From Start to Cert, How Long Does it Take to Become a Certified Scuba Diver

By: Jon Kieren

We all can remember what it’s like to look out at the water and wonder “what’s down there?”, to watch TV shows about explorers, biologists, and adventure seekers slip beneath the waves and imagine what it would be like to explore the underwater realm.  We all started somewhere, and you’ve taken a big step in starting your research and finding this article.  Unfortunately, we also know what it’s like to start researching dive training to quickly realize just how much conflicting information is out there and how difficult it is to know who to trust.  This article is intended to give prospective divers an honest look at what to expect and what to look for when taking their first giant stride into the underwater world.  We will discuss the steps needed to become certified, equipment needed, and costs involved, along with what to look for and what questions to ask along the way.

First things first, should YOU scuba dive?

This is an honest question you need to ask, and for some, a discussion that you need to have with your physician.  Diving is a physical activity where you are relying on specialized equipment and skills to survive in a foreign environment.  A wide variety of people can dive successfully, but it takes training, is inherently dangerous, and needs to be taken seriously.  If you can answer yes, or even “maybe” to any of the questions on the medical questionnaire found HERE, seek advise from your family doctor before signing up for class.

Once you have decided you are up for the adventure, you will need to pick a dive center and instructor to train with.  This is not a decision to take lightly, and should not be made based on price or how quickly they can rush you through the course.  Throughout this article, we will continue to give you advise on what to look for and what questions to ask you dive center and instructor, but from the start, be wary of those advertising cheap and easy.  Seek a dive center that is open with you about what to expect, and is willing to share their training agencies minimum standards with you and point out areas that they go above and beyond the bare minimum requirements.  When considering what is a fair training fee, think about other sports or activities you have participated in and the fees associated with quality training.  If the dive center is advertising an entire open water course at the rate you would expect to pay for a 2-hour ski lesson, you should be skeptical.

Home study allows the student to get a basic foundation

Once you have signed up for class, you will be provided with materials for home study.  This may come in the form of a hard copy manual, e-book, or online based elearning.  For most students, the home study materials can be completed in around 4-6 hours at their own pace and on their own time.  No matter what format the materials are provided in, it is important to note that this home study is not intended to replace academic training sessions with an instructor.  The home study allows the student to get a basic foundation for the topics related to scuba diving, so the instructor can spend classroom time focused on how those subjects will be practically applied in the water.  This does not mean that you will necessarily need to spend hours upon hours listening to an instructor lecture in the classroom, but the academic sessions may be implemented in the dive shop looking at equipment, during surface intervals at the dive site, or even on the pool deck.

Time to start your training

After completing your home study, it’s time to meet with your instructor to start training!  Training sessions can be organized several different ways, as private or group sessions and as short sessions spread out over multiple days or long days packed full of training.  As discussed earlier, much of the academic work may be covered in informal sessions in the shop, pool deck, or at the dive site.  Take some time to discuss the typical schedule with the shop you would like to work with to ensure it will meet your needs and learning style.

You may or may not need to purchase some personal equipment before the in-water training begins.  Most dive centers and instructors will have a full line of rental gear available for your course, but some may require you to purchase things such as mask and fins.  No matter what, it is extremely important that all of your equipment fits properly and is comfortable in the water.  If something does not feel right, make sure to speak up and let your instructor know so they can help you adjust it or provide you with a different size.

Familiarize yourself with the equipment and start getting comfortable breathing underwater

Your first in-water session will take place in either a pool or “confined water” site (pool like conditions).  This is where you will begin to familiarize yourself with the equipment and start getting comfortable breathing underwater.  Your instructor(s) will spend several hours in the pool with you, teaching you the basic skills of scuba diving including proper buoyancy control, proper finning techniques, mask clearing, regulator clearing, how to ascend and descend, and emergency procedures.  The confined water is where all skills should be practiced until they are second nature and can be done comfortably while neutrally buoyant.  By the time you head out to the open water, you will no longer be learning new diving skills, just practically applying them in the real world.  By this point, you should be comfortable hovering motionless while maintaining a constant depth in the water column and performing basic skills such as mask removal and replacement and regulator recovery while neutral.  If you do not feel 100% confident with your skills in the water, be sure to speak up and let your instructor know that you do not feel ready for the open water yet.

It’s time to go diving

Once you have demonstrated your comfort underwater and mastery of the basic dive skills in the confined water, it’s time to go diving!  You will need to complete at least four open water training dives over a minimum of two days with your instructor(s).  This is where you will demonstrate that you can apply everything you’ve learned academically and in the pool to real world diving conditions.  Your first open water dives will be in conditions consistent with local dive sites (lakes, quarries, springs, or the ocean, depending on where you live).  These open water certification dives will be conducted to a maximum depth of 18 meters/60 feet, and you will demonstrate all of the skills you mastered in the confined water under real diving conditions.  It will be important to demonstrate to your instructor that you can move through the aquatic realm weightlessly without disturbing the bottom or damaging the environment.  If you are not yet confident in your ability to do this, let your instructor know that you would like to continue practicing with their guidance before completing your training.  It is also important to note that your training will qualify you to dive in conditions similar to your training, so it is strongly advised that you hire a dive professional as a guide when venturing out on your own to new environments after earning your open water certification.

After you have successfully completed the academics, confined water, and open water training sessions, your instructor will process your certification and you will receive both an electronic notification via email as well as a hard copy of your certification card.  Overall, the process to get certified can take anywhere from 4 days to several weeks, depending on how the course logistics are organized.  It is important to discuss the schedule and process with your local dive center and/or instructor about these details before signing up, this way you know and are comfortable with the schedule before committing.

Congratulations on taking the first step to becoming a certified diver!  If you have any additional questions about the process to become certified, please feel free to contact Scuba Diving International (SDI) HERE, or find a dive center near you!  Good luck, we hope to see you underwater!

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