FAQs About Learning To Dive
If you’re a water baby like me, scuba diving may just seem like the next logical step.
What got me over the line was a love of marine animals and the joy of exploring another world.
Maybe you have a friend or family member who is inspiring you or you grew up watching Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Maybe it’s bucket list item or you’ve got a tropical holiday booked. Others like the history of wrecks or look forward to the technical challenge of cave diving.
With all these reasons - why NOT learn to dive?! I’m going to answer some FAQs on learning to dive.
Can anyone do it?
It is an adventure sport and the nature of being underwater and relying on breathing equipment does make some conditions harder to manage.
Before you dive you will be required to sign a medical disclaimer. There are some conditions that increase the risk such as asthma, seizures, heart or lung surgery and you also cannot dive if you are pregnant. If you have any concerns, it’s worth getting a specific dive medical prior to signing up for a course.
Other than that you will need to be able to swim 200 meters (any stroke and speed) and float/tread water for 10 minutes plus do some basic snorkelling.
How old do you need to be?
It depends on each individual child and it also depends on the agency. With Scuba Schools International (SSI) and Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), junior courses can be done from the age of 10, with full certification being given from 15. British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) will offer their full qualification from the age of 12.
How long does it take?
Some entry-level qualifications with commercial schools such as PADI or SSI can be done over a weekend with all your dives happening across two days, plus extra time outside of that to complete your theory. A BSAC course tends to be slightly longer and cheaper than commercial ones.
On that subject; what school, club or agency?
The choice can seem overwhelming, PADI, SSI, BSAC, GUE, RAID. However, all good agencies are members of the WRSTC (World Recreational Scuba Training Council) and adhere to their rules and regulations. In truth, you can have amazing instruction from any certification company so that, in my opinion, shouldn't be the deciding factor.
Other factors that may have you decide are cost and course length.
PADI can be expensive because they charge more for course materials than other agencies. However, PADI courses are set up to be delivered in a shorter time frame. This makes it more economical for the instructor to deliver and allows people to, as mentioned, get a basic qualification over just one weekend.
Club agencies are there to cater mainly for volunteers and groups of divers. Courses are normally longer and contain more content. The idea is to deliver content on a continuous basis alongside normal club diving. If you are nervous, then this can be a better way to learn. Knowledge is reinforced over a longer period of time, you have the chance to build skills over time and you get to meet regular diving buddies.
The first qualification with BSAC is called Ocean Diver and it covers diving to 20 metres, Nitrox (a special gas mix which can be used to extend or increase safety on some dives) and, if the conditions call for it, to use a drysuit, whereas commercial schools may sell each of these three aspects as separate courses in addition to the cost of entry-level Open Water.
I know the above is probably confusing and it’s just scratching the surface! But know that it's possible to move between agencies; if you later realise that you have a preference, you should be able to use any knowledge or qualifications you have and build on them. So don’t stress!
Is it better to learn at home or on holiday?
This is a personal preference. If you are planning to do most of your diving at home, then learning with a local school and getting to know your local conditions will be invaluable.
However, depending on your location, it may not be possible.
Being based in Sydney, I generally recommend to my friends to do their Open Water here so you won’t waste a day of your holiday doing skills in a pool. The Advanced course may be a better candidate for a holiday course with its greater variety of dives.
One thing to consider is that if you learn in less than ideal conditions, you are better equipped to dive anywhere (although you will still need to get local knowledge of sites). Doing an Open Water course in warm, calm Thai waters will not qualify you to dive in the UK in a drysuit or strong currents without any further training.
This is one of those gut-feel moments - have a chat and see if you get on. Do they love their job and make you feel confident and enthusiastic?
Two practical questions to ask would be “how many other pupils will be in the class?” and “will I be taught to kneel on the bottom while training?”? Ideally, you want a small class size and neutrally buoyant training. Once qualified you shouldn't ever kneel on sand or coral, there are many creatures who would be damaged, or who can damage you, that live there. Training from the offset to be neutrally buoyant will set you up best for the real world.
How much will it cost?
Diving is not a cheap sport and you do need to be prepared for this. Here are some questions to ask when booking to ensure you know the full cost upfront:
How many confined water sessions are there before you head to open water?
Will you need to pay for more if you don’t complete the skills in time?
Are course materials and rental equipment included?
For your open water dives - are boat fees, marine park fees, food etc included?
Is it scary? How hard will I find it?
This will depend on YOU! Some people take time to feel comfortable whilst others feel at home from the first moment.
It is important to go at your own pace and speak up when you are nervous or feeling unsure. There is a lot to learn in the entry-level course and I think everyone finds it a little overwhelming - I can remember concentrating SO HARD on putting my kit together when now it’s something I can do in the dark!
Is it worth it?
It’s the best thing I have ever done. Fifteen years in and I continue to be entranced by the life I find below the waves. I hope you get a chance to experience it for yourself.
Got more questions?
Let me know in the comments or follow @charlieunderwater on Instagram to get in touch directly. Hope to see you underwater soon!