On a planet that’s 71% water, land exploration will only take you so far. Go deeper and discover scuba diving! So, what is scuba diving? Where do I start as a beginner scuba diver? What does it cost to get scuba certified? This beginner’s guide will answer all your questions and more.
Before we begin, I should assure you that if you can swim, you can scuba dive.* I am the last person you would think would become a professional athlete, yet I am a professional scuba divemaster. Scuba diving is a lazy man’s sport. That’s right, the slower you move and the calmer you are, the better diver you will be.
So don’t worry if you’re like me and have a soft spot for jelly donuts and whine about taking the stairs. You got this. And if you’re a marathon runner, more power to you. You probably have excellent breath control, and that will help you too.
* You must be over the age of 10 and have official clearance from a doctor if you have any severe medical conditions. For more information, see the PADI Medical Statement
Two leading watersports allow participants to experience the underwater world for extended periods, scuba diving and snorkeling. The main difference between the two is snorkeling limits participants to breathing at the surface of the water. While, thanks to specialized equipment, scuba divers can breathe underwater, allowing them to go deeper than possible on a single breath.
Scuba diving can be comparable to seeing your favorite movie in 3D. Is the 2D version excellent? Absolutely. But scuba diving allows you to be in the center of the action.
SCUBA stands for:
SCUBA is just a fancy way of saying ‘thing that keeps you alive and free to move around underwater.’ Since we humans aren’t lucky enough to have gills to breathe, we need to bring our surface air underwater to swim like the fishes.
A scuba diver’s “breathing apparatus” has two main parts:
A diver also uses other secondary pieces of gear such as:
Don’t worry! You don’t need to go out and buy all this gear today. Actually, I discourage it. A reputable dive shop will have everything available for you to rent when you dive with them.
Depending on your interest level and time restraints, there are two paths for scuba diving beginners. The first gives you an excellent introduction, and the other offers full certification.
In a try scuba dive session, a certified instructor will run you through the basics of diving and ensure your safety as you take your first breaths underwater. After that, you will be able to go as deep as 40 feet under the supervision of your instructor.
Discover scuba diving is an excellent one-day option if you want to literally “get your feet wet” and see if scuba diving is for you! Many people choose this option if they are short on time or don’t want to commit to an entire course, especially on vacation.
The other choice is to jump straight to your open water certification course! This option was best for me because when I decided to try scuba diving, I was in Koh Tao, Thailand, one of the most popular dive destinations in the world. If you are comfortable in the water and are more interested in the technical aspects of the sport, this may be the right path for you as well.
I enjoyed learning from the beginning the details of how my equipment worked and benefited from dedicating 3.5 days straight to being in the water. Continuing with the getting your feet wet analogy, this is jumping right in! An Open Water course can take anywhere from 2-5 days to complete. After finishing the course, you can dive to 60 feet with any certified buddy.
Curious what to expect in an Open Water Course? Take a look at our descriptions over at Beginner Scuba Diving.
Okay, I know I said there are only two options for beginner scuba diving. Still, it is worth mentioning that many dive shops will allow you to “upgrade” your discover scuba dive to an open water certification. You can do this without having to redo what you’ve already learned, and they will also often give a small discount on the price of the Open Water course.
Naturally, you will have to complete any dives or skills missed in the discover scuba course to obtain full certification. If you fall in love with diving after the first time, like I know you will, this is something to keep in mind.
*It doesn’t matter what certifying organization the shop you choose is affiliated with, so long as they are certified by one. Some examples are the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), Scuba Schools International (SSI), and the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI). While each organization has different names for levels, they follow a similar progression.
Nothing in life is 100% safe, but scuba diving is a relatively low-risk activity. Surprisingly, more people die from jogging every year than scuba diving. Since that might not ease your mind entirely, here are a few ways you can ensure your safety as a beginner scuba diver.
You may get lucky enough to see sharks! Sharks are a sign of a healthy marine ecosystem, and divers love them. I have seen bull sharks, lemon sharks, and various reef sharks while diving. Seeing sharks in their natural habitat is an exhilarating experience that never gets old. But, you might ask, “isn’t that dangerous?” Statistically speaking, no. Trust me, they are more afraid of you than you are of them.
It depends on where you go diving. In a tropical reef environment, you could see turtles, pufferfish, stingrays, moray eels, octopus, barracudas, starfish, clownfish, grouper, lionfish, various corals, whale sharks, and more! Your instructor or other dive professional will brief you on the types of marine life in the area. Although nothing is ever certain in the ocean, there’s a good chance you will see something extraordinary.
One of the most important aspects of scuba diving for beginners is water conditions. While there are fantastic dive professionals worldwide, unfortunately, they’re not Poseidon and cannot control the sea. The best beginner locations for scuba diving in the U.S. are in warm water states like Hawaii, Florida, and California.
However, don’t think just because you’re from somewhere cold, you can’t learn to dive! The best option would be to travel domestically or internationally to find calm water full of vibrant marine life.
Interested in learning more about the best scuba diving across the world? We’ve outlined the best dive spots to inspire your scuba wanderlust!
Another excellent option is to contact your local dive shop. Many places offer beginner scuba diving lessons at locations such as your neighborhood YMCA pool. Getting to know your local dive shop is also a great way to connect with others interested in scuba diving in your area. The best way to find a reputable dive shop near you is by searching dive shops on the following agency websites or conduct a Google search.
Prices vary greatly depending on where you decide to scuba dive, what option you choose for a beginner diving course, and the certifying agency of the dive shop. Also, be sure to ask what is included in your package since some dive shops will charge separately for rental gear and study materials. These are examples of pricing for a few popular U.S. destinations as of August 2021:
Discover Scuba Dive
Open Water Certification
It is also a great option to travel to other countries for scuba diving, particularly scuba for beginners. Many places such as Mexico, Honduras, Thailand, Indonesia, Egypt, and the U.S. Virgin Islands offer easy diving at affordable prices.
For example, the dive shop in Thailand where I completed my Open Water certification charges the equivalent of $340 for the course. That includes four nights of accommodation, rental gear, study materials, and taxis to and from the pier each day. Plus, couldn’t we all use a tropical vacation?
Forever! That’s right, an open water certification never expires. However, if you have spent some time out of the water, you may want to complete a refresher program. A refresher is just a review with a certified instructor making sure you are still comfortable diving and recall all your skills.
The first time I went diving was a mix of nerves and excitement. I didn’t know what to expect! The sensation of breathing underwater is surreal and can be very overwhelming at the beginning. My instructor had me start by putting my face in the water to experience the sensation of breathing from the tank. Okay, I got this.
When I was comfortable with that, we moved on to kneeling in the sand. That’s when I panicked. Again. Kneel, panic, stand up. Alright, is the third time a charm? Nope. Finally, I got it after maybe five tries, and we began our skills.
There are a few skills that you will learn regardless of which beginner scuba course you choose. These include:
Once you have those down, you get to swim around! At this point, I fell in love with diving. Even though we were only approximately 30 feet deep, the feeling of weightlessness and all the fish surrounding me made me feel like a mermaid. Who doesn’t want to be a mermaid?
Beginner dives are typically around 30 minutes. As you become more experienced with breathing slowly and calmly, your dive time will increase. Many factors determine how fast you consume air on a dive, including experience level, lung capacity, body type, and depth of the dive. For reference, my longest dive was a little more than an hour.
Many people find scuba diving to be incredibly meditative. To be weightless with no other sound than bubbles can do wonders for clearing your mind and relieving stress.
Diving is also a great way to explore parts of the world few get to see. There are chances to find rare sea creatures, witness shipwrecks, and discover underwater caves. Also, you get to play out your very own Jacque Cousteau fantasies!
You get to meet amazing people from around the world. The worldwide scuba diver community is so fun and supportive with many different subgroups of people. Maybe you will even meet your future spouse like this lucky diver.
Once you discover scuba diving, you may find life on land to be a little dry.
Alex Dryjowicz is an avid writer, blogger, and professional scuba divemaster. A nomad at heart, she spends her time bouncing between the world’s best diving destinations while calling a ridiculously oversized backpack home. She is thrilled to be here at Watercraft Watch, sharing her insights into all things scuba diving.