When asked to write an article for All At Sea's diving column on why scuba divers should be certified, my first thought was 'how to approach the subject?' Do I offer the same reasons put forth by the certification organizations: Make new friends, travel to exotic dive destinations, lead an exciting life in which all the divers in the glossy ads are lithe, nubile bikini clad women or muscular young men with six-pack abs?
Since those scenarios are not necessarily reality, I decided to present a few experiences from my scuba instructing career and ask, "Is this you or someone you know?" If so, perhaps it is time to consider becoming a certified diver, or recertify and refresh your skills.
Story One: While working on my instructor certification, I buddied with a certified 13-year-old girl. Her first dive trip in salt water with her father was on the horizon and we wanted to make sure she was familiar with her new dive gear.
Off we went to the quarry for a couple of dives. Dad brought his gear, the condition of which was disturbing. As I watched the girl set up her gear, I also kept an eye on dad.
Fumbling with his gear, he watched his daughter and tried to duplicate her moves. Bad sign! I walked over to look at his antiquated gear and quickly stepped away to speak with the lead instructor.
"He has no business in the water," I said. "Have you seen the condition of his gear?"
"Not to worry," said the instructor, "he's not going to go far and we are proving a point to an obstinate dad who refuses to take a refresher course."
Into the water we went. We had descended to about 15 feet when there was a catastrophic explosion. All we could see were gazillions of bubbles.
When the girl and I surfaced we found dad paddling towards shore, hoses shredded, seams in his antique wetsuit (about 70 pounds too small when he donned it) split open. His buoyancy compensator was torn asunder and pieces of black rubber trailed behind him. Their trip was rescheduled so dad could re-certify and replace his gear.
Story Two: While teaching scuba in the Caribbean, a man enrolled in my open water course because he could no longer rent scuba tanks without a certification card. As he completed his enrollment forms, he said he had been diving for 25 years and was only taking the class to obtain a card. Mid-way through the first class, I had to take him aside to remind him that even though I was an incredibly ill-informed instructor in his opinion, I was the instructor none-the-less.
A few days later, we were on a boat gearing up for the first open water dive. His exit off the boat was an award-winning belly flop even though we had practiced various entries repeatedly during pool sessions.
Surprisingly, the dive went fairly well and we arrived back at the boat safely. Being a 'gentleman and experienced diver', he insisted women first, so I followed the others aboard. Then came his turn and I readied myself for a fast re-entry.
He had watched six students hand up their gear as they were taught, however, he stuck with 'his' way and handed up his fins first. Next, he handed up his mask and snorkel. Next, he handed up his BC after flailing around in the water removing the tank.
He was in the water with no flotation, no means of propelling himself, no means of keeping saltwater out of his eyes, mouth, and nose, and he was still wearing his weight belt. Of course, when he let go of the line to remove the belt, he sank! I went in after him and found him kicking toward the surface as his weight belt fell to the bottom.
It was man first as he boarded and I shouted, "Class, what do we take off first?" All control was lost and the entire boat erupted in hysterical laughter.
Why be certified? The reasons are many but, consider the following:
If you are renting tanks without a certification card, the provider is violating the most basic scuba safety rule â€¦ do not rent tanks to uncertified divers. If he is violating that rule, what others may he be violating? Are his tanks inspected or is that one you just rented half-full of filthy water? Is there a dangerous crack in the neck or a leaky o-ring that will cause you to run out of air much sooner than you calculate? Is he maintaining his compressors and filters so that you do not end up with a tank of deadly, tasteless, odorless gas that will kill you? Unfortunately, I have witnessed all of the above and one of the men who died because of dirty filters was a friend.
Do you know what micro-bubbles are and how they affect diving? Do you know the most current CPR procedures in case there is an accident and you need to render aid? Diving theory, safety procedures, and diving gear have gone through many changes and advancements over the past few decades. Maybe it is time to go get that first certification card or take a refresher course and get a new card.
Becky Bauer spent 30 years as a wild/domestic animal rescuer/rehabber, and educator in the United States. She is scuba instructor, an award-winning journalist, and a contributing photographer to NOAA.