How to Become a Certified Scuba DiverSimon Vetterli
Asking a Scuba Diver about diving will get you a response similar to asking a grandmother about her grandchildren. The answer could go on for hours. Unlike the grandmother, however, the diver’s stories are very likely to be exciting and you may start to envy their experiences. While the grandmother’s stories will only interest a few, the diver’s stories will have a more universal appeal. The stories may tell of their first encounter with a favorite species, or the beauty of a coral reef day and night. They may try to explain to you the feeling of weightlessness or the sense of well being watching the life on a reef. Your dreams will recall the ship wrecks he described or the turtles she told you swam alongside her. Their stories may open up new horizons for you to first consider and later explore yourself.
Scuba Diving is an activity like no other. In the early days of scuba diving, the early 1950s, scuba was always capitalized as SCUBA, an acronym for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. SCUBA diving was a dangerous macho activity done only by the very fit and adventurous. The following decades saw the emerging of the noun and verb scuba, as SCUBA became safer and more widely accepted. Scuba diving is now considered a sport and one that the entire family, over 10 years of age, can enjoy. A better understanding of physics, better equipment and strict training requirements has taken SCUBA from high risk to scuba that is safer then horseback riding.
An untrained diver has a very high risk of injury even death compared to a certified diver. The training makes the difference. While the modern day training requirements are strict, they are really not that difficult. This background of danger and the need for training has put many a potential diver off from becoming a diver. For others, it becomes a barrier because it is confusing and they are not sure how to get started. We are going to help you understand how to get started, so when someone asks you about scuba diving, you will have your own memories to wow people with.
What is a Certified Diver?
The scuba diving industry is self regulating for the most part. There are generally no government mandated licensing procedure or training rules. If there are any government rules, they normally just say divers must be certified by an internationally recognized agency. Around the world there are hundreds of different accreditation agencies who train to a ISO standard. They each issue their own certification cards generally called a C-Card. These agencies have cross acceptance agreements that can give their training a worldwide acceptance. When you first start looking at becoming certified as a diver, the terms used may seem a bit confusing. Here are some the “certifications” you may hear about:
- Discover Scuba Diver: The Discover Scuba diver program also often called Try Scuba or a Resort course gives you a certificate after the course but it is not a certification. The program was designed to be used at resorts as a means to encourage resort guest to sign up for a certification course. The course mimics the first knowledge section and first confine water activity of the certification programs. Most resorts will also take the guest into open water at shallow depths. From the marketing point of view, it like a car salesman trying to convince a potential purchaser to get in the drivers seat. In the same manner a dive instructor knows that once you are underwater, the potential of you signing up for course greatly increases. That works both ways however. If you are considering becoming a diver and are not sure it is for you, the Discover Scuba program gives you a chance to “test drive” scuba.
- Scuba Diver certification: This is the first level of certification, but it is not a full certification. This course is the first half of the Open Water Diver (OWD) certification course. Divers completing this certification level are qualified to dive to 12 meters (40 feet), when diving under supervision of a dive profession. This course was originally designed for people who could not dedicate the time needed to complete the Open Water Diver course. They could complete this course and later upgrade to the OWD. You can think of it as an associate degree and the Open Water Diver as a bachelor’s degree.
- Open Water Diver certification: this is the certification that most divers start at. It is a full certification that allows you and a dive buddy to plan dives and follow them to a depth of 18 meters (60 feet). Dive center will ask to see this C-card to fill or rent cylinders. Dive operators will not let you dive with them without it or higher.
How is scuba diving training organized and conducted
While there are slight variations on how the training is presented there are three elements that divides the course: Knowledge, confined water, open water.
- Knowledge: The knowledge portion of the course is about the physics of diving and how it effects the body. It was the lack of understanding of these simple principals that caused so many of the deaths in the early days of scuba diving. These principals are converted to procedures that when follow makes scuba diving a much safer activity. There are five topics in the knowledge section for the OWD. The first one is used in the Discover Scuba Diving program and the first three in the Scuba diver program. Do not let the term physics scare you, the material is presented in a straight forward manner that even a 10 year old can understand. While initially done with a textbook in a classroom setting, the knowledge section can now be done at home using computers.
- Confined water training: The confined water training is done in a swimming pool or an equally calm and shallow open water location. The activity is sometimes called skills training, as you will be shown and will practice a number of skills related to your equipment and being underwater. It may seem strange and difficult at first, but rest assured by the end of the curse the skills will be second nature to you. Consider how it was when you learned to drive a car (or ride a bike). Every little step was a task you had to think about, now you do it without consciously thinking about it. There are also five confined water sessions (three for scuba diver and one for discover) and require the associated knowledge session be completed prior to the confined water session.
- Open water session: The open water session is an extension of what you learned in the confined water sessions. This time you are in a natural environment. There are four open water sessions for the Open Water Diver, two for the Scuba Diver program and an optional one for the discover diver.
How this training is conducted varies on the situation. Training to become certified has taken on a great deal of flexibility over the years and with the introduction of digitally based training the options are even greater. We can break how this training will be delivered into three means of delivery:
- Traditional: For lack of a better term we will use traditional. When the scuba industry started to gain popularity as a sport, a single instructor was responsible for your entire training. Many divers are still trained by this method. When done away from a vacation area, it is often spread over a number of weeks. Alternating the knowledge and pool sections and then completing the open water over a weekend. Student learning while on a vacation at a resort or dive center will likely spend four or five full days learning to dive.
- Referral: The traditional method had a weakness in areas were scuba diving is not a year round activity or where the diving is difficult. With the referral system the knowledge and skills are done locally, however, the open water dives are at another location with a different instructor. Many new dives use this method and take the open water dives and complete their certification while on vacation. This gives them greater flexibility to enjoy their vacation, or more time to dive.
- E-learning: Advances over the decades in training methods and digital devices has created an e-learning opportunity. The knowledge session is done at your leisure from your home computer or tablet device. When you purchase the e-learning package, you will be ask to select what dive center you will train with. You basically have the same two options. You can have one dive center complete your training either local or away. You can also arrange with a local dive center to do your skills training and they set it up as a referral for your open water sessions. The majority of new divers are using this means of training.
Certification, the first step to a life long passion
Becoming a certified diver is the first step along the way to something that might be a life long passion. Many divers who learned to dive in their late teens and early 20’s are still scuba diving in their 50s and 60s, even longer. Retirement often allows more free time leading to more diving and dive vacations.