2020 Scuba Diving Certifications in the USA Including Recently Released 4th Quarter

Open water dive certifications during a year of COVID-19 pandemic

Darcy Kieran
Feb 2 · 7 min read

Last updated on Feb. 8, 2021.

The Open Water Certification Census for the USA is produced by DEMA, the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association in San Diego, California. A summary is available to all, while DEMA members also have access to the detailed report, state by state.

We’ve already analyzed the first 3 quarters of 2020. After a disastrous second quarter for entry-level scuba diving certifications, the dive industry did better in the third quarter of 2020.

Data for the 4th quarter of 2020 (October, November, December) is now available. Results are very similar to those of the 3rd quarter.

In the 2nd quarter of 2020, when the economy came to a stop, we faced a drop of 73% in open water scuba certifications in the USA, followed by better results in the 3rd quarter with a drop of 33%. The 4th quarter came in with a drop of 32% which is, statistically speaking, the same as the 3rd quarter.

In other words, the beginning of a rebound we’ve seen in Q3 stalled in Q4 which is fully consistent with what the travel industry witnessed.

“The rebound that began last summer stalled in the fourth quarter as coronavirus cases spiked around the world.” Axios, February 5, 2021.

Although the USA, as a whole, had a 4th quarter similar to the 3rd one, there were significant changes within regions, especially an improvement in the Pacific and Mountain regions. At the same time, East South Central performed much worse.

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Growth (decline) in entry-level open water certifications in the USA per quarter in 2020

In the Pacific region, the improvement was mainly due to California performing better in the 4th quarter and Hawaii continuing to see actual growth in entry-level open water certifications.

California is a mystery because there are excellent dive sites along that coast. Therefore, California should be able to produce growth in scuba diving certifications just like Hawaii and Florida are doing during this COVID-19 pandemic. In the 4th quarter, California experienced a decline of 27% in certifications, compared to 2019. It’s not good! But it’s better than the 50% decline it had in the 3rd quarter.

Hawaii had a growth of 13% in Q4 compared to 27% in Q3. It is nice to see growth in open water scuba diving certifications, but this trend may be running out of steam as it was partially based on teaching local residents, which is a limited pool of potential clients. Travel and tourism have to start growing for Hawaii and Florida to continue producing growth in scuba certifications.

Florida also lost some steam going from a growth of 10% in Q3 to virtually flat results in Q4 (+0.32%).

Outdoor Activities Without International Travel

As discussed in a prior analysis of the dive industry's current situation during the pandemic, we’ve seen a renewed interest in ‘local’ and inland scuba diving during 2020.

As many international borders remain closed to travel, people look at activities they can do within the USA. Overall, it seems that numerous outdoor activities experienced growth during 2020. People wanted to get out of their homes.

“For all of 2020, (…) international passenger demand was down by 75% [while] domestic demand by nearly half.” ~Axios, February 5, 2021.

Domestic travel performed better than international travel. And outdoor activities did very well — in some cases, better than in 2019.

In Johnson Outdoors’ financial results for its fiscal year ending in 2020, we see growth in sales in their fishing, camping, and watercraft divisions even though scuba diving equipment (Scubapro) was down 20%. In fact, Johnson Outdoors produced growth in sales and profits in 2020. Only scuba diving didn’t experience growth.

It does not make sense. Scuba diving is a wonderful activity to participate in, locally. We need to provide a better customer experience and promote it properly to non-divers. The new PADI mermaid training program may be another tool we can use to sell water activities to a local clientele.

The Worst and Best States for Scuba Diving Certifications in the USA, per Quarter

Consistent with our observations regarding local diving, Florida and Hawaii performed well during the summer and fall months.

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Growth (decline) in entry-level open water certifications in the USA per quarter in 2020

Hawaii was the best-performing state in the USA in both Q3 and Q4.

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Growth (decline) in entry-level open water certifications in the USA per quarter in 2020

The trophy for the worse performing state has been changing hands every quarter, with North Dakota picking it up for Q4 with a decline of 75% in entry-level open water scuba diving certifications in 2020 over 2019.

Not all Quarters Are Equals in the World of Scuba Diving Certifications

Scuba diving is not like a grocery store where people buy milk every week, all year long!

If we look at the number of open water scuba certifications in 2019 (because 2020 is such a weird year), we can see that the 2nd and 3rd quarters (April to September) are a lot more crucial to the American dive industry than Q1 (January to February).

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Of course, the curve would be upside down in dive destinations where scuba divers from origin markets travel for winter vacations. Unfortunately, DEMA doesn’t bother collecting data beyond the American borders. We can assume that the main quarters for dive resorts in tropical destinations is the first one (January to March).

If you are curious about the 2020 numbers for entry-level open water scuba diving certifications in the USA, here they are:

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The 2nd quarter is what hurt the dive industry the most in 2020.

Scuba Diving Courses Beyond Entry-Level

The DEMA certification census only collects data for entry-level open water scuba diving courses, which is unfortunate. Dear DEMA Board Members: Please help the dive industry a bit more!

As discussed in prior Scubanomics articles, local dive center operators who have shared their 2020 results with us reported growth in advanced certifications even though their numbers were down for entry-level open water certifications. In other words, their entry-level open water scuba diving certifications were down, in line with what we see in the DEMA census discussed above, but the total number of certifications they issued for more advanced scuba diving classes were up compared to last year.

It makes sense.

New scuba divers typically come to a local dive center before going on a trip to an exotic destination. With international travel at a standstill, we witnessed a reduction in the number of entry-level certifications.

Meanwhile, current scuba divers were looking at activities to do without the need to fly outside the country — and that is where the good ol’ con’ed (continuing education) fits in! Unfortunately, there is no census of total scuba certifications beyond the entry-level courses. This is something DEMA should tackle as soon as possible.

More Scuba Diving, Less C-Cards

There is a silver lining in this coronavirus crisis.

Successful dive operators are re-tuning their operations to better satisfy current scuba divers (repeat customers) instead of concentrating most of their efforts on constantly recruiting new clients with entry-level scuba diving certifications. The activity of scuba diving is becoming more core to local dive center operations, just as it should.

Putting ‘scuba diving’ back into the ‘scuba diving industry’ and the revival of ‘local diving’ are two appropriate strategies at the moment.

2020 Growth (Decline) in Entry-level Open Water Certifications in the USA per Quarter and per State

Here are the results, per state, as many of you have requested.

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Growth (decline) in entry-level open water certifications in the USA per quarter in 2020

Regions in the DEMA Census on Open Water Entry-Level Scuba Diving Certifications

Regions are defined as follows in the DEMA census on open water certifications in the USA:

  • Pacific: California, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Alaska
  • Mountain: Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming
  • South Atlantic: Virginia, Maryland, D.C., Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware, Florida
  • East North Central: Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana
  • West South Central: Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana
  • Middle Atlantic: New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey
  • West North Central: Missouri, Minnesota, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota
  • New England: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont
  • East South Central: Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi

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Darcy Kieran

Written by

Entrepreneur | Executive | Author | Radio Announcer | Scuba Diving Instructor — #WritingCommunity — #Miami #Montreal #Marseille

Scubanomics

News & editorials for the scuba diving industry. Scuba diving market data & statistics. Business analysis. Innovation-fueled strategies for growth. Dive store management. Your career as a dive professional.

Darcy Kieran

Written by

Entrepreneur | Executive | Author | Radio Announcer | Scuba Diving Instructor — #WritingCommunity — #Miami #Montreal #Marseille

Scubanomics

News & editorials for the scuba diving industry. Scuba diving market data & statistics. Business analysis. Innovation-fueled strategies for growth. Dive store management. Your career as a dive professional.

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