Why is certification important?
Why is certification important to us? Many people wonder why certification (a "C" card) is required. To fully understand why certification exists lets look into diving as a sport….
As with driving a car, diving can be done safely with proper training, and can be very dangerous for the untrained. For example, there are depth and time limits associated with deep dives that will provide us with a reasonable margin of safety, if followed. As with car rental agencies, most SCUBA service providers and equipment retailers want to be sure their customers are properly trained before they provide their rental equipment, or accept responsibility for their customer’s safety. Those of us in the United States can imagine the mess we would have if every state required their own driver’s license examination at each state border that is crossed during our vacation across the country. It wouldn’t work very well. Imagine the problem that would occur if each and every SCUBA service provider wanted to perform their own evaluation of our skills before providing charter services or selling equipment to us. A week long diving vacation might require demonstration of skills at several different facilities during the week!
At some point in the past, the industry decided that SCUBA safety skills were fairly universal across the globe, with a few environmental exceptions. With this in mind, the idea of certification was formed….. What if a diver demonstrated their skills once for a SCUBA instructor that was affiliated with a certification agency whose standards met these global requirements?….. Maybe the diver could carry a card that proved completion of a training course and/or mastery of basic safety skills….. This is much like the driver’s license that is accepted as proof of basic driving skills in many states and countries by reciprocal agreements.
Today, most of the major certification agencies require mastery of similar skills to obtain certification. These agencies have, with cooperation of many industry representatives and standards organizations, established a "generally accepted" set of skills and knowledge that a diver is expected to master to participate in sport diving in most parts of the world. A few have additional requirements that prepare divers for their local conditions, or to comply with local regulations and conventions. However, in general, a certified diver can go anywhere in the world and be recognized according to their certification level. Some service providers like to see a log book in addition to the "C" card to determine the experience level of the diver in environments similar to the one expected.
Well, that is the benefit of the "C" card. It allows us to travel without having to prove our skill level everywhere we go. There are a few providers who have their own on-site evaluation procedure, but these are usually very simple demonstrations, and can often be avoided by careful selection of the provider.
The second-to-last question….Does certification indicate a level of expertise? The answer is NO. There is no substitute for experience. The certification process ensures the diver has mastered the basic safety skills by demonstrating them. Just as the driver’s license test was short, and in a controlled environment, the basic certification checkout dives are well controlled to ensure safety. It is up to the diver to practice and hone their skills, just as automobile drivers practice after receiving their driver’s licenses. There is no guarantee that good judgment will always prevail in unexpected situations, but the certification process is intended to provide the knowledge required to make good decisions when the need occurs. As with driving a car, it is very helpful to gain experience by participating with those who can help improve our level of expertise and safety habits. Conversely, it is often dangerous to allow ourselves to be influenced by more reckless or careless peers.
Finally, the last question…..Is advanced certification, or specialty certification required to become an expert diver? Well, No! Many expert divers hold basic certifications, yet have logged hundreds or thousands of dives, and continuously hone their skills by practice and study. However, advanced training can provide a head start toward increased expertise in areas of interest. Sometimes specific specialty skills are required to rent equipment. I know a dive shop that will not rent a camera to a person who does not hold a photography specialty certification card. Why is this? Well, a person rented an expensive camera once, and attempted to change the film while under water, just as they would on land. It was an expensive error that would not likely happen after training. Some shops also require dry-suit specialty certification to rent dry suits for safety reasons.
The encore question! Which agency should I select to provide my certification? Well, there are several issues, the least of which is the agency name. I selected my first agency because I didn’t know there were choices. I picked another agency for advanced certification for good reasons. First, I looked for a good dive shop in my area. After spending a few hours learning what I could from their staff, I decided that they were the best in the area to provide my equipment and service needs. Second, meet the instructor and talk to him/her to learn about their teaching methods. Patience is a "must" for a good instructor. A "Rambo" attitude should be avoided. Third, determine what you need to purchase for your class, and determine the costs. You should NOT be asked to buy anything that the dive shop has in their rental stock. In fact, you should NOT buy major equipment until you are certified, know you want to commit to the investment, and have rented various types of equipment to determine what styles you prefer. A shop that will apply rental costs to future purchases should be considered worthy of your business.
Well, there it is! I welcome all comments, and may even change the page to reflect your opinion. I probably can’t be convinced to declare an agency superior (even mine) to another, or to critique any agency’s program. But, I might add ideas about the basic intent of the process.