As scuba diving instructors, we are often approached by people who are somewhat interested in diving, but are afraid that it’s a very hard thing to do. But is scuba diving hard? If you ask different people, you will get different answers. And actually, while scuba diving is not really difficult, it should certainly not be considered as totally easy and risk-free. In this post, we want to discuss whether scuba diving is hard or easy and what it takes to become a good diver.
Whether Scuba Diving is Hard or Not All Depends on Your Attitude
Let’s start with the basic answer right away. Whether scuba diving is hard or not basically all depends on you and your attitude. After all, scuba diving is still considered an extreme activity (at least that’s what insurances say about it). But that does not mean much, because quite a number of sports are considered extreme activities. And while you may find one sport very difficult, you may find another one totally easy. So whether scuba diving is hard for you or rather easy totally depends on you.
For instance, if you are somebody who is very comfortable in water – be it while swimming, snorkeling or other water activities – you will probably consider scuba diving easy, not hard.
If you are somebody who is struggling a bit with all sorts of water activities, or with even basic theory (we will come to that later), you may find scuba diving hard, because you probably find one element of it challenging.
That said, regardless of where you start and what you bring to the table, scuba diving is a a very accessible hobby. While some things may initially seem hard, everything involved in scuba diving can be mastered rather quickly and improved with practice!
And that is a very important point. Like most things in life, there is some effort involved in learning to dive. What part of that people find challenging really differs from person to person. Some people will struggle with the theory behind scuba diving, while others will struggle performing a particular underwater skill (and yes, even one particular skill out of many can be the problem). But all of these issues are usually temporarily. It may take you a day or two more if it doesn’t feel natural in the beginning, but that’s totally normal. Relax, work on those skills together with your instructor, and in no time you will be a certified scuba diver.
Of course, your motivation makes a huge difference. If you really want it, you will be very likely to find it easy and fun. On the contrary, people who are not that motivated, maybe even dragged into it by friends, frequently find it more challenging and sometimes even give up.
There are two Parts of Scuba Diving: The Theoretical Part and the Practical Part
When you think about whether scuba diving is hard or not, you probably only think about being down there and diving through the ocean. Well, that is in fact scuba diving. However, before entering the water, students need to be aware of some theoretical aspects, which allows them to understand what is happening to our bodies and the environment, as well as safety precautions. Nearly every scuba diving course has a theoretical part in it. Therefore, let’s consider these two parts separately for a moment.
The Theoretical part of Learning to Dive
When you take your first steps into the world of scuba diving, you may feel overwhelmed at first with all the theoretical stuff there is to learn. You may have known this before signing up to your course or not: There is always a theoretical part involved in getting certified, and usually the knowledge will be tested by a final exam in the end (more on the exam later). When you first open your learning materials, mastering all the learning objectives may seem like a daunting task.
But trust me here, the theoretical part of learning to dive is not as hard as it seems. In fact, especially for your entry level certification, you only need to know the basic concepts, which are far from difficult.
If you still find them challenging, don’t worry. You are not alone. You will have plenty of support along the way, starting with your dive instructor. He or she should be the first point of contact whenever you struggle with the learning materials or have questions that go beyond them.
Also, you will get your learning materials in different formats, including videos and text form, which makes it easy to learn them the way you find it easiest. Nowadays, most agencies offer the theory portion involved in the course you take in different formats, which are designed to perfectly suit their students’ needs.
The traditional way to learn the theory would be by the use of a printed manual, supported by some instructional videos to watch in the classroom, and your instructor explaining the rest in quite a formal way. This can be a great way to study the theory for you because your instructor is able to cover precisely what is needed in the detail that is required. Also, your instructor can mix theory with practical elements, allowing you to put into practice what you have learned step-by-step.
However, the traditional way of learning is quite time-consuming. Therefore, most agencies do now recommend to do the theory part via e-learning. That way, you learn the theory through interactive online materials, videos, and quizzes. Even the final exam is now often taken online.
The typical format depends a little bit on where you do your diving course. If this is something you think you might struggle with, talk to your instructor to find the most suitable way for you.
Whatever way of learning you go for, rest assured that there is hardly a chance to fail. Before you proceed to the final exam, you will have plenty of quizzes and knowledge reviews that make sure everything has been understood before you take the final exam as a last check. And once you’ve taken the final exam, you have all the basic theoretical information you need to know to dive safely.
How Long Does the Open Water Theory Take to Learn?
Open water entry level courses like the PADI Open Water Course are designed for 10-year-olds. Therefore, although the theory deals with very important topics such as decompression theory, it is structured in a way that enables easy and efficient learning, keeping the focus on what is really needed to dive safely. In the old days, with instructors coming from the navy, theory for even entry level courses would take weeks to master. Nowadays, with the focus on essential aspects of recreational scuba diving, you can expect the theoretical portion to take between 5 and 10 hours.
Theory for Advanced Courses and Professional Levels
Of course, it’s a totally different story once you advance in your diving journey and maybe even proceed to a professional level. Then, the amount of theory study strongly increases, for a number of reasons. Primarily, as an instructor you need to be aware of a lot of things and have a profound understanding of physics, physiology, decompression theory, and equipment. Once you take a look at technical diving, the level of detail increases again. However, even all those theoretical aspects have been mastered by millions of people. So even although they may become somewhat more involving at some point, they are certainly not too hard if you are motivated to study.
The Practical part of Learning to Dive
The practical part of scuba diving is where most people start to worry about the difficulty of learning to dive. Many students ask if scuba diving is hard once they see all the equipment and preparations. For instance, whether it is difficult to breathe underwater, use a regulator, or equalize your ears.
While there are many skill variations that you will learn during your scuba diving course, the basic skills involved are quite straightforward. While you may initially struggle with some of them, you will master them on the second or third dive and further improve your performance as you progress. Whatever agency you choose, the course programs are designed to have students ready for success. In addition, your instructor will quickly see where you stand and where you may face challenges. For instance, you may find it difficult at the beginning to take of your mask and put it back on, or hover in mid-water. Whatever it is, your instructor will let you take your time, and help you until you master every single skill.
The Basic Skills Needed for Scuba Diving Are Not Hard
Let’s think about the basic skills needed for scuba diving. While you are floating through the underwater world, you actually only need three basic skills: floating, kicking and breathing. Of course, there is more to scuba diving than just floating, kicking and breathing, like being able to set up the equipment or being aware of safety procedures. But, if you can breathe through your mouth, chances are that you can learn to scuba dive!
The basic skills involved in scuba diving are not hard to master for most people. During your open water course, you will learn the basic skills and apply them on your first few dives. At a later stage, once you have mastered the basic skills, you will then learn further variations and additional techniques.
Don’t worry, nobody will throw you into deep water unprepared (in fact, nobody will ever throw you into water). After having mastered the theory, you will first practice equipment-related skills in a controlled confined water setting (that is, swimming-pool-like conditions). You will learn to use the scuba gear, which may seem intimidating at first glance, but is actually rather straightforward. And you will practice all the basic skills, like equalizing your ears, clearing your mask, donating air to another diver etc. in a safe and controlled environment.
Only once you are ready, the real fun starts on your first open water dive. And also here, the course requirements make sure that you first start on a shallow dive, with close guidance by your instructor, before proceeding to slightly deeper waters.
Passing the Swim Test
In my time as a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor, I have met a surprising number of people who struggle with the swim test that is part of every entry level scuba certification. It does make a lot of sense to be able to swim before jumping into the water, doesn’t it? What do you do if your equipment fails and you have to stay at the surface, and you can’t swim? Clearly, that’s not ideal.
While you don’t need to be a strong swimmer or an athlete to scuba dive, some degree of comfort in the water definitely helps. Being able to swim and be comfortable in the water to a basic level is a requirement to take part in a scuba diving course. To make sure you can swim, there are two little tests at the beginning of the course: a water comfort test (comfortable floating in the water with your head out for 10 minutes without aids), and then a swim over a set distance (usually 200m) without a time limit.
But don’t worry, these tests are not hard to pass, and you certainly don’t have to be an Olympic swimmer to pass them. And even if you enter scuba training with little confidence in your water skills, your instructor may help you to improve them before starting with the actual scuba diving course. By the time you receive your certification, your comfort level will have increased strongly.
Do Diving Agencies Differ in Difficulty?
You may consider to take your open water certification at a specific agency because it is easier. However, that is not true. The leading training agencies, including PADI, SSI, SDI, NAUI, RAID and others, basically all follow the same universal standards. While some particular requirements, skills and order are different, the basic entry-level certifications are very comparable when it comes to difficulty levels. This ensures consistency and comparability, leaving little doubt about the certification level of a diver irrespective of the agency.
8 Things You Can Do to Make Scuba Diving Easier for You
Scuba diving is not hard by itself, as we have explored above. However, you may find individual parts of it challenging. If that is the case, here are some things you can do to make scuba diver easier for you.
Find the Right Dive Center and Instructor
While it may seem tempting to book your course based on the price and go for the cheapest, I strongly advice against that. Especially with an activity like scuba diving, quality is so much more important than saving a few dollars. And in the end, whether you find scuba diving hard or not may totally depend on the level of empathy and instructional style that your instructor brings, or on the facilities and the equipment of your chosen dive center.
Ask other scuba divers for recommendations, or do some online research. If you are at your holiday destination and need to make a choice, talk to a few dive centers and instructors, have them show you the facilities and the equipment. Make sure you feel comfortable before you book the course.
Take Private Courses
Group pressure can be a daunting thing. Especially if you are taking the course alone without any friends or relatives, you will be grouped with other people. That is usually a great thing: you will meet inspiring people and likely find great dive buddies. However, the thought of being under pressure because others in the group are better at something stresses some people out. If you are feeling nervous, just ask the dive center of your choice about the availability of private courses. While more expensive, they can be great to build up your confidence and learn scuba diving at your own pace.
Take the Time You Need
While it may sound like a no-brainer to take the time you need, it is actually often overlooked. Many people rush through their open water courses, usually because they feel pressurized by the group they are in (if they do not have private courses). Even with private courses, some students do not speak up if they are unsure about something, in order not to appear “stupid” in front of the instructor. But, there are no stupid questions, and if you need more time, you should take that time. Don’t feel pressurized by the group – they can wait, and usually, you are not the only one struggling with something. Then, you are doing something for the whole group if you ask and make sure everybody understands.
Talk to Experienced Divers
You may have a little problem with a certain skill, or you are never really happy with your equipment setup. Whatever it is, talk to other divers on the boat. Experienced divers love to show their knowledge and are very happy to help. Many have had the same issues once in their diving journey, so they may know tips and tricks that you can’t find in any book. Just ask!
Pay Attention to Your Fitness and Health
Diving has a lot to do with fitness and health. Although it is a very accessible sport for different levels of fitness, you should make sure that you are healthy. To ensure that you will be safe underwater, your instructor will provide you with a medical evaluation form to check for any possible health conditions that could turn out to be a problem. Please complete this form honestly – it’s vital for your safety while scuba diving. If there is a condition, discuss it with a doctor and if possible be signed off before starting the course.
It always makes sense to stay fit and follow a health diet of course, so you don’t even risk not being allowed to dive due to a medical condition or poor health.
As we have mentioned above, you will need to complete a simple swim test as part of your course. If this is something you think you might struggle with, now is the time to practice, so you are perfectly prepared before the start of your course.
Prepare in Advance
Especially for those struggling with theory, having some extra time to prepare can be a great help. While you shouldn’t learn the manual by heart, flipping through it may give you a head start for the course.
Dive with a Great Buddy
The buddy system is an essential part of scuba diving and makes diving a lot of fun from the beginning on. Unless you are trained to dive solo (independently), a buddy is always required for diving. But of course, there are good and bad buddies out there. If you can, sign up with a family member or a friend so you have somebody you know on your side. This may make you feel more comfortable because you know you can trust that person with your life. But even if you start the course alone, you will get to know other fun people who want to learn to dive just like you. Once you have found a great buddy, you can help each other overcome difficulties and enjoy the fun of diving together. With a great buddy, scuba diving cannot really be hard anymore.
Is the Final Scuba Diving Exam Hard?
At the end of the theory portion of your course, you will have to complete a final exam. However, this is no reason to be worried. The final exam is very straightforward for most students. In addition, at that stage you should be perfectly prepared by the countless quizzes and knowledge reviews you’ve done on the way. In other words, the final exam only consists of questions that will have been covered during the theory sessions or online lessons up to that point.
In addition, you don’t need to answer every single question right to pass the exam. In fact, you only need to get 75% of the questions right in order to pass and become a certified scuba diver. If you fail nonetheless, don’t worry. There is always the option to work on the areas that you find difficult with your instructor and then simply repeat the exam.
Therefore, the final exam is really only a final test to make sure that all the important stuff has sunk in.
Is It Possible to Teach Yourself to Scuba Dive?
You may have seen some YouTube videos or other material that made you wonder whether it is possible to teach yourself to scuba dive. PLEASE, DON’T DO THIS!
It is absolutely not advisable to teach yourself to scuba dive – even more, it is very dangerous.
Scuba diving is still an activity that requires proper training, preparation and safety procedures. Every diving course provides you with vital information and details that contribute to your safety and that of others and the environment. These must be conveyed in person, especially when it comes to underwater skills.
Therefore, no responsible dive shop, guide or buddy will ever let you dive without seeing your certification card first. The danger that something happens is just not worth taking, not even mentioning that no insurance will pay a dollar if there is an incident involving an untrained diver. Diving without proper training can result in severe injury or even death.
So, always make sure you have the proper training for what you want to do. And if you still find scuba diving hard after having taken a course, practice with a buddy or an instructor and take follow-up courses to become a better diver – but never teach yourself to scuba dive.
Summing It Up: It’s All About Attitude
Learning to scuba dive is not really hard. But, considering it as an easy thing to do that doesn’t require effort would be wrong, too. In the end, it all boils down to this: Whether you consider scuba diving hard or easy is a matter of attitude. If you are motivated to step through the door and explore an exciting new world, then you will not find scuba diving hard. In fact, the experience you get will prove to be both energizing and confidence-building, not hard.