Jim Gatacre (Canada)

Jim Gatacre (Canada)

Jim Gatacre is the founder of the Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA), an organization that has allowed thousands of handicapped people around the globe to enjoy the wonders of the underwater world. Jim’s vision, commitment and dedication made what was thought for handicapped people to be impossible, possible.  

Over the decades of Jim’s career he has devised and developed programs that have trained and certified over ten thousand recipients from Open Water Divers with Disabilities to Dive Buddies, Instructors and Course Directors, expanding his visions into an international organization that promotes enhanced self-image and social interaction through the unifying sport of Scuba diving. 

His unique career contributions to the diving industry and handicapped people have been recognized with the DEMA Reaching Out Award, the Historical Diving Society Diving Pioneer Award, and the NAUI Outstanding Contribution to Diving Award. 

Before becoming a scuba diver Jim served three years in the US Army as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division (Class 80) and 505th Airborne Battle Group, Mainz Germany.  

Jim’s diving journey began after an accident in 1972 that left his right arm partially paralyzed. Emotionally devastated he decided to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a scuba diver as a path back to his former self. In 1973, while attending the University of California Irvine (UCI), with the use of only his left arm, he earned his NAUI Open Water Scuba Diver certification. Because diving had helped him so much he was eager to share his experiences with others with disabilities. 

In 1975 he help organize and teach what is currently recognized the first Scuba course for people with disabilities, at the University of California Irvine. In 1976 he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from UCI and continued working with disabled people who wanted to be able to scuba dive. Jim taught Marine Biology for two years at the Dana Point Marine Science Laboratory, Orange County Department of Education (California). 

In 1981 he founded the Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA), which has grown to be the world’s leading authority on recreational diving for handicapped people.  Formed as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit corporation, it is an independent dive training and certifying agency. 

By 1982 Jim had received input from the major dive training agencies. He immersed himself in research and development, spending over two years completing the HSA Physical Performance Requirements and multi-level certification, the assessment criteria that allows divers with a wide range of disabilities to dive comfortably and safely. 

Jim realized that divers with disabilities would require specially trained scuba diving instructors. Always moving toward the unproven, Jim invented the HSA Instructor Training Course and wrote the courses teaching manual. The HSA ITC debuted June 1986 at Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, in Key Largo Florida. 

This landmark was followed by another; the HSA Dive Buddy Course, and its corresponding training manual, designed for Open Water Scuba Divers. Three years later he trained and certified the first class of HSA Course Directors, the apex of the HSA dive training system. 

The HSA diver education programs and Instructor Training Course (ITC) were developed in conjunction with two major certifying agencies, PADI and NAUI, and are internationally recognized and unequaled by any other programs in the industry.  The specially trained HAS dive instructors now form a worldwide network of over 2000 HSA Instructors, located in 45 countries. 

During his career Jim also made two films with Jean-Michel Cousteau. Freedom in Depth in 1983, a California diving classic, featuring 18 divers with disabilities, and To Fly in Freedom, filmed in Fiji in 1992. This film features Jean-Michel’s interview with his father, Jacques Yves Cousteau, and HSA divers from six countries. The cast was not lost on Jean-Michel who referred to HSA as the “mini United Nations.” 

Jim’s contributions to diving continue to be recognized. In 1998 he received the NAUI Outstanding Contribution to Diving award and in 2015 DEMA awarded him the coveted Reaching Out Award, and in 2018 received the Historical Diving Society’s Diving Pioneer Award. 


We use Cookies on this website to improve functionality and performance, to analyse traffic to the website and to enable social media features. To learn more, please see our Cookie Notice for details