In 1999 Scuba Diving International (SDI) introduced a Junior Diver certification program that allowed scuba training for kids as young as 10; two years younger than previously allowed. Then, early in 2000 the Recreational Scuba Training Council (the organization comprised of certification agencies whose qq1main objective is to establish training standards for snorkeling and scuba diving) changed its guidelines, allowing each individual member organization to set its own minimum age for certification. PADI and SSI both changed their minimum age for Junior Diver certification to 10, while other agencies declined to follow suit.
Diving has risks, and as you can imagine this became a big issue and a source of (sometimes heated) discussion in the industry. Among the factors in whether a ten-year-old should scuba dive are the emotional, intellectual and physical development of the child, and Dive Training addressed the issue in the November 2000 issue. Alex did a brilliant job of presenting both sides of the argument, and in such a way that would help instructors ultimately decide whether to teach kids, and parents to decide whether to let their kids learn. It is still a very important decision, and the article is appropriate today.
— Mark Young, Publisher
Content below originally published in Dive Training, November 2000.
C-Cards for Kids: Boon or Abomination?
By Alex Brylske
Unless you’ve been stranded on some desert island for the past year or two, you know that kids have been getting a great deal of attention from the diving community lately. Scuba Schools International’s (SSI) Scuba Rangers and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors’ (PADI) Bubblemaker are only two of the most visible new programs for younger divers. Innovations such as Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth (SASY) and scuba gear designed to comfortably fit Lilliputians have received significant attention from every sector, from equipment manufacturers to moms and dads.
Along with programs to respond to the interest in diving among children and the equipment required for them to comfortably participate, there have been some important changes to diver training standards. Most notably, in 1999 Scuba Diving International (SDI) introduced a Junior Diver certification program open to kids as young as 10 — two years younger than previously allowed by member organizations of the Recreational Scuba Training Council (RSTC). (The RSTC is an organization comprised of certification agencies whose main objective is to establish training standards for snorkeling and scuba diving.) Then, earlier this year, the RSTC changed its guidelines, allowing each individual member organization to set its own minimum age for certification. (For more information, see the “Dive Observer” column in the April 2000 issue of Dive Training.) Soon after, PADI and SSI both changed their minimum age for Junior Diver certification to 10.
The effect in some quarters was immediate. “Interest from the press has been phenomenal,” says Jeff Nadler, PADI’s vice president for industry relations. “Nothing in my 20-plus years with PADI has garnered as much attention from the mainstream media as our decision to endorse SASY, introduce Bubblemaker and offer a restricted certification for 10- to 11-year-olds.” Similar response has been reported from other organizations that have followed suit and adopted the new age limit.
“Twelve months of experience with our Scuba Rangers Program has taught us a lot about working with children 12 and under,” says Gary Clark, Director of Product Development for SSI. “What we’ve heard consistently from Scuba Ranger Instructors is how fast kids learn, how great they are in the water and how excited they are about scuba diving.”
But it would be inaccurate to imply that the entire diving community is behind the idea of 10-year-olds holding c-cards. Those opposed to the change believe it’s the worst idea that’s come down the pike in a long time, and a storm of controversy has pitted the two sides in a sometimes-raucous debate. But just what are the issues that are causing such rancor? Is there, for example, anything in the physical makeup of preadolescents that should preclude them from diving? Are there psychological or emotional issues pertinent to this young age group that aren’t adequately considered in the diver training process? These and other equally important questions are on the minds of today’s parents and dive professionals as they find themselves making the sometimes difficult, and very serious, decision of whether or not to allow kids to become certified divers.
Medical Issues: The Jury Is Out
Controversy has long surrounded the discussion of the medical implications of allowing children to dive. Not surprisingly, this was a major concern in the discussions of RSTC members when the matter was addressed last year. It has long been held by many that the minimum age of certification was based upon concerns over the impact that decompression bubbles may have on growth sites in the long bones of children. But as diving medical expert Dr. Simon Mitchell points out, “I believe there is insufficient evidence to support this theory…. If this [bone growth] were really an issue, it would have to apply to any diver who is younger than 20.”
So what are the real medical issues at hand? Before making its decision, the RSTC asked the Divers Alert Network (DAN) to review the medical literature on children and diving. The results were nothing unexpected. As DAN’s report to the RSTC indicated, there’s almost no literature on the subject. Other than some evidence with respect to pulmonary development, which points to the conclusion that children under the age of 8 should not engage in scuba diving, the report concludes, “There is insufficient experience to make any evidence-based judgment.” So there doesn’t appear to be enough medical evidence to swing the balance in either direction, for or against (although the issue is still under investigation by DAN).
Opponents of the change contend that just because there’s no data on the medical impact of diving on young children doesn’t mean one should conclude that there’s no medical risk. They insist that perhaps more research is needed in this area — perhaps studies of decompression illness (DCI) and its impact on growth plates in animal models — before we allow children to scuba dive.
Supporters of kid certification find this rationale a bit curious when viewed in a broader context. They contend that data has already proven that diving has an extremely low risk of injury. So why would parents and others object to letting children dive, yet have absolutely no qualms about allowing children — many much younger than 10 — to participate in rough-and-tumble, injury-prone sports like football and hockey? According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year more than 775,000 children under the age of 15 are treated in hospital emergency rooms in the United States for contact sports injuries from — in descending order of occurrence — football, basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, gymnastics and volleyball.
Likewise, supporters find much of the concern over decompression to be a nonissue, as well. Here, they contend that the very modest depth limit of 40 feet (12 m) imposed on younger children subjects them to only minimal decompression stress, thereby virtually eliminating concerns many have raised over the unknown, and possibly increased, risk of bends. Indeed, not even the most ardent supporters of kid certification that I spoke to for this article advocate taking kids to depths where exceeding — or even approaching — decompression limits is practically feasible. (Even the most conservative dive tables allow two-and-a-half hours of bottom time at 40 feet.
Although medical evidence does not provide a sufficient basis from which to make a definitive decision, there are additional issues such as psychological and emotional maturity to consider. Insight into how children develop psychologically and emotionally is key to understanding how they’ll handle both the intellectual demand of learning how to dive, and once they’re certified, the emotional demand of diving safely.
“A key tenet in diving safety,” says Dr. Debra Hill, a child psychiatrist and NAUI instructor, “is that when something goes wrong, divers should stop, think and act. Unfortunately, children may not be able to do that, as their ability to access their cognitive capabilities in the face of an emergency is limited by their tendency to be overwhelmed by emotions.”
Dr. Hill’s insight is based upon decades of research into human development. Generally, children in the age range of 6 to 12 are in what developmental psychologists term the “concrete operational” stage. This means that they think concretely versus abstractly. It does not mean, however, that they cannot think logically, only that they apply logic best when it involves concrete and tangible situations. For example, if you ask a child operating at this concrete level to explain the proverb, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” the child is likely to say that a horse can’t be forced to drink, show a puzzled expression or attempt some other literal interpretation. Children at this level simply do not understand the more general and abstract meaning.
Furthermore, children at this level of development have difficulty with hypothetical situations, or even formulating and testing hypotheses. An example would be to pose the hypothetical statement, “If all dogs were pink and I had a dog, would my dog be pink?” A child operating at the concrete level, in most cases, would react by simply insisting that dogs are not pink and that’s the end of the discussion. Similar problems might arise in dealing with proportions, ratios and variables, essential concepts in learning to dive.
There are also concerns about the attention span of children. It’s been well-established in research, as well as experienced by every teacher and parent, that kids at this age are distracted easily. However, one mitigating factor is that this can improve rapidly during the age range in question.
The implications of emotional development are important because, according to Dr. Henri Deutsch, a developmental psychologist and diver, problem solving has an emotional component. “We often make mistakes, not because we don’t think of the right answer, but because we don’t act on it.” In other words, our emotions overrule our thinking in many situations, and this is a very common problem with children. “There’s also the issue that a child may not be willing to challenge an adult,” maintains Dr. Hill. In this case, she asks, “Will a child notify an adult supervisor that he or she is cold, or is low on air or having some other problem?”
Echoing Hill and Deutsch’s concerns, Rondi Campbell, the District Psychologist and Gifted/Talented Education Coordinator for the school system of Carpinteria, California, maintains, “Scuba diving requires a lot of self-reliance, discipline and judgment, and the emotional maturity of any group of 10-year-old children would be expected to vary widely, depending upon a multitude of factors such as sex, intelligence, temperament, life experiences, environment and physical development. No two children are the same, and I am unaware of any valid and reliable test of ‘maturity.’”
In fairness, however, while there may not be a test of maturity, there are safeguards in place to preclude from the process children who clearly are not ready to become divers. Certainly, the first test in this regard is the judgement of the instructor. In addition, one reason that the academic and physical requirements for certification have not been altered for younger children is to test whether they possess the intellectual and motor skills — and concomitant discipline — to dive safely. Be they 10 or 100, all divers must pass the same written exams and skills requirements for certification.
The Case “Against”
Campbell, who is also a seasoned rescue diver with nearly 600 dives, sums up the case against certifying 10-year-olds. “Another characteristic of this age is that children are becoming critical of adults, resent interference and can become openly hostile or disobedient at times,” she contends. “If one of those times happens to be underwater, there could be dire consequences. At this age, fear tends to be at low ebb, so children may be more apt to take risks. It only takes one time of chasing a fish too deep, forgetting to check their air gauge, ignoring ear problems, holding their breath on ascent or coming up too fast, and the consequences can be tragic.”
Campbell’s opposition to lowering the minimum age is also echoed in the field by some dive operators, like Joe Giacinto, owner of Dive BVI, Ltd., and president of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) Dive Operators Association. Giacinto strongly opposes the move. “Dive BVI no longer accepts divers under 12 years of age, regardless of whether they are certified or want to pursue training. We’ve had two bad experiences. One was an open-water training dive involving an 11-year-old and his parents,” Joe continues. “The kid ended up in tears on the boat, obviously fearful…and the other divers on the boat were looking at us as if we were child molesters.”
Giacinto’s feelings are reflected even by some of the diver training organizations. The National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) has elected not to reduce the minimum age for its Junior Certification program, based on a medical rationale. Speaking for the organization, Dr. Kelly Hill, a longtime NAUI instructor, board member and hyperbaric physician, cites three reasons for the decision.
First, he maintains that there are no decompression algorithms developed specifically for children, and that there’s a lack of historical data collected on child divers. Second, and again related to the issue of decompression sickness, he reiterates concerns about our lack of knowledge of how diving may affect growth plates in the bones of children. Finally, there’s what he terms the “irrational reason.” According to Hill, “Since the data is not clear, why take the risk? Diving is a wonderful experience, but there are lots of wonderful experiences open to kids. The benefits of children diving are not commensurate with the risk.”
The National YMCA Scuba Program takes a similar view. “Despite the fact that several agencies have lowered the minimum age required for scuba,” says Scuba Program Director Tec Clark, “our minimum age is 12 for all scuba activities. The YMCA believes that the verbal, intellectual, physical and social skills of most younger kids aren’t developed enough to participate safely in scuba education, training and certification.” However, Clark adds, because of recent questions about this matter, the Y’s Medical Advisory Committee will review it in the fall.
Frank Murphy of PDIC, an RSTC member agency, says PDIC wouldn’t feel comfortable teaching 10- or 11-year-olds to dive. In fact, PDIC’s Junior Open Water certification carries with it the industry’s most stringent restrictions for Junior Divers: PDIC requires that Junior Open Water divers age 12 to 15 dive with an instructor or insured, active-status dive supervisor and remain above a depth of 30 feet (9 m).
The Case “For”
With such caution from mental health professionals and opposition from some quarters of the diving industry, the question begs, why would some diver training organizations choose to change the minimum age in the first place? According to Drew Richardson, PADI’s Executive Vice President for Education, Membership and Environment, there was no single rationale for the decision, but a plethora of reasons.
First, there was the synergy that developed from recent technological and programming innovations. SASY introduced new equipment and an unprecedented new approach to offer a safe surface-based experience to children as young as 5 years old. Likewise, PADI’s Bubblemaker program successfully offered children as young as 8 a safe and enjoyable experience under very controlled conditions up to 6 feet (2 m) of depth, thanks in part to the increased amount of equipment for children now on the market.
PADI claims its decision was also based on demand from its membership. “Many PADI members asked us to construct a safe program to accommodate children between the ages of 10 and 12,” says Richardson. “We did so only after evaluating the good safety record generated from the empirical data we reviewed from our own experience in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s [before there was any minimum age limit] training children younger than 12, and that of other agencies in the same time period.” Furthermore, in making its decision, PADI also reviewed the empirical experience that the World Underwater Federation (also known as CMAS — Confederation Mondiale Des Activities Subaquatiques), an international certification agency, has accumulated for the past 20 years. The data involve more than 1,000,000 exposures.
CMAS’ programs include compressed air breathing in pool environments for children as young as 4, Open Water scuba training and certification for children with a recommended (not required) minimum age of 8. Armed with this background, PADI went about constructing a sequence of programming based on age and equipment, then strictly limited and restricted this training in terms of depth, supervision, ratios and control, along with other relevant safety factors.
The final rationale had a lot to do with the changing nature of the dive community. “We wanted to provide families with an opportunity for a shared, noncontact adventure activity and provide youth with a focus on a positive lifestyle that could be experienced with their parents,” maintains Richardson. “These were the forces that drove PADI.”
The issue Richardson raises regarding CMAS’ experience with certifying children is an interesting one. Many detractors from the age change often don’t realize the long history training children has outside North America. In fact, many are surprised to learn that CMAS has had for many decades a formal program and training guidelines to teach children as young as 8.
While it involves a slightly older population of 12 to 15, similar success has been seen in Junior Diver programs. For example, between 1988 and 1999 PADI issued 122,298 Junior Open Water Diver certifications, with only one serious accident reported. And then there’s SNUBA, a system where a scuba tank is floated at the surface on a raft while two divers swim freely, breathing from that tank with a special regulator. Since its inception, the company has reported that nearly 1.5 million people have dived using the device — including children as young as 7 — without incident. Clearly, children on scuba is not a new phenomenon or an activity without an extensive base of experience. It’s just that few records have been kept, and the public is unaware of the history. Reducing the age for certification, according to supporters, is simply the next logical step based upon years of positive experience.
SDI’s Gilliam takes an even more practical approach in explaining his organization’s rationale for adopting the 10-year-old minimum age. “We recognized that, whether training organizations ‘allowed it’ or not, people were going to take their kids diving before the age of 12,” he asserts. “So wouldn’t it be better to let them do so under professional guidance, and with programs specifically developed for this purpose, instead of some clandestine effort on mom or dad’s part?”
Gary Clark of SSI takes a similar view based on practical experience. “Scuba Schools International was a major advocate behind the change to the RSTC entry-level standards and quick to change SSI training standards, because we’ve always believed in personalized training,” he says. “This means the training program is tailored to the individual’s needs, and each student is evaluated against the standard of a confident, comfortable diver. With such a personalized training approach, we felt that SSI instructors could work with children and produce safe, competent divers.”
In conjunction with its insurance company, SSI has also produced an excellent video to help parents understand the special risks and rewards of diving for children. “It’s been especially valuable for the nondiving parents,” says Clark.
Still other reasons for the change go beyond the motivation of any individual diver training organization. Youth certification, according to advocates, is a vital innovation to ensure scuba diving’s long-term health and survival. Some have viewed this rationale with open hostility, asserting that it places economic gain over the safety of children. Overall, the amount of revenue likely to be generated from this small population isn’t very significant. In fact, the increased expense to the training organizations for development of age-appropriate instructional materials and special risk management procedures may exceed any profits from teaching kids.
Some Important Clarification
As with many controversial issues, the heat of the debate sometimes hinders useful discourse. So to comprehend the issue fully, one must first understand the requirements and conditions under which Junior Divers are trained, and what restrictions they — and the adults who supervise them — are expected to abide by. But let’s start with the rules before they were changed.
First of all, the minimum age of 12 — which many assume has been around as long as the double-hose regulator and has been viewed as sacrosanct — is actually a relatively new requirement. It actually wasn’t imposed until the RSTC adopted the age standard in 1987. Prior to that, training organizations left the minimum age of certification to the discretion of their instructors, who considered it on a case-by-case basis.
Since the inception of the Junior Diver certification, divers under the age of 15 have always been required to dive under the direct supervision of a certified adult. Furthermore, they’re restricted to a depth of no greater than 60 feet (18 m). But under the new standards, children under 12 are subjected to even greater restrictions — a maximum of 40 feet. While this is an absolute requirement during training, parents and dive professionals must understand that certification standards do not apply to activities that do not involve training. Therefore, the depth limit can only become a recommendation once a child is certified. It’s the duty of responsible dive professionals and adult supervisors (parents) to see that the integrity of this limit remains intact.
The second restriction is equally important and deals with the issue of supervision. While most agencies allow Junior Divers between 12 and 15 to be accompanied by any certified adult diver, that’s not the case with those under age 12. These youngest of the Junior Divers are required by the endorsing agencies to dive with either a certified, insured, active-status dive professional (divemaster/dive control specialist or instructor) or a parent/legal guardian. No others, regardless of their diving experience and training, qualify as supervisors.
Another issue goes back to the earlier discussion on the emotional development of children. According to Dr. Henri Deutsch, “Emotional development is very closely tied to cognitive development. So children of this age group often do not understand their limitations or the realities of the situation. They are used to others, like parents or teachers, looking out for their welfare and may be overly reliant on them underwater. When confronted with the realities of the situation, they may panic or become helpless, waiting for someone else to solve the problem for them.”
While this is a valid interpretation of child emotional development, Deutsch’s comments demonstrate how a common misconception about child certification has evolved. Critics contend that a prime reason children should not be certified is because they have neither the emotional nor physical capability to render assistance to a buddy in an emergency. Indeed, advocates contend, this is probably a valid assumption, although it is not a valid criticism. Although a Junior Diver must fulfill the same certification requirements as an adult, the same expectations are not asked of them.
Kids are not little adults, and the implications of the differences between adults and Junior Divers have important bearing on supervision. Many fail to recognize that when an adult dives with a child, that adult does not have a “buddy” in the same sense as when he or she dives with another adult. “When an adult makes the decision to dive with a child,” says Dr. Debra Hill, “he must understand that he is, in essence, diving solo.”
This, of course, means that when diving with a child, one must assume a much higher level of care than when diving with another adult. In fact, Hill suggests, given that the adult member is for all practical purposes diving “buddy-less,” perhaps the supervisory restriction should mandate that the child dive with two adult buddies. This would maintain the integrity of the buddy system while providing an increased level of supervision for the child. Interestingly, there is precedent for such a three-man buddy team. Under certain situations, some disabled divers are required to dive with two buddies.
Summarizing the point, Bret Gilliam, president and CEO of SDI, asserts, “Certainly adults are capable of assuming the responsibility of diving with children without expecting a child to perform some heroic rescue…. If we were to apply this same logic to the sport of skiing, where kids routinely participate at far younger ages, we would have to require those children to be capable of splinting broken legs and manhandling a rescue sled down the mountain.”
The take-home message from the point of supervision, according to advocates of youth certification, is that the decision to dive with a child is a very serious one and cannot be taken lightly. To assume that diving with a youngster is no different than diving with a small adult is a formula for disaster. Adult supervisors must accept that diving with kids requires special vigilance. No matter how fascinating the underwater scenery, their primary responsibility at all times is to the child. Adult supervisors must also accept that, unless there’s yet another grown-up who accompanies the dive, they’ll have essentially no effective assistance in the event of an emergency. These are weighty responsibilities that adults must be willing to assume.
Some Food for Thought
In researching this article and in talking to numerous dive and mental health professionals, several points were driven home to me. During these discussions, the following recommendations were offered. They may be a useful starting point to bridge the gap between those who oppose and those who favor certifying children.
The first observation is that there’s a need for age-appropriate training materials. In response to this need, agencies are currently developing materials specifically for teaching this younger age group.
But creating age-appropriate materials will take time, and while it will be an important step, attention must also be given to training procedures. Many diving instructors who are perfectly comfortable and capable teaching older adolescents may be completely inept at dealing with children as young as 10. Therefore, specialized training seminars, taught in conjunction with both dive professionals and educators experienced in dealing with children, are needed. Some advocates of child certification — as well as mental health professionals — contend that the industry should consider requiring such training to qualify diving instructors to teach preadolescents. In fact, curriculum to address the issue of teaching children has already been incorporated into several agencies’ new instructor training guidelines.
Moreover, from the instructional perspective, some stress that the student-instructor relationship is especially important when teaching children. When teaching kids, this relationship must be maintained from the beginning of the course to the final open-water dive. Therefore, one suggestion has been to re-evaluate whether “referral training” (completing academic and pool training under one instructor and open-water training under another) is appropriate for the under-12 population. Here, supporters maintain that it may not be a good idea to introduce a new instructor into the formula, especially when a child is about to enter open water for the first time. The counter-argument is, of course, whether it’s really any better to finish a child’s course in a cold, murky quarry as opposed to clear, warm, tropical conditions.
There are also some important practical issues in the kid diving arena. Young children are especially susceptible to thermal stress due to their low surface area-to-body mass ratio. They’re also less likely than an adult or older child to tell their buddy they are getting cold. This makes a well-fitting exposure suit an absolutely essential item for any child diver, even when it may seem to an adult that no such protection is necessary. This issue also imposes upon supervisory personnel a responsibility to make sure that children are not being subjected to conditions where cold stress could become a factor.
Similar concerns are also warranted with respect to the general fit of scuba equipment. Adults must never take the attitude that equipment fit is “good enough.” If children are to become safe and competent divers, they must use equipment that’s designed specifically for their capabilities and anatomy. But thanks to a growing number of equipment manufacturers who are addressing this issue, obtaining properly fitting equipment for kids isn’t a problem. The point is to make sure that adults choose such equipment rather than relying on ill-fitting adult hand-me-downs.
Responsibility doesn’t end with instructors or parents when dealing with kid divers. Dive operators who choose to encourage and accommodate younger divers must accept that dealing with kids can be like dealing with special-needs populations. This may mean modifications to their equipment, boats and other facilities. For example, rental inventories will require kid-sized BCs and tanks, and consideration for seating and making entries/exits from boats might require some scrutiny. Accommodating kids may also bring with it the need to revise operating procedures, such as selecting dive sites specifically appropriate for young children and their parents.
A Word to Instructors
Some instructors have chosen to embrace this younger population of divers with enthusiasm, while others have elected not to accept children under 12 for training under any circumstances. Many otherwise extremely competent instructors simply may not feel comfortable or want to take on the added responsibility of dealing with younger students. I believe that both decisions are valid and should be respected.
For those of you who are still undecided, I offer the following suggestions: Before accepting students under the age of 12, spend some time evaluating your decision. Some educators thrive on teaching youngsters, while others may find the experience horrendous. Just because you have been effective in the past teaching adolescents is no assurance that you’ll be equally adept with the preadolescent crowd. (A 10-year-old and a 12-year-old are totally different animals.)
Youngsters are typically a completely different population than most dive instructors have ever dealt with, and they require a change in approach, demeanor and attitude that not all dive professionals are capable of or desire. Deciding that no, you just don’t want to take this on, is perfectly OK. But I will tell you that — based on the experience of teaching my own nephew — if you have the requisite patience, it can be a hugely rewarding experience.
A Final Word to Parents
One of the concerns expressed by both dive professionals and those in the mental health professions who were interviewed for this article was that parents might push their children into diving even if they aren’t especially interested or capable. In the former case, parents must understand that children are far less likely to object to or question an adult, and therefore they may very easily agree to enter training solely to please a parent. This imposes a tremendous responsibility on parents in evaluating whether diving is appropriate for their child. It’s imperative that the motivation and desire to dive be authentically that of the child and not the parent. There’s simply too much at stake for parents to make the decision on the basis of their own wishes instead of their kid’s.
The other concern is the capability and readiness of kids who are honestly enthusiastic about becoming divers. Here, some important and sometimes difficult decisions are necessary. Regardless of the level of supervision, all divers, be they children or adults, can be placed in dangerous situations. Therefore, parents must recognize that before enrolling their children in scuba classes, they should first look for evidence that their child has the requisite psychological and emotional maturity. Ask yourself questions such as: What evidence do I have that my youngster will understand concepts such as pressure/volume relationships? From the emotional perspective, ask questions such as: How might my child react in a stressful situation? Does my child sometimes engage in foolish risk-taking behavior that could result in serious injury if he or she was diving? While these may be difficult questions to assess, and the true answers may be difficult to accept, such an unabashed evaluation is absolutely essential, and it is only the parent who can truly make such an assessment. Finally, as addressed previously, parents must accept their role in supervising their children once they become certified.
In the final analysis, should the child not understand or forget some important concept, or be unable to perform a skill, the need for the immediate intercession of an attentive adult will be absolutely essential. This means that as a parent, when you dive with a child, your own agenda must take a back seat. Furthermore, it implies that parents should never even consider scuba as an option for their younger children until they themselves are highly competent and experienced divers. In my view, this vital supervisory role should not and cannot be relegated totally to a dive professional. After all, while the divemaster or instructor may be highly competent, he or she is not the parent. The buck stops with you, Mom and Dad.
The Junior Open Water Diver Certification
Below is a list of scuba certification agencies and their policies on certifying young divers. (As of date of publication, November 2000.)
Agency | Certification Ages1 | Junior Depth Limit2 | Required Supervision3
IDEA | 12 to 15 | 60 feet | certified parent or dive professional
MDEA | 12 to 15 | 40 feet | certified adult
NAUI | 12 to 15 | 60 feet | certified adult designated by parent
SDI | 10 to 15 | 60 feet | certified parent, guardian or dive professional
SSI | 10 to 15 – Ages 10 and 11 | 40 feet | certified parent or dive professional
– Ages 12 to 15 | 60 feet certified | adult
PADI | 10 to 15 – Ages 10 and 11 | 40 feet | certified parent, guardian or dive professional
– Ages 12 to 15 | 70 feet | certified adult
PDIC | 12 to 15 | 30 feet | dive professional
YMCA | 12 to 15 | 60 feet | certified adult
- Each agency has procedures for upgrading from Junior Open Water to Open Water certification when the diver reaches age 15.
- Depth limit is required during open-water training; it is a recommended maximum depth upon certification.
- In this case a dive professional is defined as an insured, active-status leadership level diver (divemaster or above).
For More Information
Parents and dive professionals may find some useful insight from the following articles on kids and diving.
“Is Age an Issue?” by Dr. Simon Mitchell. The Undersea Journal, Fourth Quarter 1999. Available from Professional Association of Diving Instructors.
“Evaluating the Potential Pediatric Scuba Diver,” by Mark L. Dembert and Julian F. Keith. Sports Medicine, 140, November 1986.
“Junior Divers,” by Dr. Paul Thombs. Alert Diver, 13th Anniversary Special Edition. Available from the Divers Alert Network.