New Jersey Scuba Diving
Training & Certification
So you're thinking about trying scuba diving, but you're not sure where to start. It is actually not difficult to get your entry-level certification to dive, easier than getting a driver's license. Look in the Yellow Pages or in the Directories section of this website for a shop near you, or inquire at the local college, university, or YMCA, which may run classes that are open to the public.
Scuba diving in the United States is by-and-large not regulated by the government ( as opposed to Australia and other places, where it is. ) This remarkable fact is the result of the scuba industry's so-far successful efforts to head off government meddling by putting forth their own standards for training, equipment, and other specifics. In fact, all the major diving certification organizations and manufacturers actually got together and agreed on a basic set of requirements for the industry, and even have an ISO-9000 certification for it.
Therefore, no matter which training organization you choose, you will get the same basic curriculum. That is not to say they are all identical - each organization will emphasize different aspects that it considers most important. Some are more practical and realistic than others, and this will also depend to a large extent on your individual instructor. For example, some adhere religiously to a curriculum that is suited strictly for the tropics, while others prepare you better for local conditions. In terms of membership size, PADI is the biggest, but this does not really matter, unless you plan to go all the way and become a professional, in which case it is advantageous to be a member of one of the biggest organization. Other major certifying agencies include SSI, SDI, and NAUI. There are links in the Directories section.
Before you even start, you should be aware that diving can be physically strenuous. Dive gear is fairly heavy, and there may be times when you will be required to cover some distance with it, both in and out of the water, as well as climb up and down ladders, stairs, hillsides, dunes, and whatever else may be at your dive site. You should be physically fit, a competent swimmer, and generally comfortable in the water. See the sidebar at right for a short list of medical disqualifiers for scuba diving.
Not here, you won't.
Getting water up your nose and in your eyes and ears is one of the nasty little secrets of diving, and something you will have to get used to. The process of adjusting your ears to increased water pressure as you descend is known as "clearing." This is neither automatic nor inborn, and beginners often have a great deal of trouble with it. Their discomfort is a matter of both being overly sensitive to the new sensation, and a lack of skill with the proper techniques to alleviate it. There are several such techniques, all which are quite simple, and everyone eventually finds one that works for them and overcomes this hurdle.
Likewise, breathing underwater is unnatural, and the proper technique must be learned, although this is rarely a stumbling block. In cold water environments, a close-fitting hood together with the view-limiting mask and often limited water clarity can be claustrophobic for some people. Most dive shops offer an inexpensive "Discover Scuba" mini-class, which will not make you a certified scuba diver, but will let you safely find out if you like it or not.
All the training programs start out with an "Open Water", or OW course. ( There are some courses lower than this, most having the word "snorkel" in the title - don't bother with them. ) The Open Water course will be a fair amount of classroom work - reading and problem-solving, and some math - to learn the rudiments of the science and physics involved in safely going places that our bodies are not designed to go.
Scuba diving is fun !
Ironically, much of the water work in the Open Water class will be confined to a swimming pool, but at the end there will be several dives at a protected outdoor location - a lake or quarry around here, or the open ocean down south where things are easy. In the OW course, you will learn skills such as dive planning, scuba equipment assembly and use, ascents, descents, buoyancy control, swimming with fins, and simple emergency procedures. It is possible to opt out of the final dives locally, which are likely to be in cold water, and finish your certification somewhere in the tropics by taking "referral". This is a great excuse to go down to the sunny islands, and makes a great introduction to your new hobby. A lot of people don't ever want to go in the water around here, and that's just fine for them.
You shouldn't need to buy a lot of gear for your OW course, in fact, there are many things you can't buy yet. The operator should provide all the necessary equipment for free or for a small fee, although before you are finished you will likely have bought a few small items of your own, such as mask, fins, and snorkel. When you are all done, you will get your certification card, or "C-card", as it is known, not issued by any government agency, but by your certifying organization. With this, you can now buy or rent dive gear, get air fills, and go diving. Almost all operators and organizations honor each other's C-cards, the world over.
For many people who only plan to dive once or twice a year in the tropics, this level of training may suffice. However, if you plan to dive in cold water, and especially locally, I would call Open Water certification nothing more than a license to drown yourself. In fact, so do most responsible local dive operators, who will likely refuse to take you out, at least not without your instructor. At this level, you simply do not have the knowledge or experience to handle local conditions.
For anyone who is really interested in diving, and I strongly recommend this for all divers, the next step is "Advanced Open Water", or AOW. This class has virtually no book work, although there is some preparatory reading. Instead, it is almost all real practical diving - underwater navigation, search and recovery, night, boat, beach, and wreck diving, and other skills. This is the class where you will really learn how to dive, and is the minimum level of training you should seek for local cold-water diving. When you finish, you will get an AOW C-card.
At this point in your new diving career, it would be a good idea to head south and get some easy experience in the tropics. The water is warm, clear, and calm, the fish and coral are pretty, and you can quickly put a dozen or more practice dives in your log book without the hazards and difficulties of northern diving. Then, if you are truly serious about local diving, come home and prepare to spend some money. Dive gear is not cheap, especially gear that is suited for local conditions, and the sort of beat-up rental gear that may be OK in Florida will simply not cut it around here.
In my opinion, OW and AOW are misnamed and misbegotten, and should really be Warm Water and Cold Water diving. If you do plan to take the advanced course and eventually become a northeast diver, do it here. That way you can become familiar with cold water, and the conditions, equipment and methods that go with it, in a controlled and supervised environment. Taking an AOW class in the tropics is a complete waste - it is far too easy in the warm clear water, and you won't learn nearly as much or gain the same kind of experience.
Beyond AOW, there are myriad offerings in continued education. After all, scuba is a business and your instructor has bills to pay. ( P.A.D.I. -- Put AnotherDollar In ! ) Medic First Aid and Rescue Diver are worthwhile classes to take, as are many of the mini "Specialties" that are offered, such as U/W Photography & Video, U/W Hunter, Dry Suit, Nitrox, etc. Honestly, many of these you could also teach yourself, but if you like taking classes and collecting C-cards and nifty patches, then knock yourself out. Some people have dozens or even hundreds of C-Cards.
The minimum age for the OW course has recently dropped to ten years. My own personal observation on this is that it is an exceptional ten or even twelve year-old that has the focus and mental ability, and the physical size and strength, to safely learn to scuba dive. Boys tend to be lacking in the first two areas, girls in the second two. Realistically, fourteen or fifteen is a better age to start, although there are pool-only programs that are fun and suitable for younger folks.
Advanced open-water training divers at the Railroad Bridge.
Keep at it, and you may someday join the elite of the
diving world, and become a North Atlantic wreck diver !
Handicapped Scuba Alliance of New Jersey
Advanced & Professional
Moving on to the professional level, the lowest professional rating is Divemaster. I would hardly recommend doing this unless you are really interested in turning Pro - Divemaster is the longest and most arduous rating of all to get. The Divemaster course is like graduate school - a year or more of indentured servitude. On the other hand, pitching in with classes and other activities can be a lot of fun. Divemasters are the sergeants and mules of the diving world, and carry out much of the tour-guiding, tank-filling, and grunt work at resorts and on dive boats. Beyond Divemaster, there is Assistant Instructor, which is basically gold-plated Divemaster, and then increasing levels of Instructor.
A common saying is "If you want to do a lot of diving, become a Divemaster. If you want to do a lot of crummy diving, become an Instructor." Instructor training is all about teaching beginner skills to students. Instructors tend to spend all their time in the pool and classroom, going over the same beginner's routine again and again and again. Often, this leaves little or no time to go out and actually do the very thing they are teaching - diving. On the other hand, if you love teaching then this may be ideal for you. A major and important difference between an Instructor and a Divemaster is that an Instructor is insured for the legal liability of supervising uncertified student divers, while a Divemaster is not.
In a very real sense, the training you get by following up the professional path to Instructor or higher is not making you a better or more experienced diver, but rather is just making you a more polished beginner. Most of the real screw-ups I have ever seen at sea were committed by certified Divemasters and Instructors ( including myself ) - so much for some of the practical aspects of that training ! If you really want to learn how to dive for yourself, to increase your safety and comfort levels, and expand your limitations as a diver, this is not the best route to follow.
Instead, to continue on to more advanced areas of diving, such as deep technical, wreck penetration, and "cave diving", you can turn to a technical diving organization such as TDI for real practical training in areas that the other organizations would like to pretend do not exist ( like overhead environments, decompression procedures and solo diving. ) This is far better training for open ocean conditions than you would get in a cave-oriented DIR-F course. And finally, as in anything, there is simply no substitute for experience - if you want to become a better diver, then get out there, in the ocean, not the pool, and do it. A lot.
The practical advantage of becoming a Divemaster or higher is that you become a member of and fall under the protective legal umbrella of the certifying organization, and become eligible for legal liability insurance. PADI claims they have never lost a lawsuit. This can be important if you ever want to work in the industry, for example, as an instructor, or crew on a dive boat or at a resort. Any dive magazine will monthly catalog cases of poor and/or inexperienced divers who are injured or killed while committing the most incredibly stupid mistakes, who then turn around and sue everyone in sight. Such is the modern world. Locally, while the professional C-card may be important, your real experience will often be weighed more heavily.
I can say personally that crewing on a dive boat can be a lot of fun, and more rewarding than just being a passenger. And over the course of a season you might make a few bucks ( post-dive bar tab, not much more ) instead of spending it, and do a whole lot more diving than you ever thought you might. However, the truth about a career in scuba is that nobody gets rich diving. In fact, around here, hardly anyone even makes a living at it. Almost all of the instructors and shop and boat owners that I know have day jobs that pay the bills. They do the diving business more for the love of it than the money. ( Gee, that's just like this website ! ) Diving can turn a profit alright, but not enough to live on. It is possible to do somewhat better in the tropics, with the year-round season and tourism, but there the competition may be fierce, and your pay may be in pesos. Still, there is nothing better than turning your avocation into your vocation.
Multimedia Bonus !
Jerry Seinfeld on Scuba Diving
Four diving instructors and their classes were on a boat that struck a rock and began sinking ...
The SSI instructor told his class: "Inflate your BCs and surface locator sticks, jump off and wait for the Coast Guard."
The YMCA instructor told his class: "You all had to swim 20 miles to qualify, the distance to the shore should be no problem, now jump in and swim!"
The NAUI instructor told his class: "We are the first and the best and the greatest! Everyone grab a woman in one arm and a child in the other and swim them to shore!"
The PADI instructor said: "Gear up and have a seat. There will be a extra charge of $50 each for this unscheduled wreck dive."
I make no claim as to the accuracy, validity, or appropriateness of any information found in this website. I will not be responsible for the consequences of any action that is based upon information found here. Scuba diving is an adventure sport, and as always, you alone are responsible for your own safety and well being.
Copyright © 1996-2016 Rich Galiano
unless otherwise noted