Increasingly, diving not just for the younger set anymore

John and Sue Oâ™Shea and Michael and Lori Courvoisier, all from Michigan, frequently come to the Keys to scuba dive.
John and Sue Oâ™Shea and Michael and Lori Courvoisier, all from Michigan, frequently come to the Keys to scuba dive.

Are scuba divers getting older?

The question occurred to me as I watched a group of divers disembarking from the dive boat. 

The image reminded me of a promotional ad for AARP about active seniors.

I have seen several drug company ads on TV showing happy older couples walking down a path and chatting with other couples while viewing a waterfall. 

But, the seniors getting off the boat were scuba divers – a bit more strenuous than walking down a path on a pleasant summer day.

My curiosity was aroused. 

I approached four of the divers and asked them a few questions about their dive experiences.

One couple, John (63) and Sue (62) O’Shea, was visiting from Michigan where John is a professor in the University of Michigan’s underwater archeology department. John has been diving for 15 years and Sue is a new diver.

The other couple, Michael (50) and Lori (53) Courvoisier, was also visiting from Michigan where Michael works as a consultant. Michael has been diving for 38 years and Lori for 15. 

Michael was a student at Coral Shores High School and the Courvoisiers frequently return to the Keys for visits. Both couples belong to the same dive club in Michigan, and they decided to take a diving vacation together in the Keys.   

So, are there additional older scuba divers now than in earlier years of the sport?

According to the Divers Alert Network (DAN), “While complete diver population records are not generally available, Diver Alert Network data indicate that the age of divers is increasing.” (See DAN paper by Petar J. Denoble et. al.)

Diving is not necessarily a young person’s sport. Finances, career and family responsibilities can delay entry or active participation in the sport.  

A 2014 Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) report shows that the average age for “heads of household” visiting a land based resort is 51 and live-aboard dive boats 52. Charts in the association’s report contain information for “76 +” divers. 

A detailed breakdown of divers by age group is contained in a DAN article based on a report by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). 

The report says 3.145 million Americans (1.1 percent of population) participated in scuba diving once or more in 2014. (See: https://thedivelab.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/participation-in-recreational-scuba-diving/

Of those there are 2.252 million casual participants (defined as making between 1 and 7 dives per year) and 893,000 core participants (defined as making 8 or more dives per year).

Males make up 66 percent of casual and 74 percent of core participants.

The numbers show that 1 percent of casual and 57 percent of core participants are between the ages of 25 and 54; Seven  percent of casual and 21.2 percent of core participants are younger than age 25; and two percent of casual and 21.8 percent of core participants are older than 54.

Casual participation rates continuously increase until age group 35-44 and decrease sharply afterwards. Core participation stays about the same between age 25 and 64 years of age but drops thereafter. 

For many of us the memory of Jacques Cousteau, who continued diving until near the end of his life at 87, encourages us to keep diving. 

Cousteau said it was difficult to imagine his life without scuba diving. 

That sentiment is shared by a good number of us senior citizen divers. 

With advancements in gear and the innovation of diving computers, recreational scuba diving has evolved from a sport for daredevil young people to, with certain important exceptions, a universal recreational activity. 

In scuba diving the important factors to consider are fitness, stamina, general health and physical constraints that may affect ability to safely dive.

People who are physically fit, comfortable in the water, and enjoy activities such as walking, running, tennis, bicycling, hiking, snow or water skiing and other physical activities have an easier time mastering and continuing to scuba dive.

It is also very important for older divers to have medical checkups to determine their continued ability to safely dive and that seniors only engage in the types of dives that accommodate their physical ability.

Older scuba divers need to avoid strenuous dives in waves, current or other diving environment that may be beyond their stamina or cardio vascular capabilities. 

“In recent years it has become apparent that our average age is increasing and, with that, DAN is receiving more reports of cardiovascular-related fatalities and questions to the Medical Services Call Center concerning cardiovascular matters,” says DAN’s Annual Diving Report 2012-2015 Edition.

“Today, perhaps more than ever, fitness to dive is critical in recreational diving. The demands associated with scuba diving can increase rapidly and unexpectedly. It is when these unexpected demands occur that fit and healthy divers are better equipped to survive than out-of-shape divers or those in poor health.”

Older scuba divers should be very conservative in observing time and depth limits for first and repetitive dives to help reduce the potential for decompression sickness (DCS), which can damage blood vessels and block normal blood flow to different parts of the body.

There is good news for divers of all ages.

If you are a scuba diver, especially an older diver, take a few moments to consider that you are one of a small percentage of the total world population that has been below the surface of the world’s oceans. 

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever:”  Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

For more on older divers see: http://scubadiversions.blogspot.com/2009/06/agewhats-limit-to-learn-scuba-diving.html#sthash.zAQF8pbe.dpuf

For health and medical related information concerning divers see: http://www.diversalertnetwork.org/

Don Rhodes, in addition to a career in government affairs, has taught scuba for 30 years. He and his wife retired to Tavernier five years ago, where he works as an instructor for Conch Republic Divers. He can be reached at donrrhodes@gmail.com.