PADI scuba-dive course slammed

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Posted by on August 11, 2006 at 15:47:37:

The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) scuba-dive course undertaken by a million people a year has been criticised following inquests into the deaths of three certified divers off the coast of Cornwall.

Speaking at the inquest a diving expert and a police diver said that people were risking death by going out with insufficient training and experience. Philip Bryson, head of the Diving Diseases Research Centre in Plymouth, told a hearing into one of the deaths: “I do not believe that someone with eight dives should be classified as an advanced diver. It is madness.”

Peter Tapper, a diver with Devon and Cornwall police, said: “The whole process moves along far too quickly.”

Nigel Meadows, the Plymouth Coroner, was told that the common factors in the deaths last June were existing medical conditions, alcohol and a lack of experience.

The PADI qualification, which can take as few as three days to achieve, enables the card carrier to hire equipment from any PADI dive centre worldwide, and in some cases dive without a guide.

As a certified PADI Open Water diver who dived last weekend after a break of more than fours years, I can understand the criticism. I dived with a PADI instructor but when my mask leaked and water pooled around my nostrils soon after entering the water, I had forgotten the technique for clearing a mask and couldn’t ask him how to do it (I struggled with the leak until a fellow diver noticed and demonstrated how to empty the mask).

Although clearly not as serious as the incidents involving three British divers, who died following embolisms and in one case drowned, I was aware of how much I had forgotten since achieving the PADI Open Water Diver certificate in 1996 – a life-long qualification that requires no refresher courses, however long you leave between dives.

PADI Open Water Diver requires just nine dives – five in a confined pool and four in open water, plus five classroom sessions during which the physics of diving is taught and tested. By contrast the dive qualification offered by the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) requires eight classroom sessions, eight confined water dives and six open water dives. During the inquests into the deaths of the British divers, police and dive experts said they believe the PADI course is too short.

Jo Smith took her PADI Open Water dive in Tobago last month at a certified centre. She did just five dives, and was told that the confined water dives were amalgamated into one session. ” I think that if they made you do more pool dives people wouldn't sign up because they don’t want to spend their entire holiday diving,” she told Times Online Travel.

She added: ”All the dives we did were quite tough because of strong currents and there is no way I would feel ready to go diving in similar conditions on my own. However, the qualified divers who were with me were assigned an instructor who wanted to check their diving skills.”

In defence of the organisation, PADI Divemaster Simon Crerar told Times Online Travel that the organisation suggests all member dive centres offer a refresher dive to customers who have not dived for more than a year (although this is not mandatory). "In the Red Sea, much of South East Asia and the Caribbean, newly qualified divers are almost always accompanied by a Divemaster," said Crerar.

But the standards vary from country to country. "When working on a dive boat in Australia I rescued a newly-qualified diver who was diving unaccompanied on only her fifth ever dive". He said that as a rule, Australian dive companies do not insist that newly-qualified divers are accompanied by experienced guides.

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