How To Get Scuba Certified – Step By Step Guide [2024]

Scuba diving is an exciting and rewarding pastime, and your first step toward a lifetime of amazing dive memories is getting scuba certified.

Many people are keen to get started on their scuba journey but there’s a lot of information out there, and understandably, they just aren’t sure where to begin!

There are no doubt many questions already running through your mind, plus plenty of things you will need to know, but may not have considered.

This guide will cover everything you need to do in order to achieve your scuba certification, and become a recreational scuba diver, such as

  • Where and How you will learn to scuba dive
  • How much it will cost
  • How long it may take you to get certified

Let’s dive in! 😉

What Does Scuba Stand For

First things first, you probably want to know what “scuba” actually means! Well, Scuba is an acronym which stands for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.

This is in reference to that big ol’ tank of air strapped to your back – allowing you to breath underwater.

scuba diver

Physical Requirements For Scuba Diving

So what are the physical requirements for someone wanting to begin scuba diving? Do you have to be a good swimmer to scuba dive?

As you’ve probably already guessed, yes. In the interest of safety you do need to be able to swim in order to be able to scuba dive. But that isn’t to say you need to be Michael Phelps in order to pass your scuba certification!

In order to pass your PADI open water diver certification for example, you will need to demonstrate that you can swim 200 metres without stopping (you can use any stroke), and you will also need to be able to tread water or float for 10 minutes.

As part of your enrollment you will also be required to fill out a medical statement, in which you must disclose any pre-existing health conditions. 

If you do happen to answer ‘yes’ to any of the medical conditions listed, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are automatically excluded from scuba diving, but you would need to consult a physician prior to scuba diving.

There are some health conditions that may either permanently or temporarily disqualify you from being able to scuba dive though..

A medical history which includes stroke, brain aneurysm or spontaneous lung collapse would be examples of medical conditions which are likely to permanently disqualify you from diving.

Examples of medical conditions which may only temporarily disqualify you from being able to scuba dive would be epilepsy, or pregnancy.

How Long Does It Take To Learn To Scuba Dive

How long it takes to get certified really depends on you. Courses are flexible and can be completed at your own pace and to fit your schedule.

You can spread your learning over many weeks (or longer), or, you could do it in as quickly as about three to four days.

Once you’ve got your scuba certification, you needn’t worry about your ‘c-card’, as it is known, ever expiring – Once you’re scuba certified then you are certified for life.

Of course it’s always good practice to brush up on your skills and keep your knowledge up to date though, especially if you happen to take any long extended breaks between dives.

Learning To Scuba Dive

Beginners wanting to get their scuba certification will start with an open water diver course. 

The course can be completed in as quick as three or four days, but it’s also very flexible to fit your schedule and you can take the course at your own pace. 

The course is performance based so your progression on the course will depend on how knowledgeable, comfortable and how well you demonstrate that you understand it.

You may find the below video helpful. It specifically relates to getting certified with PADI, but the open water diver course across the four main Scuba Agencies is basically the same (discussed in more detailed below)

Open Water Diver Certification

Having your Open Water Diver certification means that you are now a certified recreational diver, who is able to dive without supervision to a depth of 18 metres/60 feet.

Open water diver courses typically consist of the below modules, and your certification (or C-card), being issued upon successful completion.

Step 1 – Knowledge Development

This part of the course can be done online in the comfort of your own home, or in a classroom setting. 

The knowledge part of the course will teach you the basic principles of scuba diving.

In this part of the course you’ll learn:

  • Things you need to consider when planning a dive trip
  • How to choose the right scuba gear that best fits your needs
  • Underwater signals and basic scuba procedures

You’ll also get to watch video which demonstrates the signals, skills and procedures that you’ll go into further depth with when you do your confined water dives

Step 2 – Confined Water Dives

Once you’ve completed the knowledge portion of the course, you’ll then be able to move onto doing some confined water dives.

Usually done in a swimming pool, or a body of water with calm pool-like conditions. Your confined water dive is where you’ll learn and practice basic scuba skills.

Here you’ll learn things such as setting up and putting on your scuba gear, how to clear water from your mask, buoyancy control, how to enter and exit the water correctly and basic navigation skills and safety procedures.

Once you’re comfortable with these skills and can demonstrate these abilities to your instructor, you’re now ready to go onto your open water dives.

Step 3 – Open Water Dives

With both the knowledge and confined water dives complete, you’re now ready to take what you’ve learned so far and demonstrate those skills in open water.

And so the next part of the process is moving from confined water diving to open water diving. 

Four open water dives in total are normally what is required in order for you to complete your scuba certification. 

You can complete these dives close to home, or, you can be referred to a different dive centre location and complete them elsewhere. This means you could complete this part of the certification on vacation if you so wish!

How Old Do You Have To Be To Scuba Dive

A Junior Open Water Diver Certification can be undertaken for those between 10 and 14 years of age, and comes with restrictions. 

PADI Junior Open Water Divers for example

  • Aged between 10-11 may only dive as deep as 40 feet/12 metres, and only with a PADI instructor or certified parent/guardian. 
  • Divers between 12-14 years of age may dive as deep as 60 feet/18 meters as long as a certified parent/guardian is also present.

After the age of 15 the PADI Junior Open Water Dive Certifications depth and buddy restrictions will default to those of the adult open water diver, and you can apply for your new Open Water Diver card.

Children as young as 8 can begin their scuba journey by undertaking scuba activities and learning basic scuba skills in a pool or confined water space with a certified instructor, at shallow depths. 

How Deep Can You Scuba Dive

The recommended maximum depth for how deep you should scuba dive depends on your certification level, (and your age if you are under 15).

Junior Open Water Divers

10-11 years – 40 feet/12 metres & must be accompanied by an instructor or certified parent/guardian

12-14 years – 60 feet/18 metres & must be accompanied by a certified parent/guardian

Recreational Divers/Open Water Divers

60 feet/18 metres

Advanced Open Water Divers

100 feet/30 metres

Deep Divers

130 feet/40 metres

Technical Divers

130 feet/40 metres +

How Much Do Scuba Lessons Cost

Scuba diving lessons are not as expensive as you might think.

We’ve found that scuba certification will cost you roughly somewhere between $300 – $600, but it can be heavily dependent on where you intend on doing your training. 

For example training in the US or UK is typically more than in other parts of the world like Bali or Indonesia, as the cost of simply running a business in these locations is just typically more expensive.

Most dive centres will provide you with all of the gear that you need to learn to scuba dive within your course with no additional fees or hidden charges, but some training centres may ask that you provide your own mask, snorkel and fins, or they  may charge you for their rental.

It’s therefore important that you check with your course provider:

  • If scuba gear rental is included in the course price
  • What is included in the course, and are there any additional fees you need to know about

Once you do become certified you may want to then begin purchasing some of your own dive gear. 

At a minimum it would be best to at least have your own scuba mask so that you always have something you’re comfortable with and that you know fits you perfectly.

There’s certainly no rush to go and invest in tons of scuba gear once you have passed though. A lot of divers simply purchase various pieces over time which they prefer not to rent – such as a mask, fins, and perhaps a dive computer.

Considering what you will gain from completing your basic open water training certification, and that this will last you a lifetime, the cost of scuba certification is actually very good value!

Where Can I Learn To Scuba Dive

The answer to this question is that it is really up to you! Here are some examples on how/where you could complete your scuba certification


If you have a dive centre that’s local to you, you could complete your entire scuba course locally.

This is a popular option for those who may wish to take the course with friends or a family member, or those who wish to learn in a more familiar environment, and perhaps at a slower pace.

It also means that your vacation time won’t be taken up by scuba lessons, and you can get right to the good part – going on dive trips!

Choosing to undertake your scuba certification locally could mean that it may take several weeks to complete however, as dive schools tend to typically hold their classes weekly. 

So if you’re really in a rush to get certified before an upcoming trip, this might not be your best option. It would be best to check beforehand with your local dive school on how quickly their course may be completed.


You can if you wish, begin the course locally and then finish it on vacation.

Either by completing the knowledge part of the course locally, and the confined and open water dives whilst on vacation. Or, by completing the knowledge and confined water dives locally, and finishing the course by taking your open water dives at your destination.

By taking the knowledge part of the course at home you’ll save yourself from having to sit in a classroom whilst on vacation (I mean, who wants to sit in a classroom when on vacation!?)

But also taking your knowledge part of the course locally, and at your own pace, is also a good idea if you feel like you need more time to absorb the information fully.

You may also seek a referral to do your open water dives in a warmer climate if it’s currently winter where you are located.


Finally you could complete the entire scuba certification whilst on your vacation.

This option has the benefit of being able to complete the confined and open water dives in warm tropical waters – an option that for many is much more appealing than your local swimming pool!

It would also be a popular option for those who do not have a dive centre located near to them at home.

Certification will typically be done in around 4 days, which may suit those with hectic schedules who simply don’t have the time to complete any of the studies/dives whilst not on vacation.

Of course the obvious drawback to undertaking your entire scuba certification whilst on vacation, is that you will be spending a good chunk of your vacation time in the classroom, and for some, the pressure of having to undertake (and pass), all of the modules within a time limit may be too much.

It’s up to you to therefore weigh out the pros and cons of each and decide which option best suits your needs – Personally I think learning to dive locally at your own pace, or completing the knowledge and confined dives locally with a referral to do the open water dives on vacation are the options that would suit most new divers.

scuba diving in a school of fish

Do You Need No Be Certified To Scuba Dive

A common misconception is that you have to be certified in order to go scuba diving, but this is actually not the case.

You can scuba dive without a scuba certification, and it is not illegal for you to go scuba diving without certification.

There are tour operators who will offer you the chance to go scuba diving without any certification – You will usually go through similar steps to the open water diver course.

Your day will consist of undertaking some theory, followed by a pool dive, before being led to a dive site where you can scuba dive at shallow depth under the close supervision of the instructor.

These types of ‘discover scuba diving’ courses are unable to grant you any kind of certification at the end of them, so if you fancy going on another one of these dive tours, you would need to complete the entire course again.

An instructor-led dive following the appropriate training is the only time you may go diving without certification. You will be under constant supervision, and only be allowed to dive to shallow depths.

It will not be possible for you to go on dive excursions or have your scuba tank filled without certification, as for insurance and liability purposes, dive operators are required to only rent equipment to certified divers.

An introductory diving course may help you decide whether scuba diving is for you or not if you are not sure.

If you go on one of these courses and decide that scuba diving is for you, or you are already certain in wanting to take up scuba diving, then you should of course look into getting properly certified.

Having your scuba certification is the best and safest option as it will teach you the appropriate safety protocols, what to do in an emergency and how to properly use your scuba equipment

The Most Widely Recognised Scuba Agencies


scuba schools international
scuba diving international

First things first, none of the above organisations are particularly better or worse than the others, and who you choose to get certified with could depend on a few factors.

What is available to you locally could be the determining factor – If you happen to have a particular course provider close to you, and they happen to be the only one, then something as simple as that may be the determining factor for choosing them over the others.

If you have the option of multiple different providers then you could use a few more factors to narrow down your search.

Do you know anyone who is scuba certified? Speak to them and ask them for their thoughts and recommendations. 

If you don’t know anyone who dives, then head down to your local dive shop and talk to them – Chances are they know the local agencies and instructors well and can provide you with some recommendations.

Call or head down to your local PADI, NAUI, SSI etc dive centre and talk to them directly. Your choice on who to certify with could be based on which instructor you connect with the best and feel most comfortable with.

Check out the reviews online of the course provider you’re thinking of choosing as well – You can’t always please everyone of course, but a string of bad (or excellent!) reviews may certainly sway you one way or the other.

In terms of the actual course teachings and requirements when it comes to your open water diver certification, they are pretty much all the same at the end of the day, and a certification from any one of these companies will allow you to dive anywhere in the world.

About6,600 locations in 183 countries. The largest recreational scuba agency in the worldOver 2,800 locations in 110 countriesThe second largest scuba operator in the world, (behind PADI).24 regional offices service 100 countries worldwide. It’s parent branch, TDI (Technical Diving International), is the largest Tech Diving organisation in the world.
Course NameOpen Water DiverOpen Water DiverScuba DiverOpen Water Scuba Diver
Confined Water Dives5624
Open Water Dives4444

What Scuba Gear Do I Need

scuba diving certification

For those who are completely new to scuba diving we wouldn’t advise going out straight away to load up on equipment.

During your course you’ll have the opportunity to really get to use, learn and know your scuba equipment well.

Take this opportunity to try and establish what kind of scuba gear you like, and also what feels comfortable. 

You can also discuss with your instructor as well as to what gear they have experience and might recommend for your personal needs – We also have multiple articles on some of the best scuba gear (which includes budget recommendations, so check those out too!)

Basic Scuba Gear

Will My Scuba Certification Ever Expire

A resounding no! No matter which of the above scuba agencies you certify with, that certification will last for life and never expire.

It is always recommended though that if you haven’t been scuba diving in a while that It’s a good idea to refresh your scuba skills once again before heading back into open waters.


Getting your scuba certification is just the start- This is the beginning of an exciting lifelong journey which can take you all over the globe, seeing things you never thought that you would, and making lifelong friends along the way.

Plus, if you wish to expand your scuba skills even more then the journey doesn’t end here. There are plenty of opportunities to do so.

After Open Water certification you can then look into more advanced certifications and begin taking your knowledge (and dives!), even deeper!

scuba certification

Picture of Gia Halliday

Gia Halliday

Hey, my names Gia! My biggest passions are food, travel and basically anything to do with being in the water. Combine all of that with an addiction for buying gear and you end up with with this website!