Six questions to ask before issuing replacement C-cards

CobwebsOne of the most common emails my dive store clients receive goes something like this:

I was certified through your store ten years ago. I’m leaving on a vacation next week and can’t find my certification card. Can you get me a replacement?

Does that set off alarm bells? It should, because it could easily be the sign of an accident waiting to happen. Here is just one story that illustrates what can take place when you issue replacement c-cards on a “no questions asked” basis.

Molokini Crater, Maui, August, 1993 — Days at sea seldom get any better than this. The water was dead calm, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and visibility was its usual 100+ feet. In other words, perfect.

I’d just gotten the last of four groups of six divers each into the water and had watched as my divemasters took them down the anchor line. As I walked toward Endeavor’s stern, however, I heard quite the commotion coming from the water.

The source of the commotion was a couple clinging to opposite sides of the swim step. As I couldn’t yet make out what they were saying, I approached asking, “Is there a problem?”

The husband responded, “No…we’re just not going to dive.”

Looking down at them struggling to make it up the boarding ladder, I said, “Just out of curiosity, how long has it been since you two have been diving?”

“Ten years,” the husband said, somewhat sheepishly. At this point his wife looked at him and said, “I told you we should have taken a refresher course!”

These two were lucky. All their poor judgment ended up costing them was a little over $300 in charter and rental fees. However, because the morning they spent sitting out two dives constituted one twelfth of their usable vacation time, you could also factor in one twelfth of their air fare, hotel, rental car, meals and other expenses, bringing the total cost of their debacle closer to $1,000.

At this, they got off cheaply. Had they gone ahead and attempted to dive, it could have ultimately cost them their lives.

Despite ten years spent captaining and crewing dive boats, and taking out over 10,000 divers, I somehow beat the odds. No diver ever died on my watch. There were, however, far too many close calls…and almost all of them involved divers who had let too much time elapse between their last dive and their ill-fated attempt to get wet one more time. Other boat captains have told similar stories — except they weren’t all as lucky as I was.

Which leads to the question: What should you do when someone asks for help in getting a replacement c-card? It really depends on circumstances.

  • The person asking could well be an active diver whose wallet went missing — although, in this case, this person would likely be a regular customer whose recent diving experience you are familiar with.
  • Generally speaking, though, when customers are less well known, it is often a sign of someone who can’t find his or her c-card because he or she hasn’t used it in years.

At this point, you could get away with just issuing a replacement card without asking a lot of questions. You might make a few bucks in the process and the “diver” would end up being someone else’s problem. But would that help you sleep at night?

  • Remember that if the diver fails to come back safely from his or her vacation, the survivors’ attorney is going to sue everyone even remotely connected to the incident. That could easily include you — especially if yours was the dive center that first certified the victim or you facilitated the accident by providing a replacement card without warning the person of the risks inherent in diving after a period of inactivity.
  • Even if the diver survives, he or she will most likely not have a lot of fun…meaning that the odds of this person upgrading equipment, taking additional training or signing up for one of your trips is slim. Is that what you want?

That’s why, when somebody comes to you for a replacement card, there are six questions you need to ask first. These are:

  • How long has it been since you last went diving?
  • How many dives have you made since certification?
  • What is your current level of certification?
  • Do you keep a log book?
  • Do you own your own equipment?
  • If you do own your own equipment, how recently were the regulator and BC serviced, and your dive computer battery replaced?

Many of these are questions divers may be asked when they arrive at their destination. Other questions can have a direct bearing on safety and enjoyment.

How the person answers these questions will help you determine what your recommended course of action should be. There are no hard-and-fast rules here; every situation is different. The key factors are how much overall experience the would-be diver has and, especially, the recency of that experience.

Here is how I might respond, depending on the date of the individual’s last dive:

  • Six months or less: It’s likely there are no problems here, especially if the diver has lots of prior experience. This would typically be the person who just recently lost or misplaced his or her c-card.
  • Six months to one year: This is the person I’d invite to either hop in the pool, join us on an upcoming training dive or on some other, closely supervised activity. If this person wanted to do a skills review as part of that activity, even better.
  • One year or more: This is the person who definitely needs to take part in a formal refresher course — especially if his or her inactivity exceeds 18 months or more.
  • Five years or more: This is the person who likely needs more than a quick tune-up. Re-taking the classroom/pool portion of a complete entry-level course might be one option here. Another option might be to do the refresher course and, if the diver does well, to follow it with some sort of Advanced or Specialty Diver course.

As often as not, though, the individual you are dealing with has put off replacing that c-card until the last minute, leaving little, if any, time for these options. In that case, all you can do is encourage the person to report his or her lack of recent experience to the dive operator immediately upon arriving at the destination. This is a situation most resort dive operations are used to dealing with. What you don’t want to have happen is for the diver to walk onto a dive boat at their destination without alerting anyone.

Remember also that you are under no obligation to provide a replacement card to someone you feel is at risk. Could a customer sue you under such circumstances for “ruining” their dive vacation? Hell, this is America. People can sue you for looking at them sideways. The risks of them doing so, however, are low and this is just one of the many reasons you carry professional liability insurance for your business.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have my attorneys dealing with a nuisance suit than a wrongful-death suit. If you refuse to issue a replacement card, you at least go on record as making the person aware of the risks he or she is taking.

Think long term

When dealing with inactive divers, it’s important to plant the seeds for future sales. For example:

  • Invite them to join you on your local dives upon their return: If they start diving locally, they won’t have the problem of inactivity before their next trip.
  • Invite them to join you on your vacation trips: Diving is more fun when it is with a group of people you know.
  • Encourage them to upgrade their certification: Dive operators frequently offer better diving opportunities to divers with Advanced or Technical Diver ratings.
  • Sell service: It’s a near certainty that divers who have been inactive for a long period of time haven’t been getting their BCs, regulators and dive computers serviced at the recommended intervals.
  • Equipment upgrades: Diving is more fun when you stop doing it with gear from the 1980s and 90s.
  • Don’t lose touch: Make sure that everyone you deal with is on your store’s email list and “likes” your page on Facebook.

Everyone who walks in your door is an opportunity — and a responsibility. Don’t be shortsighted when it comes to issuing replacement cards. There is no reason why you can’t promote safety and sales at the same time.

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