In many places, kids are allowed to try scuba diving from the age of 8. But just because kids are allowed to try diving from this age, should they?
This is a heavily debated topic, with valid points from both sides. In this article we explore: the benefits and concerns about kids scuba diving, the pre-requisites needed to dive and the kids certification courses available. This is for you and your child to consider before deciding whether they are ready to scuba dive. And if they aren’t quite ready yet, we share 5 underwater alternatives to scuba diving, that you and your kids can enjoy.
Benefits of scuba diving
Scuba diving teaches you:
- How to identify and respect marine life.
- Responsibility for yourself and others.
- How to focus on breathing, which in turn can provide similar calming benefits as in meditation.
- How to be persistent at learning a new skill and how to overcome difficulties.
Concerns about kids scuba diving
In addition to the inherent risks associated with scuba diving, there are two important additional concerns people have when it comes to kids scuba diving, which relate to mental and physical health.
- Mental maturity – Is the child mature enough to deal with any problems that can occur under the water? Will they stay calm under pressure?
- Medical issues – it is unclear the effects of nitrogen on smaller/developing bodies and children may be more susceptible to ear issues/have problems with equalisation.
Pre-Requisites for Kids who want to scuba dive
Even if kids meet the minimum age requirements, there are other factors to consider if a child is ready to dive. They should only consider diving if they:
- Really want to dive! This is a no brainer, if your child has no desire to dive, then they shouldn’t!
- Are comfortable in the water – this means being able to swim unassisted and be comfortable swimming in open water.
- Are medically fit – they need to go for the standard scuba diving medical and if they have any common childhood issues such as asthma or ear problems, the doctor needs to perform additional tests and assess the risk of diving/determine suitability.
- Are able to remain calm in stressful situations – diving can be stressful, so the ability to stay calm and just breathe is super important.
- Can read – there is a theoretical component to diving, so kids need to be able to read and retain that information.
- Are a rational thinker. They need to remember what they have learnt and apply it, especially in a problematic situation.
Kids Scuba Courses
There are a number of kids scuba courses that exist to get them diving in the pool and then into the ocean.
Before signing up to a diving course, check with your local dive shop:
- the minimum age requirements (as age can vary per location)
- whether they have equipment that will fit your child,
- how often the dive centre runs the kids courses.
The courses listed here follow the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) diver training, however, you can find a similar course called Scuba Rangers (built for 8-12 year olds) with Scuba Schools International (SSI).
The Bubblemaker course is for kids 8 and older to get their first taste of scuba diving in the pool. They learn how to: breathe underwater and swim around, use the scuba gear, clear the regulator and mask, as well as other basic skills. This is all done at a maximum depth of 2m.
The Seal Team is for those that want to learn more than just the basics of scuba diving. The course is taught in two parts: Part 1 is the AquaMissions which teaches kids scuba skills like recovering a regulator, buoyancy control and clearing a mask, while part 2 includes specialty AquaMissions like search and recovery, how to take pictures underwater and fish identification. This is all done in the pool or confined water up to a maximum depth of 5m. This can count as credit towards a PADI Junior Open Water diver or PADI Open Water diver course.
Junior Open Water
This is the same course as the adult Open Water Certification. Some things to note:
- The child must be at least 10 years old to get this certification.
- If the child is younger than 15 then they earn the title of Junior Open Water. If they are 15 and older they can earn the full Open Water Certification.
- Children ages 10-11 must dive with a certified guardian, parent or PADI professional to a maximum depth of 12m.
- Children ages 12-14 must dive with a certified adult to a maximum depth of 18m.
Junior Advanced Open Water, Junior Rescue and Junior Master Scuba Diver
These courses are the same as the adult certifications. Some things to note:
- For children between the ages of 12-14 the maximum depth is 21m.
- After age of 15, they can upgrade to the adult certification.
5 alternatives to scuba diving
And if your child is not quite ready for scuba diving, here are some alternatives to scuba diving that still allow kids to have fun under water (in ascending order of difficulty).
- Submarine – places like the Maldives and Hawaii offer submarine rides for those that don’t want to get wet, but still want to enjoy underwater life. The air in the submarine is pressurised, so it is no different to being above the surface. This is a good first step to see how comfortable/interested your child is in the underwater world.
- Breathing Observation Submersible Scooter (B.O.S.S)*– is a ride on scooter that sits at 2-3m below the surface and has an attached helmet that allows riders to breathe air normally without having to wear a separate mask or regulator. This is generally suitable for those 8 and over, and is a nice shallow activity. It is an individual activity which can be used to gauge how comfortable your child is underwater.
- Helmet diving* – known by a variety of names such as: sea trek, sea walk or ocean walker and is suitable for non-swimmers and people usually aged 12 years and over. Like the B.O.S.S, helmet diving allows you to breathe normally with a helmet over your head. The good thing is, you don’t need to learn any skills like mask clearing, and it sits at about 4-5m under the ocean’s surface.
- Snorkelling – is one of the best ways to see how comfortable children are in the water. If they are comfortable duck diving, breathing through the snorkel, clearing their mask and swimming out in the open water, then this is a good indication that they may be a good candidate to try scuba diving.
- Snuba* – is shallow scuba diving, without the bulky equipment. Snuba participants can dive up to a depth of 6m below the surface and use face masks and regulators as used in diving. The difference is, individuals do not need to carry tanks, instead the tank floats in a raft at the top of the water, and allows participants to breathe via a long hose. It is up to the individual how deep they dive, and generally allows those from ages 6 and above to try snuba. If your child is comfortable with snuba then they may be a good candidate to try scuba diving.
Make sure you wait 24 hours after the activities listed with an asterisks (*) before you fly, to reduce the risk of decompression sickness.
I think we can all agree that when it comes to a child’s underwater experience, we want them to have both an enjoyable and safe underwater experience. For some, that may be scuba diving, and for others it may be one of the alternatives listed above. The decision on what is right for your kid, is something that needs to be discussed between you and your child, in consultation with your doctor.
Thinking back to when I was a kid, I didn’t even want to put my head in the water (let alone want to scuba dive). But, who knows, if I tried scuba diving or one of the alternatives when I was younger, I may not have had as many challenges scuba diving as I did when I learnt at the age of 25.
About the Author
Amanda and her husband Dean have been certified divers since 2009. Amanda has her advanced open water and Dean is a dive master. They have travelled the world and dived many sites in Australia, Asia, Central America and the Caribbean.
Amanda and Dean have a travel blog called Scatabout which details the fun and unique experiences they have had on their world travels. You can find them doing something adventurous like scuba diving, hiking or something strange like running down the side of a building.
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