Scuba training is normally provided by a qualified instructor who is a member of one or more diver certification agencies or is registered with a government agency. Basic diver training entails the learning of skills required for the safe conduct of activities in an underwater environment, and includes procedures and skills for the use of diving equipment, safety, emergency self-help and rescue procedures, dive planning, and use of dive tables or a personal decompression computer.
It is best to learn diving from a competent instructor, as a number of skills are important for your health and safety. It is an activity where a few things must be done right or you may kill yourself. Experience and qualification of the instructor, while not a guarantee of competence, at least indicate that the instructor was trained and certified by an organisation which in some way strives for quality assurance, and allows some recourse if you are dissatisfied with the service. Aside from the complexities of assembling the equipment, diving has a number of risks that you need to understand, and safety procedures which you need to learn. There are also some basic skills that it is useful to practise under a teacher: the major one is controlling your buoyancy so that you aren’t alternately sinking and floating but instead can swim along without yoyoing, and can ascend and surface at a controlled rate to avoid injury from rapid pressure changes.
Precisely because of these safety concerns, you will need to be trained and certified to get insurance for medical treatment you may need after a diving accident.
Training and certification
Scuba skills which an entry-level diver will normally learn include:
Preparing and dressing in the diving suit
Assembly and pre-dive testing of the scuba set.
Entries and exits between the water and the shore or boat.
Breathing from the demand valve
Recovering and clearing the demand valve.
Clearing water from the mask, and replacing a dislodged mask.
Buoyancy control using weights and buoyancy compensator.
Finning techniques, underwater mobility and manoeuvering.
Making safe and controlled descents and ascents.
Equalisation of the ears and other air spaces.
Assisting another diver by providing air from one’s own supply, or receiving air supplied by another diver.
How to return to the surface without injury in the event of a breathing supply interruption.
Use of emergency gas supply systems (professional divers).
Diving hand signals used to communicate underwater. Professional divers will also learn other methods of communication.
Dive management skills such as monitoring depth and time and the breathing gas supply.
Buddy diving procedures.
Some knowledge of physiology and the physics of diving is considered necessary by most diver certification agencies, as the diving environment is alien and relatively hostile to humans. The physics and physiology knowledge required is fairly basic, and helps the diver to understand the effects of the diving environment so that informed acceptance of the associated risks is possible. The physics mostly relates to gases under pressure, buoyancy, heat loss, and light underwater. The physiology relates the physics to the effects on the human body, to provide a basic understanding of the causes and risks of barotrauma, decompression sickness, gas toxicity, hypothermia, drowning and sensory variations. More advanced training often involves first aid and rescue skills, skills related to specialised diving equipment, and underwater work skills.
As a first-time diver, you will learn to dive in open water with no decompression. The term “open water” refers to dive sites from which you can swim straight up to the surface (not caverns, for example). “No decompression” diving is diving timed so that you do not have to ascend in stages and wait long periods of time at various depths to expel excess gas from your system, meaning that in an emergency you can go slowly but directly to the surface without an undue risk of decompression sickness.
Open water certification
Open water certification courses are complete beginner level diving courses: they assume no experience, but after passing the course you will be certified as being able to dive in open water with a similarly qualified buddy diver but without an instructor’s company, at least in cases where conditions are similar to those in your course.
Open water certification is close to mandatory: many insurance companies demand either that you dive with an instructor or that you dive with open water certification to insure you and many dive tours will require that you are certified to at least this level before they will take you diving.
Open water courses tend to take three or four days full-time although you can often arrange to do them part-time or in pieces over a period of time. The time is divided between time in a classroom learning the theory of diving; time in a pool learning how to use the equipment and move around underwater; and several dives in open water under the care of your instructor. Some certification agencies now offer the classroom syllabus online, and you only need to do the pool and open water dives with an instructor. Certification tends to be progressive: you need to pass each module to proceed to the next. It’s usually the case that you pay for the course, not the certification: paying the money does not guarantee that you will pass the course. That said, beginner courses are not very challenging and, barring medical or psychological issues, nearly all participants pass.
Some people recommend that you do the open water certification before a holiday rather than during it: you will need to be prepared to spend holiday time for time in a classroom otherwise, and the time on the course will seldom be spent at the most interesting dive sites. However, many travellers do their open water certification on holiday, either because they didn’t plan to start diving until they arrived, they don’t live near dive sites, or they have a particular location in mind where they want to spend their first dives. It is also usually possible to do an open water referral where you do classroom and pool training with one instructor and then do the required open water dives and finish your certification with another. This can be used to do the preparatory work at home and the dives on your holiday. You may need to do both halves of the course under the same certification agency’s syllabus: check if your preferred agency is in the Universal Referral Program .
Other beginner courses
If you only want to dive once or twice, or you want to try it before you commit to a full certification, there are often shorter courses (known as resort courses) available. They are ‘taster’ courses in which you receive basic training in the equipment and do an open water dive under the supervision of an instructor. They are not complete certifications and do not fully train you to plan your own dives with a buddy; you will need the close attention of an instructor at all times. If you intend to dive more than a few times in your life, a full open water certification is worth the cost.
These supervised dives and courses vary widely in quality and safety. You should check that you will be diving in a very small group (or ideally one-on-one with a certified instructor as your personal dive buddy); that you will be diving at a shallow depth (no more than 12 meters/40 feet); and that the conditions are as tranquil as the area permits: cold water and currents are more stressful to dive in than still warm water.
Some certification agencies provide a syllabus for a resort-style course that will allow you to try an open water dive with a small amount of training and an instructor close by; for example PADI’s “Discover Scuba” and “Scuba Diver” courses or SSI’s “Try Scuba” and “Passport Diver” courses. These courses usually include part of the material for an open water certification, so that when you complete the short course you can go on to finish the open water course without needing to do the full course from the beginning.
Some dive resorts offer their own supervised diving or resort courses. If your resort certification is only awarded by that resort and not by one of the certification agencies then you will not be able to use it at most other resorts and it is unlikely to count towards a full certification.
There are a number of agencies which certify divers. They work by training and certifying instructors in their syllabus and teaching methods, and then allowing those instructors to certify individual divers. This section lists some of the certification agencies and their recreational (rather than professional or teaching) certifications. Your choice of certification will depend on a number of factors, primarily which certification agencies have a presence in the area you learn in, and in the areas you wish to dive in.
All reputable dive operators will require certification of your skills in the form of a certification card (C-card) from a recognized agency. This does not need to be the same agency that their own instructors work with: for example, a CMAS or SSI certified diver can dive with a shop that certifies under PADI. The requirement for certification is often also enforced where the customer wishes to buy Scuba equipment or have cylinders filled, but this is not universal, as in some countries there is no legal obligation for a recreational diver to be certified. However, be aware that many insurance policies will not cover you in the event of an accident should you decide to dive uncertified.
Recognised recreational certification agencies include:
ACUC: The American Canadian Underwater Certifications
ANDI: American Nitrox Divers International,
BSAC: The British Sub Aqua Club , bases its training on a network of affiliated clubs.
CMAS: The Italian-based Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques , an amateur non-for-profit international organization that takes a more comprehensive approach than many of the commercial agencies. Training and certification is available from either national diving federations affiliated to CMAS or from specially-accredited dive centres known as CMAS Dive Centers (CDC). Certification from national diving federations and CDCs is considered to be equivalent, however training may vary from CMAS standards due to requirements mandated by a national federation.
GUE: Global Underwater Explorers , concentrates on technical and cave diving specialities.
IANTD: International Association of Nitrox Technical Divers.
IDEA: The International Diving Educators Association
ISI: The Independent Scuba Instructors
NAPI: The National Association of Professional Instructors, does not train directly, but issues certification based on recognition of prior learning and experience.
NAUI: The National Association of Underwater Instructors , US-based, is the oldest recreational scuba certification agency.
PADI: The Professional Association of Diving Instructors , the largest scuba certification agency, a commercial agency targeted towards recreational divers who want to learn quickly.
PDIC: The Professional Diving Instructors Corporation
SDI/TDI: The Scuba Divers International/Technical Divers International , a certification agency designed to train with an emphasis on practical diving skills. SDI focuses on the recreational side of scuba diving and TDI is the mother branch that specializes in Technical Diving.
SSI: Scuba Schools International , another large commercial agency.
After completing a beginner level dive course, you can do additional courses to increase your skills or to pursue particular interests.
Post-beginner skills involve learning to dive in new or more difficult conditions or learning to dive using different equipment. There are several reasons you might pursue more skills in addition to the simple challenge: increased safety knowledge or a desire to dive at particular sites that need those skills are among them. Often you will need to do a formal course in new dive skills because centers running dives using those skills will require evidence that you are properly trained. Post-beginner skills that usually require training include: diving using oxygen enriched air (“nitrox”), deeper diving (optionally including decompression), wreck diving and cave diving. A diving rescue course is worthwhile if you dive regularly, whether or not you continue as a no-compression open water diver. Most certification agencies have courses in these skills and some wrap a number of them up into various ‘Advanced’ certifications. Many divers proceed to more difficult conditions (cool water, diving at night) without formal courses, but they are available if you want them.
In this context ‘Advanced’ implies only slightly more advanced than a complete beginner. The term should not be understood to mean any significant experience or skill level, as it can be achieved with very little experience and only slightly more than minimal skills. It is largely a marketing term, as beginner divers like the idea of an ‘Advanced’ certificate, and are more eager to pay for the training when this word is printed on their certification cards. A similar meaning (or lack thereof) is connected to the ‘Master Scuba Diver’ certification. In both cases the training and experience is valuable, and may even be worth the cost, but do not be misled about the reality. Divers with these certifications are advanced beginners until they have some range of experience.
Interests are particular reasons why you dive and include underwater photography and videography; marine life identification; and marine life conservation. Many of the dive certification agencies have guided dives or courses in these fields but you may also be able to learn them informally from self-study, practise and fellow divers.
Finally, some divers are interested in mapping and describing dive sites. There are no formal courses or certification in this field, though some relevant training may be included in Divemaster programs. If this turns out to be one of your interests, consider writing up your favourite sites on Wikivoyage, so that you can help the diving community by sharing your knowledge and experience. There are templates and guidelines on the recommended formats, but anything is generally better than nothing, so feel free to plunge forward and input your experience. If you want more guidance on this subject, refer to one of this article’s docents.
Divers who engage in planning longer and deeper dives with mandatory decompression stops, or penetrating into overhead environments such as wrecks or caves, are normally referred to as technical divers (or tec divers for short). Technical diving involves a considerably greater investment in training and equipment than conventional recreational diving, and will often involve breathing more exotic gas mixes, such as trimix (to mitigate nitrogen narcosis at depth) and highly enriched nitrox or pure oxygen (to accelerate decompression). Divers interested in progressing into technical diving should seek training from instructors qualified by special technical diver raining agencies such as TDI, IANTD, GUE, DSAT (the technical arm of PADI), NAUI Tec (the technical arm of NAUI), or SSI TechXR (the technical arm of SSI). Diving beyond no decompression limits, or penetrating deep into overhead environments, without appropriate training and equipment is extremely unwise.
Recreational diver training is the process of developing knowledge and understanding of the basic principles, and the skills and procedures for the use of scuba equipment so that the diver is able to dive for recreational purposes with acceptable risk using the type of equipment and in similar conditions to those experienced during training. Recreational (including technical) scuba diving does not have a centralised certifying or regulatory agency, and is mostly self-regulated. There are, however, several international organisations of varying size and market share that train and certify divers and dive instructors, and many diving related sales and rental outlets require proof of diver certification from one of these organisations prior to selling or renting certain diving products or services.
Not only is the underwater environment hazardous but the diving equipment itself can be dangerous. There are problems that divers must learn to avoid and manage when they do occur. Divers need repeated practice and a gradual increase in challenge to develop and internalise the skills needed to control the equipment, to respond effectively if they encounter difficulties, and to build confidence in their equipment and themselves. Diver practical training starts with simple but essential procedures, and builds on them until complex procedures can be managed effectively. This may be broken up into several short training programmes, with certification issued for each stage, or combined into a few more substantial programmes with certification issued when all the skills have been mastered.
Many organizations exist, throughout the world, offering diver training leading to certification: the issuing of a “Diving Certification Card,” also known as a “C-card,” or qualification card. This diving certification model originated at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1952 after two divers died while using university-owned equipment and the SIO instituted a system where a card was issued after training as evidence of competence. Diving instructors affiliated to a diving certification agency may work independently or through a university, a dive club, a dive school or a dive shop. They will offer courses that should meet, or exceed, the standards of the certification organization that will certify the divers attending the course. Certification of the diver is done by the certification organisation on application by the registered instructor.
The International Organization for Standardization has approved six recreational diving standards that may be implemented worldwide, and some of the standards developed by the World Recreational Scuba Training Council are consistent with the applicable ISO Standards, as are equivalent standards published by the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques and the European Underwater Federation
The initial open water training for a person who is medically fit to dive and a reasonably competent swimmer is relatively short. Many dive shops in popular holiday locations offer courses intended to teach a novice to dive in a few days, which can be combined with diving on the vacation. Other instructors and dive schools will provide more thorough training, which generally takes longer. Dive operators, dive shops, and cylinder filling stations may refuse to allow uncertified people to dive with them, hire diving equipment or have their diving cylinders filled. This may be an agency standard, company policy, or specified by legislation.
It is fairly common for a national standard for commercial diver training and registration to apply within a country. These standards may be set by national government departments and empowered by national legislation, for example, in the case of the United Kingdom, where the standards are set by the Health and Safety Executive, and South Africa where they are published by the Department of Labour. Many national training standards and the associated diver registrations are recognised internationally among the countries which are members of the International Diving Regulators and Certifiers Forum (IDRCF). A similar arrangement exists for state-legislated standards, as in the case of Canada and Australia. Registration of professional divers trained to these standards may be directly administered by government, as in the case of South Africa, where diver registration is done by the Department of Labour, or by an approved external agent, as in the case of the Australian Diver Accreditation Scheme (ADAS)
The following countries and organisations are members of the European Diving Technology committee, which publishes minimum standards for commercial diver training and competence accepted by these and some other countries through membership of the IDRCF and IDSA: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Romania, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Slovak republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA), International Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP), International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), International Diving Schools Association (IDSA), European Underwater Federation, and International Diving Regulators and Certifiers Forum (IDRCF).:2 These standards include Commercial SCUBA Diver.:8
An example of a widely accepted training standard – EDTC 2017 Commercial SCUBA Diver – requires the professional scuba diver to be certified as medically fit to dive, and competent in skills covering the scope of::8–9
Administrative procedures relating to statutory requirements, employment conditions, health and safety at the workplace, and the basic theoretical grounding in physics, physiology and medicine that are relevant to their work as a diver.
The skills required for routine diving operations, including working as part of the diving team, planning of diving operations, and diving in open water, exposed to the normal hazards of the diving environment, decompression procedures, serving as attendant to another diver, communications and the safe use of the tools appropriate to the work.
The skills in emergency procedures for management of reasonably foreseeable emergencies, including standby diver skills for diver assistance and rescue, management of emergencies unaided where appropriate, and team procedures for handling emergencies.
Preparation of diving and task-related equipment for use
Provision of first aid and basic life support procedures in a diving emergency, and assistance, under supervision, in the treatment of diving disorders
Competence to assist under supervision with chamber operations, including acting as inside attendant to an afflicted diver.
International Diving Schools Association (IDSA) provides a Table of Equivalence of various national commercial diver training standards.
Military scuba training is usually provided by the armed force’s internal diver training facilities, to their specific requirements and standards, and generally involves basic scuba training, specific training related to the equipment used by the unit, and associated skills related to the particular unit. The general scope of requirements is generally similar to that for commercial divers, though standards of fitness and assessment may differ considerably.
Source from Wikipedia