National Aquatic Service, known as NAS, is Central New York’s largest and most popular dive center. Located in Syracuse, NY, NAS offers a wide range of dive products and services from their 4,500 square foot showroom. It is the only SSI certified dive center in the Syracuse area.
Mike Druce is the President of NAS, and he attributes their phenomenal success to not trying to compete with other dive shops, but rather offering personal service to their loyal following. “We should all be working together,” Mike says. “Our real competition comes from other hobbies. We have an active diving community locally and we try to offer the activities and products they want.”
The NAS story begins in 1959, when it was founded by the late Dr. Jere Hallenbeck. In its’ present form, NAS has five full-time and three part-time employees, 17 instructors, and 22 dive con candidates. They also have their own fleet of trucks and trailers, plus their secret weapon: the Grandad!
The Grandad is NAS’s own 40 foot pontoon dive boat. It is docked on Skaneateles Lake, south of Syracuse, and is fitted with dive racks, web benches and a dry box. It can comfortably accommodate up to 12 divers per trip! The Grandad runs on Wednesday and Friday evenings, and Saturday afternoons from spring through early fall.
The Grandad is also available for charters. NAS offers and accepts referrals to and from certified dive training centers. Their open water certifications are performed at training facilities on Skaneateles Lake.
Dr. Hallenbeck’s dream and the NAS tradition have been kept alive under Druce’s leadership. He began his own diving career in 1988 with a marine biology program that NAS used to run for local schools, and has been on the staff ever since!
Druce has numerous diving certifications and ratings. He is an SSI Platinum 1,000 Dive Instructor, with 1,748 logged personal dives. Although he does most of his diving in Central New York, Druce has literally dived around the world, including the Yucatan Peninsula, the Cayman Islands, the ABC Islands, Honduras, the west coast of Mexico, St. Martens, and Fiji. In fact, Druce received his first open water certification at Puerto Morales, Mexico, as part of the “Sea International” program by NAS.
Although Druce doesn’t have any “pinnacle” dives in mind as goals, his only regret is, “That I didn’t dive more…to take more time to go diving.” He says what he enjoys most about diving is the peace and quiet, no phones, the weightlessness, the marine environment, and treasure hunting.
“Wrecks are cool,” Druce says, “but, that’s not the only thing we do.” One of the notable wrecks Druce has dived is the “Empress of Ireland,” which sank in 1914 north of Quebec City, Quebec. “It had more of a loss of life than the Titanic,” Druce says, “but, most people have never heard of it.” NAS sponsors trips throughout the region to places, such as Quebec City, Lake George, NY, and Dutch Springs, PA.
“My personal goal is to always have fun,” Druce says, “to make it enjoyable to myself and everyone else.”
Druce and the NAS formula must work well! NAS trains about 500 college students and 100 local divers every year! “There are 16 colleges we have had training programs with for college credit, and are currently working with eight of them,” Druce says. To their knowledge, it’s the most active college training program anywhere! Since 1959, NAS has certified more than 33,000 dive students, without a diving accident!
NAS also participates in SSI on-line training, but Druce cautions,”It’s not a replacement for actual water experience.”
The NAS training program doesn’t stop there. They are active partners with the “Soldiers in Transition” unit at the U.S. Army’s post at Ft. Drum, NY. “It’s not just limited to the ‘Wounded Warriors’ program” Druce adds.
Another “exclusive” offered by NAS is Club Aquarius, a social club for divers. “We offer activities for divers to get together,” Druce says. Two examples are their annual “Big Toe Party” each spring, and the “Frozen Fin” dive on New Year. Club Aquarius also features other activities throughout the year, such as “movie nights,” along with discounts on products and services at NAS.
NAS offers a wide selection of brands for triathletes, snorkeling, free diving, and scuba diving. They feature Scuba Pro and other top brands, in addition to a full line of service. “We can service most anything in-house,” Druce says, “and we can send out anything else for our customers.”
NAS training includes everything from basic open water certifications, to more than 20 dive specialties. “We’ve recently added three new dive specialties: free diving, science of diving, and sidemount diving.”
Druce became certified in free diving himself last year, and then became an instructor. Since then, NAS has added free diving and dive yoga to their curriculum. “The dive yoga was originally added as a complement to the free diving course,” Druce says, “but, it has value to all forms of diving.”
So far, NAS has had 12 students go through their free diving program. When Druce started, he could go 2 minutes and 9 seconds underwater while holding his breath. “With very little effort and the proper training I was able to increase that to 3 minutes and 10 seconds in a couple of days,” Druce says.
“Free diving has more of a competitive component,” Druce says, “but it’s more of a personal competition. Instead of competing against other people, you compete against your own limits.”
There’s more to the NAS adventure! NAS offers a comprehensive dive travel program all their own. For example, last year NAS sponsored a trip to Truk Lagoon in the Pacific. This year, NAS is offering dive packages for Little Cayman and Fiji!
For more information about National Aquatic Service or their products, services, or programs, you can contact them by phone at: (315) 479-5544, or toll free at 1-800-SEA-DIVE. Their web site is: www.nationalaquatic.com.