If you’re not a diver, but would like to give the sport a try, then it’s entirely possible that within an hour of finishing this article, you could be experiencing the exhilaration of breathing underwater.
Certified Diver—Someone who has completed a formal certification course under the auspices of one of the many national certification agencies.
Divemaster—Although to the lay person, this may sound like the highest ranking, Divemaster (also called DM) is a couple of notches below Instructor. A DM can supervise and guide certified divers and may, in some cases, guide noncertified divers who have completed certain minimum levels of training.
Instructor—The person who teaches the rest of us how to dive.
Certifying Agencies—The organizational bodies that issue instructor and divemaster credentials and sanction and oversee scuba instruction. NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors), PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), SSI (Scuba Schools International) and YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) are the most common, but there are also several other smaller agencies, such as PDIC and SDI/TDI.
So, what’s the first step? Well, you should probably decide if scuba is something you want to do short-term, say on a vacation, or if you want to become fully certified. The time commitment can be as little as three days total to as much as a couple of days a week over a four-week period.
WAYS TO GET WET
Pool Diving: Also sometimes called “Discover Diving,” pool diving is something that you can begin immediately. Typically these dives are offered by dive centers with a pool on-site or in a portable pool at conventions, malls, air shows, boat shows or other public places. Sometimes these are offered for free, sometimes a nominal fee is charged.
For this type of an experience, you’ll plop into the pool, be shown how to breathe on the regulator, be told not to hold your breath and then, down you go. Depending on the number of people waiting to do this, you’ll probably be limited to 5 to 10 minutes of playing in the pool. However, it will give you an idea of what it’s like to be underwater on scuba.
Introductory Scuba Experience: This is a closely-supervised ocean dive for uncertified people. (And it’s a lot of fun.) You’ll find this offered in just about every warm-water location but it can also be found in cool-water places, too. It can only be conducted by an instructor. Costs for this will vary depending on location, but should include all the required gear along with the instruction. This one can be done either from shore or from a boat. You’ll be told about ear and mask clearing, breathing and other skills. Then it’s time to hit the water. You’ll do this dive with the instructor at your side (or very nearby) and he/she will show you all the wonders the undersea world has to offer. Depth for this type of a dive is usually limited to 40 feet (under ideal conditions) and duration is usually around 30 minutes or so, depending on how quickly you go through the air in the tank.
“Resort Diver”: A step up from Introductory Scuba is what could be termed a “Resort Diver” program. (NAUI uses the term “Passport” and PADI uses the term “Scuba Diver.”) A diver who takes one of these courses is still uncertified, but has taken portions of the classroom, pool and openwater work from a regular diver certification course. Offered by both NAUI and PADI (and other agencies are developing similar programs), the information and dive skills learned in the programs can be credited toward a full certification course. The advantage of these programs is that once the minimum training is done, although you’re not fully certified, you can still go diving under the direct supervision of either an instructor, assistant instructor or divemaster. This is a great option for someone who wants an enjoyable head start on certification.
Experienced Diver: There are many people out there who have been diving for years without bothering to get certified. Most agencies have a special program for that type of diver. You’ll need to show proof (logbook) of a minimum number of dives. You’ll also have to pass a written exam and go through some pool skills. Then you’ll complete the open water dives that would be required in a full, formal certification course. But for those who already have spent a fair amount of time underwater, this is a great way to get credit for your previous experience and get a certification card, making you “legal” at the same time.
Formal Certification Course: This is a standard course that is offered by dive shops and resorts everywhere. Completion of the course qualifies you as a ººcertified diver who can dive (along with a buddy) unsupervised. This type of a course consists of class work, pool sessions and open water dives (dives in the ocean, lake or other natural body of water). And yes, there’s a written test. But even within this format, there are a number of options. Some classes meet a couple of times a week with the diving occurring on weekends, while others may meet solely on weekends or include home-study, via book, videos and/or CD-ROM. And you can always opt for what’s known as a referral, where you do the classroom and pool work through your local dive shop and then do the open water diving at a non-local location, typically a warm-water resort. Successfully complete the diving course and you receive your certification card (commonly referred to as a “C-card”). The C-card allows you to purchase life-support scuba gear, get airfills, rent tanks, go on dive trips and more. Now, isn’t it about time you started exploring the 75 percent of our planet that lies beneath the ocean waves?