Your Part of the Problem

by Sean Harrison

Scuba Professionals, You’re Part of the Problem

As I sit here and pore through yet another court case involving a diver that has died, a surge of frustration arises. Nearly every week we hear of a diver dying, and for the most part, these deaths are avoidable. One mantra that keeps running through my head is, “You’re part of the problem” and when I say “you’re” I mean the whole industry; resort locations, dive boats, retailers, right down to the dive professionals. The good news is – we are also part of the solution.

Before you get all agitated and think I am excluding myself let me stop you right there and rewind a little. I was in the retail business and led group trips, I’ve been on live-aboards and supervised divers, I have taken dive boat trips as a diver/instructor, and now I am with an agency and develop the training protocols. In short, I have seen this industry from just about every aspect and yes have turned a blind eye to things, shaken my head at others, and in some cases stopped what I thought was not going to have a happy ending. Let me break this down from my perspective.

Dive Professionals

Scuba diving professionals: you have an obligation to ensure the best practices of diving are adhered to. What does this mean? When you witness or are privy to a diver or fellow professional getting ready to perform something that could lead to injury or death, stop them. This means any unsafe practice, performing dives they do not have the training or experience to perform, and diving in unsafe conditions. For years I have heard people say, “Why do I need training in that? I’m the most experienced around” or, “That course is useless, I’m not going to teach that to my students”. Guess what, while the name of the certification may appear “useless”, the experience the diver gains by watching your good diving practices isn’t.  How many accidents have you seen where a diver using a dry suit was injured, only to find out they were never trained on a dry suit? How many times have you seen divers hit by a boat (the most recent incident cost the operator 12 million US dollars) only to find they don’t hold a boat diving certification. So you may ask, what could that course have taught them? A good instructor would have taught them all the knowledge and experience they (the instructor) take for granted, such as, even if you think you heard the “pools open” call, look at what the boat is doing and make eye contact with the Captain/DM. Still sound like a useless course? A dive professional’s role in the industry is to train divers, so sell courses and train divers so they can be better divers.

Dive Boats
Let’s get this straight, you are not a taxi – you are a DIVE BOAT. If you take people out snorkeling you are a SNORKELING BOAT. The analogy of a taxi was gone in the 90’s and never really should have been there to begin with, now it is used as an excuse and weak attempt to skirt liability. I am sure there are those of you reading this saying that you dive from a private and not commercial boat, if you are in US waters and are compensated in any way you 1) need to be an appropriately licensed captain and 2) are operating a commercial venture in the eyes of the US Coast Guard. Take responsibility, operate like a dive boat, this means that filling a seat on your boat requires the correct certification for the dive site you will be bringing the divers to, and not just: Visa, Master Card, or American Express. Want to transfer some liability? Verify the divers are certified, or that you have verified their experience by having them dive with you on less challenging sites before you bring them to deep sites, wrecks, high currents, etc.

Dive Retailers
You are organizing trips, selling equipment, and training divers, you are by most accounts the source of information for new and experienced divers, Internet aside. When organizing trips, make sure the divers you are bringing or sending on those trips have the appropriate training to do the dives. If they don’t, get them trained. A new diver trained in inland waters or calm waters should not be shipped off to a tropical destination with high current drift dives or a place like Truk Lagoon where the primary reason for being there is deep wreck diving. If for no other reason, and there are plenty of other reasons, use the training as a profit center. Divers learn a lot just by watching their instructor and the instructor gets a chance to see the diver in the water and help them.

Training Agencies
Your function is to ensure the standards you produce and the materials that support them are appropriate for the level of certification. You also have the duty to follow-up on and take action, when required, for quality assurance matters when reported by consumers or other dive professionals. Dive professionals – you have to report these and not with hearsay but with actual proof that the agency or agencies can act upon. All too often agencies, and this is not a “woe is me” comment, are given very little information if provided any at all. Often times I have had people tell me a dive professional has been practicing unsafe training for years, when I ask if they ever reported it I get, “Oh, I don’t want to get in the middle of that” or “off the record” or, and this is my favorite, “I thought you knew”. How are we supposed to know if no one ever tells us? Another industry joke, “It was reported by the SCUBA Police”.

After 17 years of reviewing all these dive accidents and fatalities, where basic skills failure has taken the life of another diver (mostly fathers), or failure to perform basic maintenance on equipment  has caused loss of life or permanent injury (mostly fathers) because the service “costs too much” (What’s Your Life Worth) I can comfortably say history does repeat itself because you can change the names and dates on the accident report forms and I have a big stack of the same, almost exact, reports.

So how do we solve this?
Promote training and stop looking at it as just a way to make money. If you don’t need the money, teach the divers for free or give the money to someone who does need it. Don’t take divers on your boat that aren’t properly trained for the sites you are going to put them on. When selling equipment, make sure the diver is certified to use it, if they are not, roll the price of training into the sale of the product.

If my tone is a little blunt and gets your attention, good or bad, good – it’s supposed to. This industry needs to wake up and take responsibility and stop passing the blame on to someone else. The blame game was just tried out in court and the stakes were high, 25 million high, for a diver that was not trained for the equipment they were using, was aware it needed to be serviced, and was not diving from a private boat, yet the industry still took a black eye.

So we have a choice, we can keep doing what we have been doing expecting a different result (the definition of insanity) and run this industry right down to the deepest part of the ocean or, we can start taking responsibility and stop these divers from hurting or killing themselves. This has to be done at the individual level, no more blame game, that is not the solution. You don’t like the agency you are with? Don’t like their training philosophy? Don’t believe in their standards? Then leave them! The quickest way to put a company out of business, and yes that includes us, is to stop supporting them. Cut off the money, cut off the business. In one sense this is like politics, if you don’t vote you have no room to complain about who won. In this situation, if you don’t take action you have no room to armchair critique.  And that’s another thing, you think sitting in the comfort of your home or office and commenting, based on speculation, on the most recent accident is going to help, or that the unscrupulous attorneys aren’t going to read what you write. Yes, attorneys use Facebook, are on the forums, and can read. Do you think for a minute that the insurance underwriters, the very ones you complain about every time you have to renew your insurance policy, aren’t reading your comments? Here’s a clue, they are! Put yourself in the shoes of an insurance underwriter, if you read how one dive professional(s) was bad mouthing another dive professional for their dangerous behavior, would you want to insure them at the cheapest rate?

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12 replies
  1. Dominik Fretz
    Dominik Fretz says:

    Very good points indeed.
    Too often I see as well that the quality of the instruction is compromised by the urge/need to make a quick buck.

  2. steve simpson
    steve simpson says:

    This was right on Sean, I agree wholehearted with every word especially with governing ourselves ,(not policing ) but being vocal when we see unsafe and bad practices being used .

  3. Sean Mccarthy
    Sean Mccarthy says:

    Please add one more to the list of who needs to be more responsible, The owners of dive sites. In Florida and Mexico somehow Open Water divers and those not trained in the overhead are allowed to go into the overhead. In Mexico do the agencies reprimand these guides or do they look the other way? What is their attitude no lawyers no problems? It’s worse is in Florida, Open Water divers can go into these places where an instructor would be negligent to guide them. This hurts the industry in so many ways I cannot list them all on this post. What is the incentive to train if training is not required?

    • HeliumBreath
      HeliumBreath says:

      Sean nobody “owns” dive sites. There is a level of personal responsibility that is required by individuals to not dive beyond the abilities. Just as a wall dive would require an open water diver to maintain depths in line with their certification, so would a dive operator that takes individuals to a wreck. It is when those individuals make the personal choice to penetrate the wreck that problems arise, and there is absolutely nothing a dive operator can do to prevent this, short of babysitting the entire dive. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer not to dive with an operator that babysat my dives. Please cite specific examples of what you are trying to make a point about. Are you saying that divers should not be taken to a shipwreck if they are not cave certified? Or maybe that there are a few negligent instructors that bring non-certified divers into the cave on “trust me” dives? I live in Florida, and I am sorry but I do not see your point. Maybe you lack personal self control to dive within your own certification?

      • Sean Mccarthy
        Sean Mccarthy says:

        Let me see if I can explain it in a way that you can understand. Scenario one. Dive Master from X agency leads Open Water divers into Cavern and cave at dive site in Mexico owned by dive site owner that wants to make money. Open Water diver gets lost and dies in cave. You say diver is responsible I say Dive Master is breaking standards. Scenario 2 Open Water diver wants to dive in Spring owned by the landowner that is advertised as a dive site. Open Water divers calls friend who is an instructor says would you like to join me. Instructor declined saying that diver you are not certified for overhead. Diver goes in with a loved one and silts up the cave and drowns. You say diver is responsible. I say he would have been better off if his instructor friend could have gone with him. point here that we all are responsible as the and that dive sites will get taken away if we just allow those that do not have the self-control to continue to die. With regard to scenario 1 it just seems to me that the standards change depending on how many lawyers are around. With regard to scenario 2 Open Water instructors regularly bring their students into safe Caverns to train them even though they are violating their standards as far as self-control. Not all divers have the courage 2 second guess their instructor or Dive Master in fact they should not have to

  4. Larry Bernier
    Larry Bernier says:

    Instructor Trainer here, more hen 10 years in the industry. i HAVE raised legitimate documented QA complaints. My experience, no consequences to the parties involved. “Giant Scuba Training Organization” does not care. Complacency rolls down hill from there. Of course i know excellent instructors, reputable dive centers, Why are the marginal or simply dangerous ones allowed to continue. qualifying them It is not rocket science, i can walk into a dive shop gear room and know in 2 minutes if they have their act together or not. I do not expect i know more then the major training organizations, We have to somehow reach the newbie buying public who trust that the names we so proudly promote to weed out the hung over, often drunk and incompetent ‘Pros” in the industry. Jebus. have you dealt with 99% of the Asian, recreational divers out there ? Who certified these people to dive ? I have been in the water with these instructors and they scare me to death. Why hie this gross incompetence from the insurers ? Ah, I am just to disgusted to make my point further.

  5. Terry Trueblood
    Terry Trueblood says:

    30 year Instructor here. Training a diver is generally the same as it has always been minus the intensive classroom, pool and open water that used to be required or at least encouraged. Oh I guess it has changed hum……..
    I am certainly am familiar with the horror stories, having witnessed many. Ultimately the Dive Professional must be the “GATEKEEPER” not the cashier. I have no problem, saying “No” I cannot certify you because I feel uncomfortable with your mental, emotional or physical skills, even after remedial training. Some people are not going to be divers period. If we make them divers, they will most likely be the ones showing up in the statistics. I would rather the student be upset with me rather than dead. Oh there is that word DEAD, DEAD, DEAD. On the day of certification, we are saying they demonstrated the minimum skills required to earn the card. What about next week, when they are on their own? Will they remember what you told them to do, maybe not, If that thought doesn’t drift into your dreams at night as an instructor, you may want to re-think your profession, cause it should. You saw they had trouble remembering much of what was presented and much extra effort had to be made to get them to certification. Do you really think it will be retained. Come on brothers and sisters lets get real. As an instructor upon certifying a new student, you have to be able to walk away knowing, ” I covered everything properly and I would let this person dive with my certified children.” That is the measure I use and it has worked for me. My solution: (not limited to) increase your time in classroom, pool and the amount of open water dives; plus increase your prices. This does a few things, 1.) It ensures skill building through repetition, 2.) Gives you a longer time to truly evaluate a person (not yet a diver) 3.) Puts proper payment in your pocket for the 7 years of liability you incur. We need to understand their is a “limited number of people” in the general population who will be able to mentally, emotionally, and physically participate in this sport, no matter how much they want to pay us, and that’s got to be “OK.”

    • Sean Harrison
      Sean Harrison says:

      Terry, all great points and I would expect no less from you and your teaching abilities and requirements. Keep up that great work.
      I do want to focus in on your “gatekeeper” comment, this gets to the core of the problem. There are a lot of great diving professionals (like yourself) out there teaching great courses and putting out great divers. What happens though is these divers become inactive or move away and then decide to start diving again or with an operator that brings them to sites beyond their certification or abilities. The vast majority of the accidents I have reviewed have been after the diver has been certified and in most cases, it is many years after their last course. Knowledge and skills fade after time and that holds true for anything we do, it just so happens scuba diving has a little less tolerance for degradation. Learn a second language and don’t use it for a while, you will not get injured or die refreshing it. Diving professionals truly are the gatekeepers and need to screen the divers a little better. This screening needs to happen when the diver walks into the store and indicates they are planning a trip, or when they show up to the boat/resort to sign-up for a dive. It is going to take everyone in this industry to improve the situation including the divers, personal responsibility.

  6. tony lindeque
    tony lindeque says:

    Terry makes a lot of sense and I am one of those that spend a vast amount of time in the pool as I believe that once they ace the skills several times in a pool they are far less likely to have a wobble on a ocean dive. My problem is that in my city I have lost a lot of business due to my ”sticking to the rules” We have a wreck at 22 m that every center will take you to as an open water diver, except me. We have five wrecks in a Bay with depths of 32-35 m. Everyone but me will take an advanced diver there. We have a shore entry cave dive that is often used on a training dive as it is sheltered from the harsh winds. I have reported ssues like this and have never seen any real action taken, not saying it does not happen,but the same guys are out there today so go figure.
    I also run a boat that conforms to all the legal requirements for our local laws, DAN, and our local permit laws regarding marine protected areas. This makes a boat dive price higher that anyone else and this is largely due to the fact their boats do not meet any of the requirements but there is no enforcement for this. Most do not even carry liability insurance. It is difficult to compete in an industry that is largely left to its own devices.
    I believe the training agencies need to take more responsibility for the people they are allowing to train students.

  7. Darryl
    Darryl says:

    Just a thought from an IT who teaches for several training organizations. Agencies give us the responsibility of training instructors, however we are generally not given any direct tools or powers to enforce immediate penalties for quality assurance breaches. Your comment “we thought you knew” hit home. What constitutes the management layer of a training agency? Only the HQ employees or also the senior instructors you have entrusted to build the instructor pool? If it is the second option, then the appropriate powers to deal with observed standards breaches should be delegated to the team who represent you in the diving/teaching environment. And that includes suspension of rights to teach pending investigation.

  8. Sean Harrison
    Sean Harrison says:

    Hi Darryl,

    First off, thank you for reading the article and writing down such a thoughtful comment. It’s obvious to me that your goal is to improve the industry and the quality of training. An admirable goal and one we share.
    I can only speak for ITI (parent company of SDI, TDI, ERDI, PFI and First Response Training) as to how our quality assurance (QA) process works and the level of involvement from our members in the field. First you need to know QA’s are not always what they appear to be and most of the time you are only hearing one side of the story. Reality is, the story of a QA is more like a Rubik’s Cube®, there’s more than one side and they’re ever changing. What can you and other members do to help, thank you for the offer, you can: take photos of anything you witness, send in a written account of what you witnessed/heard only stating what you know as fact and not what you heard from someone else. If someone else heard or saw something have them send it to us at . First hand accounts are always better. Make sure divers understand that we as the agency will not revoke or take away their certifications. In the US this would be illegal. When an instructor registers a diver, remember I am only speaking for ITI, they are signing off that the diver has met all requirements for certification and that includes paying for the course. What ITI will do and has done is, if we find through our QA investigation that training was insufficient, we will assist the diver in getting remedial training and making sure they are comfortable and confident at the level of certification they originally signed up for. There are times and situations where you as the instructor in the field can step in and help another instructor but this is a position we would not force you to be in. Sometimes these situations go terribly wrong and the best thing for you to do is report it to us as soon as possible. We would also not ask you to put the time and effort it takes into piecing together everything that makes up a QA. One final note, this is a very long response sorry, we know that people get frustrated and think that nothing came of the complaint they filed. For privacy law reasons, we do not share the outcome of our investigation with anyone except the member(s) it involved. To answer your question, our instructor trainers are an integral role in our quality assurance measures. While they do not change the status of members they have a responsibility to report and document problems (as listed above) and perform the extremely important task of updating and remediating members in the field when necessary because of a QA violation. We have asked our Instructor Trainers to perform remedial training after an investigation and in those situations we provide very specific instructions on what remedial training needs to be performed to bring the instructor back to active teaching status. I hope that has clarified our position and answered your questions.
    Happy Diving,
    Sean Harrison


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