Recreational diving

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"Sport diving" redirects here. For the competitive underwater sport, see Sport diving (sport).
Divers off Key West, Florida

Recreational diving or sport diving is a type of diving that uses SCUBA equipment for the purpose of leisure and enjoyment. In some diving circles, the term "recreational diving" is used in contradistinction to "technical diving", a riskier and more demanding application of the sport which requires greater levels of training, experience and equipment.[nb 1][1]


Recreational scuba diving grew out of related activities such as Snorkeling and underwater hunting.[2] For a long time, recreational underwater excursions were limited by the amount of breath that could be held. However, the invention of the aqualung in 1943 by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the wetsuit in 1952 by University of California, Berkeley physicist, Hugh Bradner[3] and its development over subsequent years led to a revolution in recreational diving.[2] However, for much of the 1950s and early 1960s, recreational scuba diving was a sport limited to those who were able to afford or make their own kit, and prepared to undergo intensive training to use it.

As the sport became more popular, manufacturers became aware of the potential market, and equipment began to appear that was easy to use, affordable and reliable. Continued advances in SCUBA technology, such as buoyancy compensators, modern diving regulators, wet or dry suits, and dive computers, increased the safety, comfort and convenience of the gear encouraging more people to train and use it.

Until the early 1950s, navies and other organizations performing professional diving were the only providers of diver training, but only for their own personnel and only using their own types of equipment. The first scuba diving school was created in France to train the owners of the Jacques Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnan designed double hose scuba. The first school to teach the modern single hose scuba was started in 1953, in Melbourne, Australia, at the Melbourne City Baths. RAN Commander Batterham organized the school to assist the inventor of the single hose regulator, Ted Eldred. However, neither of these schools were international in nature.

There were no training courses, in the modern sense, available to civilians who bought the first scuba equipment. Some of the first training started in 1952 at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography where Andy Rechnitzer, Bob Dill and Connie Limbaugh taught the first scuba courses in the United States, then in 1953 Trevor Hampton created the first British diving school, the British Underwater Centre and in 1954 when Los Angeles County[4] created an Underwater Instructor Certification Course based on the training that they received from the scientific divers of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Early instruction increased in the form of amateur teaching within a club environment, as exemplified by organizations such as the Scottish Sub Aqua Club and the British Sub Aqua Club from 1953, Los Angeles County from 1954 and the YMCA from 1959.[5]

Professional instruction started in 1959 when the non-profit NAUI was formed,[6] which later effectively was split,[7] to form the for-profit PADI in 1966.[8] NASDS the National Association of Scuba Diving Schools started with their Dive Center based Training programs in 1962 followed by SSI in 1970.[9] PDIC professional diving instructors college was formed in 1965, later changing its name to PDIC professional diving instructors Corporation in 1984, providing training in a retail environment.[10]

Today, PADI alone issues approximately 950,000 diving certifications a year.[11]

Diving today[edit]

Further developments in technology have reduced the cost of training and diving.[citation needed] Scuba-diving has become a popular leisure activity, and many diving locations have some form of dive shop presence that can offer air fills, equipment, and training.

In tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world,[12] there is a large market in 'holiday divers'; people who train and dive while on holiday, but rarely dive close to home.

Technical diving and use of rebreathers are increasing, particularly in areas of the world where deeper wreck diving is the main underwater attraction. Generally, recreational diving depths are limited to a maximum of between 30 and 40 meters (100 and 130 feet), beyond which a variety of safety issues (Oxygen Toxicity, Nitrogen Narcosis to name but a few) make it unsafe to dive using recreation diving equipment and practices, and specialized training and equipment for technical diving are needed.

Standard equipment[edit]

Main article: Diving equipment

Standard procedures[edit]

A significant amount of harmonization of training standards and standard and emergency procedures has developed over the years, largely due to organisations like World Recreational Scuba Training Council. This allows divers trained by the various certifying organisations to dive together with a minimum of confusion, which enhances safety. Diver communications is a particular aspect where most of the basic hand signals are common to most recreational diver training agencies.

This does not mean that there is no variation. On the contrary, there are some procedures such as emergency donation of air which are quite strongly polarized between those who advocate donation of the secondary (octopus) regulator and those who advocate donating the primary regulator.[13]

There are also variations in procedures for self rescue in an out of air situation, and in procedures for bringing an unresponsive casualty to the surface.[citation needed]

Solo diving is also a procedure that has varied in popularity and acceptance by mainstream training agencies over the years.

Buddy diving is the more generally advocated procedure alternative, on the principle that in case of an emergency, a dive buddy can assist the diver in difficulty, but this is only valid if the buddy is close enough to help, notices the problem, and is competent and willing to assist.[14]


There are several recreational diving issues that are currently topics of discussion within the diving community. They include:

Training levels[edit]

Scuba diving education levels as used by ISO, PADI, CMAS, SSI and NAUI

There is a certain amount of disquiet over the level of training and experience necessary to qualify as a diver. Under most entry-level programs (SEI, SDI, PADI, BSAC, SSAC, NAUI, SSI, and PDIC), divers can complete a certification with as few as four 'open water' dives. Such a qualification allows divers to rent equipment, receive air fills, and dive without any higher supervision to depth restrictions of typically 18 meters (60 feet) with a buddy. Critics claim that four dives is too few to prepare new divers for such a level of responsibility, and that either the total should be raised or the certification qualified. Certification agencies normally answer that they advise their students to dive within the envelope of their experience and training, and to seek to extend their training to Advanced Open Water, Enriched Air Nitrox, and beyond. In the 1980s, several agencies with DEMA collaborated to author ANSI Standard Z86.3 (1989), Minimum Course Content For Safe Scuba Diving which now serves to limit their potential liability from lawsuits on training adequacy issues by defining their training as the definition of Accepted Industry Practices.

A note should be made that the number of open water dives necessary for certification IS NOT the primary source of controversy. The main controversy is in the amount of training and education leading up to those four dives. Some programs permit minimal instruction that allows a new diver to go on these dives with as little as four hours in a pool and just a few hours of face to face instruction. On line training is often done and the new diver doesn't even see an instructor for much of the course. In addition some agencies have broken up the course into smaller and smaller chunks than what was originally taught as the basic course. In doing so to further profits and increase revenue, more and more people are getting in the water without what some consider to be basic skills. Skills that allow them to assist a fellow diver, determine their own weighting requirements, do minor equipment maintenance, use proper buddy skills, and plan dives without the assistance of a professional. The first item - known as rescue skills- has contributed to the death of more than a few people as noted in the book "SCUBA: A Practical Guide for the New Diver", Chapter 3 Buddy Skills by James Lapenta 2010

Regular vs. leisure[edit]

Some divers see a split beginning to emerge in recreational diving between regular recreational divers, who often dive in their home communities, and leisure divers, characterized as those who dive occasionally, normally when abroad on holiday and in more benign conditions. It is sometimes observed that there is a tension between the two, and that leisure divers are often inexperienced, either under-trained or over-qualified, and sustain only a minimal empathy with the underwater world. The call is usually not that these divers be restrained from diving, but that they be encouraged to dive more regularly in their home communities so as to gain experience and support their local diving scene. However, as recreational diving has a very low accident and death rate, it is a commonly claimed view that current training requirements are adequate.


According to a 1972 North American analysis of 1970 calendar year data, diving was found to be, on man-hours based criteria, 96 times more dangerous than driving an automobile.[15] According to a 2000 Japanese study, every hour of recreational diving is 36 to 62 times riskier than automobile driving.[16]


There are many diving activities which need further training than that provided by the initial courses:

Many diver training agencies such as ACUC, BSAC, CMAS, IANTD, NAUI, PADI, PDIC, SDI, and SSI offer training in these areas, as well as opportunities to move into professional instruction, technical diving, commercial diving and others.

Bodies of water for diving[edit]

Most bodies of water can be used as dive sites:

  • Seas and Oceans - these consist of salt water and a huge variety of flora and fauna.
  • Lakes - small lakes are often used for diver training. Large lakes have many features of seas including wrecks and a variety of marine life. Man-made lakes, such as clay pits and gravel pits, often have lower visibility. Some lakes are high in altitude, and they require special considerations for diving. See Altitude diving
  • Caves - these are more adventurous and dangerous than normal diving. See cave diving.
  • Rivers - are often shallow, murky and have strong currents.
  • Quarries - abandoned rock quarries are popular in inland areas for diver training as well as recreational diving. Rock quarries also have reasonable underwater visibility - there is often little mud or sand to create mid-water particles that cause low visibility. As they are not "wild" and usually privately owned, quarries often contain objects intentionally placed for divers to explore, such as sunken boats, automobiles, aircraft, and even structures like grain silos and gravel chutes.

Dive site features[edit]

Many types of underwater features make an interesting dive site, for example:

NASA image [1] showing locations of significant coral reefs, which are often sought out by divers for their abundant, diverse life forms.
  • The Topography of the site. Coral reefs, drop offs (underwater cliffs), rock reefs, gullies and caves can be spectacular. Deep dive sites mean divers must reduce the time they spend because more gas is breathed at depth and decompression sickness risks increase. Shallow regions can be investigated by snorkeling.
  • Historical or cultural items at the site. Ship wrecks and sunken aircraft, apart from their historical value, form artificial habitats for marine fauna making them attractive dive sites.
  • Underwater visibility varies widely. Poor visibility is caused by particles in the water, such as mud, sand and sewage. Dive sites that are close to sources of these particles, such as human settlements and river estuaries, are more prone to poor visibility. Currents can stir up the particles. Diving close to the sediments on the seabed can result in the particles being kicked up by the divers fins.
  • Temperature. Warm water diving is comfortable and convenient. Although cold water is uncomfortable and can cause hypothermia it can be interesting because different species of underwater life thrive in cold conditions. Cold water means divers tend to prefer Dry suits with inner thermal clothing which offer greater thermal protection although require training and experience to use properly.
  • Currents. Tidal currents can transport nutrients to underwater wildlife increasing the variety and density of that life at the site. Currents can also be dangerous to divers as they can result in the diver being swept away from his or her surface support. Tidal currents that meet solid underwater vertical surfaces can cause strong up or down currents that are dangerous because they may cause the diver to lose buoyancy control risking barotrauma.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gorman DF, Richardson D, Hamilton Jr RW, Elliott D (1996). "SPUMS Policy on technical recreational diving". South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society Journal 26 (3). ISSN 0813-1988. OCLC 16986801. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  2. ^ a b Richardson, D (1999). "A brief history of recreational diving in the United States". South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society Journal 29 (3). ISSN 0813-1988. OCLC 16986801. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  3. ^ Taylor, Michael (2008-05-11). "Hugh Bradner, UC's inventor of wetsuit, dies". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-05-23. 
  4. ^ "Los Angeles County Department of Parks & Recreation – UNDERWATER UNIT". Los Angeles County Department of Parks & Recreation. Retrieved 19 July 2013. 
  5. ^ YMCA Scuba. "Welcome to YMCA SCUBA!". YMCA. Retrieved 2013-01-07. 
  6. ^ NAUI. "NAUI Official Homepage". NAUI. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  7. ^ "History of PADI". via Archived from the original on 2001-04-15. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  8. ^ PADI. "PADI Official Homepage". PADI. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  9. ^ Scuba Schools International. "Scuba Schools International: 35 Years of Experience". Scuba Schools International. Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  10. ^ PDIC. "PDIC Official Homepage". PDIC. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  11. ^ PADI. "PADI certification statistics". PADI. Retrieved 2009-03-26. . Approximately 550,000 of these PADI certifications are "entry level" certifications and the remainder are advanced certifications.
  12. ^ Here you can see divers near Sipadan. It was filmed by Christoph Brüx
  13. ^ Jablonski, Jarrod (2006). "Details of DIR Equipment Configuration". Doing it Right: The Fundamentals of Better Diving. High Springs, Florida: Global Underwater Explorers. p. 113. ISBN 0-9713267-0-3. 
  14. ^ "8 Tips for Being a Better Dive Buddy". 
  15. ^ Lansche, James M (1972). "Deaths During Skin and Scuba Diving in California in 1970". California Medicine 116 (6): 18–22. PMC 1518314. PMID 5031739. 
  16. ^ Ikeda, T; Ashida, H (2000). "Is recreational diving safe?". Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society. Retrieved 2009-08-08. 


  1. ^ The distinction (if a distinction exists) between "recreational diving" and "technical diving" is a source of some debate within the diving community, but most major diving training agencies recognise a broad distinction (see for example, PADI and DSAT, and SDI and TDI).

External links[edit]