Should Scuba Refresher Courses Be Compulsory?

Ultimately, should the responsibility for keeping up to date with developments in equipment and techniques remain with the diver?

As anyone who has returned to diving after a long dry spell knows, it’s amazing how quickly even the most basic scuba skills can become rusty. Because of this, most training organizations offer scuba refresher courses to help divers brush up on their skills. These courses cover important dive theory, including safety concepts and problem management. They also revisit vital skills, including gear setup, mask clearing and buoyancy control.

Scuba refresher courses are currently optional, so it’s up to each diver to decide whether or not he or she needs one. Divers who really should take a refresher often opt not to. Sometimes they don’t realize quite how much they’ve forgotten. Sometimes they balk at paying more money on top of an already pricey certification. Maintaining up-to-date scuba skills not only makes your diving more enjoyable, but also impacts your safety and that of the divers around you. So should scuba refresher courses be compulsory?

Pros of Scuba Refresher Courses

Many people think the lifelong validity of a scuba certification proves that their skills cannot become outdated. But this is simply not true. In addition to skills becoming rusty over time, diving equipment and techniques change constantly. For example, if you learned to dive using recreational dive tables, can you dive safely with a computer? If the way a skill is performed is adapted and perfected over time, are you at a disadvantage if you are still practicing it the old way?

Scuba instructors and divemasters must keep up-to-date with changes to industry standards. Doesn’t it make sense that their students should as well? A mandatory refresher system would ensure that all divers are on the same page when it comes to performing skills or using innovative equipment safely. Although diving is fun, it undeniably has an element of danger. This is exacerbated considerably if divers are unsure of their abilities underwater.

As those who have completed the Emergency First Responder course will know, medical training requires a mandatory refresher course every two years. When diving can quite easily involve life-or-death scenarios, should it really be any different? When looked at from that perspective, it seems crazy that divers can return to the sport after several years without any official retraining. Mandatory, periodic refresher courses would give all divers a certain peace of mind. They could be confident in their own abilities, and their buddy’s as well.

Cons of Scuba Refresher Courses

No one can deny the benefits of refresher courses for those who need them. But does that mean they should be compulsory? For one thing, it would be difficult to establish the period of inactivity after which a training agency would require a refresher course. Some divers may need a refresher after just a few months out of the water; others may still be confident of their skills after several years. For example, a newly certified Open Water diver with four dives under his weight belt would probably benefit from a refresher after only a short time away from the sport. A Rescue Diver with hundreds of dives, however, could spend a lot longer out of the water before needing to hone her skills.

Diving is already an expensive pursuit. Forking out more money for an unnecessary refresher could put some people off completely. There’s also the argument that plenty of other potentially dangerous activities don’t require mandatory refresher courses. A driver’s license is a good example. It doesn’t matter how long you’re off the road, you can get back behind the wheel whenever you like, and without any additional training. Some may also feel that there’s a limit to how much babysitting an adult activity should involve.

Ultimately, should the responsibility for keeping up to date with developments in equipment and techniques remain with the diver? Should divers manage the task of maintaining their skills, or should a training organization require them to do so? At the end of the day, the incentive for doing so is already pretty strong; after all, it’s you, your buddy and your family that will suffer the most should something go wrong underwater.

So, given the two sides of the argument, what do you think? Should refresher courses be mandatory, ensuring that all divers are up-to-date with their skills? Or, would you keep things as they are and give divers a choice?