Diving Qualifications vs Diving Experience
With the vast array of recreational and technical diving courses on the market from numerous training organisations, knowing which ones to complete can be a potential minefield. So what courses should you consider doing and is there really any substitute for simply gaining valuable experience via hours in the water?
Looking back over my diving life, I have done some pretty irresponsible things, mainly as a result of lack of knowledge. The decompression dive on the SS President Coolidge wreck in Vanuatu as an inexperienced Advanced Open Water diver without a dive computer. The series of deep dives in Thailand after two hours of sleep and a banging hangover. The list goes on.
When I was inexperienced and had limited qualifications I always thought that the Dive Guide would look after me – it was their responsibility, not mine. Interestingly enough, it was not until I completed my Rescue Diver course that my view changed. I realised that I was responsible for myself, my buddy and, in fact anyone else that I had contact with in a diving environment. If anything went wrong, would I be able to deal with it? For me, the Rescue course is one of the best courses available and I recommend that everyone should at least complete their Rescue course as a minimum. Not only does the Rescue course provide you with invaluable in-water skills and rescue techniques, it also arms the participant with a sound knowledge base of diving related incidents and medical treatments. Arguably, the most important skill I believe it teaches you is the ability to anticipate and prevent problems before they occur, whether for yourself, your buddy or another diver.
For those contemplating the Rescue Diver route, my personal view is that you should complete Open Water and Advanced Open Water courses relatively close together and then go away and gain some valuable experience in the water prior to completing the Rescue course.
Now aside from the Rescue diver route, there are of course many different Specialty courses that you can complete. As a Rescue diver, you will be qualified to dive to just 30 metres and you may, therefore, want to complete the Deep Diver Specialty certification to get a 40 metre recreational ticket. This will provide invaluable dive theory, deep dive planning and you’ll get to experience the narcotic effects of depth whilst carrying out various skills with an instructor. (Read my article on Nitrogen Narcosis here). If you dive in first world countries, you will generally only be allowed to go as deep as your qualification, so definitely worth bearing in mind. In none first world countries, qualifications may not have as much significance and allowed maximum depth limits may therefore be beyond your level of training. Bear in mind, however, that if you are not qualified to go to the depth you are diving at, you are certainly taking a risk. Also consider that if anything happens, your travel and dive insurance may become void!
The Enriched Air course is also a valuable qualification to gain depending on the diving you wish to do. Enriched air diving has the benefit of increased bottom time by lessening the amount of nitrogen absorbed by the body, particularly useful if you are doing multiple dives. The Enriched Air certification can also be a great benefit if you plan on doing liveaboard diving trips where, for instance, accumulated nitrogen caused by multi day dives can cause significant fatigue. Other Specialties include Night Diving, Wreck Diving, Navigation Diving, Underwater Photography and so on. While these courses serve a purpose, the level that they are pitched at is generally that of a relatively inexperienced diver. If it’s something you have never done before, they act as a great introduction to a new skill.
For me, when it comes to different specialties, there is no substitute for hours in the water and gaining valuable experience in that particular type of diving. Some of these courses can, of course, be a great deal of fun and what you get out of them will, to a certain degree, depend on your instructor and what they put into the course. With this in mind, do not discount such Specialty courses. If you want to gain a vast array of experience quickly, I can certainly recommend such Specialty courses to you.
In summary, if you want to improve your skills, aside from completing your Rescue course, go diving more. There really is no substitute for hours in the water.