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Does Diving Need a Minimum Fitness Standard For Dive Pros?
SEAduction-Dive-Services - 9/23/2011 11:34 PM
Category: Health & Safety
Replies: 6

This is an opinion piece, the views expressed are solely those of the author and are not necessarily indicative of the views of or its principles.
This debate pops up occasionally, but unfortunately never seriously, within the diving industry. Should diving professionals, (divemasters, dive cons, assistant instructors, instructors and instructor trainers) be required to maintain some minimal level of fitness? This issue is not a cosmetic one, though granted, it is less than appealing to see 300 pounds of quivering flesh wrapped in a Speedo or sealed in a dive skin. Rather, it is a matter of safety. Can an overweight and out-of-shape diving professional respond to an emergency in a safe and effective manner?
How sad would it be for a diver to drown on the surface, 50 meters behind the boat, simply because his divemaster/instructor could not reach the diver in a reasonable time frame? Unfortunately, this is a real risk and one made more apparent to me as I travel and dive from charter boats around the world. Based on my observations, the fitness state of diving pros is appalling, especially in the U.S. and Caribbean. Perhaps, this is not surprising since CNN recently reported that 60 percent of all Americans are overweight.
Although this seems to be a “largely” an American problem, it is not a problem without recognition in the rest of the world. Take for example the program being conducted at the German Sports University in Cologne, Germany. My friend and former colleague, Professor Tobias Dräger, and his team have taken a scientific approach to quantifying how poor fitness contributes to dive accidents and injuries. The study results are interesting and have led to the development of a fitness-testing program that researchers would like to see implemented as a minimum standard for certification in Europe.
That’s right: they are talking about a minimum fitness standard for divers. Yet currently in the U.S. and in many other places around the world, we do not even have a minimum fitness standard for diving instructors. So I have to ask: Why don’t we have a recertification process that would require every instructor to complete a swim test either annually or at least every two years? Every time the idea of a fitness standard comes up, training agencies are resistant to it because they are convinced that a lazy multitude of instructors will defect. If a fitness standard has any hope of taking hold, all major agencies would have to adopt it (otherwise all the instructors would migrate to the agency(ies) more focused on an easy buck). But to the best of my knowledge, there is only one U.S. training agency that has moved in this direction by providing a specific fitness level standard, IANTD, and even that is a pretty basic standard. In lieu of annual testing by another dive professional, IANTD instructors can be certified fit by a physician or provide an affidavit of a regular fitness program. Perhaps they have not yet gone far enough, but they certainly have made a step in the right direction.
The need for a fitness standard should be apparent to anyone who spends time near a training pool. I personally have seen an instructor trainer from the Midwest who, even though he had been recently certified as an instructor trainer (less than 6 weeks prior) could not swim one lap in the swimming pool and literally had to be rescued. I recently saw another instructor who required assistance from the boat’s divemaster to walk with a single scuba tank the grueling 10 feet to the back of the boat! The same instructor had to stop to catch her breath three times between her car and the boat; a trip she made four times in order to avoid carrying all of her dive g
RAWalker - 9/24/2011 2:00 AM

Since the sport of scuba is self regulating and non policing I doubt you’ll get any traction on a minimal fitness beyond that which we already have.

For those that have forgotten we do have some fitness standards. We test divers during their OW certification. Float/treadwater, Swim/Snorkel and Tired diver tow. We also have similar standards to join the professional ranks but we make it a snorkel and a swim, increase the difficulty and time the results. Since all certifications are lifetime certs oce meeting these standards it is up t the individual to maintain condition.

The required skills an instructor must impart to a student for that student to meet requirements for certification does not require an instructor to be in the shape of a well trained athlete. The instructors responsibility is to pick conditions that will allow them to safely train the student. If this part of the instructors job is done well the condition of the instructor will have little to do with the ability to keep the student safe. For advanced students that have the basics mastered the intructor’s physical condition should be less significant (as long as the dive profile is within the instructors ability) as each diver (both student and instructor) are responsible for their own safety and the instructor is there as more of a demonstrator for the student and judge of the students skills and finally his buddy.

As a dive professional I can assure you that I certainly will not be taking a diver on any dive before they have shown me they are ready for the conditions that can be expected. I certainly will not be taking divers on any dive that I have questions about my abilities to complete sucessfully. I would hope that nearly all dive professionals would approach the safety of students and their fitness the same way.
LatitudeAdjustment - 9/24/2011 3:18 PM

We are too PC to correct this problem!

I saw an out of shape DM in Caymen who probably had 100’s of dives in his state home lakes but none in the ocean take a student down current from the boat. His student had enough sense to swim back to the boat but the DM couldn’t fight the current and had to wait for us to pick him up.
divemedic035 - 9/28/2011 12:43 PM
while the attention to physcial fitness of an instructor or dm is one that I agree with, I just can’t see how it can be policed or enforced simply because I see new OW students who cant pass the local buffett much less a basic swim test show up on check out dives.

Before we set the bar for professionals, perhaps we would be better served to focus a unified effort toward setting a minimum physical standard for ALL divers, then increase the standard as the certification level increases....

 I have been seeing more instructors seeking younger more fit DM to assist them on check out dives
slippin2darknezz - 10/30/2011 4:45 PM
I posed this same question a few months back in regards to fitness levels for professional and rec divers. While it is true there are no set standards and instructors require students to perform task that they themselves may not be able to perform due to their level of fitness. I have to wonder, as an instructor in charge of students (i am not an instructor) in the event of an emergency what is that instructors duty to act. if there is not a set standard for the instructors duty to act, then I forsee this as a time bomb waiting to explode. What would be the instructors liability in the event of an emergency and he/she was unable to complete a simple swim to get to the student in trouble and a death results.
billd76 - 1/08/2014 1:51 PM
Agree with Divemedic, PF should apply accross the board for all divers. Instructors need to adhere to the standards as well. "students must show mastery in skill level" That means the swim test portion as well. There are simply some folks that should be turned away. I have taken the time with some students to teach them to swim before starting the open water class.