For decades, scuba – short for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus – diving has been a popular sport among people living in coastal areas and among travelers to coastal destinations around the world. One reason for the popularity of scuba diving is the ability to see aquatic life up close and personal. When outfitted with the right equipment, divers can swim with whales and dolphins in the Caribbean and explore coral reefs and other types of marine life. Another reason why scuba diving is so popular is its accessibility: for a relatively small investment in essential equipment and in a scuba diving certification course, any reasonably fit adolescent or adult can become certified to dive independently.
The typical certification program, including classroom instruction, pool training and the open-water dive, can be completed in as little as one weekend through providers offering an intensive weekend certification course. This option is recommended only for seasoned swimmers who feel that they are physically ready for the hands-on practice and have the self-discipline to complete the entire course in one weekend. Anyone who is not completely certain of their ability to pass all portions of the certification course in one weekend is advised to take more time and to complete the program over a period of several weeks or as time allows.
Step 1: Classroom or online portion
PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, allows individuals at least 10 years of age to enroll in the online portion of their certification course but state on their website that additional registration steps are required for children under the age of 13 in accordance with international Internet laws. NAUI, the National Association of Underwater Instructors, allows children as young as 8 years old to participate in certification courses and also offers a non-certification snorkeling course for children ages 5 and older. The cost for online coursework varies among providers, but certification candidates should expect to pay at least $150. Additional fees, which vary among dive centers, apply for pool training and the open-water dive practice.
Step 2: Written exams
This step is self-explanatory; after completing the classroom or online instruction, students are expected to pass a written exam demonstrating their understanding of the knowledge required to dive in a safe manner. Like the actual instruction, this portion of the certification program can be completed online, although some agencies may require that children under the age of 15 complete their coursework and written exam in classroom setting. Certification candidates should check with their provider for details before registering minor children.
Step 3: Pool Training
This is where the hands-on training begins. Upon completion of the knowledge portion of the certification program, students must participate in training in a pool or pool-like environment. The main purpose of this portion of the program is for the candidate to demonstrate his or her competency in the basic skills presented in the written or online portion as well as the physical ability to avoid drowning in the event of an unexpected emergency. Specific skills include being able to swim 200 meters and to tread water or otherwise remain afloat for at least 10 minutes.
PADI and NAUI both require pool training attendance at an affiliated dive center and allow certification candidates to search for nearby dive centers by address or by postal (ZIP) code. Not surprisingly, dive centers are more abundant in coastal areas, and people living as little as 100 miles inland may find themselves having to drive a considerable distance to the nearest dive center in order to complete their pool training.
Step 4: Open-water dive practice
This portion of the program also takes place at the candidate’s chosen dive center. During this final step in the certification process, students are expected to put the skills acquired during pool training into practice. At this stage, students are typically expected to complete four to five open-water dives. Upon successful completion of the open-water dives, divers receive their scuba diving certification card.
The basic scuba diving certification is valid for life, and no further training is required in order to rent scuba equipment and dive independently. In some cases, however, facilities – most often those located at a resort – may require divers to complete a checkout dive if the diver has not completed any dives in over a year. Diving enthusiasts wishing to take their commitment to the next level might also consider enrolling in advanced and master-level certification courses, becoming scuba diving instructors themselves and sharing their love of diving with others.
For those who enjoy water sports all through the year, are in good physical shape and are curious about the world that lies beneath the water’s surface, becoming a certified scuba diver opens the door to new adventures. The small investment that thousands of people make in scuba diving certification each year allows them to have experiences they could never otherwise have – from exploring shipwrecks to photographing beautiful tropical fish or even a school of sharks underwater – and to broaden their horizons in ways best described as priceless.