Suicide by Scuba

I recently got back from a scuba diving vacation. While I was there, I was waiting to sign up for some charters at the resort we were staying. One of the lines was for people to sign up for courses while they were on vacation. As I was patiently waiting, I overheard one of the instructors talking to a non-diving customer about signing up for an open water class. If you have been a reader of mine, you’d know that I’m not a big fan of these resort “courses”, but what I overheard scared the tar balls out of me.

Here’s The Situation

There was this father, who was already a certified scuba diver. He wanted his two sons to take a resort course, basically a discover scuba diving type course, so that he could dive with them. The problem was, all of the “resort courses” were full and no instructor was available. So the guy behind the counter said if his two sons took the open water course, they could go scuba diving right away and be certified for life. Let’s stop the story here because I’m already seeing a big red flag (and it’s not the scuba flag). If all available instructors were not available for the discover scuba diving course, how is it that there one is available to teach a full out open water course? Hmmmm, let’s come back to that thought in a bit.

As the guy behind the counter was going over the details, the father asked about logistics of the course. Here’s the part that scared the crap out of me. The guy said that the two kids could finish their open water class in only two morning sessions, running from 8:30 till 12:30. Wow!!!! An full bore open water class in just eight (8) hours!!!! Sure enough, three days later, the father and sons were on the same boat as me doing their checkout dives, in only 100 feet of water.

During our surface interval, I was asking the boat captain (who was from the the Gulf of Mexico area) if he thought the instructors on the boat were any good. He smirked at me and said with a southern drawl, “Son, you’re the only instructor on board this here boat.” For the first time in my life, I peed in my wet suit. After only four hours of “God knows what” type of class, these two teen age boys were doing 100 foot dives for their open water class. All under the “direct” supervision of a Dive Master.

Caveat Emptor

This entire situation left me thinking, that’s one way to kill yourself. To this day, it still boggles my mind why people would choose to purchase such classes. The story I just shared with you is real. It happened just last week and will continue to happen. Even though scuba diving has a very good safety record, it is still an inherently dangerous activity. When learning to scuba dive, new divers need to pay more attention to the fine details to remain safe. If you are a person thinking about taking a scuba diving class while on vacation at one of these resorts, you’re putting your life at risk.

Dive Safe,
Precision Diving

About Duane Johnson

Duane Johnson is the founder of Precision Diving and runs a scuba diving blog to help scuba divers improve their diving skills and enjoyment. He teaches recreational and technical scuba diving classes in the Chicago area. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @PrecisionDiving.


  1. Jeremy says:

    Shocking story! I know that having a DM doing their last OW dives is a violation under PADI standards. Someone should report that resort for this.
    Also what about the parenting issue here? If their father was already certified and the sales guy told him that they could be finished in 2 sessions, why would you trust that shop with your loved ones?
    What are they teaching in 2 sessions? They can’t be doing the academics and tests that quickly! They must be skipping something.

    • Hi Jeremy,

      My guess would be that the father probably had a similar class from a different resort and thought that it was “normal”. I didn’t see the entire class, but I would take a guess that the class went like this: do the book work prior to class, then no lecture, first day just 4 hours doing pool work. Then a couple of dives to “certify” you. Quite certainly, they are skipping something. But if you look at the standards, you can come pretty darn close to doing the class in only two days if you structure it right. But that is 2 full days. There is a dive shop in my area doing OW classes in only two days.

  2. Jim Blay says:

    This is clearly a violation of standards, regardless of the agency. If they’re a PADI operation, I assume you’re going to report them?

  3. Fanie says:

    Hi Duane,
    I think that these kind of situations occur quite a lot in Japan (and many other countries)! You are right that we must pay attention to what is happening around us and make sure that the people teaching scuba diving are certified professionals. However, I think that your title is a bit “over the top”, even though the dive center you went to clearly isn’t giving a good OW course, it doesn’t mean that it is the same all over Japan! I know many instructors in Japan that really care about giving a good course conform to PADI standards! I was taught a good part of my DM by a really safe/good Japanese instructor.
    Of course…since I dont go to resorts and prefer small places I guess the key is to use place who really care about their guests!
    You definitly should report the dive center, but next time you write an article, maybe try not to generalise so much!
    Thanks for the warning thought!

  4. Jernej says:

    Obviously it’s hard to tell just from your account of the conversation but the alternative explanation could be that the father already explained much of the theory to the kids and just wanted them to pass the official certification so he could continue teaching the practical stuff on his own. (I know, most likely that’s not the story here)

    Honestly… most OWD and AOWD courses (PADI and likely other) don’t really prepare most people to be competent divers. I’ve seen countless divers with AOWD and higher who scared the shit out of me with their lack of skill (with exceptions of course). Sometimes it’s down to the course they took and sometimes it’s the simple truth that some people just don’t belong underwater (even with 100+ dives). (un)fortunately it doesn’t take weeks and serious training to become a diver any more which results in seeing all types of divers. Whether it’s a good or bad thing can be debated but it’s unfair to judge someone just on the type of course he/she took as you don’t know what kind of training and experience they got before/after informally. Perhaps the kids father has/will train them to be much better divers than a resort DM/instructor ever could even if he doesn’t have the necessary formal qualifications himself.

  5. Steve says:

    I really like reading these blog articles, but the title and graphic for this entry were over the top. There is such a thing as suicide by scuba but this article is more about unsafe practices and unwise decisions. Very different.

  6. Michael says:

    Yikes. This has the makings of a scuba diving travesty. Even an experienced diver can get into trouble due to poor organization and supervision.
    Case and point, Donna Newton:

  7. Ron Olsen says:

    I’m not sure why everyone is continually shocked by these stories. This is standard operating procedure at all the Caribbean resorts I have been to. From what I have seen, the standard OW course is two mornings in the pool followed by a pair of two tank boat trips. You read the book on your own, two chapters per day, and before each pool session and the first boat trip, the instructor asks if you have any questions about what you have read.
    The pool sessions are done with the instructor holding the slates with the mandatory skills on them in his hand. He explains each skill, has each student do it once, checks it off, and moves to the next skill.
    The open water dives consist of the students going down and keeling in the sand to do the required skills, and then having 20 minutes of what is more or less a follow-the-leader style guided pleasure dive.
    It is not unusual to see the first pair of dives done in 50-60 feet of water. I have seen people on their second set of checkout dives hit 90 feet, and have heard/read of deeper.
    I certainly don’t think this makes for safe or good instruction, but I also totally believe it is the norm at tropic resorts – so let’s all stop being surprised when we hear about it.

  8. Duane,

    This does not surprise me either. I have witnessed this myself several times. The consumer has driven this perception too. The result has been a loss of several dive shops in the region. The reality is Mother nature does not care if your certified or not, it is the knowledge, skills mastered, and your instincts to survive which may save your life. I have seen this creep into the general workforce where certifications are valued, but in reality they mean nothing (dumbing down of standards). The real value come from the successful completion of work or an activity, which takes mentoring and time. We need to think in terms “The quality of a good scuba course outlasts the good feeling of a low price”. There is such a thing as the “Quality Difference” it just doesn’t happen in a couple of days.

  9. Brian Sharpe says:

    I’ve seen the “divers” these Caribbean quickie courses turn out, they’re often a danger to themselves and, by extension, to those diving with them.

    My own teenage children have both expressed an interest in learning how to dive and I’ve made it very clear to them, they’ll get certified at home by an instructor I know and have confidence in and will do their checkout dives in 7mil wetsuits, low vis and the moderate currents of the St. Lawrence – if you can dive here you can dive just about anywhere.

    Unfortunately some of these resort dive ops have chosen to place making a quick $$ over the safety of their students.