The word SCUBA stands for “Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus”. Rather a mouthful, but what it means in layman’s terms is that you can carry a container of life-giving air supply on your back. This allows you to leave your imperfect human body on land and explore the exquisite underwater world with the ability of an aquatic mammal.

As with many extreme sports, you are required to do some form of training to safely participate.

Who Can Enroll?

Scuba can be enjoyed by a wide demographic of people. Agency dependent, children as young as eight can be introduced to the wonder of the underwater world by participating in programmes such as Bubblemaker or Sealteam. These programmes have strict supervision, conservative ratios and are typically introduced in a pool environment.

To venture into your beginner’s course, you need to be at least 10 years old, reasonably comfortable in water and possess good health and fitness levels.

Health issues that may exclude you from diving include epilepsy; problems with body air spaces, such as ears, lungs and sinuses; and chronic medication that have adverse affects at depth. A medical questionnaire filled out during an orientation would indicate if you need to visit a physician to clear you for diving. You can also contact the Divers Alert Network (DAN) hotline to clarify any questions relating to your medical history.

What Does an Entry-Level Course Qualify You to Do?

A beginner’s course introduces basic skills that allow you to dive safely and with comfort.

Adult divers will be able to venture to a maximum depth of 18m by taking the beginner’s course. This will enable you to dive internationally, as long as the conditions are similar to what you were trained in, e.g. sea, lake or quarry.

Junior divers, aged 10 and 11, will be able to dive to a maximum of 12m and will have to dive with either a parent, guardian or diving professional.

Course Structure

There is fantastic flexibility around modern scuba courses. Most programmes are performance based and not time based.

Typically, an entry-level course consists of three components: knowledge development, confined water training and open water evaluations.

Knowledge Development

There are various forms of media available to help you master the theoretical aspect of diving. The more traditional products include student manuals that guide the reader through a set of objectives and allow them to self-assess along the way. Your instructor will then diagnose which specific areas need to be reviewed prior to progressing to confined water.

The latest technologies include CD-ROM and eLearning options that incorporate a multi-sensory approach and allows for proper sequencing, as it evaluates each section and ensures mastery before allowing you to progress to the next module.

Confined Water Training

Confined water allows you to put what you have learned in the classroom into practise. Basic skills such as equalisation, buoyancy control and safety concepts (such as out of air options) are introduced in a calm, clear environment under the direct supervision of your instructor.

Open Water Evaluations

The open water evaluations ensure transfer of learning. The majority of skills will be retested, but this time the focus is on ensuring that you have the ability to endure external factors such as surf launches, currents and surge, whilst performing your skills. Ultimately, your instructor should have the confidence in your ability to exit the programme and safely conduct yourself as a casual diver. This is what you have been training for.

Duration of Course

This will greatly depend on the destination you choose to learn to dive in.

Most people learn to dive in resorts by participating in a programme which can be completed in one day. This programme allows you to address any objections you may have about committing to the sport. It’s also a great way to check off a “bucket list” item.

There is also a sub course to the beginner’s course, and this can be completed in three days. This course results in proper certification, but will restrict you to 12m and you will always have to dive under supervision. A complete beginner’s course, in a resort environment, can be done in about four to five days. It may take up to two weeks to complete on a part-time basis in a city environment.

You could also complete the programme on a referral basis, which allows you to complete portions of the course in close proximity to your home and then completing the open water segment at your holiday destination. The trick here is to investigate your options by contacting the dive resort or centre and ensuring that they can accommodate you.

Cost of an Entry-Level Course

Budget courses are freely available and facilitate a wide demographic of new divers. However, be a savvy consumer and do some research as to what your package includes. Hidden costs may include rental equipment, educational materials and certification. If you are uncertain about committing financially to the sport, it may be worthwhile doing a sub course first and then enrolling on a properly structured course.

Scuba diving will undoubtedly transform your life and therefore it should be viewed as an investment. Take the time to visit a couple of dive centres in your area and get an overall feel for the place and the people running it. Look for value for money rather than the cheapest courses. Like anything else in life – you get what you pay for.

A typical entry-level course will cost between R2 500 and R4 500. Many factors may alter the course price, such as the number of people participating or the destination of qualifying dives.

Safety First

The one thing you should never compromise on is safety. Insist on checking your instructor’s qualifications and make sure that they are in good standing with their training organisation. Have a look at the safety equipment they have available at their facility, like oxygen kits and basic first aid kits. The hard gear used during the course, such as BCDs, regulators and cylinders, should be well maintained and in overall good condition.

Where to from Here?

Scuba diving training involves different spheres of awareness. During the entry-level course you would typically be focused on your own wellbeing.

The next sphere includes being “other person orientated”. Rescue courses will build your confidence levels tremendously and improve your observation techniques.

The next step is self-actualisation. This is where you may decide to pursue the “black belt” of recreational diving by obtaining a master diver rating or obtaining a leadership level rating by doing a dive master course.