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How Do Refresher Courses Benefit Certified Divers?


Photo of a Scuba Diving Woman and Anemones

A refresher course makes scuba divers more comfortable, reviews important emergency procedures, and helps divers fine tune their skills to avoid damaging aquatic life.

Image copyright istockphoto.com, LeventKonuk

Every summer, recreational divers flood into dive shops in exotic destinations. The glassy ocean surface beckons, and with the sweltering summer heat, these visiting divers can't wait to get wet. Even though they haven't dived for months, these divers claim that they remember how to dive and that they do not need a refresher course. Part of this statement is usually true. Divers do remember how to dive; deflating a buoyancy compensator and kicking around underwater is pretty easy. Yet, even if only a year has passed since their open water certification course, most divers can still benefit from a refresher course. Diving is easy, but being a safe and knowledgable diver requires commitment and consistent review of emergency skills and dive theory. Safe divers must retain a huge repertoire of information that becomes rusty without review. A refresher course focuses on this easily forgotten information.

Certification Is Not an End in Itself:

A scuba certification lasts for life. Unfortunately, a large percentage of divers view scuba certification as an end in itself. They assume that once the certification course is over, they are done with studying and exercises. To illustrate how silly this is, imagine what would happen if other certification organizations had the same attitude. What if students could take a 6-hour Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) course and be certified for life without being required to review or update their skills? It's ridiculous! People forget skills they don't practice and must review them. For the same reason (most) training organizations suggest that divers periodically review course information under the supervision of an instructor.

For example, all PADI certified divers sign an agreement to follow the “Standard Safe Diving Practices Statement of Understanding,” part of which states that a certified diver agrees to

“Keep proficient in diving skills, striving to increase them through continuing education and reviewing them in controlled conditions after a period of diving inactivity, and refer to my course materials to stay current and refresh myself on important information.”

The fact that certification agencies know that divers do not remember all the information taught in the open water certification course should suggest a course of action. A wise diver will realize that information and skills are easily forgotten, and he will review this information to continue to be a safe diver.

Really, You Don't Remember Everything!:

Part of the reason certified divers are reluctant to enroll in a refresher course is that they truly believe they have not forgotten information and skills presented in the open water course. Test yourself! Do you remember anything about:

• the maximum safe ascent rate in terms of feet/meters per a minute
• how to tell if you have exceed the maximum safe ascent rate without using a watch, depth gauge or dive computer
• residual nitrogen times
• controlled emergency swimming ascents
• emergency decompression procedures
• use of the recreational dive tables
• testing for proper weighting

Surprised? This is only a short list of some of the absolutely essential safety information divers must retain. If there is any information on this list that you are not completely comfortable using on your own or underwater in an emergency, a refresher course is in order. The good news is that this information was covered in your open water course, and most divers remember it quickly after a brief review.

Refreshed Divers Enjoy Their Dives More:

Most divers won't admit it, but they experience some level of anxiety when returning to the water after not diving for a period of time. Taking a refresher course and reviewing knowledge and skills before diving helps to reduce pre-dive anxiety and makes a return to diving more enjoyable.

What Does a Refresher Course Include?:

Most refresher courses include a combination of dive theory, in-water skill practice, and supervised dives. When possible, divers should enroll in a refresher course with their dive buddy. This allows dive buddies to work to work together to fine tune rescue skills before a real emergency arises.

• Theory
Many instructors administer a quick exam which tests basic dive theory. This allows the instructor to assess what information the diver has retained, and what information he would benefit from reviewing. After the theory portion of a refresher course, divers should feel proficient in use of the recreational dive tables, emergency procedures, proper pre-dive checks and ascent/descent procedures, underwater communications, and the theory behind equalization and buoyancy.

• Skill Practice
Most instructors are aware that you remember how to clear your mask. Reteaching you basic diving skills is not the point of the refresher course. While many instructors may have divers briefly run through basic diving skills in the pool to build diver confidence, the focus should be on skills that divers may have forgotten through disuse. These skills include equipment set up and disassembly, alternate air source use, controlled emergency swimming ascents, low pressure inflator detachment and oral inflation, buddy checks, ascent and descent procedures (do you remember the five point ascent and descent?), and compass use/ navigation.

• Supervised dive
Make your triumphant return to the water safe by completing the refresher course with a supervised dive. Your first dive after a period of diving inactivity should be shallow and easy. An instructor or divemaster can help you with pre-dive jitters and any unanticipated problems.

How Long Does a Refresher Course Last?:

Refresher courses are usually short, because a diver simply reviews information he knew in the past. The average length of a refresher course is half a day to a whole day, depending upon the diver's needs and whether an open water dive is included.

How to Avoid a Refresher Course:

Whether from pride, a limited pocketbook, or another reason, many divers simply refuse to enroll in a refresher course. While a refresher course under the supervision of an instructor is always preferable, there are ways to stay up-to-date with your diving skills without an instructor.

1. Dive regularly.
The local, algae-filled lake may not be as exciting as a tropical reef, but if you make a commitment to diving a few weekends every month, you will retain more diving skills and information than if you only dive on vacation.

2. Re-read Your Open Water Book
Keep your knowledge of dive theory current by reviewing the information in the open water manual. Pay special attention to topics such as dive table use, buoyancy and pressure-depth relationships -- you know, the boring stuff you have probably already forgotten. If you know you have a wait ahead of you, such as at the dentist's office, bring your open water book to read while you wait. Short reviews of small amount of information are frequently more effective than a long study session.

3. Practice Emergency Skills With Your Dive Buddy
If you always dive with the same buddy, review emergency skills with your buddy regularly. Practice ascending at the end of the dive sharing air, or decide to only orally inflate your buoyancy compensator for an entire dive. Using skills regularly makes them comfortable and automatic.

What is the one skill you should not practice in the open water without the supervision of a dive professional? The controlled emergency swimming ascent. This skill has risks such as pulmonary barotrauma and decompression illness when preformed incorrectly.
Just like CPR skills, your diving skills become rusty when not used. This is normal. Forgetting information about diving does not mean you are unintelligent, a bad diver, or insufficient in some other way. It happens to everyone. Before your next dive vacation, be honest with yourself and acknowledge that you may not remember everything about diving. Plan on a refresher course before hitting the water, and you will not only be safer, but more confident and will enjoy your dives more.
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