Dive Industry Strategy

Surface-Supplied Air vs. A Blue Ocean Strategy for The Dive Industry

What can tankless diving “eliminate, reduce, raise and create” for the scuba diving industry? How can we integrate it into our dive operations to foster growth?

Darcy Kieran
May 4 · 8 min read
Picture from BLU3

A month ago, we published our first article on tankless diving or surface-supplied air diving. Since then, it’s been the most read article on Scubanomics and we’ve received several feedback messages on it. So, let’s dig deeper.

We’ve often discussed the need for a new dive industry business model adapted to today’s consumers’ needs and expectations. And we suggested a Blue Ocean Strategy as a tool to develop it. Therefore, the question becomes…

Can tankless diving be part of a Blue Ocean Strategy for the scuba diving industry?

A Four Actions Blue Ocean Framework

First, let’s review how to develop a Blue Ocean strategy.

A Blue Ocean strategy is about breaking out of the red ocean of bloody competition to create a new uncontested market space that makes competition irrelevant.

In other words, we stop fighting over shares of the existing (shrinking) pie. Instead, we grow demand by breaking away from the competition — we create our own new blue ocean.

But there’s a twist!

Everybody can create something new that either nobody wants or is so expensive that it has no value to the consumer!

The success of a Blue Ocean strategy depends on “Value Innovation.”

Value Innovation is a concept developed by Chan Kim and René Mauborgne, the authors of Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant. Value Innovation is about simultaneously pursuing low-cost and product/service differentiation. In other words, we thrive on being the low-cost producer while offering the best quality. We have numerous examples of such a success in our original article about a Blue Ocean Strategy in the Dive Industry.

In pursuing both a reduction in cost and an improvement in quality, we create increased value for both buyers and the company introducing the innovation.

To help us get there, Chan Kim and René Mauborgne developed a tool named the ERRC Grid: Eliminate-Reduce-Raise-Create. It’s a matrix to help us think about eliminating and reducing while innovating by raising and creating. Innovation can easily lead to an increase in price if we are strictly focused on raising and creating. By keeping a parallel focus on eliminating and reducing, we ensure there is value for the buyers.

ERRC Grid by Chan Kim and René Mauborgne

The ERRC Grid & Tankless Diving

So what about surface-supplied air (tankless) diving?

First, we’ll look at what surface-supplied air can eliminate, reduce, raise and create for us in the scuba diving industry. Then, in the following section, we’ll discuss how to integrate it into our dive operations and what impact it could have on scuba diving.


When working on a new business model for the dive industry, it can be hard to find parts of our operations that could be eliminated. Elimination is a big word!

Yet, looking at surface-supplied air (SSA) diving, I see two elements of our operations that get kicked to the curb — two big ones!

Air compressors in dive centers. With a tankless diving system, we are carrying our own mini air compressor floating at the surface. There is no more need to drive to a dive center to refill cylinders. We only need to plug the SSA unit at night to recharge it, just like we do with our smartphones (or refuel it if using a gas-powered system).

It also means that we’ve just opened up the whole planet to underwater explorers! We’ll get back on this topic.

Scuba diving certification. As discussed in our review of surface-supplied air (tankless) diving, training is included with the purchase of a unit. Alternatively, you can pay a minimal fee to do it online ahead of time.

“Safety” is always the main concern raised by scuba diving professionals about surface-supplied air units. But let’s be honest, here. There is only one really crucial skill: Don’t hold your breath. Do we really need to force people into spending hundreds of dollars on a traditional scuba diving course to learn that?

Certification agencies need consumers to overspend on dive training. We don’t! Imagine if we could spend more time underwater with more people interested in what we have to show them, and less time in the pool with people focused on getting a plastic card… Just wondering!


If we visit the underwater world with surface-supplied air (SSA) instead of a scuba unit, what is being “reduced”?

Training Cost & Time. That’s a given. We’ve already discussed the elimination of the need for a scuba diving certification. Training for tankless diving is available online, and it is free with the purchase of a unit.

Total Cost of Ownership. We’re talking here about the amount of gear a diver needs in order to be fully equipped to go underwater. With tankless diving, we only need the SSA unit, some fins, a mask, and a snorkel. Somebody may also want to use a wetsuit and a weight belt, but it is not a requirement.

Gear Complexity. Instead of a full scuba unit with numerous parts that need to be assembled before each dive and disassemble after each one, we have a floating unit that needs to be turned on.

Time to Getting Comfortable Underwater. This is debatable. Scuba tryouts (discover scuba diving) get people underwater pretty fast. But they do so while carrying a full set of scuba diving equipment on their back. It is more complex. And we have numerous indications that, on average, people do not have a great time in scuba tryouts. With a much less complex system (tankless diving), the learning curve to get comfortable is much shorter.

The goal is for people to experience the underwater world, not learn how to play with scuba gear underwater.


I see two major factors being raised by surface-supplied air (SSA), and they are big ones!

The Number of Dive Sites Available. By eliminating the need for a traditional air compressor, we open the entire planet to underwater explorers. Imagine all the sites where a dive would be amazing, but the closest dive center is hundreds of miles (km) away! With tankless diving, it doesn’t matter anymore. Just bring a portable SSA unit and voilà!

Dive Professionals Earnings. Scubanomics is currently conducting a study on the “economics” of being a dive professional. We will update this article once we analyze the results. But for now, we can assume dive instructors’ hourly earnings are dismal. We’ve all been there!

But now, with everything that surface-supplied air systems eliminate and reduce, we can spend more time underwater with people, which generally means a higher hourly rate.


The big factor brought in by surface-supplied air systems is portability — not just of our dive gear but of everything we need.

Some of the SSA units are much smaller than a full kit of scuba gear — and it includes an air compressor! As mentioned above, with SSA, we can truly explore the whole planet.

Imagine the market that is now available! There are many more kayakers, yachties, and stand-up paddlers than there are scuba divers. We can get them all interested in the underwater world through snorkeling, then SSA, then scuba.

How To Integrate Surface-Supplied Air (Tankless Diving) in Our Scuba Diving Operations

The Eliminate-Reduce-Raise-Create story is compelling, but how can we integrate surface-supplied air (tankless) diving in our current scuba diving operations?

SSA Instead of Scuba Tryout

Here’s a message I received last week from an active scuba diving instructor after he read our initial article on surface-supplied air (SSA) diving systems:

“When I get clients asking for a “Try Dive” experience, I normally sell them an SSA session with a large % ending up buying a unit. This is then followed up after several months with a “Let’s do the next step” open water diver course. I find that if they have been using the [surface-supplied air] system regularly they fly through the [open water diver course] water sessions.”

It sounds like a great strategy to me! Furthermore, I am ready to bet that the quality of the experience these people got in their SSA dive is superior to what people usually get in a scuba tryout.


Why don’t we bring SSA units on all snorkeling charter boats and offer it as a “snorkeling plus” experience? It’s really the next step for a snorkeler — and a much less scary one than jumping into scuba diving.


A couple of years ago, in a Florida dive store, we did an informal survey on customers buying freediving gear, mainly the expensive long fins. We found that a lot of these customers were part of the younger generations. They wanted to go underwater instead of simply snorkeling at the surface, but they were unwilling to go through the trouble of a full scuba diving course — nor did they want to bring a full set of dive gear when invited to go to the sandbar on a friend’s boat.

That is a big market we do not reach with scuba diving. And if we look at their goal, “going underwater in an easier way than scuba,” then an SSA unit makes sense, doesn’t it?

Another Product to Sell

In this article, I have focused on the activity of going underwater with a surface-supplied air system because I believe we need to put the “experience” at the core of what we do, with courses and gear as ancillary products and services.

But if you are operating a dive center, I am sure you are looking at ways to increase sales and profits to pay the rent. Well… SSA is a line of products pretty easy to carry! I know because I’ve sold many of them. It’s one unit, one credit card, have a nice day!

Furthermore, the benefits of these units go much beyond customers looking to experience the underwater world. You should be able to sell those to anybody with a yacht, just to check the hull!

In Summary

Surface-supplied air systems can create a blue ocean in the dive industry because it creates a new market. Furthermore, SSA does not replace scuba diving. On the contrary…

Surface-supplied air diving could be our best tool to bridge people from snorkeling to scuba diving.

What’s next? We need to figure out how to integrate both the product and the experience in our current operations while increasing consistency in the quality of the experience, which is the other thing the dive industry is in dire need of.

Please let me know your experience with SSA in your dive and snorkeling operations.

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The Scuba Diving Industry by the Business of Diving Institute (BODI)

Darcy Kieran

Written by

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


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


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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