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May 2004 Vol. 19, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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How "Advanced" are Advanced Divers?

mistaking “advanced” for “experienced”

from the May, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Last August, Undercurrent carried the story of a 53-year-old woman who died while taking an advanced open-water class with only 13 lifetime dives under her belt. After reading about how the woman panicked and made a rapid ascent, surfacing unconscious, reader Randy Brook wrote in: "How did a diver with only 13 lifetime dives get into an advanced open water class? Maybe that's a rhetorical question. It does appear that PADI et al. are willing to let any certified diver take the advanced course. The result is that the certification is often considered worthless by responsible dive operators." Brook added: "I've done 100+ dives all over the world, am comfortable in fairly difficult conditions (chop and currents), and still don't consider myself even close to 'advanced.'"

There's no doubt that training agencies have shortened their basic courses and lowered their age limits to encourage more consumers (especially families) to take up diving. Follow-on specialty and advanced courses help to keep new divers engaged in the sport, leading to equipment upgrades, exotic travel, and other high-ticket purchases. But underwater skills and confidence require experience, as well as training. So we checked the course requirements at the major training agencies, and found some shocking discrepancies in what they consider an "advanced" diver. The comparisons that follow are minimum prerequisites. Individual dive centers and instructors generally have some latitude, so courses may vary from location to location.

All major agencies will accept advanced certification students as young as 15. They all also offer junior advanced certificates for 12- 14 year olds (who still must dive with an adult).

PADI offers 16 specialty "adventure dives." These are experiences, not specialty certifications. Anyone who completes the deep dive and underwater navigation dives, plus three other adventure dives (for a total of five) can earn an advanced c-card. The YMCA, surprisingly, also requires only five supervised specialty dives, albeit with pre-dive briefings. Night diving, compass navigation, and deep diving (below 50 fsw) are mandatory, and there are 10 others to choose from.

NAUI requires a minimum of six open water dives, at least two of them deeper than 20 fsw, before taking an advanced certification. The advanced course includes three required specialties (navigation, night or low visibility diving, and deep diving to 130 fsw maximum), plus three electives from NAUI's menu of specialty dives. Choices may vary based on the instructor's expertise and regional conditions (e.g., altitude diving). The academic portion may be in pre- or post-dive briefings, so the entire course could be completed in an open water environment.

SSI has more stringent prerequisites. Open water divers must complete any four specialty courses that involve at least 6 open water dives and log a total of at least 24 open water dives for advanced certification. SSI offers 12 specialties, but instructors can create their own (such as kayak diving). Instructors may administer exams on diving safety pertaining to the specialties completed. At least two instructor-supervised open water dives are required if a candidate cannot provide proof of completing four scuba dives in the past 12 months. However, divers who can prove extensive open water experience (through signed log books), can get certified without doing open water dives. Some instructors may require a demonstration of diving skills in a pool.

"Even instructors can
be as young as 18,
with no educational
requirements"

None of these prerequisites seems particularly "advanced." Even instructors can be as young as 18, with no educational requirements. (The agencies believe they can teach them how to teach their own curricula.) to the specialties completed. At least two instructor-supervised open water dives are required if a candidate cannot provide proof of completing four scuba dives in the past 12 months. However, divers who can prove extensive open water experience (through signed log books), can get certified without doing open water dives. Some instructors may require a demonstration of diving skills in a pool. None of these prerequisites seems particularly "advanced." Even instructors can be as young as 18, with no educational requirements. (The agencies believe they can teach them how to teach their own curricula.)

Bad experiences with underqualified divers have led some dive operators to ignore c-cards and judge divers more on how they set up their gear and interact with other boat passengers. Sometimes operators put too much faith in credentials. Diver Magazine recently ran an irate letter from Londoner named Michael Mahony who traveled to La Manga, Spain, with his teenage daughter. After an enjoyable week of diving together, Mahony (who has logged "more than 80 dives all over the world") was told that the boat now only accepted "advanced divers." His daughter, who had her advanced certification, was welcome, as was a woman who'd just gotten her advanced c-card, after only 10 lifetime dives. But Mahony was beached. The operator, he felt, had mistaken "advanced" for "experienced." Instead, Mahony suggested, operators should rely on "experience rather than on plastic cards of dubious merit when deciding who can dive.

So, be assured, that the industry wide definition of "advanced" is why some dive operators who offer trips for "advanced divers" control them as much as beginner trips (e.g. see our review in the last issue of Nekton Rorquel and Mona Island). After all, it's experience that counts.

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