by Dr. Thomas Powell:
The world of scuba diving is very unique. Divers and dive operations follow standards established by training agencies, global training councils, and educational boards. The objective of these standards is to set forth a minimum requirement to be met during dive training for a given course, as a result creating consistent scuba diver training on a global scale. Despite organized standards, many divers can tell you of times when they have swiped gear and tried breathing off a tank underwater, or of a time when a child experimented with a pony bottle under direct supervision.
The origins of the recreational scuba industry can be found among a group of forward thinking individuals who brought standardized scuba training to the public. This unique plan to develop an exciting new sport was derived from military experience and innovative experimentation. Over time, equipment improved, standards were refined, and the modern sport of scuba diving was developed.
Despite eventual success, the originators of recreational scuba were individuals following military protocols and theoretical concepts; no recreational scuba certification programs yet existed, so divers at that time were diving without formal training or a certification card to show proof of their diver level experience.
Later, similar scenarios took place as divers and agencies experimented with mixed gasses, cave exploration, and advanced dive profiles. Over time, training standards and formal qualifications were developed. Today, dive operators require certification cards to show proof of knowledge, capability, and understanding of training. What was once an adventurous and unsupervised sport has become one based on knowledge development and procedures designed to follow safe diving practices.
The modern scuba community is based on tiered training programs. New divers earn open water certifications and then gain diving experience as they work through advanced and rescue type programs. Side paths exist for various types of training and equipment use. Despite the requirement for formal training and providing proof of diver level experience, each year a unique crowd of divers walk through the doors of dive shops around the United States… This group is made up of uncertified divers who make a living in some fashion through the sport of scuba diving.
One example of uncertified active divers can be found in Southern Florida. The start of lobster season can be chaos for places like the Florida Keys. Every boat departs full and no lobster is safe. Regulators get rebuilt, parts get replaced, and each day individuals with one second stage bought for the cheapest price can be seen falling off the back of private boats in the hopes of getting some “bugs” (lobsters).
Following the short season, inexpensive alternate air sources are pawned and the scuba community shrinks just a bit. Essentially, for the lobster fishing season, individuals who may not be certified take to the water to get their hands on this beautiful and tasty catch.
The presence of uncertified divers does not diminish inland. How many pools exist in the United States? Each public pool has components that must be replaced on a periodic basis to follow OSHA regulations. Many pool management companies have discovered that the ability to change these components provides increased revenue.
Throughout the year, small business operators will bring dry suits, hookah systems, and even standard scuba gear into dive shops for repair. Upon further investigation, it is discovered these operators are running pool management companies. Often, the employees are not certified divers and the excuse is that a certification is “unneeded” in a nine foot deep pool. This may be true, but the larger problem is that the company owners often do not understand the difference between equipment types and basic functionality. Despite this fact, many of these companies have grown to be very successful and maintain a seemingly safe work history, however, proper training for the equipment their employees use on a daily basis could only help.
The world of uncertified divers is larger than most people would think. Uncertified divers not only built the scuba industry, but actually developed the standards and certification procedures followed by the larger modern scuba community. For this reason, people who are developing and exploring new methods of diving may use equipment, methods, or techniques for which no certifications have yet been developed.
The reality is that many people have fun and make a successful living scuba diving without certifications. The worry is that divers could get hurt and the industry could be damaged, or face repercussions. A lack of training and education on safe diving practices increases their risk of possible injury.
The best way to correct this situation is to encourage training for these divers. Dive shops could offer educational programs tailored specifically to confined water divers or seasonal fisherman. Either way, the world of uncertified divers has always existed in some fashion within the sport of scuba diving and in some ways can be viewed as the roots of the sport we have today.
– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, North Carolina