Is it hard to learn how to scuba dive?
With millions of certified scuba divers worldwide learning in almost every language on the planet, I think it's safe to say that the course material itself is not overly difficult. It is new information, however, and because of that it can seem a little overwhelming when you first pick up the textbook or view the video materials. Hopefully, that's where the talents of the scuba diving instructor come in. The instructor should be able to explain any unfamiliar or difficult concepts in a fun and informative manner that aids the student divers in retaining and applying the information.
How old do I have to be to become an open water certified scuba diver?
Kids can learn to dive at 8 years old and be certified at 10 years old to dive with direct adult supervision. The minimum age to become a certified Open Water Diver is 15 years old.
How often do I need to get re-certified as a scuba diver?
A certification is good for life, but it is always a good idea to take refresher training if you have not been diving for any prolonged length of time or at any time you feel that you may need it. Scuba diving is like any skill, the more often it is used the more familiar and second-nature it is. If it's been more than 6 months since you've been in the water, consider taking a short re-fresher course to brush up on your skills.
Is scuba diving expensive?
It depends. It depends on how much gear you want to own, what kind of diving you want to do, and what you're comparing costs to. The absolute minimum you'll want to own in terms of gear is a mask, fins, snorkel, and booties. That can run as low as a hundred dollars. You can rent a wetsuit, buoyancy compensator, weights, tanks, and other gear from a local dive shop for a relatively inexpensive fee (maybe $50 for the full set).
The other part to consider is relative cost. Scuba diving is not an expensive sport compared to flying airplanes, but it might be considered expensive compared to rollerblading. Personally, I like to view it in relation to golf. You can rent clubs and play on public courses or you can own the top of the line equipment and join a private country club, with there being an infinite number of variations in-between those two extremes. The same applies to scuba diving. You can shore dive at your local beach and rent equipment or you can own the top of the line equipment and fly off to exotic locales around the world. Scuba diving can be enjoyed by almost anyone on any budget but be warned that scuba diving can become addictive and you may find yourself browsing travel brochures a lot more often than you used to.
Should I buy my own dive gear?
If you take the course and find you love to dive, than owning makes a lot of sense. In fact if you go as few as 10 times in the next few years you could have owned your equipment instead of renting. Owning your own equipment means you're familiar with it and it's the best gear suited towards your body and the type of diving you do. There are also health and sanitation reasons for owning your own equipment.
Is scuba diving safe?
Yes and no. How do you like that for definitive? Actually, diving is very safe when compared to other sports like rollerblading or softball but there are risks specific to scuba diving that can make it dangerous. I want to emphasis "can" because if you follow safe diving practices you minimize your risks considerably. If you don't follow safe diving practices you greatly increase the risk of injury or death. As long as you know the limits of your level of training and experience, and dive within those limits the risks are relatively minimal. To put things into perspective, scuba diving results in fewer injuries each year than does bowling. This is due, in part, to the high emphasis placed on safety by scuba diving certification agencies like PADI, instructors, and even other divers.
Are there any medical conditions that would prevent me from scuba diving?
Yes. As part of your registration process for any scuba training you will be asked to fill out a medical questionnaire. If any of your answers indicate a possible medical condition that would prevent you from diving you will be asked to consult with a physician prior to any scuba training. In particular, any conditions that may affect the respiratory / circulatory system or could lead to unconsciousness should be carefully considered by your doctor before scuba training.
What about "the bends?"
Decompression sickness (DCS), commonly referred to as 'the bends', is one of the risks involved in scuba diving. DCS is caused by nitrogen trying to leave your body too quickly. Unfortunately, because no two humans are exactly alike it's almost impossible to predict if someone will suffer from DCS. That sounds a little scary, but let's also look at some other facts:
Part of your Open Water Diver certification course teaches you to use dive tables. These dive tables are guides you can use to safely plan dives with minimal risk of DCS. While there's no 100% guarantee that you can't get DCS when following the tables, they are based on mathematical models that not only represent the best and most current research on DCS but also have been field tested on both animals and humans and demonstrate very minimal risk.
Millions of dives are conducted every year and the rate of DCS seems to be very minimal. Although nobody knows the actual number of dives made each year or the exact number of divers making those dives, the number of DCS incidents are closely followed by Divers Alert Network (DAN), a non-profit organization run out of Duke University. According to DAN, in 2000 there were approx. 1000 reported cases of suspected DCS. With over 10 million certified divers, some of whom make 100+ dives a year, a conservative estimate would be that 10 million dives take place annually. Based on that assumption the risk is about 1:10,000 dives.
It should be noted that even the 1:10,000 number may be misleading due to the fact that of the 1000 reported cases of DCS many were a result of divers violating safe diving practices. One might make the comparison to driving a car in that driving is a relatively safe activity but the risk of accident increases substantially when speeding, running red lights, and tailgating. Divers who follow safe diving practices can even further reduce their chances of DCS.
What about sharks and other sea creatures?
I get asked about sharks more than any other single question. With films like Jaws and the media-hype over shark attacks it's quite understandable why. However, the truth is that shark attacks are very, very rare and shark attacks on scuba divers are even more rare. Since the 1800's there are only been approx. 350 unprovoked shark attacks on divers (free divers and scuba divers) of which 65% involved the diver spearfishing or some other form of hunting. In fact, your chances of being struck by lightening are 30 times greater than being attacked by a shark.
The reality is most divers will never see a shark other than the horn or nurse shark (both are bottom-dwelling sharks that are sluggish and timid). Chances are, if you see a shark other than a nurse or horn shark it will because you traveled someplace specifically to see them (which I have and I highly recommend).
So what about those other creatures from the deep like barracuda, eels, and giant octopus? Well, the truth is, none of them like us humans all that much . . . at least as a meal. Most marine animals are passive around humans, especially scuba divers who make tons of noise with all of that loud breathing apparatus. Most injuries that occur involving marine creatures are caused by a defensive action on the part of the animal. The chances of an animal like an eel attacking you for no reason are almost unheard of. But stick your arm into a dark hole that happens to be the home of an eel and he just might take offense.
What if I'm not a very good swimmer?
Well that depends on what you mean by "not a very good swimmer." More than anything, you must be comfortable in the water. You should be able to swim before taking a scuba diving course. You don't need to be an Olympic swimmer, but you should be able to swim 200 yards and float on the surface for 10 minutes.
How deep will we go?
The maximum allowable depth in the Open Water Diver course is 60 feet, but typically we conduct training at 35 - 40 feet.
What about seasickness?
Many people are prone to seasickness, but it won't stop you very often from diving. Many scuba dives are conducted from shore instead of a boat. Fortunately, there are many over the counter medications (please consult a physician before taking any medication) that seem to be quite effective in preventing seasickness. Some people use special seasickness bands and other pressure type devices that have proven to be effective. I've even seen one device that gives a small electrical pulse that many claim has helped them prevent seasickness.
How long will a tank of air last me?
It depends. An 80 cubic foot tank, when full, can permit a diver to breath underwater anywhere from a few minutes to well over an hour. The determining factor will be how quickly you consume air which is different for each individual and can vary depending on diving depth, stress, the diving conditions, and how much energy you expend. By the end of the class, we'll have a good gauge on your air consumption levels as compared to other divers of your ability level. The more you dive, the better your consumption level will become.
What if I run out of air?
This is a common fear with many new scuba divers, but it is one of the easiest things to prevent and deal with if it happens. You are required to have a gauge that will tell you how much air you have in your tank. As long as you pay attention to the gauge the chances of you running out of air are minimal. If by some chance you were to run out of air your open water course will teach you several different methods to safely and effectively deal with an out of air situation. We will read about them, discuss them, and practice them so that you have the knowledge and skills necessary to deal with this unlikely event.
Have a question that isn't covered here? Just ask!
Don Ferris Dive Training.
We don't teach the most students - just the best.
PADI Master Instructors Donald Ferris toppic and Kim Catlin (right)