Do tough conditions during a course result in better divers?

By Steven Koedijk

Here is a recipe for debate. Take:

  • One dive instructor who teaches in the tropics
  • One dive instructor who teaches in a quarry, fresh-water lake or river

Now put them in a room and wait.

Sooner or later, the inevitable will happen. They each start to make arguments to convince the other person that their local environment creates better divers. It is all but guaranteed.

Usually, it goes something like this

The cold-water instructor may say something along the lines of:

  • “In limited visibility, wearing double 7 mm, farmer-john suits with hoods and gloves, the student gets used to a heightened stress level right from the start. This results in a more confident diver at the end of the course.”

To which the tropical water instructor may reply:

  • “That might be so, but the warm temperature and good visibility where I teach hardly creates stress. This allows an Open Water student to focus on their skills better, and do a better job of mastering them.”

Generally, this amusing discussion will go on without end. Or at least until the two are lured away from one another with decompression beers. Over the years, while teaching divers all over the world, I’ve heard many arguments for both sides. Let’s look at some of the ones most heard.

Statement 1

If newly-certified divers who trained in cold water with limited visibility are put into a tropical water situation, they will be stress-free and confident.

Let’s say a new diver trains in cold water and limited visibility. They find their way to tropical waters. Now imagine you’re the dive leader. Nobody is stress-free on their first ocean dive. It is your job as the dive leader, not of the diver, to remove some of this initial anxiety. How do you do this?

  • You might decide to do a weight check prior to the descent.
  • Or you might choose to avoid a steep wall dive.

For divers who haven’t seen much more than their instructor’s fins, being confronted with an endless abyss can come as a shock. There is a whole different kind of vertigo involved. Never having experienced this doesn’t make divers inferior to those trained in these waters.

To help ensure everything goes well during the trip, all good dive leaders probe the divers in their group. Just looking at people setting up their gear is very telling. However, learning about their diving experience (amount of dives, the location of dives and dive training) can really help a dive leader fine-tune the dive plan.

Experienced dive leaders understand that getting to know their divers can prevent problems and result in a better experience for everyone.

Statement 2

Task loading students during entry-level training have an adverse effect on their basic diving ability.

As instructors, we have to be aware of our students’ capacity. Not every student will fare well on a set course schedule. Some students just don’t master the skills as fast as others.

Other factors may come into play. For example, in colder water, an instructor might have to cut sessions short because some students are shivering uncontrollably. This might throw a massive monkey wrench into the works. However, students can’t learn effectively when cold. Their minds are occupied by the warm showers and hot chocolate they are going to have after the dive.

In this scenario, it might benefit students to combine the course with a Dry Suit Diver specialty. The extra task loading of learning to use a dry suit will, in the end, benefit the retention of the fundamental dive skills, for the simple reason that the student can focus on the skills instead of the cold.

As an added benefit, combining a Dry Suit Diver specialty with the Open Water course reinforces that the student understands the diving theory, such as Boyle’s Law. They will simply not be able to complete a safe ascent if they do not.

Statement 3

You can’t create good divers in a resort setting in three and a half days.

This is a statement made by instructors that enjoy the luxury of having students who live nearby and are available for months on end. In a tropical setting, more often than not, this is not the case. When dealing with vacationing students, you usually find that, while they want to learn how to dive, but most don’t want it to dominate their holiday.

Training standards are the same whether the course is done over four months or four days, it really shouldn’t matter how long the course takes.

Sure, students with a longer schedule have more time to contemplate the theory. However, immersing oneself in everything diving for four days may be just as fruitful. Additionally, the opportunity to go diving every day of the week after the course ends lets enthusiastic new divers continue to expand their experience in a short time.

Thankfully, there are many options to reduce the amount of time spent learning to dive during your vacation. Open water training referrals have been around for a long time. The introduction of eLearning can also allow students to start the course well before their vacation begins. If you’re reading this as a future diver, consider these options.


No student finishes the entry-level course as a well-rounded diver. Growing as a diver can be like building a house. It is the job of the instructor to help you to create the foundation to safely build your skills upon. The framework for building your skills is provided by the certifying agencies through Adventure Dives, Specialties and Continuing Education courses. The bricks are your “normal” dives. You learn a lot by simply doing dives with professional divemasters and instructors. With every new trick, skill or experience you will become a better diver.

For choosing where to take your Open Water Scuba Diver course. Here is a little advice I like to give to prospective students: Get certified where you intend to do your diving.

  • If you’re planning to dive the world’s most stunning tropical destinations, there is really no need for you to learn how to do an emergency ascent in a drysuit.
  • Conversely, if you’re planning to dive the awesome wrecks in the Great Lakes, make sure you get used to diving those waters right from the start.

Remember that future dive sites may have tides, currents, seasons, laws and many more things to consider. Best to acquire that knowledge up from the beginning. Choose your dive center or instructor carefully. Look at their reviews. Consider other activities they partake in, such as conservation efforts, dive clubs, and social events.

Wherever you dive, never forget that there are endless ways to expand your diving skills. These include Specialty Diver training or by becoming a dive professional. The divers who get stuck in their ways make mistakes. Always keep learning.

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