How To Start a PADI Scuba Diving Course
Congratulations! You decided to become a scuba diver!
But how to start? If you have an interest in scuba diving, you might already have decided where and when you want to do it. The when is totally up to you, whenever you are ready and find yourself near a diveschool! About the where, I personally can not give as much advise about taking a course in Europe or the Americas as I have never took a course there. I am a lover of the Asian prices in combination with the stunning underwaterworld and warmer temperatures, therefor most of my information is based on Asian and Australian experience in the world of diving.
This being said, I do recommend getting your dive certification as a complementary adventure on your cheap holiday in Asia. If you have a limited budget, a touristy backpacker location in Thailand or Indonesia might be a good start for example. It’s cheaper than home, the water is warmer, you dive in the ocean and not only in a pool (a diveschool in my hometown requires at least 25 pooldives before you can go in the water. I had 1 pooldive in my entire life) and because there are a lot of backpackers, the schools offer good quality. If you don’t have a limited budget, go crazy and choose wherever you want. Tahiti should be nice.
But the price should not be your only concern.
Once you find yourself in the area of your choosing, you will have to find a diveschool that you like. In more touristy, beachside locations there’s usually more than one. We wrote some guidelines to help you find a school that fits your needs as well. Besides the questions in that guideline, there are some extra questions for first timers at the bottom of this page.
There are a few different organisations that you can join. The two biggest are PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and SSI (Scuba Schools International). I’m used to diving with PADI affiliated schools, since I have a PADI OPEN WATER, so I can not speak about the SSI courses. I will use the PADI-program as the example in my directory.
PADI offers a first time course called Discover Scuba diving. This is exactly what the name suggests . They take you out for one dive in shallow water to see if scubadiving is your thing. You don’t get a certification after this. You learn the basic guidelines and skills that are needed. Personally I think you can learn all these things in the Open Water course as well. And if you do want to continue your training, it’s an extra cost. But, if you are not sure and you want give it a try first without paying the coursefee, this is a good way to do it.
We started with the Padi Open Water course as our introduction course and we did this on the island of Ko Tao in Thailand. Ko Tao has almost 50 diveschools in one tiny island and an amazing atmosphere. A lot of people get certified here, it’s safe and has a name to live up to.
This course is the most common certification course to take as a first-time scuba diver and getting certified will allow you to dive down to 18 meters anywhere in the world. It usually takes 3-4 days to complete the course, and you are not allowed to fly 24 hours before or after a dive, so keep that in mind for your travelschedule. You learn all the skills in theory as well as in practice. Yes, this means there is a book to be learned and an exam to be passed. Some bigger schools have actual classrooms where you can study and be taught the theoretic side of the course. Our tiny school just had some pavillions with cushions outside on the beach, with excellent views.
Your dive centre will supply you with a book that handles five different chapters you need to study. The books are very clear and if you have a good instructor he will totally help you understand all you need to know. At the end of the chapters there are little tests you can take to help you. If you can confidently answer the questions in these tests, you will have no problems to pass the exam.
Meanwhile, you have four confined water dives (to learn basic underwater skills) and four open water dives (demonstrating those skills) to complete. Safety and repetition is really a central theme here so you will have to do some excercises over and over again and first do them in a swimming pool before you can do them in the ocean. Some of these excercises include clearing your mask or changing your regulator underwater.
After your shallow dives, you are ready to try the open waters. Within the next four dives, you will gradually dive from 12 to 18 metres, showing you know how to use the skills you learned. There might be some extra excercises, although this might depend per school.
What’s most important through all this, is to relax and never hold your breath. If you feel panic rising, concentrate on your breathing. I can tell you from first hand experience, getting a panic attack under water does not help anybody. You have to remain calm in order for someone to help you. Stay close to your buddy and instructor and enjoy the experience. In case you don’t feel comfortable or something feels not right, tell your instructor based on the handsignals you agreed on before the dive. He will help you or ascend with you. But keep breathing!
When you have done and enjoyed these last dives, you have succeeded your PADI Open Water Course! Your school will apply for your certification card and you have to provide an address they can send it to. The school will ask you for a photo or take one right there to include in your certification. You will receive a temporary card that is valid for up to 90 days. Normally you should receive your original card before those 90 days pass.
Tip: make sure you buy a Dive Log when you start diving. This way you can write down everything you see and experience from the very start! It is a great way to look back on your diving adventures!
The best thing to do now is to immediately sign up for some fun dives as well. Or, if you are truly passionate already, you can sign up for the Advanced Open Water Diver. Either way, keep diving! It is recommended to dive at least once every 6 months to avoid paying for a refresher course and to not lose the hang of it!
Remember, you can never ask too many questions. If you have doubts about anything throughout the course, ask. Every diver was a beginner at some point and we learn by asking questions and gaining experience. There is no shame in requesting clarification or looking for guidance. Don’t ever think: “But nobody else is asking anything…” Maybe the others are afraid to ask. With that in mind, here are some questions to get you started:
What’s the price for the course and what is included?
Make this you first question. Especially the second part is important as this changes per diveschool. Some schools might have a low price for the course, but fail to mention all the “extras” that add up to your amount, for example: learning materials, equipment hire, entrance fees because the lake/ocean is part of a National Park and the charge for processing your qualification with PADI.
Is this school certified by PADI (or SSI)?
Make sure you know this. The school can offer the course but if they are not certified, you will not receive a certification card from PADI or SSI to proove that you have completed your course.
How long does the course take?
This depends. Recommended is to take a 4- or even 5-day course, as the 3-day course might be too intensive and will not take enough time to guide you enough if you are feeling nervous. Inquire with the diveschools how much time they take for the Open Water course.
I have a medical condition, and I don’t know if that’s a problem.
In any case, the dive center should make you fill out a medical history card. In case they don’t, ask them about it yourself. You have to sign one of these cards regarding your safety and it’s important they know what health condition you have so they can tell you what is possible for you. For example, I have Irritable Bowl Syndrome, which is absolutely fine to go diving with. But I asked because I didn’t know.
Some conditions that prevent you from diving: if you are suffering from asthma, just had heart surgery, are epileptic or pregnant.
What languages do the instructors speak?
In case you are a non-native English speaker, and you find yourself in a (non-)English speaking country for diving, then this is an important question. In most cases, the diveschool will be able to help you in English as it is the most commonly used language. But, if you are in a popular tourist or popular diving destination, chances are that you can find an instructor that speaks your language. When you are just starting out and the whole dive-lingo is new to you, it helps to hear it in your own language as well. It’s very important that you understand everything. We had a Dutch assistant Divemaster on our Open Water Course, which was very convenient when we had no idea what something ment. We could just ask him and he would translate for us.
Do you provide accomodation for the duration of the course and what are the prices?
Some dive centres also provide accomodation as a part of their Dive Resort. What’s even better, in some schools you can stay for a discount or even for free for the duration of your course! They have then already included this in your course fee, so you do need to consider this when checking out prices. (See first question)
If you have any more questions about diving, or any suggestions to add to this page, please feel free to let us know in the comments below!