Scuba is Evolving Both Technologically and Philosophically
Scuba as a recreational sport is really still in its early stages. Since the Aqualung first came available in the ‘50’s, diving did not really catch on until the 60’s; it reached its heyday in the 80’s, and experienced a technological boom in the 90’s. Much has changed since the early days, mostly for the better, and since dive certifications are for life, what you learned during your original open water training or even during a recent refresher course may have changed.
I for one received my Advanced Open Water Diver Certification over 20 years ago, and have been quite surprised at some of the new information and new practices that I have discovered while researching these articles. Like most divers I learned to “go deep” first. In other words to on any given dive descend to the lowest planned depth, and then gradually work your way upward, and also to plan the deepest dives in your day first. The rationale here was that the shallow depths will provide decompression for the deep dives that came before. But this year while the practice is still recommended – it is no longer a rule. The main reason is a technological advance – the Dive Computer. Dive computers take the guesswork out of nitrogen exposure, and are infinitely more accurate than using dive tables. More about Dive Computers, they are probably one of the single greatest advances in diving in the last ten years, and a must have dive accessory. Like with any piece of digital technology as the price of Dive Computers continue to drop, dive experts expect them to become mandatory equipment, soon rendering dive tables obsolete.
One of the other technological advances that have resulted in a philosophical change in a traditional training technique is the introduction of small bottles of emergency air such as “Spare air” and Pony bottles that have caused the industry to re-think Buddy Breathing. Dive instructors have always known that Buddy Breathing was a risky proposition; actually endangering the lives of both divers when one ran out of air. The introduction of the Octopus and now “Spare Air” has Buddy Breathing no longer being taught by the major Dive Organizations. If you or your buddy is out of air and neither is carrying a backup it is now recommended you make an Emergency Swimming Accent, rapidly swimming to the surface while exhaling. In fact I was surprised to learn that “The Buddy System” itself which was the “cardinal rule” when I learned to dive, isn’t that big of a deal anymore, with the new gear that is making scuba diving safer and safer, single diving is becoming a much more common practice.
Another fundamental change in Diving has been the overall change in age requirements. While there are still differences among the major certifying organizations, all have dropped their minimal age requirements, and have added some “entry level” programs for young children like Scuba Rangers and The SEAL Team program. This has been mainly to increase accessibility and raise interest in the sport to a new generation and to appeal to the “old generation” of Boomers who want to take their kids with them and get them into a hobby they have loved their entire lives. There is also an increased reciprocity among dive organizations, bordering on Universal Certifications. With the notable exception of PADI, you can now take classroom training with one dive organization, and then choose a resort for you dive trip based on their 5 star restaurant and Grilled Mahi-Mahi instead of being forced to go to a resort that is affiliated with the same organization for your Open Water Dives.