While people adept at holding their breath have been exploring the underwater world for a long time, scuba diving is relatively new. In a history of the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) written by Albert A. Tillman and Thomas T. Tillman, the authors say the first “aqua lung,” was not introduced until 1949. It was developed by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnon.
This opened the sport of diving to almost anyone. Dive equipment advanced from the early aqua lung and soon scuba diving became a fast-growing sport. That, in turn, triggered the need for trained instructors to teach the sport.
In 1952, Albert Tillman, director of sports in Los Angeles County, recognized the need for good instruction after witnessing divers who didn’t know what they were doing. He proposed that his department fill the void by running scuba instruction classes. At that time the military was the only source of scuba training. There was no official training and certifying agency for civilians.
Responding to divers’ requests, three years later Tillman and L.A. County lifeguard Bev Morgan created the L.A. County Parks and Recreational Underwater Instructor Certification Course. It was the first civilian training program to certify recreational divers. Next they focused on offering provisional certification for instructors.
In 1960 Tillman and Neal Hess followed up by creating NAUI, an association of instructors that certifies recreational divers, develops diver standards and educational programs. Another major agency serving the same functions is the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).
In August of 1960 Tillman and others met in Houston to develop NAUI’s Initial Instructor Certification Course (ICC). The resulting six-day course attracted 72 candidates from Canada and the U.S. Only 53 graduated and they, along with their staff instructors, became NAUI’s first instructor members. NAUI’s Instructor Certification Course (ICC) became the first to offer diver certification worldwide. In 1961, the ICC was held in Toronto.
Exploring the beauty beneath the sea seems to have prompted divers to protect the underwater environment. More and more divers are taking up the challenge to preserve our oceans and other waterways. NAUI is responding with its Green Diver Initiative that will focus on promoting environmental sustainability.