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Scuba diving opens up an exciting underwater world filled with marine life, shipwrecks, and stunning coral reefs. If you’ve ever dreamed of breathing underwater and exploring the mysteries of the deep, learning to dive is your chance to turn that dream into reality. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know to get scuba certified and start your diving adventures.

What is Scuba Diving?

Scuba diving allows you to explore the underwater realm while breathing compressed air from tanks carried on your back. The acronym “scuba” stands for “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.” Scuba gear includes:

  • Air tanks and regulators to breathe underwater
  • Mask and fins to see clearly and swim efficiently
  • Wetsuit or drysuit to maintain warmth in cold water
  • Buoyancy control device like a BCD or stabilizer jacket
  • Depth gauge, compass, and dive computer to monitor depth/direction/time

With scuba equipment, you can safely descend below the surface to take in awe-inspiring views of coral, fish, shipwrecks, and more. Advanced scuba divers can go to depths of 100 feet or more.

Why Learn to Scuba Dive?

Learning to scuba dive opens up an entirely new underwater world to explore. Here are some of the top reasons to get scuba certified:

Discover Marine Life

Diving allows you to encounter tropical fish, sea turtles, sharks, dolphins, and other marine creatures up close. It’s an unforgettable experience.

Explore Shipwrecks

Scuba diving allows you to explore historic shipwrecks around the world, from WWII wrecks to pirate ships. These dives offer a unique history lesson.

See Vibrant Coral Reefs

Coral reefs explode with color and life. Scuba diving lets you witness these stunning ecosystems firsthand.

Bond with Friends/Family

Sharing the experience of scuba diving with loved ones strengthens relationships. You’ll make memories that last lifetimes.

Boost Confidence

Mastering scuba skills takes courage and builds your confidence. The self-reliance learned from scuba transfers to daily life.

Travel the World

Top scuba destinations include Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Hawaii, Belize, Indonesia, and more. Diving allows you to see the world from a new perspective.

Improve Fitness

Scuba requires swimming skills and moderate exercise. The fitness required to dive helps keep you in shape.

Who Can Scuba Dive?

Nearly anyone in reasonably good health can learn to scuba dive safely. There are some medical conditions that can prevent diving, but most people are cleared to dive after a medical assessment. Age and fitness levels do not matter too much, since scuba skills can be learned by almost anyone. Even children as young as 8 years old can become certified divers. Scuba diving is an extremely inclusive sport.

What Equipment Do You Need to Scuba Dive?

These are the basic pieces of scuba gear you will need:

Mask and Fins

A mask allows you to see clearly underwater, while fins help you swim efficiently. Most divers use a two-window mask and open-heel fins with adjustable straps.


A snorkel is a J-shaped tube that lets you breathe at the surface while swimming face down. It’s useful for conserving tank air. Most snorkels have a contoured mouthpiece for comfort.

Wetsuit or Drysuit

These suits insulate you from cold temperatures while diving. Water conducts heat much faster than air. Protection is needed even in warm water.

Buoyancy Control Device (BCD)

The BCD is an inflatable vest worn like a backpack. It allows you to control your underwater buoyancy. Air is added/released to sink or float.

Regulator and Tank

The regulator adjusts tank pressure to let you breathe underwater. The tank holds compressed air at high pressure, up to 3,000 PSI. Standard sizes are 80 cubic ft and 100 cubic ft.

Additional Gear

You’ll also need a weight belt, dive computer or watch, safety equipment like a whistle and signal tube, and more specialty gear for technical diving.

How to Learn to Dive: Step-by-Step

Ready to get started with scuba certification? Here is a step-by-step overview of how to learn to dive properly:

Step 1: Choose a Certification Agency

Many organizations offer scuba certifications, but the top agencies are:

  • PADI: Professional Association of Diving Instructors. The largest scuba agency. Offered worldwide.
  • SSI: Scuba Schools International. Second most popular agency. Also offered worldwide.
  • NAUI: National Association of Underwater Instructors. One of the older agencies.
  • SDI: Scuba Diving International. Smaller agency, often combined with TDI.
  • TDI: Technical Diving International. Specializes in technical diving certifications.

PADI and SSI certifications are the most widely recognized internationally. Check which certifications local dive shops accept.

Step 2: Find a Scuba Diving Instructor

Enroll in a course at your local dive shop or with a freelance scuba instructor. Ask about their experience and credentials. PADI, SSI, and NAUI have search tools for finding certified dive instructors in your area.

Step 3: Take a Diver Certification Course

Most scuba certification courses follow this structure:

Knowledge Development

Learn via videos, lectures, presentations, textbooks, or online. Covers scuba theory like physics, physiology, equipment, and safety.

Confined Water Dives

Practice scuba skills in the controlled setting of a swimming pool with your instructor. Master skills like breathing, buoyancy, and maneuvering.

Open Water Dives

Conduct 4-5 open water dives in a lake, quarry, or ocean to demonstrate your skills. Depth limit of 40-60 feet depending on agency. Certification issued after completing course.

Step 4: Get Your Own Scuba Gear

After certification, you can start assembling your personal set of scuba gear. Buy a mask, snorkel, fins, regulator, BCD, wetsuit, dive computer, and other essential gear. Invest in quality equipment.

Step 5: Continue Practicing and Advancing Your Skills

Keep sharpening your proficiency by diving regularly. Consider a specialty course like night diving or deep diving. Maintain at least a log book recording all of your dives. Never stop learning!

Finding the Right Scuba Instructor

Choosing the right scuba diving instructor is key to learning proper technique and safety. Here are tips for finding a qualified instructor:

  • Verify Credentials: Confirm they are certified through a major agency like PADI or NAUI. Ask how long they’ve been an instructor.
  • Check Reviews: Online reviews can give insight into teaching quality and safety records. Look for high ratings.
  • Consider Personality Fit: Make sure your learning styles mesh well for maximum comfort and progress.
  • Safety First: A good instructor will emphasize safety and controlled development of skills before moving to more challenging diving.
  • Small Classes: Classes with only 2-3 students allow for more personalized attention and faster learning.
  • Local Experience: Instructors familiar with local dive sites and conditions can better prepare you for area diving.
  • Patience Is Key: The best instructors take time to explain concepts and demonstrate skills until mastered.

Choosing the right instructor gives you the foundation to become a capable and confident lifelong diver. Don’t rush the decision.

What to Expect from Scuba Certification Courses

Scuba certification courses are designed to methodically take you from beginner to skilled diver. Here’s an overview of what to expect:

Academic Learning

The first phase covers scuba theory through textbooks, videos, lectures, or online learning. Subjects include:

  • Diving physics – pressure, buoyancy, gas laws
  • Diving physiology – breathing, circulation, decompression
  • Diving equipment – how each piece functions
  • Safety protocols – hand signals, emergency procedures, buddy system

Confined Water Dives

Next you will practice skills in a pool or sheltered water setting. Skills covered include:

  • Breathing through the regulator
  • Clearing mask of water
  • Buoyancy control
  • Weight belt adjustment
  • Regulator recovery
  • Gear assembly/disassembly
  • Underwater swimming and maneuvering

Multiple pool sessions prepare you for open water.

Open Water Dives

The final phase is open water dives from shore or boat. You will perform skills learned in the pool in the real-world ocean/lake environment, including:

  • Surface swimming and diving
  • Neutral buoyancy underwater
  • Hovering and maneuvering mid-water
  • Controlled ascents and descents
  • Underwater navigation
  • Buddy breathing
  • Gear management

4-5 open water dives are required for certification.

Scuba Diving Certification Agencies

Many organizations offer scuba certifications. Here are some of the major agencies and their key program features:


  • Most popular agency globally
  • Certifies divers as young as 10 years old
  • eLearning option available
  • Distinctive dive tables used


  • Emphasizes responsible diving practices
  • Uses RCT (Recreational Dive Planner) tables
  • Specialty courses offered in local languages
  • Diver levels: Scuba Diver, Open Water Diver, Advanced Open Water Diver


  • Non-profit agency focused on education
  • Uses the NAUI Dive Table
  • Technical courses and freediving also offered
  • Diver levels: Scuba Diver, NAUI Master Scuba Diver


  • Combines recreational (SDI) and technical (TDI) diving
  • Uses the RGBM dive algorithm
  • Smaller agency but growing quickly
  • Diver levels: Scuba Diver, Open Water Diver, Advanced Diver

While PADI and SSI dominate in popularity, all agencies follow similar certification standards. Focus on finding an excellent local instructor first when choosing an agency.

Benefits of Scuba Certification

Earning an open water diver certification unlocks huge benefits that will enrich your underwater adventures.

Dive Anywhere in the World

A scuba certification allows you to rent gear or join dive trips around the globe. No need to relearn skills at each location.

Access Wreck Dives

Many intact shipwrecks and crashed airplanes are off-limits to anyone without scuba certification due to depth and skill needed.

Gain Confidence

The self-reliance and problem-solving skills learned through certification makes you confident in the water.

Lower Insurance Rates

Dive insurance costs less for certified divers since they are trained in minimizing risks.

Learn Proper Technique

Certification teaches you how to dive safely under direct supervision. Bad habits are corrected early.

Dive Deeper Sites

Many stunning coral reefs, walls, caverns, and reef drops require scuba skills to access. The underwater world opens up.

Meet Diving Community

Through courses and clubs, meeting other divers helps you plan trips and fosters a sense of community.

The investment of getting certified pays dividends for a lifetime of extraordinary diving experiences. Don’t miss out!

Scuba Certification Costs

The costs for open water scuba certification includes:

  • Course fee – Covers training materials and instruction. Ranges $200-$500.
  • Equipment rental – For pool training and open water dives. Ranges $50-$100 total.
  • Books/materials – You need diving instructional materials. $50-$150.
  • Certification fees – Payable to the certification agency. $50-$75.

Total cost – Expect to spend around $400-$800 depending on location and instructor.

Extra costs may include wetsuit rental, dive shop membership fees, and travel/lodging for open water dives. Private one-on-one instruction costs more. Overall, scuba certification costs are quite reasonable when compared to the experiences gained.

Scuba Gear You Need to Own

While renting gear is fine for the certification course, you’ll want your own setup for frequent diving. Here’s the essential scuba gear you should own:

  • Mask – A mask with tempered glass lens and comfortable silicone skirt is important for vision.
  • Fins – Opt for open-heel fins with adjustable straps to customize fit.
  • Snorkel – Useful for conserving air while swimming on surface.
  • Booties – Neoprene booties insulate feet and protect from abrasion.
  • BCD – Inflator/deflator controls let you adjust buoyancy.
  • Regulator – Most divers prefer a balanced diaphragm first stage and pneumatically-balanced second stage.
  • Wetsuit – A 5-7mm wetsuit is very comfortable.

Finding Good Deals on Scuba Gear

Scuba gear can be quite expensive when buying brand new. Here are some tips for finding deals on quality used and discounted scuba equipment:

  • Check scuba swap meets and gear exchanges for lightly used items at reduced prices. Many dive shops host regular swap meets.
  • Watch for end-of-season sales at dive shops when they are trying to clear old rental gear and last year’s inventory. You can find substantial discounts.
  • Join scuba gear swap/sell groups on Facebook. Fellow divers often post great deals on well-maintained equipment.
  • Check eBay and Craigslist for used gear, but inspect carefully before purchasing.
  • Consider buying rental gear dive shops are retiring. With just a little use, these can be a bargain.
  • Ask dive shops whether they offer any package deals that include popular accessories like dive lights or save on multiple items.
  • Take advantage of holiday sales around Christmas, Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day. Many dive shops offer sales.

Buying used gear can save 50% or more over new equipment. With careful inspection and maintenance, used scuba gear provides years of service.

Maintaining and Caring for Scuba Gear

Investing in your own scuba equipment means you must properly care for it. Follow these tips:

  • Rinse gear in fresh water after each dive to remove salt, sand and debris.
  • Clean your regulator regularly according to manufacturer guidelines. This prevents freeflows and keeps performance consistent.
  • Lubricate O-rings and moving parts with silicone grease to prevent leaks. Check O-rings for cracks or defects.
  • Store BCDs and regulators inflated to prevent sticking. Deflate before traveling.
  • Wash wetsuits inside-out with wetsuit shampoo. Hang to dry away from direct sunlight.
  • Soak your mask skirt in mask defog solution before each dive. Rinse out with fresh water after use.
  • Use mesh gear bags to allow equipment to dry fully after each dive. Storing wet promotes mold growth.
  • Follow recommended servicing intervals from the manufacturer, especially for regulators.

Proper care extends the life of expensive scuba gear and prevents potentially hazardous failures. Maintain your equipment well for safety and reliability.

Continuing Your Scuba Education

Earning your open water diver certification is just the beginning. Consider continuing scuba education through:

Specialty Courses

Take specialty courses to gain skills beyond entry level diving:

  • Deep diving
  • Night diving
  • Boat diving
  • Underwater photography
  • Wreck diving
  • Drysuit diving
  • Drift diving
  • Altitude diving

Master Scuba Diver Certification

Demonstrate your experience by completing 5 specialty certifications. This earns the Master Scuba Diver rating.

Divemaster Training

Become certified to supervise dive groups as a professional Divemaster. This allows you to work in the diving industry.

Technical Diving

Take advanced technical diving courses to learn techniques like decompression, mixed gas, rebreather, and cave diving.

Continuing education makes you a safer, more capable diver. Scuba is a sport where you never stop learning new skills.

How to Get Involved in the Diving Community

To meet other divers and stay engaged, consider:

  • Joining your local dive club – most cities have an active club that organizes trips, events, and classes. This engages you with a community of divers.
  • Attending dive shows – Major dive expos like DEMA allow you to learn about new gear and destinations.
  • Volunteering – Give back by volunteering for marine conservation organizations or dive search and rescue teams.
  • Contributing to online forums – Share your experiences and learn from other divers on scuba forums and groups.
  • Following dive businesses on social media – Stay up-to-date on the latest news, equipment, and locations.
  • Taking a dive vacation – Diving resorts offer opportunities to meet divers from around the world who share your passion.

The more you engage with the global community of divers, the more you’ll get out of scuba as a lifelong adventure sport.

Bottom Line on Learning to Dive

Starting your scuba journey takes courage and commitment, but it opens up a thrilling underwater world that few experience. With proper training from an accredited dive instructor, learning to dive is an achievable goal for most people. Do your research to find a program that fits your needs. Before long, you’ll join millions of certified divers exploring the mysteries below the waves. The unparalleled freedom of scuba makes the effort to get certified well worthwhile.