By: Robert Partington

Scuba Training

In the quest to further our scuba training, the question is aquarium dives: to count or not to count?  The qualifications require a minimum number of dives.  So, the obvious question is what constitutes a “dive”?  Most of the major scuba certifying organizations only define standards for training dives, not recreational dives.  However, many divers agree that a dive must be at least 20 feet for at least 20 minutes.

Aquarium Dive Experience

While I am not yet a well-traveled diver, I have had the opportunity to dive in 2 aquariums.  My first aquarium dive was in the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD to 13 feet for 45 minutes.  Their Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit features over 400 fish, including 2 green moray eels.  My second aquarium dive was the Epcot Dive Quest in Orlando  to 25 feet for 45 minutes.  The highlights were the sand tiger sharks and the bowmouth guitarfish.  Both dives were amazing and provided me with experiences that I may not have had on an open water dive.

Industry Thought

Many divers do not think aquarium dives should count toward the required number of dives for certifications.  Some believe these are not “real” dives because aquariums are controlled environments.

Why I Disagree

Aquarium dives offer unique benefits to a diver.  Like the ocean, they house many species of marine life.  Unlike the ocean, the diver is guaranteed to experience interaction with the animals.  Plus, most aquariums, as part of the dive experience, offer an in-depth educational presentation.  All of these experiences add to the diver’s knowledge of the marine world.

Diving in an aquarium is also a fantastic confidence builder. It offers new and inexperienced divers the opportunity to get scuba experience in a controlled environment.  Aquariums mimic the water salinity and exposure to animal life of ocean diving.  Also, aquarium dives safely expose skittish divers to sea life.  Spoiler alert: marine creatures are not going to eat you as soon as you enter the water!  Aquarium diving reinforces good buoyancy and the rules of marine life interaction.  The best part is that aquarium dives allow non-diving friends and family to share in the awesomeness of scuba diving.  Recently, I had my second dive in the National Aquarium for the express purpose of showing my daughter’s friend how cool scuba is.  After seeing me in the tank, she is pumped to get certified.

The Case For Counting

The most important point I want to make is that any time a diver is underwater and performing scuba skills, they are adding to their overall experience.  I would agree that jumping in a pool and sitting on the bottom for 20 minutes is not really “experience”.  Aquarium dives are not that.  Divers must interact with marine life and use their scuba skills just like in an open water environment (sometimes even better).  If experience is the main goal for the prerequisite dives, aquarium dives provide that and more.

Please leave your comments below to continue the discussion

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19 replies
  1. Juliana Oh
    Juliana Oh says:

    Nice article. I also have aquarium dive experience with my niece and I totally loved it. We had fantastic time and was really nice to spend time underwater with many species of marine life. Aquarium diving led me to diving world and that’s why I decided to achieve diving license. Overall, for me, I totally agree that aquarium dives should count.

  2. Gary Simon
    Gary Simon says:

    I feel an aquarium dive is a dive just like a quarry dive that is a more controlled instructional enviornment. Many instructors count pool dives when assisting to teach a class as a dive. I am on the fence there. An aquarium dive whether 20 min or 40 min has many of the same dangers and technique skills such as clearing, controlled ascent & descent, weights, buoyancy, buddy responsibilty, pre-check, monitoring or guages etc. You can die in an aquarium just like the ocean, quarry or even pool. So yes, its a dive, one I look forward to doing someday. SDI Diver. Gary,

    • Gary Simon
      Gary Simon says:

      more on my comment- The issue is complex. Whether it is a dive that counts toward certifications is a balance for the instructor. I would think you have to be a certified diver to make an Aquarium dive to start. I would count it as one of my dives in a log book, in obtaining another level certification, my instructor reviews my logged dives and evaluates my readiness, I would think one Aquarium dive in the mix does not make or break it, more more would sku the readiness calculation. I am currently a Master diver but not an instructor. I still feel an aquarium dive is a bonified dive, but on the subject of being in the mixing of counting as a qualified dive for more advanced certifications, I yield to SDI and the instructor but do feel it is worthy.

      • C. Duke
        C. Duke says:

        Agreed. Though most instructers think I am crazy for diving in 40°F with 3 mil wetsuit, no hood or gloves. I have gave up on cetifications and just dive almost always solo. Does make getting enriched mixes harder when all I have is PADI AOW cert.

      • Steph
        Steph says:

        It depends on the aquarium; depth, conditions etc. I used to teach in an aquarium and it was far more fun than in a swimming pool – for both me and my students ?

  3. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    While the time underwater is important, as well as what you are doing underwater, I don’t believe it should count as a “dive” for a prerequisite number of dives for advanced certifications. Every spring, I do a scuba skills refresher in a pool with an instructor. Just to get the kinks out from not diving in open water over the winter. I log the activity in my log, but don’t keep track of the time in my overall time underwater; nor do I count it as a “dive” on my total number of dives.

  4. Steve Campbell
    Steve Campbell says:

    Dove Kingspring in Florida. It was more confined than the aquarium at Epcot which I have also dove. Rainbow river is shallow but a fun experience. Count what you want to count for your own personal count. However, when talking about training levels for DM and things like that then you want such dives to be the minority. For things like DM or instructor you are best to have a lot more than the minimum number of dives.

  5. Vallorie Hodges
    Vallorie Hodges says:

    Ah, the count or not count debate. I am in complete agreement with you that of course they count! First, it is a hyperbaric experience, second, many aquarium dives have some of the same environmental conditions and hazards as open water dive sites, from water movement to interesting ingress/egress, etc, and most require a higher level of buoyancy/trim and general diving poise/control skills than an average dive site. Yeah, its a dive. Oh, and if you are still not sure, try the Oregon Coast Aquarium, (where your temps will be in the mid 40’s and you will be dodging critters at every turn). The cold water will bring you to your senses, and you will mark it as your favorite dive site on the Oregon Coast.

  6. Roy Cabalo
    Roy Cabalo says:

    Aquarium dives should count in the aspect of fun dives, you are underwater and you are using a SCUBA system. My thoughts as an instructor – EVERYTHING is done by, controlled by, or lead by, the aquarium staff. You have your hand held from minute 1 until you’re done. Most aquariums (in Florida) will not let you bring in your gear (for good reasons) and the condition while similar to the ocean are equally different, show me one aquarium that has 4′-6′ swells, thermoclines and a need for compass skills??? In looking at things this way it’s hard to give it real experiance credit. Just my thoughts.

    • Robert Partington
      Robert Partington says:

      Hi all. Full disclosure: I wrote the article. Thanks to all who have read and commented. Everyone has interesting takes on aqurium dives. I see Roy’s point. If you think about it, all dives are different experiences. Even though aquarium dives do not offer the same challenges as ocean dives, neither do quarry dives or lake dives. To be clear, aquarium dives, in my opinion, should not count for OW cert dives; but they should count toward minimum # of dives for master diver and other ratings that require a certain number of dives.
      However, with that said, I do not believe that a logbook full of aquarium dives is a good thing; nor are only quarry dives or any singular type of dive experience. Diversity is a key element of any well-rounded diver…and aquarium dives add to that diversity.

  7. Su Hallenbeck
    Su Hallenbeck says:

    Having done the Epcot aquarium dive, I agree that it should ‘count’ as a dive. Contrary to Roy Cabalo’s assessment, the Epcot staff did not “hold our hands” for the dive. We received a thorough behind-the-scenes tour of the facility, learned what they were doing to rehabilitate injured marine life, and details about the aquarium itself. We also received a detailed dive briefing. True, we had to use their equipment (I’m sure as much to control for liability as to prevent the introduction of outside bacteria to their carefully controlled marine environment). But once we went underwater, we were free to explore as we chose. We knew the limits of where we could go and what we could do from the dive briefing, but as long as we operated within those parameters, we could roam at will.

    I was a new diver when I did Epcot – it was the 9th dive I ever did (my previous dives were post-certification in a quarry and 4 dives in Costa Rica), and it was a 46-minute dive. It was a great experience and I learned a lot from it.

  8. Raul Santos
    Raul Santos says:

    A dive is a dive ; we enjoy diving inside the control enviroment of an acuarium , but as an Instructor I highly recommend to use more realistic scenarios that will increase the level of confidence in the new diver and a high level of supervision from the Instructor….The more we prepare the new diver for the adventure the better he will feel. We need to show what needs to be done outside “the comfort zone”.

  9. Ícaro
    Ícaro says:

    I agree!! I was a diver and zookeeper of the São Paulo Aquarium – Brazil. And the environment education during the dives with sharks were the best part of this work…

  10. JW
    JW says:

    I have dive in the Sea Life Bangkok back in March this year. That was my first dive experience at the Aquarium which compared to the open sea was different! It was an interesting experience to interact with the marine life there like blacktip reef shark, leopard sharks, round ribbontail rays, eagle rays, giant grouper and other fishes… I am looking forward to dive in other Aquarium in near future!

  11. Dean
    Dean says:

    I am curious about counting work done while diving for cleaning boat hulls. Can those be considered logged dives due to the time spent in the water using our skills to advance our certifications through PADI?

  12. Richard Romano
    Richard Romano says:

    I have 4500 plus open water dives. The Aquarium of the Pacific screens its divers to AAUS Scientific diver standards. The minimum qualifications needed to be on the volunteer staff are a rescue diver rating. I have 250+ dives in the tanks many of them around 25 feet for an hour or more (scrubbing rocks etc.) The question to count them for me has not really come up. Aquarium “experiences” at our facility are guided and are usually 45 minutes long. The depth and diving techniques are the same as calm open water. The dangers are certainly real as far as scuba related problems. I think a dive of this nature could be counted just like a quarry dive could be counted

  13. Rick Warren
    Rick Warren says:

    The criteria don’t make sense. PADI tables don’t start till 35 feet. NAUI starts at 40 if I remember correctly. SSI starts at 10 feet.

    To me it is all a ridiculous argument not founded on logic. If you are in the water long enough or deep enough to move from an A pressure group to a B pressure group then it is a dive. Also, if you have to decompress then it absolutely is a dive.

    What magic fish fairy shows up at 25 ft that isn’t there at 15 ft. Are people narcing out at 25ft but not at 15 ft? What is different? Nothing. You are in a hostile environment that you can not survive in without breathing the compressed gas on your back at 15 ft and at 25 ft so please someone explain what is magical about 25 ft.

    I got my OW cert from MDEA in 1988 in Egypt. MDEA at the time was training all OW students to 100 ft. We got training on narcosis and were given training on decompression procedures. This was not so we could do decompression dives but to ensure we knew what to do if something happened that caused us to miss the NDL. Then someone got the idea to break that into < 61 ft as OW and 60 – 100 ft as Deep certs (more certs = more money). Just remember that certifying agencies are not doing dive research they are making money selling books and certifications. Many of the things that get argued about are really arbitrary and capricious.

    Just use common sense.


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