I know that when I got certified to dive, my local dive shop was quick to try to sell me on specialty courses. So much so that it became rather annoying quite fast as the last thing I wanted to be was a “card collector”. Honestly, I…and my wallet were more focused on buying my personal dive kit and going diving. I mean, why the heck would I want to drop my hard earned dollars on an “Underwater Origami” or “Deep Snorkeling” class? While, specialties aren’t quite that ridiculous, if you plainly don’t have an interest in that specific specialty then it’s easy to see how taking it would be as waste of your time. Of course, what if you were interested in a particular specialty course? Would it be worth taking? Well, let’s take a look at specialty courses in general shall we?
First, let’s take a look at the specialties that are almost a requirement if you intend to dive a certain type of equipment or in a certain environment. Leaving the myriad of technical diving courses out and focusing on purely recreational courses here, some of the big ones are; Drysuit, Full Face Mask, Deep Diver, Ice Diver, Navigation, Buoyancy and Wreck Diver. These specialties, while not intended to make you an expert in the particular type of diving, are intended to allow you to safely dive in that specialty provided you use common sense and stick to your training and experience. These courses are sure to offer best practices and procedures for diving safely, as well as tried and true tips and tricks that are necessary for an enjoyable dive experience. So, the question remains as to should you take one of these specialty courses if you intend on doing this type of diving? Well, unless you already have a great deal of general dive experience and comfort underwater the answer is an unequivocal yes! The training you gain may save your life!
Next, let’s talk about what I like to call the fun or interesting specialty courses. These courses do have an element of safety training involved but tend to be a little more lighthearted and interest based. Courses that fall under this category include, Underwater Photography, Naturalist, or conservation oriented courses. These courses, while again won’t make you an expert…will give you a solid base of knowledge to pursue your interests in these areas. For example, the Underwater Photography course is most likely to cover cameras, lighting, conditions, task loading, and best practices for making those memories permanent. From that point you can at least have a starting point for getting some of those amazing travel brochure type photographs that will be sure to wow your friends back home. Naturalist and conservationist courses are ever increasing in popularity and for good reason. Divers can and often are on the front line and can be outstanding advocates for the preservation of our fragile marine ecosystems, and these courses only serve as the beacon of that movement. In these courses you often learn the impact that poor diving techniques have on our fragile reefs, what fish you should avoid, and a general “take only pictures, leave only bubbles, and kill only time” mindset that all environmentally friendly divers should have.
So, as to the original question of should you take a specialty course? Well, if you plan on using a certain type of equipment, dive in a certain environment, or hold a particular interest…I say why not? When did a little time and education ever hurt? You may gain some insight and a few like minded dive buddies in the process!