Breathing underwater is not something that comes naturally for humans, so there are a few things you need to learn before your first scuba diving experience.
In this article, I will explain what a scuba diving introduction program for absolute beginners looks like. I will indicate the different parts of the program and tell you a little bit about the different options.
Different Scuba Introductory Programs
First of all, I would like to point out that there are many scuba diving organizations in the world and they all have slightly different requirements and names for the program. I just name a few which may ring a bell: PADI, SSI, TDI-SDI,… and many more.
If you are considering getting wet for the first time, don’t break your head about the organization. They all have the same goal in mind and that is to offer you a safe and life-changing experience.
It is important to remember that the programs we’re talking about here are just experience programs, and they do not offer you a certification. You will not be able to dive without supervision after this experience.
You will always be directly supervised (accompanied) by a dive professional who will assist you at any point during the program. At least they should, so when you sign up for a program, assure yourself that this is the case.
Who can Join a Scuba Program?
In general, the minimum age for scuba programs is 8 years old. There is no maximum age.
Every organization has its specific offering, age limits, and related depth limits. Junior offerings are not discussed – we have a separate article with scuba diving options for kids.
Where can I Join Such Programs?
Many people have their first scuba experience while on holiday. It is of course attractive to soak up the sun, and you may have seen pictures of corals and colorful fish. Maybe you have been snorkeling in clear blue-green waters and want to discover what more there is to see.
But you can as well try scuba diving back at home, even if you don’t live in a tropical area. A dive center in your region will also offer the program in a swimming pool.
Content of Your Scuba Introduction
Many resorts give you the chance to make a free try-dive in the swimming pool. Together with a dive professional, you will breathe underwater in the pool and learn to swim around underwater while breathing from the scuba equipment.
If you decide you like it, you will be able to sign up for an introduction dive or Discover Scuba Diving program.
Once you sign up, you will have to sign a liability release form and answer a medical questionnaire. If you have any (history of) medical conditions that may affect your safety while diving, you will be asked to go to the general practitioner who can clear you for diving. For minors, the parents or guardian also need to sign the paperwork.
When the administrative part is done, you typically will go through the following steps:
- Scuba equipment
- Confined water session
- Open water dive (optional)
Scuba diving involves some basic theoretical knowledge. The instructor will explain the do’s and don’ts to ensure a safe and fun dive.
He/she will explain how to get in and out of the water, how the surrounding pressure changes due to the weight of the water, and how this will affect you. The instructor will also talk to you about breathing rules (very important). You will learn how to move underwater and how to behave with respect for the environment and for your fellow divers.
You may also learn a thing or two about the creatures and plants you can see during the open water part of the program.
And last but not least, you will learn basic hand signals. After all, we cannot talk underwater but yet we need to communicate. You will learn how to indicate you are fine and how to indicate if you have a problem or concern.
2. Scuba Equipment
Together with the instructor, you will review your equipment.
In most cases, you will get a neoprene wetsuit (long or shorty) for protection against the cold (yes, even tropical waters are mostly colder than your body temperature, so you do cool down). You will get fins that match your foot size, neoprene boots (possibly), and you will try a diving mask that feels comfortable for you.
They will show you how all equipment works, how to breathe through the regulator, how to check your remaining air, etc.
3. Confined Water Session
Confined water refers to swimming pool conditions. That means very safe, shallow, calm water. This can be either an actual swimming pool or a very sheltered part of the sea near the beach.
In this session, you will take your first breaths underwater to learn to trust the system. You will also practice some basic safety skills to improve your comfort. For example, there may be some water leaking into your scuba mask. You will learn how to blow the water out comfortably without having to come to the surface.
You will also learn what to do in case your regulator comes out of your mouth. You may learn what to do in an emergency, for example, if you run out of air (the case in which the cylinder on your back is empty).
Finally, you will learn to move underwater, how to move your legs and how to float in the water, just like a fish.
4. Open Water Dive
The dive in open water may be integrated in the same dive as the confined water session if it is done in the sea. Or sometimes it is a separate, optional dive, depending on how much you enjoyed the confined water training.
During this dive, you will rely on the skills you learned before, but mostly, you will enjoy the underwater world, look at the fish surrounding you and explore whatever is on the bottom. You will float around and look 360° around.
Typically you will have a maximum depth of 12m. This may depend on the organization, the local environment, the water conditions, your comfort level, and the instructor.
What is Next?
If you did get bitten by the diving bug during this experience, you have some options.
If you are on holiday and you have a few more days left, you may choose to pursue the entry-level certification. You can discuss with your instructor if your discovery dive already counts as part of the course and if you get a discount if you continue your training.
Or you can choose to make an extra open water dive without having to redo all the skills and theory. You may even have the chance to go to a different site and dive from a boat.
If you don’t have time left at the same location, you can still make another discovery dive (or a course) in the future in another destination. But as the discovery dive is not a certification, you will have to go through the whole process again, beginning with the theory.
Still, you did get an exhilarating experience which may change the rest of your life.