Barriers to Diving and Diving Myths

Friends and family who are non-divers often have misconceptions about the sport. What are the usual diving myths and fears? Are they true?

We all have friends and family who are non-divers. However passionately we describe our love of scuba diving, they seem disinterested, reticent to try it, or fearful because they’ve formed misconceptions about the sport and its challenges. What are the most common barriers to diving and diving myths? Do they have any validity? We’ll examine some common misconceptions here.

Diving is expensive

Many people view money as a barrier to entering the sport. Is diving expensive? Of course, at its extremes, diving can be expensive. To take a diving trip on a luxury liveaboard vessel touring the Galapagos Islands may cost thousands of dollars. To train and invest in a full closed-circuit rebreather set-up may cost thousands of dollars. However, to hold these up as examples of diving being expensive would be inaccurate. Passing your driving test doesn’t mean buying a new Ferrari and, similarly, you can participate in diving relatively inexpensively.

For example, a simple try-dive experience with the local dive shop in their pool may only cost $30-40. An introductory open water (OW) certification — depending on agency and location — may cost $300-400. This means that, for less than the cost of a new TV, you can earn a certification that allows you to dive globally for life. Even within the confines of an OW course, many dive shops will allow you to begin with a small deposit to cover training materials. Then you can budget to pay the course balance over the weeks you’re completing your training.

Already certified? While having your own scuba diving equipment is always best, most divers begin by simply buying the essentials: mask, fins and snorkel. Then, as you progress, you can buy equipment to suit your needs as time and financial constraints allow. In the meantime, rental equipment is always available relatively inexpensively to fill the gap.

To simply dive doesn’t need to break the bank. In some areas, there are training lakes with facilities to support divers that you can visit for as little as $20. Or, if you’re lucky enough to live by the coast, free diving may be available off the local coastline — you’ll only need a buddy and $5 for a cylinder fill.

Diving can be expensive, but it needn’t be. You can enjoy diving whatever your financial circumstances.

Diving is dangerous

Diving is statistically a very safe sport. Certainly, in comparison to other outdoor leisure activities such as snowboarding, bowling, horse riding or even fishing, there are fewer reported accidents, incidents and medical issues each year, according to the NCIB.

Interestingly, the most-reported medical problems associated with diving usually relate to sunburn, seasickness and dehydration. By definition, diving cannot be without some form of risk — divers get to explore the world underwater and with that, of course, is some inherent risk. However, it is a risk you can easily manage and diving fatalities are thankfully very low.

In terms of pure statistics, in the Diver Alert Network’s 2016 report, there was a fatality rate of approximately two people per 100,000 participants. To give this figure some context, the fatality rate for jogging is 13 per 100,000 participants and for horse riding is a much more significant 128 per 100,000 participants.

Drilling down further into the figures reveals a not insignificant proportion of these fatalities are linked to a pre-existing medical condition or lack of fitness; the majority occurred in divers older than 50. Some accidents can be chalked up to poor judgment or diver error, and may have been avoided.

While scuba as a sport will never eradicate accidents and injuries completely, diving is one of the safest adventurous leisure activities to pursue.

Divers commonly run out of air or suffer from ‘the bends’

Training with all the major dive agencies, such as PADI, SSI, SDI and NAUI, is standardized and common standards are in place, overseen by the WRSTC.

Foundational dive training focuses on core safety skills, gas management, the buddy system and dive planning. Unless there is some form of diver error or — even more unlikely — equipment malfunction, there would be no reason for a diver to run out of air. However, at the foundational level, each diver learns to deal with out-of-air emergencies, air sharing and the various methods of ascending in the event of a problem.

Similarly, decompression sickness — known as the bends — is extremely rare when divers plan and execute dives correctly. During initial OW diver training, divers learn how to determine safe depth limits, bottom times and nitrogen exposure with no-decompression limits through the use of dive tables and dive computers. While it’s not impossible to suffer decompression sickness on a standard scuba dive, the chances are remote if the diver has followed their training and dived within safe parameters.

Instructors emphasize from the very first moments of training that divers must “plan the dive, dive the plan.” Incidents of air depletion or decompression sickness are extremely rare and divers learn how to mitigate possible risks.

Sharks are out to kill you

Sharks are apex predators. However, they’re simply not interested in attacking divers. In a long list of ‘world’s most dangerous animals,’ sharks are nowhere close to the top. The pure statistics of shark fatalities help to dispel the myth that they are bloodthirsty killers. Sharks are responsible for approximately 10 deaths per year, globally. This compares with nine people killed per day in the United States alone by texting while driving. And, staggeringly, snakes kill 50,000 people per year.

For a diver, to see a shark is an increasingly rare privilege, not something to fear. And, provided that divers interact within a safe and responsible manner, they present an amazing opportunity to see beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.

You can only dive in the tropics

Scuba diving is a rich and varied activity. While undoubtedly there is an appeal to diving in warm, tropical waters, you can dive anywhere where there is water. You don’t even, necessarily, need to be in a coastal area. There is some great diving in cooler waters, inland lakes, rivers and caves. Many divers enjoy diving in Canada, exploring the wrecks of Scapa Flow, the other waters of Great Britain or the water around Vancouver, British Columbia, for example.

Possibly the most famous cold-water dive site is the Silfra Fissure in Iceland, an area with crystalline waters where two continents meet. The water comes from melted ice via nearby Langjokull Glacier, and the water temperature fluctuates between 36 and 39 F (2 to 4 C) during the year. Aside from the sheer novelty of the experience, the topography and visibility of greater than 325 feet (100 m) makes this a truly remarkable dive.

With the correct training in drysuit diving, low water temperatures or even living far from the ocean aren’t a barrier. There is always diving nearby. 

Diving is a male-dominated sport

The image of the macho male diver is something of an anachronism, a throwback to diving’s roots in the military and the days of Jacques Cousteau. While the 2017 statistics from PADI do show entry-level and continuing-education diving certifications have an approximate gender split of 37 percent female versus 63 percent male, the female ratio is increasing steadily with each passing year. Some of the greatest divers and dive instructors in the world are female. The sport has evolved over the decades; heroes of the sport are now the likes of legendary cave diver Jill Heinerth. A diver’s gender has become irrelevant to most modern divers.

Misinformation, misconceptions and diving myths needn’t be barriers to friends and family learning to dive. Help them overcome their fears with information and education and, usually, by the time they’ve completed their first try-dive, you’ll have a potential new dive buddy.