A few weeks ago I posed the question, "How many certified divers are there?" As we saw, the question is tricky and there really is no straightforward answer. I did my best and used some questionable extrapolation to get a very rough number, but the error in such a measure is extremely high.
This week we're going to ask a similar question: "How many active divers are there?" Not only is this question interesting for its own sake, but it's also also important for many scuba businesses to know the size of their customer base. It also gives us an idea of how many inactive divers are out there, leading to questions about their inactivity. I certainly care, since active divers are my target audience, as well as inactive divers thinking about getting back into it.
Before this question can even remotely be addressed, we need some notion of what it means to be an active diver. Like many things in life, there is no definitive answer. Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) says that "active" is more a continuous scale than a binary, black and white identifier, and I agree. For this reason, they list 9 factors which contribute to activity levels:
- Number of additional certifications after initial certification.
- Number of overnight dive trips in the past 12 months.
- Number of days spent on most recent dive trip.
- Number of dive trips (no overnight stay) made in the past 12 months.
- Number of lifetime international dive trips.
- Number of scuba dives made in the past 2 years.
- Number of visits to local dive store in the past 12 months.
- Amount spent on scuba equipment in lifetime.
- Amount spent on scuba equipment in the past 12 months.
The last items start to hone in on the purpose of DEMA identifying active divers, namely people who will spend money on scuba.
On their 2006 profile of active divers, DEMA organizes divers into what they call "lifestyle clusters" based on the preceding nine criteria plus median income. The majority of these divers are males between the ages of 38 and 53 (mean age: 45; median: 46) who make around 75,000 - 100,000 USD a year. Needless to say, most are also white collar workers.
The lifestyle clustering is useful for marketers who need to target customers, but not very useful for getting an accurate picture of how many active divers are out there. Nevertheless, DEMA gives the top 5 lifestyle clusters and claims that about 10% of the US population fits into one of those categories. This gives about 30 million active divers in the US. However, they fail to give which of the 9 criteria these clusters meet, and by how much. This is especially important considering this number looks a little high.
Not surprisingly, most numbers we come up with are going to be guesses, hopefully educated but sometimes not. Undercurrent has an article from 2007 about active divers, giving a history of these guesstimates.
An oft-cited figure is that there were 3.5 million active divers in the late 80's. As the article points out, however, this figure was an uneducated guess, and likely as much as an order of magnitude too high, with one source claiming the number to be closer to 700,000. This was concurrent with large growth in certification numbers, so it doesn't give a helpful modern picture.
Numbers from the National Sporting Goods Association start to seem more realistic. In an annual poll, they ask participants, "Did you participate in diving on one or more occasion?" Diving one or more times per year is a very loose definition of active, yet this poll puts the number at 2.1 million divers.
Data from resort destinations, not including certification courses, puts the number of US destination divers at around 1.5 million---so it seems we're finally starting to hone in on a number.
The Undercurrent article concludes that 1.2 million, plus or minus 15% seems a reasonably accurate measure. From looking at the data, that seems about right to me as well. Note, however, that this is active divers in the US. While the States accounts for a majority of worldwide divers, there are still a lot of people out there unaccounted for.
At the end of the day, the number only matters based on what you need it for. Those who participate in only one dive a year may not be the market you are looking for, such as extremely active divers. At least be glad to know that there are a lot of us out there, and by encouraging activities like local dive clubs (and The Diving Blog!) the number only grows.
We've come a long way from the days where scuba was considered an elite activity, but there's plenty room for more. The ocean's a big place.