Why should you bother to get a licence?

Car, motorcycle, scuba diving, free diving, rock climbing, using a power boat – why should I bother to get proper training and pay for a licence?

I see this come up most often with backpackers talking about hiring scooters:

“I’ve never ridden before, but that’s no problem, is it?”

“Nah, this is the brake, this makes it go, this is how to start it… you’ll be fine.”

Occasionally, very rarely, with people who want to go diving. They just keep doing DSDs (Discover Scuba Diving, or “Try Dives”), because they have no interest in spending 3+ days of their holidays “working”.

Speaking broadly, I want to discuss why you should get a licence, and what it actually consists of – because it seems until you do it, most people don’t actually know.

Misconception One

Getting your licence is all about learning to do the thing.

Driving a car is easy. Push one peddle, it goes forward. Turn the big wheel, the car turns. Push the other peddle, it stops. Easy. Why would I need more than 15 minutes of practice in a parking lot?

Scuba? Put the bit you breath from into your mouth, and swim. That’s about it!

That’s the first part, but there is more – part of the training is learning how much more there is to learn, even after the training.

Misconception Two

If you already know how to do something similar, you can do the thing.

If you can duck dive while snorkeling, surely you can free dive! This line of reasoning starts to touch on the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

…a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is.

There are nuances and differences that can be catastrophically different. Shallow water black out is deadly.

Misconception Three

If you already know how to do the thing, then you can do everything with the thing.

If you have your drivers licence, you can go rally driving. I know how to use a handbrake, so I can do a handbrake turn.

Even if you get a licence, almost universally, your first licence isn’t an open, or unrestricted licence, but rather a badge stating that the first level of training has been complete. Some people are not aware of all of the levels or areas of training that are available.

What is getting a licence or certification all about?

Not dying. That’s the short version.

I would say about 80% of an Open Water Diver course is about how to deal with problems.

Much of motorcycle training isn’t about “how to start the engine”, but about making sure you check your mirrors, your blind spots, looking left and right to be aware of traffic and road conditions to make sure you have enough time and room to deal with the situation. Avoid the problem in the first place, so you don’t have to deal with it.

Free diving is about learning your body’s limits, how to avoid falling unconscious underwater and other problems.

Why else?

So you don’t kill someone else. A car is a 1.5 tonne death machine that can spin out of control on a wet roundabout, taking out anything and anyone around it.

A panicked scuba diver can grab their buddy’s primary air supply so they both quickly drown.

A dingy (small power boat) captain might not be able to handle a strong cross breeze, causing his boat to drift sideways over a swimmer, with the motor running.

Why should you get training in anything?

To reduce the chance you die

Okay, I’ve been using that word a lot, and realistically, it’s more about injuries than anything else. If not injuries, then general damage.

In sports like scuba and free diving though, the accidents can quickly become dangerous.

There’s a joke about the “backpacker tattoos”, where every new backpacker wants to rent a scooter, and in the first week they get two “tattoos”:

  • A burn on the insider of their lower right leg from touching it to the exhaust pipe as they get off the bike
  • A big, deep scrape on their left or right leg, from where they fell over while making a sharp turn on loose gravel/dirt (or a U-turn). Often wrapped in gauze.

Have you seen someone try to maneuver into a parking bay who doesn’t know how? The Internet is full of these videos.

How do you get to that point?


If you’re confident, yet practical, then consider the insurance. Insurance companies generally will only cover you for accidents happened during things you were trained to do, within the limits of your training.

Riding a scooter in a foreign country? No problem, as long as you have a licence.

Scuba diving? No problem, almost always included in travel insurance – as long as you dive within your certification limits. This can be one more reason to do your Advanced Open Water course (or similar), which extends the depths you are certified to reach (and are thus insured for). Be aware that emergency evacuations costs and hypobaric treatment following a decompression illness injury (DCI) can cost up to $150,000USD – not a bill you want to be stuck with.

Why should you consider further, more specialised training?


To further reduce the chances of you dying in a wider varied of situations.

In scuba diving, this could mean dealing with strong currents (drift diving speciality course).

With cars, a defensive driving course, or advanced driving test.

The CNBC article “I took advanced driving lessons and here’s why you should, too” by Mack Hogan is a great example of the benefits of training, and worth reading.


To help others who have encountered a problem (and might be dying).

In scuba diving, this would be the Rescue Diver course. For motorcycle riding, it could be a senior first aid course. Surf lifesaving (for example) is another path.

Help yourself and others

The solo or self-reliant diver specialty course is, on the surface, seen as a course to teach people how to dive without a buddy. It may seem really easy to dive without a buddy (just don’t bring someone along!) – the training is how to survive without a buddy when things go wrong.

If you are properly equipped and trained to dive solo, and still dive with a buddy, you become a much better diving partner. You become a more reliable diving partner, able to solve issues without involving your buddy, or being better equipped to help your buddy with their problems. Rescue diver is great, but being able to solve a problem before someone needs to be rescued is better.

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