Market Data: Scuba Diving Certifications in the USA in the First 9 Months of 2020

Open water dive certifications during the coronavirus pandemic

Darcy Kieran
Oct 23, 2020 · 5 min read
Market Data: Scuba Diving Certifications in the USA in the First 9 Months of 2020
Market Data: Scuba Diving Certifications in the USA in the First 9 Months of 2020
Seven Miles Bridge, Florida Keys, USA

Update: We have now received and analyzed open water scuba diving certifications for the full 2020 year, here.

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 2 quarters of 2020 when providing an overview of where the dive industry stands during this COVID-19 pandemic. Data for the 3rd quarter (July, August & September) is now available.

After a disastrous second quarter, the dive industry did better in the third quarter of 2020.

While in the 2nd quarter, the number of new entry-level open water certifications was 73% less than during the same period in 2019, in the 3rd quarter, the drop was only 33%.

Open water dive certifications during the coronavirus pandemic
Open water dive certifications during the coronavirus pandemic
Variation in the number of entry-level open water certifications in the USA

At any other time, a drop of 33% would be no reason to celebrate, but when we compare it to the previous quarter, it was a nice rebound. And it’s not the full story.

Outdoor Activities Without Travel

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

As international borders were closing to travel, people looked at activities they could do within the USA. Overall, it seems that numerous outdoor activities experienced growth during last Summer. People wanted to get out of being confined at home.

In Johnson Outdoors' financial results for the second quarter of 2020, we noticed a growth in sales in their watercraft division even though sales of scuba diving equipment (Scubapro) were down 47%. We expect sales of scuba diving gear to have been much better during the third quarter of 2020 than it was during the second one — just like it is the case with scuba certifications. We will be able to confirm this, once Johnson Outdoors releases its Q3 results.

The Worst and Best States for Scuba Diving Certifications

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

The Best States for Scuba Diving Certifications
The Best States for Scuba Diving Certifications
Variation in the number of entry-level open water certifications

Both Hawaii and Florida experienced growth in the number of open water entry-level scuba diving certifications during the Summer of 2020, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hawaii is an interesting case because it had a bad start to the year with a 40% reduction in open water certifications in the first 3 months of the year, before the real start of the economic issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

New Mexico was the best-performing state in the USA during the first quarter of 2020 — but that quarter was only partially affected by the pandemic-related economic crisis. New Mexico went on to be the worst-performing state in Q3 and almost the worst in Q2.

The Worst States for Scuba Diving Certifications
The Worst States for Scuba Diving Certifications
Variation in the number of entry-level open water certifications

The worse performing states in Q1, Q2, and Q3 were respectively Mississippi, Massachusetts, and New Mexico.

The big mystery in this DEMA census of entry-level open water certifications is California.

Scuba Diving Certifications in California, USA
Scuba Diving Certifications in California, USA
Variation in the number of entry-level open water certifications

California performed significantly worse than the national average. Yet, there is good local diving in California — just like in Hawaii and Florida. Furthermore, we have information indicating that both surfing and boating performed quite well in California during the Summer months of 2020 (Q3).

What was wrong with entry-level scuba diving certifications in California this year? We will investigate and report back what we find. Subscribe to Scubanomics at the bottom of this post to stay in the loop.

Scuba Diving Courses Beyond Entry-Level

The DEMA certification census only collects data for entry-level open water scuba diving courses.

Local dive center operators who have shared their Summer 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 are seeing in the DEMA census above, but the number of certifications they issued for more advanced scuba diving classes were up compared to last year.

One dive center owner mentioned to me that he had never issued so many certifications for ‘Underwater Navigation’ — a course typically nobody is interested in!

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 certifications beyond the entry-level.

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, and 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 strategies we recommend at the moment.

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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