Monday, January 14, 2008

PADI Scuba Diver: Unsafe at Any Depth?

CYBER DIVER News Network is featuring a harsh opinion piece by Stanford Suzuki. Wondering any and all thoughts on this:

I am a scuba diver. How do I know? Well it says so right here on my PADI "Scuba Diver" C-card.

I am with 12 other divers and a divemaster at a depth of 30m/100ft at one of the world's most famous dive sites. I started diving six months ago. My divemaster who is half my age started a few weeks before that.

Most of the other divers are Open Water certified. Their recommended depth limit is 18m/60ft. Mine is 12m/40ft. No one cares about the recommendations--after all, they are only recommendations. We just want to dive Blue Hole.


Scuba diving is inherently dangerous. We cannot breathe water and breathing air underwater involves the risk of decompression illness and lung embolisms. We can never eliminate those risks but they can be minimized with, among other things, adequate training.

Anyone familiar with the diving industry is aware that PADI, the US-based diver certification agency, is often criticized for introducing programs based more on marketing objectives than educational ones. Some of that criticism is justified; much of it is nothing more than PADI-bashing by those who resent the company's success.

No PADI program has ignited more controversy and criticism than the PADI "Scuba Diver" course. In that case, at least, the critics are right. While the course will certainly help PADI to maintain market share based on overall number of certifications, it will put certified divers in the water who are inadequately trained and further increase the burden on dive professionals who must supervise divers uncomfortable with even the most basic diving skills.


PADI justifies "dumbing down" entry-level course requirements by comparing diving to skiing/snowboarding and arguing that even three and four-day Open Water courses are an obstacle to potential divers who don't have time to learn to dive. In that sense, the PADI "Scuba Diver" course is a marketing concept designed to increase PADI certifications and expand market share, not to reduce the inherent risk of diving.

The PADI Open Water course can be completed in three days. The notion that divers should be certified who are unwilling to make even that minimal commitment to learning to safely use underwater life support equipment is grossly irresponsible.


Students who complete the course are certified and receive a PADI "Scuba Diver" C-card. There is one requirement: They must go diving with a PADI professional, the only diving professionals who accept the certification. According to PADI's own marketing spiel, that would "limit" the diver to a dive center/dive resort network that spans the entire world.

Pre-entry level? NONSENSE! The vast majority of dive travelers these days are diving with dive professionals. The majority of divers involved in accidents are also diving with dive professionals.


PADI recommends that divers who complete the course restrict their depth to 12m/40ft. PADI also recommends that Open Water divers restrict their depth to 18m/60ft. Yet almost everyone, divers and dive professionals alike, ignore such recommendations. Everyone knows that. PADI KNOWS THAT.

Such recommendations are meaningless. Only mandatory requirements that are spelled out and backed up by effective quality assurance can enhance safety.

Moreover, many drowning accidents occur at relatively shallow depths. In fact, a significant number of divers involved in diving accidents drown at the surface.


Unlike Discover Scuba which involves supervision of divers who ARE, in fact, pre-entry level, there is NO required or recommended diver to divemaster ratio for supervision of divers who have a PADI "Scuba Diver" certification. One divemaster and 13 novice divers with a day and a half of "training"? Hey, whatever floats the PADI 5-Star boat.


More than 70 percent of divers do NOT continue training after their initial certification. Therefore it is absolutely imperative that diver certification agencies establish certain minimum certification requirements for the 70 percent of divers who will not go on after they get their first entry-level C-card.

Whether three and four-day Open Water courses accomplish that is the subject of much debate. No matter where the line is finally drawn, some will call for tougher standards. But most diving professionals, especially the ones who often supervise recently certified divers, agree that a day and a half of PADI "Scuba Diver" training will not give divers adequate time to develop the basic skills they need to dive safely. Even some PADI professionals have rejected the course and refuse to supervise divers whose training is limited to the PADI "Scuba Diver" course.


Despite PADI's claims to the contrary, the PADI "Scuba Diver" course has effectively cut, almost in half, the requirements for the 70% of entry-level divers who do NOT continue their training. Just as Open Water divers and dive professionals typically ignore recommended O-W depth limits, so too PADI "Scuba Diver(s)" will be diving deeper, probably much deeper, than 12m/40ft.

Not that it matters. Accident reports provide evidence that undertrained and inexperienced divers who panic can suddenly become accident statistics at any depth despite the supervision of a dive professional.

PADI recently dumped their unpopular Advanced Plus course, another marketing concept that failed due to lack of interest. Our hope is that the PADI "Scuba Diver" course will suffer the same fate.

In the meantime, we urge divers and PADI diving professionals to just say "No" to the PADI "Scuba Diver" course. To those of you who are thinking about getting into diving, if you do NOT have enough time to learn to safely use underwater life support equipment, FORGET ABOUT DIVING.

Go snowboarding.


szczap said...

I wonder how many of the mentioned 70% of divers who do not continue training continue diving?

Neutral Dive Gear said...

"I wonder how many of the mentioned 70% of divers who do not continue training continue diving?"

That's a terrific question. We'd love to see that statistic.

As we all know, many divers are content with their open water certification and continue to log dives for the rest of their lives!

sak said...

Excellent points by all. Getting ready to get Open Water cert. Have done two 'resort' dives, which is even less training. Stayed shallow enough to get to the top [barring injury] w/o tank.

Is there no recert requirement? As a Red Cross lifeguard or CPR certificant, CE or recert is par for the course. Seems reasonable for diving?