Learn to Dive

Answers to 15 Frequently Asked Questions


So, you're curious about what the other 71 percent of this planet looks like? You've got basically two options: grow gills or get certified. Here's how to make the second one happen.
Question #1: Where Do I Start?
Question #2: Is Learning to Dive Difficult?
Question #3: Are There Age Requirements?
Question #4: How Long Does It Take to Get Certified?
Question #5: I'm Not a Strong Swimmer. Does that Matter?
Question #6: Classroom Portion: What Does It Cover?
Question #7: Pool Portion: What Does It Cover?
Question #8: Is Scuba Diving Expensive?
Question #9: How Are the Training Dives Different?
Question #10: Can I Get Fully Certified While on Vacation?
Question #11: Can I Dive on Vacation Without Getting Certified?
Question #12: Is My Fear of Sharks Justified?
Question #13: Is It a Problem if My Ears Hurt When I Swim to the Bottom of a Pool?
Question #14: Will I Be Required to Buy Equipment?
Question #15: What if I Run Out of Air?

You're right: I've always wanted to learn to scuba dive. Where do I start?

In your own backyard, actually. Begin by visiting one of the 2,500 professional dive centers throughout North America. To find one near you, check your yellow pages or call the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (800-TM2-DIVE) for a list of dive centers in your area. You can also visit the web sites of the major U.S. scuba training agencies for a list of affiliated stores in your area (see "Who's the Best Training Agency?").

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But isn't learning to dive difficult?

Here's a test to see if you've got what it takes: Fill your bathtub with water, pinch your nose, close your eyes and duck your head under. No panic? You'll do fine. Fact is, learning to dive is a lot easier than you may think. All it takes is good overall health, a basic level of comfort around the water—and the desire to explore the water world. Every year, thousands of plain folks, from teenagers to senior citizens, become certified.

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What are the age requirements for enrolling in a scuba certification course?

You must be at least 12 years old. Students between the ages of 12 and 15 receive a junior certification (can only dive with a certified adult) that can be upgraded to a regular certification after age 15.

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How long does it take to get certified?

Depends. Scuba instruction is built on the mastery of classroom knowledge and water skills. How long it takes to achieve that mastery depends on the individual. Generally speaking, there will be four to six classroom and pool sessions that take place over a period of three to six weeks. However, some instructors provide an intensive course during successive weekends. On learn-to-dive vacations, you can use videos or CDs for academic work at home, then complete your water skills training in just a few days while on vacation.

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I've never been a very strong swimmer. Does that matter?

Scuba certification requires only that you be a reasonably proficient swimmer—able to swim about 200 yards (using any stroke) and to float on water (or tread to stay afloat) for 10 minutes or so.


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What does the classroom portion of the course cover?

The main focus is on the effects of pressure on your body. As you dive deeper, the pressure on your body increases. This changes the pressure of air your regulator delivers and, especially, the amount of nitrogen absorbed into your blood.

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What about the pool portion?

This is where the fun begins: putting on the equipment and getting wet! Few things in life compare to the thrill of your first breaths under water on a scuba regulator. The pool is also where you begin mastering basic skills: breathing from a regulator, safe descent and ascent procedures, proper buoyancy and so on.



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I've heard that scuba diving is very expensive. What about those of us on a budget?

No problem. The price of certification varies widely, but is rarely more than you would spend for dinner and a night on the town for two. And although owning all your equipment is ideal, most dive centers rent it, allowing you to take your time investing in the sport. Even the price of dive travel varies from the great diving in your neighborhood, to inexpensive Caribbean vacations, to exotic getaways in far-flung corners of the globe. Take your pick.

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How are the training dives different?

In terms of skills, they aren't. The main difference is that now you are in open water. In landlocked areas, probably a lake. In coastal areas, usually the ocean. As in the pool, the purpose of the training dives is to allow your instructor to determine if you have mastered the skills you need to be a certified diver.

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If I want to get fully certified while on vacation, how long will it take?

It depends on how much work you do before going on vacation. If you complete your classroom and pool sessions in your hometown, you have only to complete four or five training dives while on vacation—about two or three days. Starting from scratch while on vacation is also popular—expect to spend a few hours in the morning and a few in the afternoon for about five days.

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Can I dive on vacation without getting certified?

Yes, you can. These experiences go by different names according to where you are: "Introduction to Scuba" or "Resort Course" are two of the most common. The activity usually consists of a morning pool session during which you are introduced to the equipment and practice several essential skills. Then you are taken on a guided shallow dive, closely supervised by your instructor. These courses are a safe, inexpensive way to gain familiarity with the sport and decide if you wish to pursue full certification.

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I'll confess: one of the reasons I've never learned to dive is because I'm scared of sharks. Is my fear justified?

Many people have been made to fear sharks and other marine animals because of the false image given them by movies and television. Fact is, most marine animals—including the shark, octopus, barracuda and moray eel—are shy and passive around humans. None are more misunderstood than sharks. Humans are not the natural prey of sharks. Almost all shark attacks happen by accident to swimmers and surfers. The shark mistakes them splashing on the surface for a seal or sea lion, and takes a bite. We taste pretty bad to them, so that's usually the end of it. And unless you're swimming with sea lions off the California coast or spearfishing in certain parts of Australia, you have virtually nothing to fear from the great white shark. Many photographers spend weeks at a time and thousands of dollars trying to get close to them—sometimes with no luck. In the Bahamas, dive operators have been conducting shark feeding dives for years without a single incident to guests. Once you've knelt on the sandy bottom and felt reef sharks cruising by your head, you realize they're not a threat—they're just a fish.

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My ears hurt even when I swim to the bottom of a pool. What happens when I dive even deeper?

The pain you feel is called a "squeeze" and is caused by the pressure of water pushing against your eardrum. One of the first things you'll learn in scuba class is a simple technique of equalizing—very similar to what you might do on an airplane. When done properly, you won't feel any pain in your ears.

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Will I be required to buy equipment?

Dive centers vary in what gear they provide during training. You will be most comfortable if you have your own mask, snorkel and fins—items that must be fitted to you personally with the help of a dive professional. In most cases, the purchase of diving's life support equipment—regulators, BCs, dive computers—is best left until you've earned your certification and have a better idea of what diving is all about and what your individual needs might be. See "Your First Set of Gear."

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OK, so I'm a victim of Hollywood propaganda about sharks. But I've still heard diving can be dangerous. What if I run out of air?

You are right to have questions and concerns before beginning any new activity, especially one that involves the use of life-support equipment. Your certification course is structured so that your questions are answered and you feel comfortable with your equipment, its proper function and what to do in the unlikely event that something doesn't work as planned. On page 24 of this magazine, we've included the article "Overcome Your Top 10 Fears" to also help answer your questions. About running out of air: you are no more likely to run out of air than you are to run out of gas while driving a car. You will have a gauge that tells you exactly how much air you have left at all times. Besides, during your training dives you'll always be at a shallow depth. Finally, a few statistics: recreational scuba diving has a lower incidence of injury than American football, baseball, waterskiing, soccer, volleyball, racquetball, tennis, swimming—and bowling.

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