How to Become a Certified Scuba Diver – Step by Step Guide

If you want to become a certified scuba diver you need to take a course. There are many different agencies and programs, so it can be overwhelming at first.

The most important thing is to find a good instructor. Mine was a former navy diver with thousands of logged immersions. He is an incredible teacher and made us feel safe and comfortable, with safety and fun as top priorities.

In this article, I will guide you step by step to become a certified scuba diver. I will cover everything from equipment to the required courses, and even tips to find the right dive shop.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a good understanding of how to become a certified scuba diver. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or a complete beginner.

What to know before

Do you even need a certificate?

Having to study can be frustrating if you just want to dive.

You don’t need a certificate to dive. You can take a one-time diving experience with an instructor without any previous requirements. Yet, these programs are for those who want to try diving before committing to an entire course.

There is no need to get certified if diving is on your bucket list, but you need to if you want to get the most out of it. It will allow you to go deeper, understand the equipment, control your swimming, and enjoy a relaxing experience.

Yes, you have read well. It’s exciting every time you enter the water and it never gets old. But once you are floating and get comfortable controlling your body, it’s a contemplative and zen experience.

Do I need a certificate to swim with sharks?

Not at all. Most aquariums offer special programs for everyone without a diving license. If you are not certified, they will train you beforehand in a pool to explain the basics so you get comfortable. After that, you will be ready and eager to immerse in a tank with sharks with the help of instructors.

Do I need a certificate to dive during my vacations?

Half the beauty is underwater in paradisiacal places.

Nope. There are plenty of options for beginners in most places. Diving tourism is a huge market. Almost every beach site has dive shops that offer entry programs for those that don’t hold a license.

Yet, we encourage you to get certified if you plan to dive during your vacations. Not only you will enjoy it more, but it also unlocks the most interesting immersions. Certified divers can go deeper, so certain landmarks are reserved for them. From sealife to barrier reefs and wrecks, interesting things happen at the sea bottom.

I want to save the environment. Do I need to become a diver?

Absolutely not! People associate diving with environmentalism, but it is not necessarily related. Diving allows you to experience the underwater world firsthand, giving you a deeper appreciation and understanding of marine ecosystems.

But having a diving license can make you more valuable. You can take part in initiatives such as coral reef restoration, clean-up, marine species monitoring, scientific data collection… Besides, it opens doors to sharing your experiences to raise awareness and education.

When you see the ocean with your own eyes you realize how beautiful and fragile it is. It definitely had an impact on me.

How much does it cost?

The price depends on the location, the type of certification, and the specific dive shop or instructor you choose. In America and Europe, you can expect to pay around $600 for your Open Water Diver certification, which is the standard. We will discuss it later.

The equipment is a huge part of the final cost. If you want to save a few bucks, consider taking your course during the off-season and with a group.

How long does it take?

It depends on the certification and the course you choose. There are intensive programs in which you can get the license in 3-4 days. This is great if you want to get certified during your vacancies.

Each diving session can take up to two hours if you count the preparation and afterward pack time. Because of that, it’s common to take only one or two sessions a week. In that case, you would have your certificate within a month.

Main dangers of scuba diving

Even though it can be frightening the thought of going deep underwater, scuba diving is actually a safe activity. There is only 1,8 deaths per million dives, which is almost the same rate as of vehicle crashes per 100 million miles in the US.

All training agencies and instructors agree that safety is essential to the scuba diving industry. According to the Diver Alert Network, most scuba fatalities occur in older divers, and due to health and fitness issues.

What if I encounter sharks?

Sharks are not the killing machines you thought. Encountering them is a great experience.

There is nothing to worry about. In fact, appreciate it and enjoy the view!

They are hard to see and generally don’t present a threat to divers.

Just remain calm, keep your distance, and avoid fast movements. But, above all, enjoy this unique experience.

Which equipment do I need?

You don’t need anything to get started. Just grab your swimming suit and head to a diving center. They will provide you with all the necessary equipment for your certificate.

This equipment includes:

Regulator

The device that you put in your mouth to breathe. It lowers the pressure from the tank and delivers it on demand.

Pressure gauge

It measures the remaining pressure in your gas tank. When it drops below a certain number, it is time to finish your immersion.

Advanced divers also use dive computers.

Octopus

An alternate air source. It’s just a second regulator that is only used in case of emergency.

BCD (Buoyancy Compensator Device)

A vest that inflates and deflates with the tank’s gas to control your buoyancy. It has many harnesses, straps, and pockets

Exposure suit (Drysuit/Wetsuit)

Special suit that keeps you dry and protected from cold water. Sunrays don’t reach the depths, which makes the water too cold for bare-diving.

Gas tank

It holds pressured air for you to breathe underwater. It needs to be pressurized so it can hold a lot of gas and last longer.

Fins

They enhance propulsion and maneuverability so you swim more efficiently and effectively.

They are important due to the heavy weight of the equipment.

Diving mask

It covers both your eyes and nose to keep some air in front of them. This is mandatory to see underwater.

Qualifying to Scuba Dive

Do I need to be fit?

Diving isn’t a demanding sport, but it’s a sport after all. The majority of people can do it, as well as they can ride a bike, go for a hike, or ski.

You will need to swim, carry heavy equipment, and control your breathing. It’s not a big deal, but always check with your doctor in case of doubt.

Medical conditions

You must be in good health. Certain medical conditions, such as heart or respiratory issues, may pose risks during diving. Your instructor will ask you to fill out a medical form before getting in the water, which you can check here.

It’s important to consult with a medical professional to assess your health for diving.

Also, tell your instructor if you are taking decongestants, as they could be a potential risk.

Can kids dive?

There are special courses and diving gear for kids.

Of course! Kids even have special certificates for those over the age of 10. Some agencies even offer programs for kids as young as 8, but with more safety restrictions.

Selecting agency

Rather than focusing only on the agency itself, you must focus on the qualifications and expertise of the instructor. It is important to ensure that they follow the standards set by international organizations such as the WRSTC (World Recreational Scuba Training Council) or ISO.

Some diving agencies are more conservative than others in terms of safety guidelines and training. But they actually have more similarities than differences.

  • PADI: The biggest and most recognized worldwide.
  • SSI: Cheaper and more flexible alternative. Their basic theoretical courses are free.
  • NAUI: Highest training standards and focus on quality over quantity, but almost US exclusive.
  • SDI: The most modern approach. It has a great technical background thanks to its sister institution TDI.
  • CMAS: It regulates plenty of national federations, so they have a traditional style.

These are all worldwide recognized, so you will get it right with any of these options.

Choose an instructor over the agency. Their qualifications, experience, and commitment to recognized standards are the main factors to select a diving professional.

PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors)

PADI is the largest scuba diving training organization globally. It was founded in 1966 and offers comprehensive courses for divers at all levels, from beginners to advanced. Its main goal is to make diving accessible to everyone.

It’s known for its standardized curriculum and focus on safety and recreational diving. Their certifications are accepted worldwide. This will allow you to dive with other certified divers or at affiliated dive centers and resorts in any part of the world.

They have an online platform for knowledge development called PADI eLearning. But you must get their manual and complete a set order to meet their standards and complete the course.

PADI allows instructors to organize courses by themselves, enabling them to teach anywhere.

The main advantage of PADI is its huge social scene, which includes initiatives like PADI Aware.

SSI (Scuba Schools International)

SSI, founded in 1970, focuses on schools rather than individual instructors. Unlike PADI, independent instructors cannot teach courses on their own. They must affiliate with a SSI school.

SSI has a strong presence, particularly in Asia. It competes with PADI by offering more affordable courses and providing free materials during lessons.

SSI is recognized for its modern approach to scuba diving, innovative training methods, and emphasis on environmental education. Their personalized and flexible approach eliminates the need to buy manuals. The focus is on digital training materials via their online platform.

SSI uses a modular training system so you can progress at your own pace and customize your training experience. They offer specialized courses that stand out, such as shark ecology, sea turtle ecology, and coral identification.

Blue Oceans is their environmental initiative. It addresses plastic waste, shark finning, and coral reef degradation.

NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors)

NAUI was established in 1960 and is a nonprofit organization, with a strong presence in the US but fewer locations globally. It has the highest training standards in the recreational diving industry.

They focus on foundational skills, safety protocols, and environmental awareness. NAUI offers a wide range of courses on traditional training methods and quality control. As an example, they tend to be more conservative when calculating bottom dive time. And their entry-level courses include diver rescue skills, which are not taught by other agencies.

They are also recognized for their Technical Diver Training. Walt Disney World Resort, United States Navy SEAL Teams, and NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, choose NAUI for their diver education programs.

As a counterpart, they only use eLearning as a support. Their courses require participation in classroom instruction.

SDI (Scuba Diving International)

SDI was established in the 1990s as a division of TDI (Technical Diving International), which operates as their parent company for advanced divers. It was founded by experienced divers who were disappointed with the training by other organizations.

SDI is more modern than other diving agencies. They support the use of new technologies and advocate for reevaluating outdated practices. In fact, SDI was the first agency to require the use of dive computers for Open Water divers.

SDI offers a wide range of courses, specializing in recreational scuba diving education. They use flexible training methods and emphasize practical skills development. SDI also has an eLearning platform available for convenient knowledge acquisition.

CMAS (Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques)

CMAS is an international federation recognized by the International Olympic Committee and UNESCO.

It regulates diving in more than 130 countries and supervises the training that each national federation offer. CMAS establishes standards, promotes safety, organizes competitions, and provides certifications for divers and instructors.

It was established in an international Congress of diving federations in 1958, and operates as a non-commercial association.

While CMAS itself does not provide training or issue certifications, they collaborate with two sources for these services:

  • National diving federations affiliated with the CMAS Technical Committee. This includes their member diving clubs and instructors.
  • Accredited dive centers known as “CMAS Dive Centers” (CDC), which use dedicated CMAS training materials.

Certificate equivalences

Diving certificates are regulated by the WRSTC (World Recreational Scuba Training Council) or ISO standards. Even the Introductory Scuba Experiences follow those.

Due to that, certificates are equivalent and compatible between diving agencies.

#PADISSINAUISDICMASPriceBest if you…
0Discover Scuba DivingTry Scuba DivingScuba Discovery$100Have never dived.
1Open Water DiverOpen Water DiverScuba DiverOpen Water Scuba Diver1 Star$600Want to start diving as a hobby.
2Advanced Open Water DiverAdvanced AdventurerAdvanced Scuba DiverAdvanced Adventure Diver2 Star$400Are already a diver and want new experiences.
3DivemasterDivemasterDivemasterDivemaster3 Star$1000Want to earn money and become a professional.
Main certificates comparison between agencies.
(*Price is an estimation based on average diving costs. Check with your diving shop for a more accurate one.)

Yet, there are some differences. For example, a NAUI’s Divemaster is more like an Assistant Instructor in every other agency. The biggest differences are with CMAS, but you can check this agreement with PADI to get a better idea.




#0 – Introductory Scuba Experience

You can feel safer if your first diving is in shallow waters.

It does not result in certification. Its purpose is to introduce non-divers to scuba diving under the supervision of a professional. It’s a subset of the Open Water Diver certification to encourage you to pursue further training.

You will learn the minimum guidelines to experience scuba diving. It’s the perfect way to decide if you want to be a certified diver.

How long does it take?

You will take a single diving session, which will last around 45 minutes. Keep in mind that you will spend at least 2 hours in total due to preparation and debriefing time.

Where can I get this experience?

You can experience a first-time diving session either in confined or open waters. Most diving shops will offer both.

If you don’t have any open water near, I recommend you try and dive in an aquarium instead of a pool. You will get to see even more marine life than in most open-water dives.

How much does it cost?

Expect to pay about $100 for your first experience.

Prices can go from $50 in a simple swimming pool, up to $250 in tropical coral reef.

What allows you to do?

It does not result in certification. It’s an introduction to diving for newbies, so you can further decide if you want to get certified.

Steps

It consists of a single dive under the direct supervision of an instructor. The dive includes the following components:

1. Briefing

It is an introduction to tell you about limitations, risks, and the importance of further training. Your instructor might ask you to do this at home in an eLearning platform to speed up the immersion day.

2. Preparation to dive

The instructor will tell you basic information on how to use your equipment.

You will also get general diving knowledge, such as the need for continuous breathing, equalization techniques, avoiding hazardous aquatic life, or hand signals.

3. Entry

You will do some basic exercises to test your equipment and ensure safe diving before going deep.

You will breathe underwater, clear your mask, retrieve and clear your mouthpiece, and perform ear-clearing techniques in shallow waters.

4. Dive

You will spend at least 15 minutes underwater, diving down to depths between 15 and 40 feet (5 to 12 meters). Instructors will be right there the whole time, taking care of you. They’ve got all the diving gear, and they can handle up to eight people with the help of a certified assistant, so there is nothing to worry about.

Instructors will have an eye on you, though you can ask their assistant to take photos of this experience.

5. Exit

The instructor will give you the signal to start ascending. He will make sure you’re all doing alright and follow the proper procedures.

Once you reach the surface, you’ll regroup, take a moment to chill, and discuss the awesome experience you just had.

6. Debriefing

Once you are back on dry land, you will gather around and have a little chat. It’s a chance for everyone to share their thoughts, swap stories, and talk about that cool fish you spotted.

The debriefing helps you learn and improve to have the best scuba experience possible. Also, remember to ask your instructor to log your logbook if you already have one.




#1 – Open Water Diver

You will be amazed the first time you dive into the sea.

First scuba certification level. You’ll get the skills and knowledge to dive in open waters and act as a representative of the underwater world. It is required for every diving excursion.

This certification guarantees that you know the fundamentals of recreational diving. It covers standard knowledge and skills to plan, execute, and document open-water dives without mandatory decompression. This certification allows you to dive without instructor supervision.

However, diving must always be done in the company of another certified diver. It is common to establish pairs when diving with a group. And it is strongly advised (and mandatory in most cases) to dive under the supervision of an instructor.

Divers of 10 to 14 get a junior certification that transitions to Open Water Divers once they reach the age of 15.

How long does it take?

The entire course is from 4 to 7 days in total. It can be intensive or divided in time, e.g. taking one session per week.

The knowledge development part is on your own. You can expect around 7 studying hours before taking the exam.

Where can I get certified?

You need to dive in open waters, so keep in mind that you will have to go to the nearest beach.

If you live a few hours from the sea, you should enroll in your local diving shop and take the course at your own pace. But, if you live far from the oceans, it may be a good idea to take an intensive course on vacations. That way you only spend a few days away from home.

How much does it cost?

Expect to pay from $400 to $1000.

This course requires both knowledge development (Which some agencies offer for free) and in-water training for certification.

There is no fixed price as immersions will depend on the agency and location. Also, you may save some money if you already own a mask, snorkel, and fins. Keep in mind that some snorkeling masks and fins are inadequate for scuba diving, so check first with your instructor.

What allows you to do?

Unlocks most recreational excursions, including dive boats and resorts. It is your license to rent and buy scuba gear and fill your tank at dive shops.

It also allows you to dive with other certified divers without an instructor. However, it is highly advisable.

How to get the Open Water Certificate

Knowledge Development

You will need to study and take an exam about scuba gear, terminology, and diving techniques. Most agencies allow you to study on your own with their manuals and online material.

If you put in the effort, you can be done in only a few days, although it usually takes a few weeks at a relaxed pace.

Confined Waters

You’ll take a few dives in places such as a swimming pool or aquarium. This will allow you to learn diving skills such as buoyancy or compensation in a safe and calm environment.

Your instructor will help you through the whole process so you get all the basic techniques right. Once you are comfortable and he considers you are ready, your next step is to dive into open waters.

Open Waters

You will take around four dives in the sea, to a depth of up to 60 feet (18 meters). This will allow you to practice the skills you learned in confined waters, and get real experience. The instructor will be by your side.

These dives will be during daylight hours, and you will get your certification after completion. Also, don’t forget to log your dives in your logbook!




#2 – Advanced Open Water Diver

Advanced divers can go in adventures such as night diving or cave diving.

This certification will allow you to dive at 100 feet (30 meters), which is required for most of the best excursions. You’ll especially practice buoyancy and navigation, which are core skills for advanced divers.

In combination with the specialty courses, this certification will unlock the full potential of recreational diving. In fact, it is mandatory in some agencies to choose specialty dives before obtaining this certificate.

How long does it take?

You will need to do about four dives, which can be completed in only three days. There might be some studying required, but you will mostly focus on the immersions.

Where can I get certified?

You need to take specialty courses, so keep in mind that some may not be available in your local shop.

For example, it may be impossible for you to do the wreck or night specialties in a single day from your home. It’s a matter of logistics. In that case, it may be a good idea to enroll in an intensive course on a Liveaboard.

How much does it cost?

Expect to pay around $400. The Advanced Open Water Certification focuses on specialty courses, so those will determine your end price.

If you dive with an ok instructor on third-world countries’ beaches, you can get certified for about $250. But if you do wreck deep dives at night with nitrox, you will likely pay more than $650.

What allows you to do?

With the Advanced Open Water Diver certificate, you can dive down to 100 feet (30 meters).

How to get the Advanced Open Water Certificate

It depends on your agency. You will need to take some specialty courses, and most instructors will recommend you the buoyancy one.

The focus of the Advanced Certificate is on buoyancy, depth, and navigation. You will learn how to use a compass and underwater references, how to hover at neutral buoyancy, and what happens to your body, equipment, and environment when you go deep,

Specialties

The Advanced Open Water Certificate is geared towards taking specialty dives, so you must attend some of these courses. We recommend pursuing the following ones, as they unlock some extra things:

  • Deep Diver: Some agencies offer yet another certification to dive at 130 feet (40 meters).
  • Enrich Air Nitrox Diver: Nitrox allows you to stay longer in water when diving deep, so it’s a must for some excursions. The deeper you go, the less time you can spend at sea bottom.
  • Overhead Environments Specialties: It trains you to dive in places with no direct ascent to the surface, such as wrecks, caverns, or ice diving.
  • Rescue Diver: You will learn common causes of dive emergencies, how to avoid accidents, and how to help another diver in trouble. It’s the first step towards going professional and getting paid for diving.



#3 – Divemaster

Divemasters can guide and lead diving immersions.

Divemaster is the first certification that allows you to go professional and get a diving job. A divemaster can supervise and assist in the training of recreational divers.

From this point, you can start training to eventually become a diving instructor. It is also a good time to start investing in your own scuba equipment if you haven’t already.

How long does it take?

Most people spend from three weeks to six months training for a Divemaster certificate. It varies in each agency and Dive Center, but in most cases, you can certify in two weeks if you take an intensive course.

Apart from your training dives, you will also need to study and take an exam.

Where can I get certified?

We recommend you get certified in your local dive shop.

It’s a long course so going local will give you more flexibility without taking much time away from work. If you want to earn your life by diving, it’s a great chance to meet people and learn about your future workplace.

How much does it cost?

Expect to pay from $650 to $2000, and may be required to own some gear and material. Also, expect to pay an annual fee to your agency once completed.

It may seem like a lot, but remember that this is a professional certificate that allows you to work and earn money.

If your goal is to earn a living by diving, you should also sum up the cost of previous immersion and the certificates required to enroll. However, many diving shops offer internship programs. That way you get certified for free in exchange for working for them.

What allows you to do?

As a divemaster, you can help Instructors in training activities and guide certified divers on excursions. You will also be able to lead Introductory Scuba Divers, environmental initiatives, and other specialties such as snorkeling or equipment repair.

If you want to work at a dive shop, you will do dry tasks such as filling tanks, receiving divers, and taking care of the gear.

How to get the Divemaster Certificate

Medical Examination

As you go professional and other people depend on you, you will need to pass a medical examination.

Knowledge exam

This written exam will assess your knowledge at the dive supervisor level.

It focuses on first-aid training and diving management. You will have to show problem-solving abilities and skills in scuba diving risks and watermanship.

Rescue Diver

To get this certification, you must know how to plan and manage diving activities, as well as first-aid and rescue techniques. It is mandatory to take the Rescue Diver certification from your agency before becoming a Divemaster.

Experience hours

You need to have at least 40 logged dives to get the Divemaster course. Some agencies ask you to have a higher number, like PADI which requires a total of 60 dives by the end of the program.

Immersions

It’s an opportunity to practice your rescue techniques, such as CPR or first aid principles in a real environment. You will learn how to lead and assist diving classes by planning, managing, and controlling immersions.

You will also have to pass some physical tests, such as hands-free floating or a timed swim.




After getting certified

Recreational diving

Once certified, you can start planning your diving trips. There are many popular diving destinations around the world, such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Red Sea in Egypt, and the Maldives.

Yet, you should start with local diving trips first. They will allow you to become more comfortable with diving and refine your skills.

Diving during my vacancies

Getting certified will forever change the way you see traveling. It literally unlocks more than half of the world (70% is water). You will find yourself looking for diving spots every time you go abroad.

For example, I always wanted to go to Egypt to see the Great Pyramid of Giza. But now I find its underwater treasures to be even more impressive and worth visiting, such as the SS Thistlegorm and the Red Sea. This is the true power of diving, to completely shift your world’s perspective.

Wreck diving

Seeing a wreck for the first time is an unforgettable experience.

Wrecks have an eerie feeling of diving around a man-made vehicle that has been underwater for decades. The ship or plane may be rusted, overgrown with sea life, and home to a variety of marine creatures.

Each wreck has its own unique story, and as a diver, you become a part of that story. You can learn about its final voyage, the people who were on board, and the events that led to its sinking.

Where to find the best places to dive

The best place to dive will depend on your personal interests and preferences. Whether you’re looking for wrecks to explore or crystal-clear waters to swim in, there is a destination out there that can offer the experience you’re looking for.

Consider what type of experience you are looking for and do your research. You will find the perfect destination for your next dive trip.

Diving with sharks

Choose a recognized instructor that has experience with shark encounters. He will help you understand the sharks’ behavior and he will have the necessary safety equipment and emergency protocols.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when diving with sharks is to respect their space. They are not pets or toys; they are wild animals. But also remember that sharks are not mindless killing machines. They play a vital role in the ocean ecosystem and are often misunderstood.

Environmentalism

As a diver, you can take part in initiatives such as Dive Against Debris.

Once you become a certified diver you can take a hands-on role in environmental initiatives. Each agency has its own programs that you can join:

  • PADI Awareness manages four public programs focused on marine debris, shark protection, community grants, and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
  • SSI has a certification and movement called Blue Oceans. It supports the conservation of aquatic environments and their diversity.
  • NAUI’s Green Diver Initiative is a community dedicated to conserving and preserving our oceans.
  • SDI participates in initiatives such as the Diktyna Project.
  • CMAS is involved in supporting initiatives from their federation status.

What to do next

If you are serious about your diving adventures, you need your own equipment.

I recommend you start with a pair of diving fins. I already listed the best ones for you so check them out in this article.

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Daniel Espada

Daniel Espada

Daniel Espada is a passionate adventurer, certified scuba diver, and the mind behind geardventure.com. With a background in Engineering, Daniel combines his technical knowledge and love for the outdoors to create content that not only informs, but inspires action.
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