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July 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Do You Want Diving Regulated?

some countries do have statutes

from the July, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Three divers were arrested on April 4th in the town of Geoje, South Korea for scuba diving after dark without safety equipment such as BCs, near a breakwater and dock. Scuba diving is prohibited from 30 minutes after sunset until 30 minutes before dawn, probably enforced as a national security measure given its bellicose northern neighbor. Reader Vaclav Pisko (Forest Hills, NY) reminded us that the North Koreans tried to infiltrate the South in a tiny plastic submarine.

Tony Street (Buffalo, NY) told us that during the early 1970s, while working in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a group of his colleagues decided to go diving off the shore one night. Not realizing they were required to notify the police of such an activity, they were arrested as they came ashore (all dressed in black rubber) and thrown in jail, where they festered in their damp wetsuits until a couple of days later, when a U.S. Embassy official, making a routine check for misbehaving Americans, discovered them. They were threatened with deportation and told they were lucky not to have been shot as terrorists.

Americans -- especially scuba divers -- hate to be regulated, but the regulation of scuba diving is common in many countries. In the UK, for example, diving instructors are subject to regulations that specify their instructor certification; they must pass an annual medical examination by an approved doctor; they must prepare a risk assessment for each different dive site used; an oxygen therapy unit must be at the waterside, and instructors must carry a redundant second air source. The government investigates casualties and will prosecute if rules have been broken. Liability releases have no value in English law.

An unskilled diver puts rescuers at risk

France Has Strictly Enforceable Laws

Florine, a female French dive travel writer and blogger (, sent Undercurrent a guide to the regulations affecting French divers, which put the responsibility for what happens on a dive squarely onto the shoulders of a designated Dive Director. (The liability release does not exist in French law.)

Divers are accorded maximum depths allowed, subject to certification and the say-so of the Dive Director. At any time, coast guards can come and stop a dive boat, view everyone's dive computer to check the maximum depth of each diver and compare it with the roll. If anyone went below their authorized depth, the Dive Director is held responsible and can be fined.

Divers also are required to hold an up-to-date medical certificate signed by their doctor to say they are fit to go diving. French sport law applies not only in France, but in all French territories in the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific.

We noted in our November issue that Quebec was unique in North America in regulating diving Undercurrent (November 2017), and we asked our readers what they thought about that. After all, we hear too often of out-of-practice divers embarking on guided dives that are beyond their ability, often with tragic outcomes. How would you feel if similar regulations were brought into force where you intend to dive? The responses were mostly predictable.

Richard Lunsford (Hopkinsville, KY) wrote to say that people have a choice. They can have liberty, and own their choices and consequences, on the condition they let others do the same. Or they can have onerous nanny-state regulations and "perhaps Big Brother might tuck you in safe at night." He preferred the first option. Although he understood freedom isn't entirely free and wrote, "There's the inevitable body count as a cost of that."

Charlie Watkins (Princeton, NJ) was opposed to ongoing certification requirements based on how often someone dived, and such requirements would undoubtedly lead him and his partner to leave the sport. He thought to have "arbitrary governmentally imposed criteria determine whether someone was fit to dive independent of intrinsic training, experience, skill and fitness levels would be inappropriate and more than unwelcome." But, one must ask, what about driver's licenses? Unlike an automobile driver, an unskilled diver won't kill another diver, but he does indeed put the rescuers at risk.

William Schlegel (Jefferson City, MO) seemed ambivalent about the whole idea and thought that it would be best if certifying agencies acted. It would discourage the intrusion of government; he notes the contradiction that those same certifying agencies are doing their best to attract new customers by making certification as easy as possible. However, he points out that many busy dive centers, such as Anthony's Key resort, require scores of divers daily to demonstrate basic skills such as mask clearing after signing up for a dive.

Some thought the whole idea silly

So that people don't dive beyond their skills, Rick Tavan (Saratoga, CA) thinks he would support a regulation that made it an infraction to dive without a recognized (private) certification sufficient for the dive activity pursued.

Veteran diver Ronald Fast, now 72, taught himself to scuba dive by reading books and practicing in a Michigan quarry, and later moved to California and dived Catalina Island as an adult. He told Undercurrent he was strongly opposed to any form of government regulation for the sport. He says if you want something screwed up, not to mention more expensive, just get the government involved. "We have been doing a good job of regulating ourselves for decades, and the sport has never been safer. So my advice to all who love the sport of SCUBA; tell the government to keep their paws off."

Some thought the whole idea of regulation silly, because, as Jim Rogers (Silverdale, WA) pointed out, a logbook doesn't prove anything. Quebec's regulations state that scuba divers' certificates must be renewed every three years, they must have a log showing at least 10 dives during that period, and an inactive diver must take a refresher course.

Rogers says, "I have always found it funny how an industry with no regulatory agency tries to self-regulate by depending on a document that the person being regulated fills out voluntarily himself or herself. Dive logs as proof of a dive are BS. A majority of divers probably log real dives in the comfort of their rooms. The ten dives in three years requirement is laughable. That many dives in Key Largo over a three-year period in no way makes you qualified [for example] to dive in Socorro or Cocos.

"This is just a group of 'oxygen-tank-using' legislators trying to regulate a sport they know nothing about. If you really want to regulate, drop the silly logbook, make it mandatory every three years with a written test and every five years demonstrating skills. This would, of course, require hiring knowledgeable people [to administrate the tests]."

Well, while we might see a bit of merit to this, one can be sure it will never happening, at least not in the U.S.

- Ben Davison

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