Nothing sparks the human imagination like the unknown. The quest to know more, see more, do more has propelled humanity to explore the unchartered throughout time. Both on this world, and beyond. This primal need to innovate and explore compels us to go farther, think faster, and dive deeper and while we can’t all venture to the moon, or unlock the next technological advance, we can all slide into another world. A world beneath the surface. Scuba certification offers a safe, yet thrilling way to answer the primordial call of adventure that whispers inside us all. 

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What lies below the surface of the ocean, or any other large body of water has spawned lore, adventure, and yes, even fear, but earning your scuba certification doesn’t have to be scary. Use this quick guide as your map to help you get scuba certified.

Why Scuba? To Discover a Joy Like No Other

From a lifelong bucket list desire, to a sudden urge brought on by a trip to The Caribbean, the reasons driving people to try scuba diving are as plentiful and varied as the fish in the sea, but here are but a few salty drops to explain why our passion runs so deep.

Serenity

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We live in hectic, fast-paced times, that can overwhelm us all. Scuba diving is a way to escape all of that. The moment you allow yourself to sink below the shimmering surface of the water everything changes. The calm, stillness of life underwater is an experience you can’t duplicate.

Take Flight

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Flying usually makes us think of birds and planes and the sky, but the weightlessness of scuba conjures the freedom of flying without the fear of relying on a parachute, or painfully long TSA lines. Diving offers even the most clumsy of us a chance to feel graceful and smooth.

Beyond Normal

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The world is full of beautiful places, and while you can take in the gorgeous views of mountain tops, rainforests, or stunning architecture through photography and videos, scuba is a completely tactile experience that leaves divers spellbound afterward. Sure you can take and share pictures of what you see while scuba diving, but there truly is something different about being down there. And once you immerse yourself into that world, you will want to go back again and again.

New Flavors

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If variety is the spice of life, then scuba is the greatest spice rack of all-time. No dive is ever the same. You are entering a world alive and moving, and even with a dive partner right beside you, the experience will be different for you both.

No Limits

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The world is 70% water, so why limit your explorations to the other 30%? Why snorkel and swim only on near the surface while wondering what is down below? Get out there. Get down there. Take action. Explore!

Do You Need Scuba Certification?

Yes.

(That’s the Short answer)

It’s also the definitive answer to the question many people ask about scuba certification. We cannot stress the importance of being scuba certified enough.

But is it Illegal to Dive Without Being Scuba Certified?

For your safety and wellbeing, the skills learned during scuba certification are a must. That being said, the dive world is self-regulated, so there is no threat of criminal charges for anyone who dives without proper training or certification.

So no, it is not technically illegal to dive without being scuba certified. However, safety and common sense rather than the “law” should be your guiding factors. Keep in mind … no reputable resort, dive, center, outfitter, or dive club will allow you to dive or fill air tanks without proper certification.

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PADI and Me

There are many different scuba certifications available. PADI, which stands for Professional Association of Dive instructors is accepted all over the world, and their PADI Open Water Diver program is top notch. This rating allows you to rent and buy scuba equipment, get air fills from dive centers, and take part in professionally led dives all over the world.

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There are other programs that will get you in the water, and I have shared information about them down below, but the PADI Open Water Diver Certification is the standard-bearer for most recreational divers.

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Many resorts offer introductory, or “resort certification” courses, but these cover only a basic, cursory sample of the skills you will need. Often you can springboard off of these resort classes to earn full PADI Open Water Diver Certification, just as you can use this first level of scuba certification before earning a more advanced level of certification.

PADI is the world’s leading scuba diving training organization, with certification classes all over the world; it is easy to find a training center near you.

Who Can Dive?

Everyone. Almost.

Good health is the only prerequisite though there are a few conditions that could prevent you from diving. Pregnancy, and any current or previous lung conditions are the most common, but if you have concerns or questions, consult your doctor before beginning.

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Kids

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Anyone 10 or older can take the PADI Open Water Diver course, but children under 12 must attend the course with a parent. Upon completion, kids under 12 are required to dive with a parent or PADI professional at all times at a depth no more than forty feet.

Young divers between the ages of 12 and 15 may go as deep as seventy feet with any certified adult.

Because of these restrictions, children earn a Junior Open Water Diver Certification when they complete the course. After turning 15, they can apply for the full Open Water Dive Certification.

The Physical Requirements

Swim Test

Don’t worry. You don’t have to be Michael Phelps to scuba dive. The test involves an untimed swim test of 200 yards, and any stroke is permissible.

The ability to tread water for ten minutes is also required.

Most people will find both of these skills attainable with little to no practice, but many community centers and summer programs offer swim lesson if you need a bit more work to get ready.

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Scuba Certification is a three-step process. Later I will talk, about the different levels of certification and what to expect for each, but basically, there are classroom sessions, pool dives, and open water dives.

This information often brings out a … “But I live in North Dakota and its November,” or some similar state of dismay among potential divers in chillier climes. And/or … “But the nearest ocean is 500 miles south of me,” from the landlocked.

Never fear! There are options.

First, let’s dispel the myth all scuba diving takes place in the ocean or tropical waters. Lakes, quarries, and other bodies of water offer differing options. Clear tropical waters attract the most divers, but with the proper equipment, you can scuba dive anywhere.

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Taking a PADI Scuba Certification course near home allows for more freedom come vacation time, but the same curriculum is offered in full, or part, at resorts and dive centers all over the world. This means you can do the classroom studies, and the required pool dives to save precious vacation time, before you jet off for an exotic getaway. Then, through the PADI referral program, you can complete the required open water dives while on vacation.

How Much Time Are We Talking About Before I Get Scuba Certified?

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About 35 hours, but this number doesn’t really provide a timeline because of the three-tiered structure of training.

Before breaking this number down, we must look at a few variables, including the option to acquire a reduced level of diver certification.

PADI Open Water Diver Certification versus PADI Scuba Diver course

Pressed for time, but twitching to get down where the action is?

The PADI Scuba Driver course can be completed in only two or three days, but this certification limits divers to depths above forty feet and then only under the supervision of a PADI professional. This course reduces both classroom time and training dives, but again comes with limitations. Still, it can be the right choice for those on vacations looking to save time and get in the water.

The Full Open Water Scuba Certification Breakdown

Academic

This first tier of training comes with many variables. With educational opportunities ranging from a traditional classroom setting, to the self-paced reading of manuals on your own, or via an online program from the comfort of your home, the academic side of certification is easily attainable.

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No matter the method you select (Children under 12 must take this portion in a classroom environment), upon completion you will need to take a quiz to verify an understanding of the material. This academic material not only helps build an awareness of the equipment but also gives divers knowledge into the physics and physiology of scuba.

The various options make it difficult to assign a time, but PADI estimates 12-15 hours to complete the online version.

Confined Water Dives

Usually done in a pool, these five dives provide hands-on experience with the equipment and sensations of scuba in a controlled environment. Lakes, quarries, and other facilities can be used as long as they offer clear water access to the shallows.

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These dives can be accomplished in a single day, but are more apt to run over a two-day time span. Usually on the weekend. Those looking for evening or weekday classes can spread the dives out in lessons over the course of a week or more.

The overall time depends on the class offerings, and access to of the pool or other facilities. Check with your training facility to see what options are available.

Open Water Dives

Four dives in a lake or ocean. These dives are a simulation of the conditions you will later dive in, and you will display for your instructor the skills you have learned throughout training.

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Divers in training are limited to only three dives a day. This means that this final tier of your training will take at least two days to complete.

Upon satisfactory completion, your instructor will issue a certification card with your picture, proving you are a certified scuba diver.

Will My Scuba Certification Expire?

Never. Nor is a renewal necessary.

However, safety and common sense area gain guiding factors so if you have not had the pleasure of diving recently, or feel rusty in any way we recommend a refresher course to re-familiarize yourself before sliding into the deep blue sea. Again, the diving world is self-regulated so only you can say if a refresher course is needed. Be safe, and you will enjoy your expeditions far more.

New Adventures, New Skills

Training centers on safety and getting familiar with the gear and the sensations of being underwater. Part of the training is making you aware of the dangers, but with proper equipment and technique, scuba diving is a safe and rewarding recreational activity.

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Learning new skills takes us out of our comfort zone, but in doing so, we grow and experience things we never would otherwise, so try to relax, and listen to your well-trained instructors to get the most from your scuba certification training.

Remember your training is to part a of a well-developed curriculum carefully honed over the years by PADI. An instructor is nearby and watching carefully so trust in their training to help guide you as you smooth out the learning curve.

Basic Scuba Equipment

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Do not get intimidated by this list. Most gear is provided by your training facility though some do ask for you to purchase select items before classes start. After you have earned your scuba certification and start planning your first trip, check with your resort or guide to see what’s provided.

Buying your own gear allows for a personalized fit. A good fit means less leaking and less time clearing your mask underneath the water.

And Then There is Hygiene

The snug fitting nature of wetsuits is one thing. Sliding bare feet into well-used fins another. Make no mistake every reputable dive center clean and sanitizes equipment, but some people simply get the heebie-jeebies at the thought of such sharing.

Saliva is a vital component to keeping your mask fog free, yes saliva as in spit and it is this realization that drives many people to make their first purchase of scuba gear. Commercial anti-fog products are sold, but you won’t find many divers that have not had to use the spit method a few times.

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Masks

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Spit factor aside, a well-fitting mask is crucial to prevent leaks. Given the many shapes and sizes of the human face, it is impossible to design a one size fits all mask, so this is the most commonly purchased piece of equipment.

If like many, you migrated to scuba from snorkeling it is possible you already own a suitable mask but not all snorkeling masks are suitable for underwater diving so have your mask checked out by a knowledgeable dive shop before assuming it is okay.

Fit is essential for both comfort and functionality, so it is best if you try on a mask before buying one. Don’t forget to compare straps.

Fins

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Like masks, snorkelers may already have a suitable set, but again gear that works for swimming on the surface might not perform as well under the water. True dive fins tend to be longer and heavier for greater propulsion.

Air Tank

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In order to breathe underwater, you must bring air with you. Tank size depends on the duration and depth of your planned dive.

For recreational dives, the air mixture is much the same as the air we breathe above the surface—minus the smog. Advanced divers often use special air mixtures for complex dives that require longer downtime.

Regulator

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In conjunction with the air tank, the regulator makes scuba (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) scuba.

Connected by a hose to the air tank, the regulator is large circular mouthpiece with a rubber bit that works as a demand valve. Meaning air only flows through the regulator only when you inhale. The valve closes all other times including when you exhale. Released air creates visible bubbles.

BCD

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The Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) is to divers what the leather jacket is to bikers.

Sure it is dark and menacing, but it is also a functional piece of equipment. Connected by hose to the air tank, the BCD operates with two buttons. One to inflate and the other to deflate. This allows for adjustment to create the natural buoyancy needed to achieve underwater weightlessness.

Weights

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Along with the air of a BCD, added dive weights are necessary to keep the human body from floating up. These weights can some as a separate part or part of the BCD itself. Several variables determine the amount of weight, but most divers can expect to wear between 8 and 14 pounds of added weight.

Guages

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The Pressure Gauge and Depth Gauge are usually housed together. Just as the name implies, the depth gauge lets you know how deep you are. The pressure gauge indicates the amount of air in your tank. For obvious reasons, your tank should never be on E!

WATCH

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A waterproof watch allows you to keep tabs on the time and depth. of the time and time spent underwater are the two components to measuring the air you will need. A quality watch good to depths of at least 150 feet will allow you to keep tabs on this and make it safely to the surface with plenty of air left in your tank.

 

Other gear such as wetsuits, gloves, hoods dive knife, underwater flashlight, and cameras are considered optional, though in all but the warmest water most people will be far more comfortable with a wet suit of some type. Wet suits come in a variety of styles and thicknesses, so it is best to consult with those knowledgeable of the area you plan to dive to determine the best option for you.

It should also be noted that at least one person on every dive should have a dive computer.

Buddy Up

Now is a good time to endorse a golden rule of scuba. NEVER DIVE ALONE!

Good times are best when shared with friends, and loved ones and scuba diving is no exception, but the never dive alone mantra is more about safety than camaraderie so please adhere to this advice every single time you go under the water.

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This rule is so adamantly proclaimed that many people think you need a buddy to sign up for a scuba certification class. While this is not true, because you will be with your instructor and most likely others every step of the way during en route to becoming scuba certified, the learning process is more fun with a friend or significant other.

And after you have earned your scuba certification in this manner, you will have a built-in dive partner to go on countless adventures with. Scuba diving is a great activity that couples can enjoy together.

The Material World

We have made it this deep into the world of scuba diving without talking cold hard cash, but no doubt you have wondered, How much does scuba certification cost?

The quick answer is you can expect to pay somewhere between $350 and $500 to become scuba certified.

You might find a seasonal discount, or other special pricing below these numbers, but be sure to ask for the total cost of any program to avoid any hidden fees or other surprises. Some programs require the purchase of training materials making the cost more than the listed price.

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Finding room in the budget to earn your scuba certification is a lifetime investment in yourself that offers countless hours of joy and years of adventures. Scuba keeps you active and engaged so you can think of it as both an exercise program and a social network.

The tranquility of a weightless journey under the seas is also therapeutic and think of the stories you will have to share when you are back at the water cooler.

The cost truly is minuscule in comparison to the world of possibilities that a scuba certification creates.

Certifiably Certified

Many people become enthralled after their first dive experience. This creates a lifelong passion and pursuit that can lead to more advanced options for dive certification. Here are brief glimpses at theOpen Water Diver – certification classes offered by PADI.

Open Water Diver

An Open Water Diver certification is the scuba certification described in detail up above, and is the very foundation of your scuba training. The next step is an Advanced Open Water Diver certification which advances your scuba diving skills.

Adventure Diver

The Adventure Diver certification is a subgroup of the Advanced Open Water Diver program and is earned after three adventure dives involving fish identification, underwater photography, or similar dives. The desire to capture stunning underwater images makes the Digital Underwater Photography certification the most popular specialty course.

Rescue Diver

There are a number of public service diver certificates including Rescue Diver and Search and Recovery Diver that teach the skills to both prevent and manage problems in the water while expanding your scuba skill set.

Master Scuba Diver

Extensive training and experience can lead to a Master Scuba Diver certificate for the elite diver. The Divemaster program allows you to hone the skills to lead and inspire others as they work to discover scuba and earn their own certifications.

Adaptive Support Diver

Adaptive Support Diver and Adaptive Techniques help make Scuba accessible to those with disabilities. The first program helps you be more aware of the varying abilities of others and the second teaches adaptive strategy to dive alongside a buddy with a disability.

Rebreather Program

The Rebreather program centers on learning to breathe without exhaling bubbles. This course teaches you to recycle the good part of your exhale and how to replenish for your next breath.

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Other Certificates

Other diving certificates include Deep, Diver, Cavern Diver, High Altitude Diver, Ice Diver, Enriched Air Diver, Night Diver, and more. As stated above you truly can dive anywhere in the world under any conditions with the proper training and equipment. PADI offers so many scuba certifications and classes that it is almost impossible to list them all.

Wait—This Doesn’t Sound Easy

Take a deep breath.

Yes, scuba can become very advanced and technical—but just as you learned to walk before you ran, so too will you learn basic scuba skills before you take the plunge into any of the advanced training.

Many divers, I dare say most are perfectly happy with Open Water or Advanced Open Water Dive Certification. The list above is merely included to showcase the many facets of scuba. Some adventures thrive on continuing to challenge themselves and scuba is a passion that can provide ample opportunities to do just that.

And What About Sharks

Hollywood and other lore have created an unnatural fear of sharks. These beautiful, graceful creatures are apex predators, but humans, even scuba divers are not on their normal menu.

The folks at ThoughtCo. did a great job of crunching the actual numbers in this article, but the paraphrase you are more likely to incur harm toasting your bread, using the toilet, or sleeping in your bed than you are from a shark.

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It is wise to give all living creatures, big and small plenty of space. Nothing good can come from harassing wildlife or harming the delicate nature of the marine ecosystem, but letting unwarranted fears based on works of fiction, keep you from experiencing the magic of scuba diving is just plain old hammer-headed.

More Fun Than Fear

The imagination is a wonderful thing. Without it you would not wonder why the sky is blue, or what is over the next hill. We would not have gone to the moon or discovered flight, the internet, or our deep love for sharing cat videos on social media.

Okay, so maybe that last one is more a quirk of human nature than a marvel of human ingenuity, but the last thing I want is to leave you worrying about gray fins sliding menacingly through the water, so think about cute furry kittens and warm fuzzy feelings.

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Scuba dive is safe, joyful, and enlightening. All you need is an open mind, a willingness to try something new and a little bit of training.

Take the time to research dive centers in and around you and/or talk to the resort where you will be travelling. Plan ahead to gain the necessary skills and knowledge in whatever way works for you.

This will take the unknown and the scary out of the equation and open up new, thrilling adventures as you earn your scuba certification.

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