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March 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Do You Need Advanced Open Water Certification?

from the March, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As you get older, you find you become less and less qualified for things you do, despite having been doing them successfully for years. This is especially true of scuba diving. So, training agencies offer more and more courses that promise to certify you at new levels -- which, of course, enables the agencies to sell more products (more specialties) to existing divers without having to convince new customers to become divers.

Unfortunately, this means that you might be asked to flash your Advanced Open Water certification card to prove you are capable of undertaking dives you might have been doing for years.

Randy Brook (Twisp, WA) wrote to Undercurrent to tell how he was looking into booking a Micronesia cruise that included birding, cultural visits, and scuba diving, but was surprised that the tour operator insisted on scuba divers having an AOW (advanced open water) certification.

Although he had been diving for more than 30 years, like many other experienced divers he knew, he never believed he had to go beyond the basic Open Water Diver (OWD) certification. Instead, he answered questions about his diving experience when signing up for various trips.

The term "advanced" means different things to different people. While most of us know that it should mean well experienced, in this case it merely means having moved on a bit from getting certified. In fact, one only needs five extra dives to move from an open water certification to an advanced open water certification, and that can be accomplished immediately after making the minimum number of dives to achieve the basic certification. Regardless, of the "advanced" designation, it's not advanced at all. Many AOW divers have so few dives, they're but a few dives from first learning to dive. In truth, they are little more than novices.

Government regulations in Queensland, Australia, require all divers to be certified and carry a C-card when booking a trip. Yet Mike Ball Dive Expeditions seems quite sensible in advising those who book: "Divers who have completed less than 15 dives, less than 5 ocean dives or less than 5 dives in the last 12 months are required to complete a complimentary on-board orientation dive. In addition, divers over 65 years old who have completed less than 50 dives are required to complete the complimentary on-board orientation dive."

Alas, many general tour companies and cruise lines are not knowledgeable about scuba diving and buy into the training agencies' notion that an AOW card is an important badge for a diver to carry. Perhaps because tour companies want to keep liability to a minimum, they fall back on the security of paperwork, all the while misunderstanding that one who carries an AOW card may not at all stack up to a diver with 50 dives. Regardless, it's far easier to ask for a card, than to have a conversation about experience.

So, my fellow divers, for some general excursions, you'll have to either pull out your AOW card or go elsewhere. Let's just hope that dive operators, seeking to earn more money, don't start requiring divers without the AOW card to pony up for the class before they are permitted to dive.

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