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How to Scuba Dive: A Guide for Beginners

Interested in learning how to scuba dive? #PADI have produced this blog that we've cribbed and copied so whether you're here or there, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about becoming a scuba diver.

The Open Water Diver Course

If you want to call yourself a scuba diver, you need a scuba certification. The first certification you can earn is called Open Water Diver and it’s issued upon successful completion of the Open Water Diver course.

A scuba certification allows you to get air tank fills, rent dive gear and book scuba diving adventures anywhere in the world. It also puts you in an exclusive club of underwater explorers and celebrities.

Why are scuba certifications required?

Scuba diving requires specific knowledge, skills and training – just like driving a car. During the Open Water Diver course, you’ll learn how to assemble a scuba unit, respectful ways to observe and interact with underwater life, how to manage your air supply, and other essential skills.

Start Your Scuba Lessons Online – FREE!

The fastest way to become a scuba diver is to start the Open Water Diver course online. It’s free to get started, no credit card required.

Try Scuba Diving Before Committing to a Certification Course

It’s hard to describe what scuba diving is like, so if you’re interested in scuba diving but not ready to commit to a class, try a Discover Scuba Diving® Experience. You’ll get to try on scuba gear and take your first breaths underwater under the supervision of an experienced scuba professional in a pool or pool-like environment.

A Discover Scuba Experience isn’t required, just an option for those who are unsure about a multi-day scuba certification course. If you’re hesitant about learning to dive, check out the Top 10 Myths About Scuba Diving.

Ready to start exploring the other two-thirds of our ocean planet? Read on to find out what equipment and skills you need to scuba dive and the steps leading up to scuba certification.

How to Prepare for Scuba Diving

You don’t have to be an excellent swimmer to be a scuba diver, but you do need to be comfortable in the water and know how to swim. During your scuba certification course you’ll be asked to:

  • Float or tread water for 10 minutes – you can lie on your back, on your front, tread water, ‘dog paddle’, or anything else to stay afloat without using any flotation aids.

  • Swim 200 meters/yards (or 300 meters/yards wearing a mask, fins and snorkel) without stopping. There is no time limit, and you may use any swimming strokes you want.

There are many adaptive techniques that allow individuals with physical challenges to meet the waterskills requirements. People with paraplegia, amputations and other challenges commonly earn PADI Open Water Diver certifications. Speak to a PADI Instructor, Dive Center or Resort for more information. Certain medical conditions require a doctor’s approval to participate in scuba diving activities. In some countries, a physician’s signature is required for diving regardless of how healthy you are. Avoid disappointment, download and review the medical questionnaire.

Basic Scuba Diving Equipment

When you’re enrolled in a class, most dive shops will provide all the scuba diving equipment you need either as a loan or rental including a:

  1. Wetsuit or dry suit

  2. Scuba tank

  3. BCD (buoyancy control device)

  4. Regulator

  5. SPG and or Dive Computer

Most dive shops will ask you to provide your own:

  1. Mask

  2. Snorkel

  3. and Fins

If you already own a snorkel set, bring your snorkel, mask and fins to the dive shop before your first in-water session. Most high-quality snorkel masks can be used for scuba diving, but most snorkel fins are too flimsy. Check out these tips for buying a mask that fits.

If you’re learning to dive in cold water, you may also need to bring (or purchase) gloves and a hood. If you get cold easily (like I do), they’re well worth the investment!

Scuba Certification: Step-By-Step

Step 1: Consider Your Learning Preferences

If you don’t like tackling new skills while being surrounded by strangers, a private class may be preferable. If, however, you enjoy meeting new people, a group or semi-private class can be a lot of fun.

Step 2: Choose Where You to Do Your Training

There are three ways to earn your scuba certification:

  1. Do all your training close to home

  2. Start at home, finish on vacation (Open Water Referral)

  3. Learn to scuba dive away from home

You can earn a scuba certification in as little as four days, but that can be a lot of pressure. Read more about each of the options above on our learn to dive page.

Step 3: Sign Up for a Class

From start to finish, it takes 4-7 days (on average) to earn a scuba certification.* You’ll spend some of that time studying on your own, but most of the time you’ll be working with an instructor.

In post-class surveys, more than 95% of student divers say they would highly recommend their PADI Instructor, but if you have a lot of PADI Dive Shops to choose from, here are some tips on:

  • How to choose a dive shop

  • How to choose a scuba instructor

* You can take up to one year to complete your scuba certification course.

In case you’re wondering, how much does a scuba certification cost? That’s a tough question to answer. All PADI Dive Centers and Resorts are independently owned and operated, so prices vary depending on location, class size and other factors.

Generally speaking, a scuba certification course costs about as much as a full day of surfing lessons, three hours of private golf lessons, or one amazing night out! If, while researching prices, you see a rate that’s drastically lower than all the others, ask what it includes. Some dive shops include everything for one price, others may list a price that only covers the course tuition and charge separately for online training, boat fees, etc.

Step 4: Knowledge Development

There are three main parts to a scuba certification:

  1. Home study online or classroom learning (knowledge development)

  2. Skill practice in a pool or pool-like environment (confined water)

  3. Open water scuba dives

Most people start their scuba course with knowledge development. During this part of your training, you’ll learn all about scuba equipment and terminology and watch videos of diving skills. If you choose PADI eLearning®, you can complete this portion of your course at home, at your own pace using a computer or mobile device.

Some dive centers offer in-person knowledge development with regularly-scheduled classroom sessions. You’ll purchase a book and DVD for home study between classes. If you’re not sure whether you’ll like online training, don’t forget you can start your scuba certification class online for free. Give it a try, and if you don’t like it, ask your dive shop about going the book and classroom route.

Step 5: Confined Water

You’ll take your first breaths underwater in a pool or pool-like environment. Your instructor will demonstrate scuba skills one at a time, then help you practice each one until you’ve mastered it.

The PADI Open Water Diver course is mastery-based and designed to help new divers build confidence in their skills. For example, you’ll first practice clearing a small amount of water from your mask. Once you’re comfortable, you’ll work your way up to filling your entire mask with water and clearing it out.

Confined water sessions are also where you’ll practice putting together a scuba unit. You’ll do this many times until it becomes second nature.

Step 6: Open Water Dives

Once you’ve mastered basic scuba skills in confined water, you’ll go scuba diving in open water. ‘Open water’ can be the ocean, a lake, a quarry or even hot springs. Your PADI Instructor will be by your side the entire time.

Your first dives will be to 12 meters/40 feet or shallower. The maximum depth allowed for any dive during the open water course is 18 meters/60 feet.

You’ll make four open water dives in total, usually over two days. During each dive you’ll:

  • Complete a predive safety check

  • Practice maintaining your position in the water (buoyancy)

  • Perform skills you learned in confined water

  • Explore the dive site

On the final dive, you and your class (or buddy) will create a dive plan. Under the supervision of your instructor or a qualified assistant, you’ll dive your plan, paying attention to your air pressure and other safe diving practices. This final exercise helps ensure you’re ready to make dives on your own.

Step 7: Congratulations, You’re a Diver!

Depending on where you live, you’ll either receive a certification card in the mail or a digital PADI eCard™.

Your scuba certification is good for life, and if you ever want to refresh your skills, you can take a scuba refresher program.

Seek Adventure. Save the Ocean.

The PADI Open Water Diver course is the world’s most popular and widely recognized scuba diving certification. PADI Instructors and Dive Shops issue more than one million certifications every year as part of our collective mission to restore ocean health. When you choose PADI, you support independent businesses committed to ocean conservation and like-minded, mission-driven organizations. Learn more on our conservation page.


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