Want to show your child the underwater world? Don’t want to be ‘stuck’ with the kids on your scuba diving holiday?
Well, let me tell you, there is hope.
Below, I will give you a general idea of what scuba diving for kids entails.
As you read on, however, remember that there are slight differences between the diving agencies and schools. Always double-check the specifics with the dive center you are planning to go to, as some dive schools may not offer child programs or don’t have the right instructor available.
Typically your kid(s) should be at least 8 years old to participate in youth diving programs.
There should also not be any medical concerns such as asthma. You may want to check with a medical practitioner if there would be any indications against scuba diving.
Also think about possible language restrictions if you plan on diving abroad. Maybe the instructor will speak the same language as your kids, maybe not. You may want to look for an instructor who does, although it shouldn’t stop you from doing a program together. You as a parent may be very well capable of translating the explanations from the instructor.
Finally, keep in mind that youth programs are not certification programs. This means that your child cannot go diving outside of an instructor-led training program.
Prepare your Kids for Scuba Diving
First and foremost, make sure that your kid is comfortable in the water. It’s not required to be an Olympic swimmer, but he/she should not be afraid of water either. The more fishy they are, the better.
A good way to find out the likes of your kids is by going snorkeling. There is no age limit on snorkeling, so you can show them what they can see underwater.
When doing so, they will get used to breathing through a snorkel while keeping their head down in the water. At the same time, they will get used to a scuba mask.
Related: The Best Snorkel Mask of 2023
As a general indicator, I suggest that your kid decides if he wants to try scuba diving. It should not be the parents deciding that the kid should try. So talk about it, show videos, show the equipment. Make him/her enthusiastic, either at your holiday destination or beforehand.
Finally, do not talk about the possible risks of scuba diving, but rather about the fun part. The instructors are there to assure there is as little risk as possible involved. You don’t want your kid to be nervous when they are just about to start their adventure.
Benefits to Starting Scuba Diving at a Young Age
Just like with any sports, the younger you start, the more you may like it and the better you may become. Kids usually learn faster than adults because they are less scared.
If they dive in the sea, an important aspect is their real-life experience with sea life. Many kids don’t know what’s living underwater, but seeing the fish, plants, slugs, and crabs in real life may trigger their interest. First-hand experience will last forever, while seeing it on television will not have such a profound impact.
Sadly but importantly, litter on the bottom of the sea will also make them more aware of the marine environment. The importance of conservation can be seen with their own eyes, which is good to understand from a young age.
And last but not least, diving is FUN. It is an adventure they will talk about for the rest of the year. This is also true if they make the program in the swimming pool.
From a safety point of view, teaching diving always requires the full 100% attention of the instructor. With kids, it must be 200%. Safety standards are extra important when diving with minors.
Therefore the instructor is limited in the number of kids to guide in one session. Typically, this is a maximum of two kids per instructor, or sometimes even just one-on-one.
As a parent, you will also sign the required paperwork, such as a medical questionnaire and the acceptance of risk.
Any diving program with kids is always done in shallow and calm water. This can be a swimming pool or in the sea near the shore. It depends on the location of the dive school and the local conditions. You may also want to check this with the dive center where you plan on going.
Diving Introduction for 8- and 9-Year Olds
Basically there are two programs for the 8 and 9-year-olds. The first program is a one-time experience with a maximum depth of 2m. There is for example the PADI Bubblemaker.
Before going into the water, the instructor will talk a little on how to equalize and breathe underwater, how to move and how to indicate if you are fine or not. Remember, we can not talk down there, so we communicate by hand signals.
When diving in the sea, your kid will also get an explanation of what to see underwater and how to behave with marine life. He/she will see which fishes and plants and other marine life there is.
Your kid will have plenty of opportunities to ask anything that comes to mind. It’s important that kids can express their enthusiasm or concerns and raise their own questions. This will lead to an optimal experience for the kids, the instructor, and the parents.
Diving Program for 8- and 9-Year Olds
The second main program for 8- and 9-year-olds spans multiple dives, like the PADI Sealteam. During the training progress, they will reach a maximum depth of 4-5m. This is an actual training (not a certification) program divided in a series of missions or adventures.
In each of these missions, your kid will learn something new, perform a new task. Each mission will start with a briefing. New hand signals will be covered, breathing, moving, behaving, equalizing, etc.
Apart from the basics, the specific goal of the dive will be explained.
These specific goals may be:
- Getting some water out of the mask while underwater
- Clearing a fully flooded mask
- Learning how to float in the water
- Taking out the breathing regulator and putting it back in the mouth
- Setting up the own scuba set
- Making a buddy check
- Simulating to be out of air and breathing from the scuba system of the instructor
- Giving air to someone else
- Finding your way underwater
- Identifying fish
- Making a “night” dive with a torch
By the end of this training program, your kid will be on a similar level as someone who did a scuba discovery program (for which the minimum age is usually 10 years).
Programs for Kids Older than 10
At 10 years old, kids can participate in normal introduction programs to scuba diving, but there’s also the option to earn an actual certification as a junior diver.
At 10 and 11 years old, the maximum depth for this will be 40 feet (12m). As of 12 years, it will be 26 feet (18m) – after completing the full Junior Open Water Diver.
The junior program consists of everything an open water diver program entails, the same as adults would make it. This involves the full theory and every skill from the confined water and open water dives. Especially the theory may be a challenging part as it goes way beyond the level of knowledge kids of that age usually have.
After successful completion, though, a whole new range of junior diving programs becomes available, from Zombie Apocalypse Diver to Diver Propulsion Vehicle. Before you know it, your kids will outdive you!
Youth programs are for kids who either want to try diving, or kids who are eager enough to make the actual certification. As long as your kid is the asking party to dive (and not you as a parent), both options will teach your kids valuable lessons.
If you are still worried, though, or not sure if your kid is ready for diving, I’d like to refer to this article, written by the main authority on diving medicine, DAN (Divers Alert Network).
Also remember that, as a parent, it is important to speak to the instructor who will be responsible for the safety of your kid. It is important that you feel comfortable and that you trust him or her to take your kid on this exhilarating adventure.