A diver's ability in the water is of paramount importance to his or her safety. Development of skills which comprise that ability is often considered to be directly proportional to the amount of open water diving experience the diver has. Often, adverse or "advanced" environments may require additional dives produce an "equal" level of competence in divers that otherwise would perform identically so far as skills are concerned.

This month's Forum question was posed to explore how geographic variances impact the concept of "competent" entry level and advanced divers. Interestingly, a broad geographic or environmentally based consensus of the number of dives required to achieve any given level was not found. For most levels, a majority of the instructors submitting responses generally agreed on the minimum number of dives required regardless of geographic differences and constraints.

Most instructors felt that six dives would be optimal for entry level or Openwater I certification. The range varied from as few as two dives to a maximum of twelve dives.

For Openwater II a total of 12 dives was nearly universally seen as appropriate. The number of instructors voicing opinions on this course was very small, however.

Considering the Advanced course, many interesting suggestions were made. Several instructors independently advanced the idea that a prerequisite for entering the course be mandated. This prerequisite would require the diver to have completed a defined minimum number of dives without instructor or divemaster supervision to ensure that they have the self confidence and skills to dive safely on their own. Ten to fifty dives were proposed as satisfactory to meet this prerequisite.

With this recommendation factored in, the number of dives necessary to produce an "advanced" diver extended from a minimum of ten total dives to a maximum of 75 total dives. The average figure of thirty dives includes the dives conducted as part of previous training courses. This means that after Openwater II certification, an additional 18 dives was considered appropriate to achieve advanced skills.

Some instructors felt that a minimum number of dives was an artificial and poor manner of classifying skill ratings of divers. They believe that all levels of training should be competency based as opposed to quantifying numbers of dives made.

Finally, the concept of the "student diver" or use of the Openwater I certification card as a "learner's permit" was submitted. This visualization was not fully explored by the responders, but could potentially have several benefits for NAUI and the diving community. This idea will be examined in greater detail in a future issue of NDA News.

QUESTION: "What is the minimum number of dives required to produce a competent openwater diver for your particular location or environment? For an advanced diver? Why?"

A. This parameter cannot be defined concretely as a specific number, but will vary from diver to diver. The evaluation for entry level certification should be competency based, and not based on the number of dives completed. This is also true for the advanced diver level. Keeping this in mind, I believe for the average diver that 12 dives would be minimal for entry level certification, and 50-75 dives be required for advanced diver training.

--Ken Ascher, NAUI 9200L; Ann Arbor, MI (CEO of Ocean Technology Group. Teaches primarily entry level students at the University of Michigan.)

A. For Openwater I six dives should be required. Beyond that number would be boring for students. With more dives you would need to expose them to new skills and activities that more properly belong in a more advanced class.

For Advanced Diver nine scuba training dives beyond Openwater I with an additional 15 logged dives should be required. The first training dive would be a checkout/skills review, with the other eight dives exposing the student to different diving activities and/or exercises. Thus the total number of dives required to be certified at Advanced level would be 30.

‑‑Ronnie Damico, NAUI 5489; Long Beach, CA (Diving Officer for the California State University in Long Beach, current South Pacific Branch Manager; has taught all levels of courses to ITCs; recipient of NAUI Outstanding Service Award; NAUI ICUE Conference Chairman.)

A. Three to four dives here on Grand Cayman should be sufficient to produce an entry level diver. Doing more dives would produce a "safer" diver if basic skills are practiced on each dive. If not, then extra dives do not necessarily increase skill level or improve diver competency.

--Ron Campbell, NAUI 10840; Grand Cayman, British West Indies (Assistant Operations Manager, Don Foster's Dive. Teaches primarily Introductory Courses and referral students in a resort environment.)

A. In order to prevent the inevitable brawl, and not terrify the peddlers of scuba gear, we need to introduce the concept of the "student diver" before we try to quantify competence. Diving in the North Atlantic is amongst the most diverse and demanding--if you can dive here, you can dive anywhere. Just being properly ballasted takes several dives, which is far more than the average hurry-up hot-shot shop instructor wants to invest. So, I will leave the business of establishing a minimum number of dives to a convention of North Atlantic NAUI instructors called for that purpose. And I urge the introduction of the "student diver" as soon as possible.

--Fred Calhoun, NAUI 380; Boston, MA (Private Professional Instructor, has taught all levels of diving to ITCs. Producer of the Boston Diving Show. Past North Atlantic Branch Manager. Recipient of NAUI Outstanding Service Award.)

A. The question is not the number of dives made, but rather the experience gained and retained during the dives. In 25 years of teaching diving, I have observed divers who apparently get a tremendous experience credit from a 45 minute dive. They seem to be aware of the environment and what is required to adjust to the demands of the diving environment. These individuals are better adjusted and demonstrate more competency than the majority of students do after the currently required five (rapidly approaching infinity) hand held dives. Perhaps we should learn something from flight training, where the student learns more about flying the plane when the instructor steps out.

In my opinion we should not penalize the water oriented person with the number of dives which are now considered mandatory for a person who probably needs constant diving instruction and monitoring for life! I believe that the number of dives should be dictated by the aptitude of the student, with a minimum of two dives.

Another thought--each open water instructional dive increases the instructor's liability 100%, takes up every weekend of their life, involves instructors freezing their collective butts off, and pays them nothing. Is anyone thinking about the instructors any longer??

--Spence Campbell, NAUI A-20; Renton, WA (Private professional instructor and diving consultant, past NAUI Board of Directors candidate and Chapter Leader, past General Manager of the Ocean Corporation.)

A. For my area, six scuba dives are needed. With each dive, students can see their air consumption going down, and their entire attitude in the water and degree of comfort improve. At the end of six dives they are relaxed. For advanced level, another 15 dives are required, for a total of 21 dives.

For both levels, students dive both rivers and lakes. I think this is necessary, even if the students believe they will only be diving in the ocean. I feel this way because it has been my observation that they do not know at this early point in their diving career what type of diving they will be doing locally after they are certified.

--Linda Dean, NAUI 6015; Richardson, TX (Private professional instructor and dive trip leader.)

A. Entry level should require six dives. The term "Advanced diver" should be reconsidered, as it creates the perception that divers are capable of "exotic" dives rather than the expansion of normal diving capabilities for which students are actually trained. Openwater II should be six additional dives (12 total dives), and "Advanced Diver" should have a total of 24 dives.

‑‑Richard Fernandez, NAUI 6741L; Miami Shores, FL (Instructor at Barry University, teaches primarily entry level courses and as staff at ITCs. Member, NAUI Board of Directors.)

A. I support what NAUI did by going to a minimum of five dives. A person who has this experience is ready to learn--and capable of handling most of the problems encountered. Through continued diving, they will reach a point at which they are comfortable. Depending on the ability of the individual, the minimum number of dives will vary. Some will never become competent divers, regardless of increased experience.

‑‑Phil French, NAUI 7609; Long Beach, CA (Teaches in dive stores and as a private professional primarily Openwater I, II, and Hunting and Collecting Specialty courses.)

A. In 1972 our training facility in the Virgin Islands required five open water ocean dives for Basic certification. In 1988 most national agencies require at least that for "open water" certifications but in many cases this process is circumvented with confined lake, quarry, or other sites. Indeed, those of us on the receiving end of newly graduated students can all tell stories of certified divers that have never been in salt water. This is not to say that these persons should not be allowed to dive; rather that a need be recognized that anything less than ocean diving is really not adequate to train most divers for the environment in which they will undoubtedly wish to participate.

Further, we now find divers with very limited experience holding all sorts of certification credentials that even classify them as "master divers." Come on...somewhere the system lost track of its end purpose: giving us a common language rating divers' training and experience levels. The same holds true for "Master Instructors" who may have been teaching for less than a year. I may be overstating the problem, but I long for the days when you were either a certified diver, advanced diver, or instructor. Specialty certifications serve valuable training ends, but I wonder if we have become obsessed with reams of diplomas to the sacrifice of a solid basic training program.

In warm, clear water conditions I certainly think a diver can be adequately trained in 5 -6 dives to be reasonably self-sufficient to then go on and learn more practical lessons through experience. Since the c-card initially is really just a "learner's permit" anyway, let's call it that and not try to rate our new divers any higher than they should be. Regional considerations such as cold or dark water, currents, surf conditions, etc. should logically dictate further training and the opportunity for neophytes to err while still under the protective and guiding eye of his instructor.

Teaching divers to dive within their limitations should be paramount, and we need more sensitive instructors with good communication skills to assure that the student's anxieties are identified early in training and handled as a positive portion of the learning experience.

I would like to see the national standard raised to include eight ocean dives minimum, with more training proscribed where dictated by regional environmental conditions. The argument will be brought forth that this is too high a standard to be economically productive, but considering the drop-out rate of newly certified divers wouldn't it be better to exert more control over the entry level participants so that they are fully confident in their skills and remain in the sport? That is economically sound and it is safer. What an interesting marriage!

--Bret Gilliam, NAUI 3234; New Orleans, LA (Director of Diving Operations for Ocean Quest International. Owner for 17 years of dive operation in Virgin Islands. Expert witness in diving accidents. Has taught all levels including ITC staff experience.)

A. The minimum number of open water dives should remain at least five, but as class numbers increase the length of the class, especially the pool sessions, should be increased. This will insure that there is enough individual attention is provided to each student. We might consider setting up a ratio system where as class size becomes larger, more pool and open water sessions are added. More open water dives could also reflect the types of dives that the local environment provides, as well as proper boat and shore dives.

I find it unfortunate that so many divers travel to the ocean lacking the proper experience or exposure, thus making their initial experience in real open water a complete turn off. Besides opening up the possibility of potential accidents, that is how diver drop outs are formed. More experience would alleviate that occurrence.

--Mike Gomez, NAUI 9244; Panama City Beach, FL (Co-Owner of Panama City Dive Center, a NAUI PRO Facility. Teaches primarily Openwater I and private classes, some ITC staff experience.)

A. For an openwater diver in Tennessee 6-8 dives (two weekends of diving) are needed. We have silt that runs from two inches to three feet thick which limits visibility, cold water, and crumbly ledges that necessitates additional technique training and in-water experience. After only one weekend's dives, the students still do not enjoy diving. After the second, they are relaxed enough to have a good time. Advanced divers should have a minimum of two more complete weekends of diving, for a total of 16-20 dives.

‑‑Harold McIlwain, NAUI 8751; Nashville, TN (Owner of Diving Adventures, a NAUI PRO Facility. Has taught levels from Introductory to Advanced, including Specialty Courses.)

A. The five dives we presently deal with are generally acceptable within our environmental constraints, but there should be an additional sixth dive which would be a mandatory free dive. I believe that it should be mandatory that the dives be spread over a minimum of two weekends.

Rather than beef up or alter numbers for the Advanced certification, we should strengthen the Openwater II course requirements. An additional two dives should be required, for a total of eight dives in this course. Four hurs of specific lecture should also be added.

The Advanced course should remain at eight dives, but should be made mandatory for advancement into diving leadership courses. Additional logged dives other than training dives should be required to enter the Advanced program.

‑‑Scott Munro, NAUI 6791L; Bellevue, WA (Former North Pacific Branch Manager; has taught all levels from Openwater I to ITCs. Operates a video production company. Recipient of NAUI Outstanding Service Award.)

A. The number of dives for an Openwater I diver should not be changed. As a manager of a diving company in the Caribbean four scuba dives work for our schedule. I feel that students perceive a quality training program from their instructors in the States complemented by personal training in open water with the caribbean instructor.

Openwater II should require a minimum of 8-10 scuba dives. The dives should include the use of different computers that are now on the market; as well as night, boat, search and recovery, navigation, deep, and wreck dives. The last two dives should relate to the kind of diving conditions found in the area where the course is taught.

NAUI's Advanced course should mandate in the prerequisites a minimum of 10 logged non-training dives. Sometimes students get so caught up in taking courses that they do not dive just for the fun and love of diving, or all their dives are supervised and they learn only to rely on an instructor for the final approval of their dive plan. As for the course a minimum of 15 dives should be required. People with an advanced card should have a wide range of diving experiences. They should at this point be very confident in their diving abilities.

--Chris Lexau, NAUI 6618; Grand Cayman Island, British West Indies (Manager of Operations and Training for Bob Soto's Dive. Taught all openwater levels to ITC staff experience.)

A. A minimum of 4-5 scuba dives are necessary here. In our conditions (60-80 feet deep drift dives in the Gulf Stream) divers need to be better prepared than most students. Buoyancy control is especially important. Our students get lots of practice in our 16 feet deep pool before the open water dives. Our divers must have experience to 80 feet in order to be competent. We also believe that reinforcement immediately after the course is over is important, so we let students use rental gear free for a month after the class is completed.

Ten to 15 dives here are generally enough to produce a competent advanced diver.

‑‑Norine Rouse, NAUI 1040; West Palm Beach, FL (Director of the Norine Rouse Scuba Club, a NAUI Pro Facility. Has taught all levels of diving. Recipient of the John Stoneman Environmental Award for her work with sea turtles, and Diver of the Year for Underwater Boston.)

A. There is no true answer to this question. Due to human nature and personal judgment we must first define several parameters. What is competent? No number of dives can result in competence, it is quality in the completion of tasks.

What is deemed to be adequate by one instructor is not the same for another instructor, even in the same location or environment. All over the world different organizations impose different levels that assist their people to produce some level of safety. With such a diverse planet, the type of diving encountered, and the equipment required by the diver also factor into the question of competence.

A number of dives may be set to provide a minimum exposure for our students, but it only a minimum. The limits an instructor requires are a different matter, and we must allow him to apply his personal judgment. Setting a mere number of dives can not determine competence of a basic diver, advanced diver, or for an instructor, as "competence" is a subjective subject.

--D.P. Miles, NAUI 4687; Trenton, Ontario, Canada

A. First of all, the word "competent" should be changed to "confident." In general, the minimum required dives for the open water courses aren't enough for most (not all) students, be they warm water or cold water divers. Any number greater than the required minimum is better as long as the student gets positive results from it. Of course, one must be careful of burning out the students. So, filling the dives with underwater tours will make it worthwhile for them. Another way to build confidence is by helping the student to continuously dive after certification. Diving with safe and willing experienced divers in a club, or with a divemaster, assistant instructor or instructor would definitely help in achieving this.

Again, any number of dives higher than the minimum is better. This allows the student more chances to correct his errors under the guidance of the instructor.

--Carlos N. Santos-Viola, NAUI 5687L; San Francisco, CA (Former Training Director and General Manager of Aquaventure Phils, Inc. Has taught all levels to ITCs. Former Safety Chairman for the Amphibians Scuba Club.)

NOTE: The views expressed in this column are opinions held by the individual members referenced, and are not those of NAUI or the editors of NDA News.]Questions for the next issues:

Questions for the next issues:

For the March/April issue: "Should NAUI sanction solo diving, perhaps by offering a solo diving certification? Why/why not?"

For the July/August issue: "What could be done to improve the marketability of NAUI's products, programs, and services?"

All members are encouraged to respond. This column is for you, the membership, to develop. Answers should be kept fairly brief, preferably no more than two or three paragraphs. Responses to each question will be collated by the editor, condensed if necessary, and printed in this section. New questions may also be posed for discussion. Questions should be concise, and should stimulate a wide cross‑section of the membership. Include with your responses or questions the following information: your name, address, phone number, NAUI membership number, dive‑related employment, past diving accomplishments, and a review of your dive teaching experience. Send your materials to Jeffrey Bozanic, c/o NDA News, P.O. Box 14650, Montclair, CA 91763‑1150.

Compiled and Edited by Jeffrey Bozanic, NAUI 5334L

NDA News, Mar/Apr 1989, pp. 10-14.
Open Water Dive Minimums

NAUI Members' Forum #10

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