by Sean Harrison:
The “What’s Your Life Worth?” series is not intended to scare people; it is intended to provoke thought and some introspective viewing as well as self analysis. The intended end goal is to increase safety and reduce the likelihood of an accident. Keep this in mind as you read the series because while specifics could be pointed out (there is an unlimited number of examples unfortunately) the illustrations are written in a broad swipe and I have been careful not to write them in such a way as to combine accidents as if they were one occurrence. In this piece I am going to get back to the very beginning of the decision making process, the first step, if you will. What are you willing to pay for a course?
Course costs and what is included in those costs run the gamut, but one element that does not is what it takes to make a proficient and competent diver at any given level. To create a proficient diver at any level four key areas have to be covered: the basics of learning which involve knowledge development, applied skills, repetition, and muscle memory. Sounds easy right? Well it is, but it does not happen fast.
Everybody learns at a different pace and in different ways, meaning: time is required for the instructor to figure how the student learns and to ensure short term and long term comprehension. Unlike some learning events, scuba diving also requires skill performances which add another layer to the learning process – muscle memory. Muscle memory is so critical to diving that it should be considered life threatening if it is not achieved. Here is a basic example of what I mean by life threatening. If a diver has not practiced releasing their weight system to a point where it becomes instinctive in an emergency situation, they could drown because they cannot stay on the surface or even get to the surface. Why do I use this as an example? Because it happens time and time again, divers are found lifeless on the bottom with their weight system still in place.
Like muscle memory, knowledge retention is needed in emergency situations as well. It may not seem important when you are learning but when you need the information to make a split second decision, that’s not the time to realize “I don’t remember my instructor teaching me what to do in this situation”. Chances are good your instructor taught it or that it was covered in the materials for the course but… was enough time spent on it?
So you may be asking yourself, what does all this have to do with the cost of a course? You have heard the old saying “time is money”, well the longer it takes to achieve and ensure academic understanding and muscle memory, the more money it will cost. See, unlike many other activities you will do in your life, scuba is based on physics and physiology, two things you can never escape or defy. A few other activities also come to mind: sky diving, high altitude climbing, and rock climbing. Here is the thing with physics and physiology, you don’t need to have a complete and comprehensive understanding of them but you do need to understand the basics because every time you get into the water you enter a new realm unlike the one our bodies are adjusted to on land.
Moral of the story, don’t look for the cheapest class, it could cost you dearly later on, look for the course that is going to give you everything you need to be a competent diver at whatever level you are working towards and that includes if you are just taking your basic Open Water Diver course. Talk to the dive center or instructor and ask them: how much time do I get in the pool? How much classroom time do I get? If the answer that comes back is, “We do as little classroom and pool time as possible to keep the cost down”, find another dive center or instructor. Find the place that tells you exactly what is included in the course and gives you the response, “As much time as you need to feel comfortable”.
Diving is an amazing sport that takes you to places that some people only dream about and you get to see things that few people have seen, but it is not without its risks and that’s what makes it exciting. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor – take a quality course which comes with a slightly higher price tag. Keep in mind though that higher price tags don’t always mean quality so make sure you communicate to the dive center or instructor exactly how you feel. If you are not comfortable or feel you are not getting the training you need… let someone know.