Scuba diving can be a great hobby for younger people. It’s a skill they can learn which they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. Yet knowing the right age to get into scuba diving though can be tricky.
Whether you are a parent looking to introduce your child and wondering the age limit for scuba diving or a young person interested in pursuing the hobby, this article is an exhaustive look at the best age to get started and will cover the:
- age limits according to regulations;
- different introductory programs offered by certification organizations; and
- things to consider to make sure a young person is ready for dive training.
By the end, you will be able to judge whether your child is ready for diving, or whether they need more time before training.
Age limit for scuba diving according to regulations
First, we’re going to take a look at what the actual regulations say is the minimum age a child must be to receive training from a certified instructor.
You should know that many countries around the world have unique diving laws including a minimum age to dive in the country’s territorial waters. For this reason, it is important to understand the laws of the specific country before you or your child do any diving.
As for training organizations, both Scuba Schools International (SSI) and the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI), allow children as young as 8 years old to get started with diving.
There are differences though in depth limits and other aspects of each program. Let’s look at some of the specifics for the programs both SSI and PADI have for younger divers.
Bubblemaker Program– this is an introductory program for younger children. The minimum age for this program is 8 years old.
This program covers the basics of scuba diving. It also provides children the opportunity to do their first dives. All diving happens at a shallow depth and in a confined environment.
Children practice skills such as buoyancy, breathing do’s and don’ts, and clearing their mask. They will also learn how to use kids scuba gear.
The max depth that students will dive to is 2m (6ft). All dives take place in either a swimming pool or confined waters.
Seal Team– the seal team course is for students who are at least 8 years old. The program is a bit more advanced than the bubblemaker program. It is better for children who are comfortable in the water.
The program has two different parts. First, students learn to clear a mask, breath underwater, and recover a regulator. During the second part, students go over more advanced skills. This includes using a diving live, basic fish identification, skin diving, and more.
Junior Open Water Diving– the junior open water diving program is like the adult open water training. The minimum age to get started is 10 years old. The course consists of both theory and practical training.
Students complete the theory training either online, in the classroom, or via independent study. After passing a series of tests, practical training happens in a confined location.
Each student has to show proper understanding of various techniques. This includes recovering a regulator, clearing a mask, buoyancy control, and other skills. Once understanding is sufficiently demonstrated, students complete four open water dives.
There are various depth limitations placed on junior open water divers. Divers ages 10 and 11 cannot exceed a depth of 12m (40ft) and divers age 12 to 14 cannot go past 18m (60ft). All divers between the ages of 10 and 14 must dive with a PADI professional or a certified parent or guardian.
After completing the junior open water course, junior divers can do advanced training. The age limit for advanced training courses is between 12 and 14 years old.
Scuba Rangers– the scuba rangers program is SSI’s introductory course for children. The age limit for this program is between 8 and 12 years old.
The program goes through the very basics of scuba diving and using dive gear. Max depth for students in this program is 5m (15ft) and all dives are done in a swimming pool or confined water.
Open Water Diver– the open water diver program for SSI is like PADI’s. Students go through theory based learning to familiarize themselves with important concepts. Afterwards, students complete a number of confined water dives. This is followed by a set number of open water dives.
Like PADI, the minimum age for students to go through the open water dive program under SSI is 10 years old. The depth limit for younger students is 14m (45ft) and applies to all students between the ages of 10 and 14.
Is your child ready?
So, now that you know what the actual regulations are, let’s look at the more practical considerations.
Just because your child meets the age limit for a dive training program, doesn’t mean they are ready. There are certain skills that must be developed before they can go through dive training.
Remember, scuba diving can be safe, but only if each diver practices safe diving. The consequences from unsafe driving practices can be extreme or in worst cases fatal. Serious injuries can occur to people who do not respect what they are doing regardless of their age.
We don’t say this to scare you as a parent. Instead, we say this to make a point of how serious scuba diving training is. Before making the decision, let’s take a look at a few of the skills they need to help them get the most out of training.
Swimming Skills- your child doesn’t need to be a professional swimmer. Much of the swimming you do as a scuba diver is kicking around in the water. But, your child should be comfortable in their swimming abilities.
Younger students going through an introductory course should be comfortable around the water. It is best if they can tread water and swim around without major effort.
Children going through a junior open water program should be able to swim for at least 200m (600ft). They should also be able to tread water for at least 10 minutes. Your child should also be able to do this without too much effort.
Focus- this is important for anyone, young or old, who plans on getting into scuba diving. Much of the training can be long and intensive. Dive training covers a lot of technical information in a short amount of time. Your child needs to have the ability to focus on this information and internalize it.
This is going to be more important for children going through a junior open water program. But, it is also important for students going through the beginner programs. If you notice that your child cannot focus for extended periods of time, it may be worth it to give them time to mature.
Good Health- your child needs to be in good health. Scuba diving can be intensive on the body. You are breathing in compressed air under extreme pressure. Conditions that can negatively impact divers include:
- Heart Disease
- Lung Problems
- High Blood Pressure
- History of Seizures
- Mental Health Issues (Anxiety Attacks, Panic Attacks, Claustrophobia, etc)
- Sinus Issues
This is a short list. Know that these will not necessarily eliminate your child from scuba diving. But, if your child suffers from one of these, they will need to be evaluated by a doctor before training.
Remember that once you get under the water, small problems can become major ones. An anxiety attack, for example, isn’t a life threatening problem on the land. But, at 7m (20ft) underwater, it can be fatal if your child can’t breath or panics and tries to ascend too quickly.
Making the final decision
We’ve established what the age limit for scuba diving is according to regulations. At least 8 years old for intro courses and at least 10 years old for open water courses. We’ve also looked at a few factors you should take into consideration when deciding if your child is ready for dive training.
So, what’s the right age?
As we said in the intro this is going to be different for every child. If you as a parent have prior experience scuba diving then you know what it entails. You know the dangers and what skills are necessary. So, you are going to be the best person to evaluate your child.
If you have never been scuba diving before you may not feel as comfortable making this decision. In this case, think about other activities that your child does.
Do they do any sports? How well do they perform in these? Are they usually able to focus when they go to training or practice? Have they been able to master the different aspects of the sport or skill? This can give you a good idea whether they will be able to focus and understand scuba training.
Also, is your child able to understand the consequences of not following instructions. You don’t have to go as heavy as explaining what could happen if they don’t practice safe diving. As I’ve said, scuba diving is extremely safe. Instead, they must be able to understand cause and effect and consequences to actions.
If your child can understand these concepts, as well as what they will be learning, they will do just fine. The important thing is that they have a healthy respect for the ocean and diving.
If you are wondering if your child is ready, then the bubblemaker or ranger program can be a great way to evaluate them. But, if you have any doubts at all then wait for a while. It is amazing what an extra year of development can do.