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Swim test with or without gear?

Discussion in 'New Divers & Those Considering Diving' started by fuzzybabybunny, Sep 22, 2009.

  1. offthewall1

    offthewall1 Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Baltimore, MD
    You make some valid points, but you miss the big one.

    The ability to swim without fins has nothing at all to do with diving. You're worried that people around water should know how to swim... and I agree with that wholeheartedly, however an inability to swim should not preclude someone from taking or passing a scuba course if they can otherwise pass it using the required equipment.

    Is it foolish for someone to be around water who can not swim? Yes. But it is also foolish to deny scuba certification to someone simply because they can't swim without equipment (fins). If they can pass the scuba exams, pool skills training and checkout dives using fins... then they deserve a scuba certification. They do not deserve a swimming certification... but then that is not your responsibility as a Scuba Instructor.

    If they fall off a boat or pier and drown, it has nothing to do with the scuba certification. They were simply a person who couldn't swim and were foolish for not wearing a lifejacket on the boat or for being more careful around water.

    Drowning is a risk inherent to being around any amount of water. People have drowned in bathtubs, shallow pools etc... Some drown because they couldn't swim. Some very strong swimmers have drowned given the worst of conditions... so swimming ability in and of itself does not ensure a safe return to the boat or pier

    In these true situations of emergency, we depend on throw rings (life buoys,) tag lines, rescue dinghys or rescue swimmers.. maybe even rescue divers.

    I'm a strong swimmer, yet I have been in currents in the Coral Sea conducting a rescue without fins... and it was a murderous swim back to the boat hauling a panicked diver. Being forced to act quickly and without time to put on a mask, fins and snorkel, there were moments I wasn't sure I was going to make it back to the boat.

    In a perfect world, with adequate time, I could have donned the Mask, fins and snorkel and things would have been much easier. My point here is that gear is what divers and snorkelers use. Beach Lifeguards are trained to swim without fins. Divers and Snorkelers are trained with them.

    So back to the earlier statement - is a person foolish for being around water without swimming ability? Yes. I still argue the requirement to swim 200 yards without fins has no place in diving certification requirements. Do the 300 with Mask fins and snorkel. It makes far more sense.
  2. k ellis

    k ellis Divemaster

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: Oklahoma
    I could not have said it better!
  3. offthewall1

    offthewall1 Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Baltimore, MD
    More on point against the invalid argument... I slept last night and woke up this morning with even more on my mind...

    1. Do we require boat owners or for that matter swimming pool owners to know how to swim before purchasing a boat or a car? It would seem to me that these types of people would need to prove they could swim?
    2. Do cruise ships or head boats (fishing) require swimming certification before taking people aboard? No again.
    3. I also don't know of a single marina requiring a boat owner, visitor or contractor to take a swim test before being allowed onto the docks.

    And finally, it would seem a parallel - albeit a slight stretch to suggest that no other extreme sport requires a swimming (requirement) or other certification prior to participating. Windsurfing, Kite Boarding, Surfing etc....

    Do we require or even could we - that learning to Hang glide or Skydive first require a person to prove they can fly (without equipment?) I admit it is a stretch - but it is a valid comparison.

    Are all divers even required to complete these skills? NO. There are handicap divers that do not complete the required skills. They do modified skills or dive with aides... proving once again that a swimming requirement is not necessary to scuba dive.

    Thanks to Kevin for supporting the argument. I'm hopeful that we can work to change the misperception that swimming ability is required to be a diver.

    In fact, it is my belief, having seen it... that a person who learns to scuba dive (and is not a strong swimmer before) often becomes a strong swimmer during the class and doesn't even realize it. When properly taught kicking techniques (flutter and frog) wearing fins... a person naturally increases their ability to swim without them.
  4. ClayJar

    ClayJar ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Baton Rouge, LA
    It is plainly apparent that we have reached quite dissimilar conclusions and are exceedingly unlikely to arrive at a consensus. That being the case, please allow me leave to respond to your post, and do understand that I am not trying to change your mind. I am only explaining my point of view so that others who are pondering the swim tests can see both our sides and come to their own conclusion.

    (I hope this agreement to disagree is acceptable to you. I do not consider all your arguments necessarily invalid, even if my evaluation leans in a distinctly different direction.)

    Note: I'm assuming "car" in the post above was supposed to be "pool", hence the brackets below.
    1. Boat owners are unlikely to be thrown from their boats, yet in rough conditions, it is strongly recommended that they wear a personal flotation device (PFD) just in case. Personal watercraft riders, on the other hand, have a much higher potential for separation from their vessel, and as such are *required* (in the jurisdictions with which I am familiar) to wear a Coast Guard approved PFD at all times. This is not requiring them to be able to swim; it is requiring them to be *unable* to *sink*. I figure that's logically identical.

      As for swimming pool owners, if they cannot swim and they are foolish enough to find a way to fall into the deep end, they can simply grab the side. (Alas, I have seen this on more than one occasion.) There's almost never a side right there to grab if you fall into the ocean. (Most dive boats do not sit that low in the water, RIBs and dive yaks excepted.) Piers and docks may or may not have something to hold, but unless you have a particularly strong and ill-timed earthquake, it's much more likely to find yourself unexpectedly in the water from a boat than from land.

    2. The number of people every year who fall into the water from cruise ships is, from all references I can find, easily in the single digits. [List of overboards.] Considering that *each* cruise can have up to a few *thousand* passengers, the likelihood of finding oneself unexpectedly in the water off a cruise ship is utterly negligible. (As an aside, compare their list of dive excursion deaths, considering the small fraction of total cruise passengers have taken dive excursions. It's not relevant to swim tests, but it does give an idea of the relative magnitude of the overboard stats.)

      The same is not the case from small fishing charters, which are quite obviously *exceedingly* less stable than giant cities-at-sea cruise ships. The expectation, however, is still that you will not be going into the water, and for the vast majority of fishing excursions, this is true. If it gets rough, donning a PFD is highly recommended, of course.

    3. As touched on above, one can generally assume that docks and piers don't move. It does not appear many marinas are concerned about non-swimmers with poor coordination walking like proverbial lemmings into the water.

    As far as I know, not one of those examples requires *any* certification before participating. If there is no one signing off on the competence and capability of the participant, it stands to reason that there is no swimming requirement to that nonexistent certification.

    That's not a stretch, and *certainly* not a valid comparison. That's an attempt at argument-by-humor. If I were saying that divers should be required to manually fill their cylinders (without a compressor?), *that* would be a comparably fantastic demand.

    If you want a more honest comparison, pilots *are* required to master stalls and recoveries before they get their pilot's license. They should never be in a situation where they need to recover from a stall, but they have to show that they have that ability. Recovering from a stall has nothing to do with flying (as a stall is, by definition, the point at which the airfoil is no longer flying), and yet all pilots must be able to handle it if they want to continue flight training.

    Mastering stalls and recoveries is a *safety* skill for a future pilot, just as being able to swim is a safety skill for a future diver. Neither should be required in the general course of the person's flying/diving, but in the event that the person finds themselves in a departure from standard operating parameters, that skill could save their life.

    I concur that not all divers are required to complete swimming skills, but the exceptions are the proof of the rule, not the refutation thereof. As I have noted, the swimming skills are safety skills meant to ensure the safety of the diver should he find himself unexpectedly in the water. Handicapped divers (such as those diving via the HSA) require even *more* consideration to safety than a simple can/cannot swim check.

    If every able-bodied diver were handled with the effort and care required for HSA dives, there would be no reason to require swimming competence. The diver present and assisting would be able to swim for them. The fact that some benevolent divers go to exceptional lengths to augment the abilities of handicapped divers in order to allow them to experience what we love so much is utterly irrelevant to a safety check given to able-bodied divers who do not have the benefit of such exceptional care and attention.

    It is wonderful that people can become better swimmers thanks to a scuba class. I have seen the same thing many times. My point is not that a person needs to be a strong swimmer before the class begins, but until they are capable of swimming sufficiently to prevent their drowning should they find themselves off a boat, it is my strong and unwavering opinion that they should not be certified. Rather, they should be encouraged and assisted through whatever means are necessary to build and improve their swimming capabilities to such a point as they *are* capable.

    I am absolutely *not* saying that an instructor should wash out students due to poor or nonexistent swimming abilities, but to certify that student as-is and thereby encourage them to put themselves in potentially lethal situations for which they are quite obviously completely unprepared is unconscionable.
  5. GShockey

    GShockey DIR Practitioner

    # of Dives:
    Location: Vancouver Island
    Thank you for taking the time to write this. Well done. Up to this point I was reading this series of posts with increasing incredulity. I support your viewpoint 100% and as an instructor I will not certify a diver who cannot swim. In fact, as you probably already are aware, several agencies require far more than the swim standards previously discussed and require the distance be completed in a minimum time as well. This is partially an indicator of fitness levels as well as swimming ability. From my perspective, entering an environment that will kill you without either life support equipment or the ability to swim makes this issue very clear cut for me. I have seen equipment fail and watched divers lose their fins. If a student wants to learn to dive and can't swim, I will first steer him/her to some swimming lessons. Just my 2 cents.
  6. offthewall1

    offthewall1 Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Baltimore, MD
    This is something I completely concur with. Why then are we asked to walk the streets of this country everyday without our guns?

    Why would we ever be asked to enter the water without our fins?
  7. Jim Lapenta

    Jim Lapenta Dive Shop

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Canonsburg, Pa
    I really don;t see an argument. I am of the school that if you are going to be around water you should know how to swim. I believe that parents who allow their children to swim in public pools without them knowing how to actually swim are guilty of in the least neglect and at most abuse. I am sickened by the number of kids I see hanging onto a wall in the deep end with wide eyes and white knuckles because they cannot swim a lick. And mom and dad are nowhere around. I participated in the rescue/ recovery of a child from 10 feet of water with at least 100 other people in or around the pool. The lifeguard brought him up a number of others worked on him till the EMT's got there but it was too late. Mom who was at a pavilion outside the pool came running up. Beer and cigarette in hand. She became hysterical obviously as did other adults with them. Taking advantage of the free swimming lessons offered by several schools, pools, etc would have avoided all of it. I personally do not want anyone around a pool who cannot swim. Let alone in open water. Not knowing how to swim even a bit is just plain lazy. Teaching a person who cannot swim to dive where there are so many risks of encountering contact with the water makes no sense and is something I would not do even if permitted to.
  8. k ellis

    k ellis Divemaster

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: Oklahoma
    actually I work and am required to carry one so I have one 24 / 7 at least the gun part anyway :)
  9. GQMedic

    GQMedic NAUI Instructor

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: SoCal. (Yeah, baybee)
    I carry one as well, but only for the fashion statement. I can't say I carry 24/7, in my PJ's, if I lay on it, it chafes. :crafty:
  10. pasley

    pasley Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Lakewood, CA
    In the vast majority of people the body density does float them. You may be in the minority, but try this experiment:

    In a swimming pool place your arms at your side, feet together and do not move (aka pencil position) with a normal breath. Now sink to the bottom holding a normal breath. In the vast majority of people they will sink, until the water closes over the top of their head, then they will come back up until they are floating in the neutral position, water at eye level, tilt head back and breath and relax, your floating.

    I have tried this on many people who "could not float" and were afraid of the water (I note you are comfortable in the water) and fear they will drown until I asked them to sink to the bottom in a pencil position. They can't do it. Failing around the hands and legs adds air to the water reducing its density and its ability to hold you up. Calm, slow strokes will be effective in keeping you afloat. Relax, from what you describe of your current activities in the water you can actually do this. It just takes some practice and overcoming your reliance on fins and other gear.

    To play in the water you should know how to swim as a basic safety measure. Example, this past week a local diver had to ditch his dive equipment (why I don't know, I just know he has posted that it is on the bottom in 25 feet and he would like to get it back) and if he did not have basic swimming skills he would be in a bad situation. As others have pointed out some handicapped divers who certify in the most restrictive category of certification (HSA certifies at three different levels of ability) and are required to dive with specially trained and certified dive buddies such as myself, cannot swim, but it really is a skill you should have. Your current activities in the water imply that you actually can swim. Fins do not make you swim, they only affect the speed or efficiency of the kick which moves you through the water the do not make you float. On the subject of fins, with fins off, your arms are the most efficient at moving you through the water.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2009

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