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Welcome to BrashTalk #13 the newsletter of the Polar Tourism Guides Association. We hope your season is going well where ever you are. We hope you get some down time between Arctic and Antarctic seasons and a chance to catch up on life as a busy polar guide. 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.

In This Issue:

  • Presidents Pontifications – Guide Status Revalidation
  • Easy-On-The-Earth Initiatives
  • Interview – Delphine Aures
  • Website Payment Issues
  • Scuttlebutt
    • PTGA Assessors
    • Membership Survey
    • Pro Deal Review and New Deals
    • Svalbard Guides Association
  • Training and Knowledge (new regular feature)
  • Gear for Sale
  • Guano Happens
  • New Status Guides

Random fact – the PTGA has 40% female membership. 50% of our current Assessors are women.

Presidents Pontifications – Revalidation

After reviewing the results of the PTGA Member Survey it is clear many people haven’t yet thought ahead to what revalidation means for them and what will be required. To be fair to all it has been a lower priority for the PTGA in terms of educating our membership because it won’t kick in until 2020 for our very earliest members and then more fully in 2021 and 2022. Here is a start and some things you should know. Revalidation is a critical part of professionalism in any industry because it verifies the stated, and contracted requirement (via the PTGA Code of Conduct) that a professional guide will stay current in the skills they require to hold awards with the Association and that they will embrace the action and philosophy of Continual Professional Development (CPD). Polar Guides and Senior Polar Guides must revalidate every three years. Revalidation will be in the form of a Portfolio of Evidence and/or observation/attestation by a PTGA Assessor or Senior Polar Guide that you are working at the level consistent with your PTGA status and awards. A Revalidation Portfolio of Evidence must show:

  • Logged time in relevant areas
  • Not less than 60 days active work in the Polar Tourism Industry
  • A commitment to Continual Professional Development (CPD)*
  • Attestation and/or peer review of performance from a Senior Polar Guide or **Assessor, and;
  • 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 conformation from facilitator). The onus is on the Guide to outline the relevance of the CPD and should take into account changes in the:

  • Needs of individuals;
  • Needs of organizations;
  • Polar tourism activities techniques, technologies, equipment and practices;
  • Participant relationship practice;
  • Rules and legislation.

** If a Guide has gained their qualifications solely via the Recognition of Current Competency program or the Cross- Credit Program, observation by a Senior Assessor in any active PQ would be desirable. We recommend giving your revalidation some thought prior to the deadline date. If you do some training, even if it is in-house training with senior staff, note it down with what was covered and by whom and what you learned from it. If you do an external course make sure to at least get something to prove attendance. If you complete PTGA online development modules you will get a note saying you have participated – put this in your revalidation folder. If you attend the Field Staff Conference make a note of this and put it in your revalidation folder on your computer. If you wait until you get a note from PTGA saying you are required to revalidate it will be a big job to reflect on the last 3 years and remember everything you have done that represents Continual Professional Development – keep a Revalidation folder live and add to it as you go and the revalidation process will be a breeze. If logging information – no we don’t require detail on every day you have used radios in your work. If you know you worked 123 days in a season and you had a VHF radio with you every day then just note ‘123 days’. If you drove a zodiac 102 of those days and most of it was normal operations we don’t need the detail just acknowledge you drove 102 normal days of operations. If 4 of those days were in winds over 30kts or had big beach landings these are the ones you could add more detail. As always, if you have any questions or want clarification before you do the work just drop us a line or talk to any PTGA Assessor.

Easy-On-the-Earth Initiatives

We are currently working on a range of options for not only PTGA members, but any cruise industry guide, to use in order to help mitigate the impact of our carbon footprint to get to work or the mode of transport used to undertake a lot of our polar guiding. This is a tough job because for every person who passionately believes in a stance there are people who can produce clear and rationale reasons that place any action in the realm of: conscience easing, too-little-too-late, not enough effort, band aid on an arterial bleed hypocrisy. Acknowledging that this is likely to happen we are continuing our efforts and our hope is to be able to collaborate with any other initiatives in the polar world that help unite people to the common cause and accept that people will only change and act to the level that works for them but that through common language and messaging keeping it front-of-mind we might be able to help shift the idea of what is expected of a professional guide in this day and age. At the very base level we will link people to reusable items that can help cut down on our travel waste. At a mid-level we will provide easy links to reputable carbon credit options where people might choose to mitigate their travel footprint in some small way. At our highest level, but with unknown manifest outcomes we want to help promote and lead the discussion and creation of resources so we might influence thought and hopefully create behavioural change because of this. There is also a group of other guides working on similar initiatives and our hope is that we can all work together for the common good in this area. We acknowledge the inconsistencies and hypocrisies that will exist in all levels of our efforts. This is not offered as ‘the answer’, If you are someone who finds it easy to identify these and point them out, we’d welcome your clarity of vision to help us make something better. We are also working on a ‘Guides guide’ to Carbon Credits – stay tuned.

Interview – Delphine Aures

Delphine Aures has been involved in the polar industry for over 20 years with an estimate of >3100 days working in polar regions (legend!). We decided we needed to speak to Delphine and find out what makes her tick. PTGA – You have been doing this for a long time now and have an enormous amount of experience all over the polar realm – why did you join the PTGA and apply for Recognition of Current Competency? DA – I started guiding in the polar regions at a time when it was current practice to learn about everything on the spot, and I am still thankful to the great leaders and colleagues who taught me the basics and have been a source of inspiration. I joined the PGTA in respect for and trust in the initiative as a collective of polar guides united by the will to operate professionally, to see their competence being recognized, and to keep it up to date! Applying for the Recognition of Current Competency was a bit like having my seafarer medical checkup but on the competence level! I enjoyed the mere fact of challenging my actual everyday work practice and foundation against the qualifications and knowledge required for every PQ. It has been an encouraging way to see where I could try and progress at this stage in my career. PTGA – What is it about the concept of testing for minimum competency that you think might be beneficial for the polar tourism industry? DA – Regardless of how long we have been working as guides or leaders in the polar expedition cruising industry, times have changed and proof of minimum competency are now required and wished for, particularly in the context of expected growth in ships and staff number. Showing proof of minimum competency can only improve not only safety but strength in team work across the realm of polar companies. PTGA – Are you concerned that testing and qualifications will just lead to generic guides with pre-packaged answers? DA – Not at all. A minimum proof of competency is basics. That is why an assessor with a few years experience can assess a guide with 3 times their experience. A combination of the actual years of experience, the personality, the skills and the dedication will always tell a guide from another. PTGA – What do you think are the biggest challenges for the industry in the next 5 years? DA – The obvious growth of the fleet and the consequent logistics to go with it in order to both operate safely, and to limit the pressure on sites and wildlife. Extra vigilance and extra cooperation will be strongly needed in the years to come in order to find solutions. It is becoming essential that our polar tourism become a role model in terms of sustainability. We already are a part of the tourism industry that managed to gather under strong self-regulatory associations. And so there is hope that we, together, can adopt regulations that will go beyond any compensation of carbon footprint. For example there could be a clean seas certification system for all vessels operating in the polar regions: a classification based upon the sustainability effort at all levels of the vessel (gas and particule emissions, fuel consumption, single use plastic, micro plastic release, sustainable food source, garbage tonnage, etc…) that could boost all operators to seriously reduce their impact. Hurtigruten is clearly leading the way but will everyone follow and will they act quick enough, without any stronger regulations or clear way of encouragement? PTGA – Favourite place in the polar regions and why? DA – I have never felt for the concept of favorite, in anything! I guess my interests in life are just too wide, whatsmore I am aware that no place is the same at a given time you transit through. I have been lucky to travel extensively around the Arctic and the Antarctic regions and all these places are associated with so many various memories. Together with the polar seas, all these land- and ice- scape create an ensemble that resonates and makes it whole. PTGA – Favourite polar hero and why? DA – If I can’ t do « favorite » about regions or animals, no way I could with humans! Polar “hero” is a very personal concept, and one that can also evolve through life and experiences. I would rather talk about polar explorers, keeping in mind that like all humans (including PTGA guides) none are perfect beings, in their decisions, their commitments or their motivation. These days I like to look at what present day exploration means in the polar regions. There are some really interesting explorers out there, like Borge Ousland and Vincent Colliard, who are combining their true and skilled sense of adventures and sports with proper scientific observation or data collection. And then there are all the scientists studying the polar regions. They, nowadays, probably fit the title of polar hero, as their results are critical to the preservation of the polar regions, and beyond that, to the Planet. PTGA – Favourite creature? DA – All of them again! Even if I have seen hundreds or thousands individuals of a given species, there is always awe and joy to observe them season after season. Maybe that is because of my past occupation as wildlife biologist. There will always be one behaviour, or one attitude that you did not see before. Of course I am talking of the megafauna here but the smaller creatures like planktonic organisms are just as fascinating in other respect, and especially when a passionate guide will tell you about them! Thanks Delphine we appreciate your support and experience and congratulations on achieving Senior Polar Guide with more PTGA Qualifications than any other person to date.

PTGA Assessors

We are adding a website page in with a list of all PTGA Assessors and the growing number of external providers who offer training with a focus on PTGA Scope/Syllabi. If you, or someone you know, wish to be trained or assessed or just have questions about the PTGA and how it works this is the resource to consult. The PTGA has 4 levels of people involved with our ISO accredited assessment system. Any PTGA Assessor is someone who has been vetted for their skills, experience and character and trained in the delivery methodology and administrative requirements of the PTGA. Regardless of Company they work for, if delivering PTGA assessments they are delivering to the standards and methodology required by the PTGA. All PTGA Assessors have a register of qualifications they can assess against. They have to hold the award themselves and feel confident about their knowledge and experience to uphold the standard in an assessment setting.

  • Senior Assessors are able to offer assessments anywhere they are and are able to run Assessor Training Courses.
  • Assessors have completed all Provisional Requirements required by the PTGA and are able to assess candidates within their licensed scope.
  • Provisional Assessors are guides who have attended a PTGA Assessor Training course and have a number of additional developmental requirements to achieve over a period of time. Provisional Assessors are allowed to assess candidates within their licensed scope.
  • Assessment Advisors are specialist experts who may work with PTGA Assessors or candidates who have expertise in some part of the assessment process but are not polar guides or status Assessors.

Senior Assessors Ben Jackson Graham Charles Assessors Ewan Blyth Sophie Ballagh Provisional Assessors Marieke Egan Jamie Watts Gary Miller Heidi Krajewsky Pablo Brandeman Stephen Anstee Phil Wickens Mette Eliseusen Kit van Wagner Dan Stavert Tarn Pilkington Sarah Merusi Graeme Snow Seb Coultard Pernille Soeegaard Nate Small Howard Whelan Liz Pope Robyn Mundy Mariano Curiel Mariela Cornejo Karin Lundstrom Roger Kirkwood Nico Danyau Danielle Mates Hadleigh Measham Toby Story

PTGA Membership Survey

We had a 37% participation rate with our membership survey. Thanks to all those who took the time. The information is invaluable. We don’t plan to publish results other than to say your words have been heard. We will, and already are, actioning things that were repeated often and are achievable. Some of you had strong opinions about some things and we appreciate that and we can only apologise if some ideas are impossible for us until we have a lot more money and dedicated staff. *Lauren Farmer (SPGuide) won the random draw for an NRS Compact Throw Bag and BCA Probe. Congratulations.


We have received some feedback about a couple of the ProDeal links not working. We are about to do a review of what we have but we’d appreciate your input. If you have tried to use any of the Pro Deals had no success please drop us a line and we can get things sorted out. We have a couple of new Pro Deals coming online soon so keep an eye on things if you are looking to replace some equipment.

New Pro Deals

Longyear 78 – this is a retail shop in Longyearbyen where you can show your Polar Guide or Senior Polar Guide award and get discounted prices. ExpertVoice – is a huge clearing house with links to hundreds of brands. You can use your guide status certification to access all manner of deals and build a cadre of brands that suit your needs if you wish.

Svalbard Guides Association (SGA)

Our work and relationship with the team who form the executive of the SGA is growing and we are working on a couple of collaborative projects for the next Svalbard season. SGA have gained a real foothold in Svalbard now and have recently contributed valuable information and guide representation to Syssellmannen during recent environmental/operational hearings. They increasingly support and promote the PTGA standards as a viable option for guides and operators in Svalbard. We hope to have an interview with them next issue.

Training and Knowledge

We have listened to your feedback regarding BrashTalk and we plan to make some set topics that provide tangible value. Training and Knowledge kicks off this issue and will remain in here. If you find a useful resource that is good information for all guides please drop us a line. If there are particular sections of BrashTalk you find more interesting or valuable please let us know. Closely related to the Guano Happens experience (read on) this video is well worth a watch for those of you who venture out onto fast ice or sea ice. https://www.facebook.com/uniladmag/videos/2467660159996613/UzpfSTE1OTI4NDA2NDU6Vks6NDc2NDMzODg2MjkxNTc1/ The northern season is over but this site is an extraordinary look at change over time at a number of locations in Svalbard. The Expedition Guide Academy ran it’s first Comprehensive Guide Course (October). The course packaged four days of training and development followed by two days of PTGA assessment. Ben and Pernille (both Senior Polar Guides and Assessors) had this report: The EGA comprehensive course is built around training new and less experienced guides for the expedition cruise industry. The all female participants (Switzerland, Chile & Russia) came from mixed backgrounds ranging from never having been on an expedition ship, to ship crew and a current expedition staff member wanting to up-skill. The course was based out of our Danish campus on the west coast of Sealand where the participants lived and learned onsite. It focused on four core PQ’s: Navigation Skills, Communications, Working with Small Boats/Zodiacs and Driving Small Boats/Zodiacs. The participants couldn’t have been more motivated and driven as learners and future professionals and long days and perfectly poor weather delivered very realistic learning conditions. After the teaching component we moved into the assessment side of the course. To cover the content we continued with long days to cover all the PQ elements. All through this trial program we were in touch with PTGA to ensure what we were doing was 100% in line with requirements for ‘non-workplace’ based assessment. This live dialogue with the parent testing body provided excellent ongoing moderation and confirmed we were meeting all requirements. The candidates came away from the program with fantastic results (qualifications) that have really put them on the front foot for their future as trained AND qualified guiding professionals. Something that really struck us both was how much content and quality teaching we could cover in such a short period of time. Having been involved in teaching on ships for a number of years, not having to work around the constraints of expedition operations provided the perfect learning platform. As far as skill acquisition is concerned, it’s as good as it gets. We’re already looking ahead to the 2020 Comprehensive Guide Courses in New Zealand and Denmark.

Gear for sale

We still have NRS ligtweight and low profile throw bags (a must for a modern guide) $34 + postage. BCA short probes ideal for poking around in the snow at Neko, Brown, Orne or Portal Pt crevasses to see what’s going on. If you are in charge of leading hikes you really should have a short probe in your kit. $30 + postage.

Guano Happens

This incident happened in the NW Passage while landing on an ice floe. I’d been out zodiac cruising near Banks Island at the western end of the NW Passage. I’d radioed my partner and said I’d found a great floe and wanted to get my zodiac out for a walk on the floe. My partner wasn’t keen but said they would stand by and back me up with a zodiac in the water. I ran my zodiac up onto the floe and was nicely perched. I grabbed a paddle from the zodiac as a probe and jumped out onto the ice for a look around. I poked around a bit and everything seemed solid. I went back and explained what we were going to have a short walk on an ice floe in the NW Passage and also said if anyone was not happy with the idea they could stay in the zodiac. All my guests were keen. I began unloading and told them to have a look around, not go near the edge and not too far away. I’d nearly finished getting people out when there was a cry and a gentleman was knees deep in a slush pool of soft ice having broken through the surface. He was flailing around and panicking which was making matters worse. His rubber boots were full of freezing cold water and he clearly believed he was going to go right through and into the sea. I grabbed my spare paddle and rushed over. He had walked into a mushy melt-pool area I hadn’t seen on my quick look around. I offered the paddle but he was just out of reach so I used the paddle as a walking stick and waded into the pond to steady him and escort him out. He was quite shaken and had cold feet. I rallied my group back into the zodiac and offered him my spare socks in my pack and explained we could get back to the ship in less than 10 mins. He had settled by this stage and said he would be okay but wanted to go straight to the ship. We emptied the water from his boots and drove back to the ship. His story was the biggest news in the bar that night. This guide did a lot of things right and we thank them for sharing. This isn’t a major incident and as always there are still some things we can all learn. Causal factors for the incident in the slushy pond

  • Insufficient scouting – if operating an ice walk a guide should scout an area as thoroughly as they can. Having an ice probe, paddle or ice axe is useful to really poke at suspect surfaces without having to step in them.
  • Lack of clear boundaries for the guests – if a guide is going to let people wander freely there should be very clear boundaries. Items from a zodiac or your guide pack can make useful boundary markers if needed.

Further issues for consideration

  • Carrying a throw bag or rope at all times – it is unknown if the guide had a rope on them at all times but the PTGA recommends having a personal rope or throw bag with the guide at all times during an ice walk or any extended journey on sea ice.
  • We don’t know exactly from this report but if someone was through the NW Passage it was likely to be later season with warmer temperatures. This might indicate that even once a guide decides to run an ice walk they should be on high alert because any ice floes are likely to be degrading with a high likelihood of surface melt pools.

Ice landings are a lot of fun and often a highlight for many guests. They also have a lot of potential for things to go badly wrong and with significant consequence. In the tourism industry there aren’t any established guidelines or practises (there are some resources and SOPs for Govt Science operations and heavy vehicle operations on ice) so this makes it difficult for people to learn and for a lot of polar tourism industry guides hand-me-down training is as good as it gets. If you ever run into a guide who has extensive experience working on sea ice it is a golden opportunity to grill her/him and learn as much as you can.

PTGA Members – 284 Senior Polar Guides – 107 Polar Guides – 40

It’s been a busy period of assessment mixed with the last batch of our RCC reviews and we are excited about the growing list of status guides: Polar Guide – Anthony Smith, Scott Schuette, Carmen Westenberg, Dmitri Banin, Jake O’Flaherty, Boo Boosberry-Woods, Kevin Nicholas, Hilary Cave, Ashley Hamilton, John Barry, Lelia Cataldi, Elena Wimberger, Juan Jose Miramon Melgar, Philip Stone, Pierre Malan, Larissa Sovsnoskia, Alasdair McGregor Senior Polar Guide – Al Bakker, Christian Genillard, Jonas Sundquist, Steve Schellenberg, Sara Orstadius, Claudia Roedel, Catherine Ardagh, Delphine Aures, David Sinclair, Vicki Beaver, Peter Lovell, Ryan Burner, Florence Kuyper Have a safe and fun season.