I recently read an article on AquaViews that posed the question, are
scuba agencies sacrificing training quality for numbers?
I don’t think anyone would deny that most scuba agencies are after numbers. Anyone who has gone through a pro-level certification can tell you that. Is it such a bad thing? Having numbers drives the accessibility up (and price down) for scuba diving, but what if the price is too high?
To answer this question, we really have to look at the standards. Fortunately, most major agencies follow the same set of scuba standards for each level of certification. I think anyone who has competence in the required skills can not be called a bad diver. They’re not guaranteed to be good divers, either. I think the one thing we can glean from them is that they are the absolute minimum set of requirements for a diver with basic competence.
An extra dive or two over the required four dives would probably be quite advantageous---most divers don’t begin to get comfortable until dive number four anyway. The problem here, of course, is that each additional dive drives up the cost and time commitment, and thus limits the potential clients. Let me translate that for you: it’s not gonna happen anytime soon.
I think the problem, if there is one, is requirements for certifying instructors. As it stands, pretty much anyone can be an instructor. Is that scary? Rather than focus on certifying too many students, what if we take care of things at the instructor level, and let the results trickle down?
A diver can go from entry level certification to instructor-level very quickly. Often, this is done to “bring an instructor up” to work at a shop, usually in overseas locales. It is very clear this person’s job is to certify paying customers and take them out on dives. Denying certification doesn’t fit in that picture very well, does it?
Duane at Precision Diving had a recent post on the difficulty of saying, “no”. He is mostly referring to tec diving, but it applies to recreational as well. When does an instructor tell a student they can’t pass? I would hope that if an instructor even slightly thinks that a diver would be danger to himself or others in the water with him, she would withhold certification. I would like to think this, but it’s much harder to look an earnest young diver in the face and tell them they can’t go on that upcoming trip to Bonaire.
I don’t think most shops are being scoundrels and purposely filling the ocean with bad divers. In fact, to really assess the situation, we have to look at the numbers. And the numbers tell us one thing: undertrained divers are not causing accidents. They’re simply not. It could be luck, but compared to the number of dives, there are quite few accidents. And it’s not obvious they could be prevented by longer certification processes. I’m guessing some people would debate this.
Agencies like being self-regulated. Part of this process is monitoring accident statistics and responding appropriately---before outside intervention. If there were a serious problem here, I imagine there would have been intervention at some level. The standards are tight, but doable for an adequate level of instruction.
I think what it all really comes down to, though, is diver comfort in the water, and that comes with experience. You need more than a few certification dives to get that, though. Experience, and a sense of your own abilities, which a good instructor can give you.