“Capt. Steve” and the benefits of scuba certification at BSA summer camp

A group of scuba divers and their instructor
Capt. Steve leads a group of divers under the waters of West Hill Lake. Photo courtesy of Chris Stewart of Troop 33, Nanuet, N.Y.

Steve Coe is one of those Scouters who’s held virtually every volunteer job there is, from Tiger Cub den leader to several council-level positions. Maybe that’s why the Scuba Diving merit badge class he’s been teaching for more than a decade at the Connecticut Yankee Council’s Camp Sequassen has been so successful.

Coe is one of the few people who fits in the middle of the Venn diagram of registered Scouters, licensed scuba instructors and people willing to do both on a regular basis.

“We do it according to the Scout Oath and Law,” Coe says. “We know how to do things correctly.”

Along with serving as a dive boat captain, Coe also owns his own dive shop, giving Camp Sequassen’s Scouts BSA resident camp program access to facilities, gear and instructors that aren’t easy to find, much less fit into an annual budget.

Local councils are not allowed to compress or sell air for scuba use, or sell, rent, or loan scuba equipment such as scuba cylinders, regulators, gauges, dive computers, weights or buoyancy control devices.

That’s what certified professionals like Coe are for.

Why does he go through the trouble? In short, to develop in kids and adults a greater appreciation for underwater adventure, exploration and ecosystems, and to possibly inspire a lifetime avocation or, in some cases, a vocation.

Capt. Steve providing instruction
Coe teaches the Scuba Patrol hand signals as they tread water. Photo courtesy of Chris Stewart of Troop 33, Nanuet, N.Y.

Scuba and the BSA

First, there was the Scuba BSA program, one of several BSA aquatics-related awards. To earn the Scuba BSA badge (which is worn on a swimsuit, not on a Scout uniform), qualified Scouts BSA members, Venturers and registered adults learn about the special skills, equipment and safety precautions associated with scuba diving.

This is the program Coe taught during his first few years at Sequassen, and it’s a wonderful experience, no question. However, those who complete the program do not walk away as certified divers, meaning they aren’t able to join a dive group anywhere else.

In late 2009, the BSA announced the Scuba Diving merit badge. Completing the merit badge results in the youth achieving an open-water certification, enabling them to dive in similar conditions around the world.

(More advanced certifications are required to dive in more advanced environments, such as caves and shipwrecks.)

Coe started teaching the Scuba Diving merit badge at Sequassen a short time later, and it’s been a staple of the camp’s offerings ever since.

There are advantages to getting scuba certified at a BSA camp instead of directly from a dive shop, Coe says.

“Our program is significantly less expensive than it would be through an ordinary dive shop,” he says. “Many dive shops treat education as a way to get people in and sell them gear. We take our time to make sure everyone is safe in the water.

“And we provide everything. They don’t have to buy any equipment.”

Capt. Steve in the water with his students
Coe (in yellow mask and snorkel) instructs students in the water as his son Eddie mans a safety boat. Photo courtesy of Chris Stewart of Troop 33, Nanuet, N.Y.

Immersed in Scouting, too

Like so many Scout volunteers I’ve spoken with over the years, Coe remembers the day he came home from work and his wife announced that their son was interested in joining Cub Scouts.

Just a few weeks later, he was a den leader. He later served as Cubmaster for more than four years.

He was asked to be Cub Scout activities chair for his district, so he did that. Because he teaches first aid, CPR and other emergency medical response skills, he was also asked to be the health and safety chairman, so he did that.

To hone his skills even more, he attended Wood Badge.

He received the District Award of Merit and the Silver Beaver from the council.

And all the while, he kept teaching scuba.

“This is something Scouts can do recreationally for the rest of their lives,” he says.

His son Eddie, the one who got Coe involved in the BSA all those years ago, is now a Divemaster and Assistant Instructor, working alongside his dad to deliver the BSA’s scuba program to Scouts every summer, and other interested people year-round.

Another staffer in the program, Alex Black, is an Eagle Scout who took Coe’s class at Sequassen a few years ago. Black now works for Coe and is on his journey to becoming a dive leader himself.

Eddie teaches a giant stride entry
Divemaster Eddie teaches a Scout the giant stride method of entering the water. Photo courtesy of Chris Stewart of Troop 33, Nanuet, N.Y.

Earning the Scuba Diving merit badge at summer camp

Many merit badge classes at typical BSA summer camps require 3-5 sessions during the week, each of which lasts maybe 1-2 hours.

Not so with Scuba Diving.

When Scouts sign up for Coe’s class, they are with him and his team Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They even form a Scuba Patrol and stick together throughout the week.

Becoming a certified scuba diver isn’t something you can rush through. And doing it the BSA way — with a bigger emphasis on diving responsibly and safely — takes even more time.

Participants are asked to complete an online e-course before they get there. Then, they participate in closed-water instruction in a shallow, marked-off area of West Hill Lake. Then, when they’re ready, Coe takes them into deeper water for their final lessons.

“The ability to go from looking over the water to being submerged and looking under the water, and then to continue going down and being able to breathe underwater … it’s an amazing thing,” says Coe.

Coe’s class is open to adults, too, and he’s noticed a special bond form between parents and their kids when they take the class together.

“It’s adventurous and exciting enough to keep the kids interested, but not so much that the parents can’t do it,” he says. “It’s so different than anything they can get to do in the real world.

“I’ve never seen anybody be bored doing this.”

Steve and Eddie
Coe and his son, Eddie. Photo courtesy of Michael Morrell of Greater New York Councils, BSA

There are several ways to get started with scuba diving; however, we highly recommend looking into doing it at a BSA summer camp. Contact your local council to find a camp near you.

About Aaron Derr 457 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.