assessors have been going gangbusters assessing candidates, feedback has been incredible and people really seem to be getting into it whether they are new to the industry or have a few laps under them.

Silversea Expeditions and their team have produced the most by far but Polar Latitudes and Aurora are chipping in as well. Congratulations to the Silversea assessors and the candidates who have made Polar or Senior Polar Guide status through the season.

There is a lot to be thankful for at the moment but there are still a lot of guides without work or on reduced or shortened contracts. We understand. We are optimistic about an Arctic 2022 season as many countries ease Covid restrictions and allow open travel. Let’s hope this is the turning point in the road.

There is a lot going on at PTGA currently and most is covered in this first issue of Brash Talk for 2022 so read on.

Nga mihi
Graham Charles
PTGA President

RCC Window 2022

With unprecedented speculation on the future need for proof of competency via certification and recognition by bona-fide third party qualification systems, experienced guides across the industry have been asking for another Recognition of Current Competency (RCC) window into the PTGA and our qualification framework. The Board discussed this and have agreed we should open a 2022 window.

This is a perfect opportunity for already competent guides to have their years of experience recognised as proof of minimum competency qualifications by the leading professional industry association.

This opportunity will run from March 1 – April 30. You will need to be a PTGA member and there is an administrative and review fee. Please review all the material and if you have questions please ask a PTGA Assessor if you know any or drop us a line.

Firearm Skills for Polar Bear Environments certification

We have completed our syllabus consultation and design process for Firearm Skills for Polar Bear Environments. This was a multi-year process with many changes of direction.

We have decided on a ‘training’ syllabus and program instead of an assessment syllabus like most of our other qualifications. We made this decision because of the huge demand and interest in this syllabus and potential for future courses run by non PTGA training establishments (firearms teaching schools) who weren’t going to be trained or able to ‘assess’ using our methodology because they aren’t directly involved in the broader industry. ‘Training only’ courses allow for far more people to access courses via endorsed training providers. It fits well with companies who may then decide on their own level of skill checking and in-house training to cement or augment the training course syllabus and will end up strengthening this particular area of the industry a great deal. It’s a gain for everyone.

Guides completing this Training qualification will receive PTGA Certification identifying the skills covered on the course, the name of the Trainer and training establishment, and the firearms used. This makes a far more comprehensive document for authorities to consider for permitting and access to firearms in polar bear countries and provides polar tourism companies far greater transparency, accountability and risk mitigation in this critical area.

Svalbard Firearms Permits and Laws

The situation in Svalbard is still quite fluid and seemingly very situational. Guides have been feeding us their experiences with the permitting process and the best answer we can come up with to help you with your firearms permit is: it depends.

It depends on whether you are Norwegian or not, it depends whether you have your own firearm or not. But, the good news is that plenty of guides from different nations have applied using all manner of firearm permits, some old, some current and all have been granted a permit. We don’t know if this some sort of leniency period while they sort it out the rules or not? Take this correspondence from a guide as an example and it sums up what we know currently:

Basically the new law is for Norwegian weapons only. But even with this there are many discrepancies. ANG course prior to 2019 apparently should not be recognised even though UNIS organised the safety courses. That is the official word. But then I know some ANG guides who applied for a permit to the Governor and got the permit (they studied in 2013).

Then, the governor needs to do a police check on all Norway residents, but they can’t do a check on foreign residents. Today we called the Governor and they said that foreign police checks will not be accepted because it is too easy to forge them. And yet, there is an application form in English on their website for foreigners. When you click on the link, it doesn’t ask you for any police check.

My point is, there is the law, the word of the governor, and the reality of things. It seems the governor is showing leniency when issuing permits, but the answers they give officially are extremely strict, by the book.

Guide Survey Results

Thanks to all guides who participated in the Guide Survey created by PTGA, the Svalbard Guide Association (SGA) and the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO). The goal was to get sufficient and robust quantitative data on skills, education and training levels of guides who work in the northern regions but with a focus on Svalbard. We speculated this data could strengthen our [combined] case in Svalbard to allow legitimate certification equivalencies instead of being forced to re-certify all over again.

The data clearly showed that guides bring a lot of pre-existing qualifications and certifications to their work in Svalbard and that these and other legitimate equivalencies really need to be recognized when Norway (and possibly Russia and others) establish Guide Standards. We are very clearly an international industry and international workforce and this should be acknowledged when considering these initiatives. At a glance:

  • We had 522 responses which tells us people were very keen to have their voices heard.
  • 87% of respondents were not residents of Svalbard.
  • 76% of respondents guided in Svalbard only in summer
  • 76% of respondents thought there should be different guide standards for different activities and seasons rather than a ‘one size fits all’ scheme. This fits current practice with land and vessel-based programs. There are some ‘base’ level skills to operate in the polar and expedition-cruise environment. But as each company builds its offerings around other possibilities (sea-kayaking, glacier walks, mountaineering, skiing etc) they have specialist guides with specific qualifications in those areas.
  • 90% agreed that Svalbard Guide Standards should recognise other valid equivalencies
  • Overall the average experience of guides was quite high with over 60% with 5-10yrs+ experience. In addition, people had worked all around the polar regions north and south which strengthens the argument for standards that can be utilised across the polar industry and not country by country or region by region.
  • Interestingly, 47% of respondents said they guide summer hill or mountain walking in Svalbard (among other activities). Leading Hikes has not been suggested thus far as a ‘standard’ for guides in the Norwegian offering nor the suggested AECO/IAATO standards.
  • By far the most common qualification carried so far was Small Boat Operations of some sort. Sea kayaking and PTGA Polar or Senior Polar Guide status also scored highly as common ‘other’ qualifications.
  • By and large, respondents were well educated with over 70% having >4 years in higher education.

The survey results are being used already by our partners at AECO in their advocacy and political realms and with their own members. The industry has never seen a guide level resource like this without company or Industry Association boundaries and is a testament to the importance of collaborative discussion between guide associations like PTGA and SGA and industry associations like AECO and the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO).

There is no doubt the Guide Standards issue is going to be raised again and again. Svalbard/Norway is only one of eight Arctic nations (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Russian Federation, and the United States) and we feel this is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. We hope this substantial data set will serve us in any future negotiations concerning guide standards and we will fight for the legitimacy of our members qualifications where ever we are able.

New Accredited Provider Company

Swan Hellenic is the latest addition to our team of Accredited Provider companies. They are an established, owner-operated heritage brand with more than 7 decades of expertise in classic destinations.

70 years after its first pioneering cruise, Swan Hellenic is proud to return to the world’s waters with two brand new expedition ships. The hardware will be cutting edge but the core values that underpinned the brand and served its guests so well from its inception remain in place. As does the passion for exploratory travel to the globe’s furthest far flung places. Think boutique luxury hotel with contemporary sophistication they call ‘Scandi-luxe’ Chic.

Pablo Brandeman (Senior Polar Guide and PTGA Assessor) has been coordinating the induction of Swan staff into PTGA and training and assessment opportunities.

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. if this is you and you haven’t heard from us please drop us a line.

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.


New Member Management System

We have onboarded all current member files and portfolios and are now in testing and final engineering of new systems that PTGA requires. At some stage before the end May you will receive an email message introducing you to your new Pro File and how to access it yourself where you will find all your PTA qualifications, certifications, 1st Aid Certificates and any other documentation you have provided over the years. You’ll be able to start tracking Continual Professional Development CPD) for easy Revalidation, storing hiking or excursion routes and a whole lot more. For those of you keen on this sort of thing there will be a lot for you to play with. For those of you less interested, you will have an easy and safe way to store and access key professional documents for your polar and exp-cruise work.

New Certificates

We have re-jigged the layout of the Polar and Senior Polar Guide certificates to make room for all qualifications and endorsements. Members have commented, particularly with Advanced Zodiac Endorsements, that by just listing the numbers it was another ‘step’ for ship companies or Ops Managers to have to figure out. So, we’ve changed it and all your qualifications and endorsements will be listed in full from now on. If this is something that has bothered you and you want the new version drop Pascale a line.

Membership Fees 2022

At our most recent Board Meeting we have decided to keep PTGA membership fees steady as they are through the next financial year.

We realise there are still a lot of guides not able to work or not working nearly as much as they might want and this is one way for us to help. PTGA currently is in a stable position and as a non-profit association this is all we need for the time being.

Maritime Safety Resource

Maritime Safety is not normally in our realm but we all know that ship-based guides are often required to fill in seafarer roles on board a vessel that fall outside their job description or contract expectations. We’ve added a resource link to our website to provide some guidance if guides need some advice in this area.

Guide’s Guide to Mental Health

The last couple of seasons and trying to operate within Covid protocols, the extra work this takes, and the somewhat ambiguous responsibility of roles between ship and shore, have taken a huge toll on many guides. Within the bounds of our charter we are keen to help as much as we can to be a sounding board and provide some information that may help people. We are currently working on a Guide’s Guide to Mental Health which will sit in our Guide’s Guides section of the website for you to consult if you are dealing with issues in this area.

Qualification Review Meeting

PTGA has an annual review process whereby we go through every qualification document word by word to check for errors and continued relevance of the content.

Our assessor pool are our biggest contributors to this process as they are the people interpreting the syllabi as part of their job. Members are welcome to aid the process of development and improvement. If you have seen spelling or grammar issues in a particular PQ or you would like us to consider adding or deleting certain content because it is newly relevant or irrelevant please drop us a line (mailto:info@polartourismguides.com) .

Training and Development – Not waking the gangway or marina deck by Rusty S Hackle

Washing the gangway or marina deck with your Zodiac’s wake while people are loading or unloading is not only unprofessional and terrible etiquette but can cause a fall and possibly an injury. An impressive yet no less incompetent manoeuvre is leaving a wake on approach that follows you in and hits your own boat at the gangway. But when we are trying to make the operation go as fast and as efficiently as possible it can be tempting to keep driving fast for as long as possible. So how to get to the gangway quickly without waking it?

I’m going to describe four tactics:

  1. Go dead slow
  2. Use the ship as a shield
  3. Don’t drive at max displacement
  4. Approach perpendicular

Fig 1: Your wake’s eventual path can be imagined as going forward and out to the sides of your Zodiac.

The first thing to understand is where your wake is going. While you’re obviously leaving it behind you, it will travel forwards and especially sideways from the Zodiac from the position at which it was created. So, if you stop the boat, your wake will keep going and overtake you, and will spread out to the sides.

So now how do we stop it hitting the gangway?

1. Go dead slow

This one is a bit of a no-brainer. Stop far enough away from the ship that your wake won’t reach it (you can experiment to see how far away this is) and creep in at zero-wake speed to the gangway. I usually view this as a last resort because it’s so slow and inefficient but there are times when it is the most appropriate approach.

2. Use the Ship as a Shield

If there is a gangway in use on only one side of the ship then you can come in full speed on the side opposite the gangway, hammer the ship’s side with your wake, and then slow down and get to zero-wake speed at the stern and creep in for the last 50m. If you are careless and cut very close to the ship then you run the risk of being surprised by a Zodiac coming the other way so either slow down before reaching the stern or give yourself a longer line of sight by staying further from the ship.

Fig2: Use the ship to shield the gangway from your wake (blue arrows)

3. Don’t drive at max displacement

It’s worth understanding how the Zodiac makes wake. It operates in two modes — displacement and planing. While in displacement mode it is literally displacing over a ton of water when fully loaded and this water is being pushed around as you drive. This displaced water is what makes your wake, and as you put more and more power into the water this power translates into a bigger and bigger wave. One way of reducing the wake is of course to slow down, but you can actually also achieve this by speeding up. If you put enough power into the water the boat climbs out of the hole it is making and starts to skim along the surface — this is planning. If you pay attention you can clearly feel the moment when the stern jumps out of the water as though it has stepped up onto a box, which is why you sometimes hear planing described as being “on step”. While the boat is planing it is displacing relatively little water because it’s barely IN the water, and so produces quite a small wake. You can get much closer to the ship while planing than you can while driving slower in displacement mode, and if you are empty you can get closer than if you have a full load of guests.

Bear in mind that you will produce the biggest wake possible at the moments just before you step up to planing speed and again just as you drop back into the water when you finish planing, though in the latter case it is just for a moment.

4. Approach perpendicular

Because your wake goes forward and out the sides there is a dead space directly in front of you which doesn’t get waked as badly as you’d think. You can use this to your advantage by driving towards the gangway from a direction perpendicular to the ship’s length. Try planing (remember this makes less wake already) straight towards the gangway from this direction and see what you get. There will be *some* wake, so practise to see what’s acceptable to you and the best way to do it. Incidentally, this will hammer anyone waiting in a queue for the gangway so this can only be used if you are the only Zodiac approaching to load or unload.

Fig 3: Approach from perpendicular and the majority of your wake (blue arrows) will miss the gangway altogether.

Have a play around with these techniques and work out the limits of each. You won’t just make your operation slicker and safer but you’ll also learn more about how your Zodiac behaves in the water.

Until next time.

Guano Happens

We have no recent incidents or near misses shared. If you know of any recent or historic events that would make good learning for other guides please drop us a line.

Member Updates

PTGA Members – 448
Senior Polar Guides – 211
Polar Guides – 110
Provisional and Full Assessors – 45

Congratulations to recent endorsements

Polar Guide: Bernado Alps, Marcel Lichtenstein, Marcos Goldin, Graeme Hilary, Get Van Dalen, Pablo Bianco, Tania Jeken, German Gonzalez, Justin Schaay, Kristy King, Marcus Golden, Dane Bergman, Jonathan Green, Alexandra Hansen, Genna Roland, Michael Scotting, Ash Hamilton

Senior Polar Guide: Scott Schuette, Jonathan Fuhrmann

Senior and Polar Guide Revalidations: Hannah Lawson, Ewan Blyth, Sophie Ballagh, Theres Arulf, Annette Bombosch, Nate Small, Tim Thomas, Nicki D’Souza, Robin Aiello, Robyn Mundy, Mariano Curiel, Graham Charles, Pam Le Noury, Beau Pruneau, Heidi Krajewsky, Stephen Anstee, Rupert Krapp