Was it wise to promote scuba diving as a pastime that anybody can enjoy?
I was recently invited to offer an opinion in an onLine debate in the ScubaBoard forum. The argument up for debate was certainly thought-provoking:
I’m asking for observations only from dive professionals and divers with a minimum of ten years experience and 500 or more dives; I’m looking for people with plenty of been-there-done-that-seen-lots kind of experience. The question is, how does the average diver of today, regardless of agency affiliation and certification level, compare to the average diver of the mid-90s when recreational diving was really beginning to take off? Yes, this is subjective and over-generalized, but I think it’s the best we can do.
My response follows and there is a link to the full thread below.
Interesting topic for discussion on the understanding that the conclusions may turn out to be as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle; however…
Working for an agency and having served on that agency’s Training Advisory Panel, my overall perception is that while the standards for an average diver to earn his/her certification may or may not have changed in the past ten to 15 years — and it would be extremely complicated to form a matrix for meaningful comparison — the overall fitness level of the average diver DOES seem to have dropped.
During the “early days” of scuba, when instruction was delivered mostly by men and women who made their living working on, in and around water, I believe a standard open-water diver course demanded more of its participants. Agencies such as YMCA, BSAC, CMAS et al, put forward entry requirements that challenged wanna-be divers to demonstrate a fluency with watercraft well beyond the basic “swim a couple of lengths without drowning.” This approach was self-limiting; people who were not strong swimmers tended to avoid diving and gravitate to other activities. The cadre of instructors tended to reinforce this in attitude, advice and practice… there were few if any exceptions made to this standard, I believe.
In addition — and based purely on subjective observation — the average age of the people signed up for a scuba course seemed to be twenties or early thirties; younger than seems to be common today. Read into this what you may, but logic would suggest that the average 20-year old uni student is more able to withstand the physical rigors of diving — whatever they may be — with less stress and angst than the average fifty-something overweight, mildly hyper-tense dentist/lawyer/real-estate broker/sales professional (apologies to those of you who fit this generalization).
The inevitable conclusion from where I sit then is this: The industry stats are inconclusive and it is close to impossible to find data to support either argument pro or con increased diver preparedness and safety. Levels of DCS for example have dropped dramatically during the past decade… even though more divers conduct staged decompression dives. Scuba Diving is more mainstream and various entities have marketed it as an activity than anyone can undertake… even those with ailments that would have precluded their participation 15 years ago. Training is more segmented than before with more options and certainly more advanced topics, procedures and practices are “out of the closet” and rather like the contents of Pandora’s Box, cannot be put back inside. Open discussion — such as this — and a growing database of success stories — and disaster scenarios — supply ample opportunities for the internally-motivated to research and make informed decisions about diving.
So, in my opinion, and without any science to back me up, I would say that there are more divers today who are able to prepare and execute a safe dive plan than ever before. Their gear is better, better understood and successfully utilized. However, these divers form a much smaller percentage of the overall numbers of folks who dive. In other words, there are also more divers today who are total and complete Muppets.
To view the full thread, visit ScubaBoard
Certain watering of standards was inevitable to allow more people to participate. Sometimes, the bar for those standards were originally set by the finger in the air method. We thought the standard was justified because that is the way we always did it. In truth, we still hang onto some of those ideals as fact when they are not, or maybe not, so. That said, divers in general, do not have the same level of understanding of the basic rules we had drilled into our skulls which now enable us to understand the new trends, concepts and practices better. I feel this is where the danger in the newer standards/teaching methods/whatever lie.
Skills are one thing. Many divers posess basic skills sufficient to allow them to survive a dive in nice easy conditions when led by a professional. I have not been diving ten years. It is more like 7. But in that short amount of time I have seen a great many who could not plan and carry out those dives without the assistance of a DM,AI, or Instructor.
As a former YMCA Instructor and now Scuba Educators International and CMAS instructor that is what concerns me. That my students who can do this as well as carry out a rescue of another diver could be paired with someone who be of little to no assistance should they have an issue.
That my students who can do this as well as carry out a rescue of another diver could be paired with someone who “would” be of little to no assistance
In the early days to enrol in diving activities you had to go out ad look for a club, be admited as a member, prouve you had the necessary skills to do dive training (remember no BCD´s and all the modern gigs), you had to BUY all the equipment except diving tanks and regulator, and after the basic training if your atitude and skills were recognized by the “club dive gurus” as to be above average,then maybe you were invited to participate in more challenging dives up to 40 / 50 meters depths. Nowdays you´re draged to make a diving course as another amusement “option” in vacation resorts..the level of dives you can access depends not on your diving skills or the opinion of “guru divers” but more on your wallet size…the entry skills (swiming and so on) are mutch more “facilitated”, so to speak because diving has become a business wereas once was a non profit club activitie. So the average diver today has more resources and can get easy access to a more standartized training, but unlike before, today average diver candidates entering training have mutch worst basic water skills and less motivation. In my experience i mutch doubt 10% would accept the “way it was”, i mean, outside pool trainings in winter in cold water, no dry suits, no BCD´s, a lot of swiming practices, no diving computers, no student diving books available (writen notes were taken during classes) and so on…The market is so desperate for new customers that we have now agencies promoting something that once was even forbiden by some countrys law. People under the age of 18 allowed to dive with SCUBA..