Who Decides What You Need To Learn In Your Dive Course?

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Who Decides What You Need To Learn In Your Dive Course?

Scuba diving is one of the most popular tourism activities in existence. It opens up a whole world of wonder to humans, and allows us to experience environments that normally are not accessible to us. However we cannot survive in the underwater environment without using specialist equipment and procedures. This means that diving does carry risks, but with proper training and taking the correct actions, this risk can be reduced to a level that is acceptable.

Standards in Scuba Diving

How do we know what we need to do to minimize risk? We learn skills and procedures to help to keep us safe. As a PADI diver, you can be sure that you have had solid training. But how can we be sure that everyone diving with us also knows what we know? How can we be sure that we will be doing the same things as our buddy in order to be safe?

Keeping risk low and ensuring all divers are trained to the same levels, regardless of where the diver trained, or who taught them, is the reason that we have developed training standards in scuba diving.


The history of dive certification cards – also known as C cards – can be traced back to 1952. At the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 2 students died after taking university-owned equipment out. As a result of this, the SIO introduced a system where a card was issued as evidence of training and competence.

In modern scuba diving, there are hundreds of training agencies that offer systems of education and allow their affiliated instructors to issue certification cards to show the holder has achieved the required minimum level of training and skills ability. Some training agencies are specific to a certain country. Others, such as PADI (which was established in 1966) are not country-specific. In fact today, PADI operates in 186 countries and territories. Therefore if you are diving with a buddy with PADI training, you can expect he or she will have the same knowledge and skills no matter where in the world they chose to learn.

But what if your buddy isn’t a PADI diver? How can we know what our non-PADI diver buddies know? This is where training councils take over standards development. Having a governing body such as this that promotes self-regulation alleviates the need for federal government intervention to insure safety.

In scuba diving, the story of regulation can be traced back to Austria. In 1994, a diver called Martin Denison set up his own franchise business training divers and instructors in an American qualification system. A little time later, a new law in Austria required that teachers have a license   issued by a local authority from a national federation. This meant that all the Austrian instructors trained under the American system, including those working in Martin’s company, were no longer able to teach diving.


Image by Tomei08 (Wikimedia)

Martin approached Austrian Standards who are the ISO member for the country and asked for assistance. Until that point, ISO had mostly focused on regulation of products, and scuba diving was one of the first services to ever be standardized like this. Working with several representatives from the diving industry, a national standard for diver training was developed and this meant that instructors from different training systems could be recognized by local law.

Not long after that, the European Underwater Federation decided to introduce some common rules for diver and instructor training, so they approached the European standards body CEN, who then took the Austrian Standards as their starting point. This new working group developing these standards became the largest in the European standardization community with 35 representatives from 17 different countries.

In other locations, in 1999 the World Recreational Scuba Training Council was founded which grew out of the North American national council for diving regulation. The WRSTC now has several regional member councils covering America, Canada, Europe and Japan. PADI are also council members.


The benefits of having standardized training are huge. There was a time when Greece only allowed 160 kilometers of their thousands of kilometers of coastline to be open for divers. Greece was one of the first countries to make ISO certification of dive centres compulsory. Since Greece was reassured by the impact this would have on safety within the industry, diving is now allowed almost everywhere in the country and has brought huge benefits to the tourism industry there.

Another great example is Israel, who made ISO accreditation mandatory for all dive centres – there were over 600 – and started to audit the schools each year. Within just 2 years, there had been a 24% decrease in diving accidents.

So the next time you go diving, you can be reassured that your buddy will have training and knowledge very similar to yours. And when you take your next scuba diving course, you can be confident that you will be training to a set of standards that have been carefully considered and designed to ensure you will learn all the things you need to be a safe and happy diver.

Image credits: Christine Albanese, Dan Lee, Wikimedia

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