So you like fish, you like to get all dressed up in tight-fitting stuff, and you like to strap all sorts of things on. You're also interested in scuba-diving, though, so let's talk about that and keep this clean.

Fact number one: the word "scuba" is actually the acronym "S.C.U.B.A." What does SCUBA stand for? Well, it's not "So, Can U Breathe Alright?" It stands for "Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus," mostly because scuba diving involves using a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. Scuba diving is a popular watersport; so popular that over one million people become certified scuba divers worldwide every year. It basically involves putting a heavy tank full of compressed air on your back and diving into deep water with a tiny rubber tube being the only thing that keeps you alive. Still interested? Then read on, intrepid explorer.


The first step to becoming a scuba diver is to determine how serious your interest is. Will you dive in warm waters a few times a year at some pricey resorts or are you interested in hardcore cold water diving and exploring shipwrecks? It's important to ask yourself questions like these because you can enjoy diving without becoming certified. If you vacation in popular diving spots like the Caribbean, Acapulco, or the Florida Keys, you will easily find offers for "resort" dives. These are usually 1-day or weekend crash courses in diving which include a guided dive with a dive master. You do not get certified and can not go unsupervised, but you are certainly allowed to enjoy the marine life in the area. Although often expensive, this type of introduction to diving is a wonderful way to decide if you want to pursue getting certified. You will probably even get a few underwater disposable camera shots of yourself with colorful fish. Oooh. Ahhh.

If you have a more vested interest in diving and want to become certified, there are physical and mental aspects to the sport that you should consider. It's fairly obvious that this is a sport with a healthy amount of risk.

Physical Considerations

Swimming Ability: You first must determine whether you are physically able to scuba dive. Question number one: do you know how to swim? If the answer is "no," then we suggest a hobby that does not involve water. However, a more incisive question is: are you comfortable being in water for hours at a time? Even if you know how to swim, scuba diving can be tiring, so your swimming skills should be fairly strong. If you are overweight, tire easily, have diabetes, a heart condition, or any other predisposition to drowning, then talk to your doctor before scuba diving. He or she might have an opinion that you'd like to hear. Oh, and having a stomach of steel to combat those 5-foot waves comes in handy too.

Breathing Ability: Another thing to know is that some people have problems getting used to breathing through their mouths instead of their noses. This problem can be easily fixed through practice with a snorkel or regulator in "safe" environments like a pool or bathtub.

Equalizing Ability: A harder problem to overcome is equalizing the pressure in your ears as you descend lower and lower into the water. That is, being able to "pop" your ears, like on a plane. As you go deeper in the ocean, pressure builds, and it is crucial to your physical being that you be able to pop your ears. For an explanation why, ask your doctor or scuba instructor. It's complicated. Just trust us that you need to practice popping your ears. Now some people find this easier than others. Some can just swallow, yawn, or hold their noses and blow gently (we repeat: GENTLY). We like to use a trick called the "combo-yawn-and-wiggle-your-jaw-from-side-to-side" (trademark pending). Whatever the method, it sometimes takes a pretty long time to kick in. The important thing to remember is that if you are having trouble equalizing, for the love of God, don't go any deeper! Tell your buddy (more on this below) to hold up and make sure you pop your ears, because the alternative can be ruptured eardrums. Those hurt.

This leads to an important note: when you have congestion it's really hard to equalize. People with colds and allergies should reschedule their dives. Try diving into a good bowl of chicken noodle soup instead.

Mental Considerations

Panicking: You must not panic while scuba diving. Period. Not necessarily in case you get in trouble, but in case your buddy has a problem. Buddy? Whenever diving, you should always have a "buddy," someone who you'll stick next to, and who will watch over you while you watch over them. If your buddy has a problem, it's your responsibility to get someone (most likely the dive master) to help him or her. If you panic, your buddy might not get such help.

Fear of strangers: Speaking of your aforementioned buddy, we must reiterate that everyone that dives must have one! Diving with a friend or loved one makes you feel safer because you pretty much can count on them to watch over you. So if you are a bit shy around people you don't know and don't feel comfortable being paired up with just anyone you meet on a dive boat (you really have to trust your buddy in what could be survival conditions and you may both have to breathe out of the same regulator if, God forbid, something disastrous happens), you might want to consider snorkeling instead. You must communicate with your buddy. But don't worry -- other divers are generally great people to get to know and random buddies can end up being friends for life.

Squirmies: Are you squeamish around sea creatures and plant life? Yes, it's true that you would rarely encounter things like sharks, barracudas, and piranhas, but how do you feel about jellyfish, slimy stingrays, and thick kelp forests? If you get all icked out by thoughts of sea crap floating into your face or swallowing sea water, you might be prone to getting "the squirmies." Again, not the best candidate for scuba diving. Now be honest with yourself; if these things make you nervous and kinda freak you out, maybe you should stick to eating sea life instead of looking at it.

Sea sickness: Well, this is kinda a mixture between the physical and the mental (many times, people don't get sea sick unless they think about it). In any case, if you are prone to getting seasick, you should probably take up tennis. Scuba diving involves going on boats to get to dive sites.


When taking a scuba certification course (which we will discuss in step 3 and step 4 ), students often need to buy their own mask, snorkel, fins and booties and they often don't get good advice on how to buy this stuff. First and foremost, don't buy any equipment until you decide on a course and find out if rentals are included in your fees – then decide if you'd rather rent than buy. What you'll need to get completely depends on your course, but we'll get into that later. The following equipment are all you need for skin diving and snorkeling. They aid you in seeing clearly underwater, enable you to breathe with your mouth and nose submerged, and empower you with greater movement underwater.

The Mask

In buying a mask, it's important that the lens should is made of tempered safety glass because it won't splinter when broken (life is bad enough when your mask is broken, but plenty worse when you have shards of glass in the vicinity of your eyes).

The mask strap should be easily adjustable and have locking buckles for quick changes if needed. We suggest a plastic strap split in back rather than the neoprene wide straps. We've found that the neoprene straps may slip during a dive (Bottom line: save yourself the $15 bucks for the flashy strap and you'll save yourself mask adjustment headaches underwater). If you can put your hair in a ponytail -- do it. The plastic skirt of your mask should form a comfortable seal with your face when you are underwater. The last thing you need is your hair to get in the way when you are creating a seal with your mask. For some men, thick facial hair may also interfere (yet, there are plenty of diver guys with mustaches and beards - so decide what's best for you).

People who wear glasses have several options, such as masks with corrective lenses built right in. You can wear contact lenses with a "regular" mask while diving as well (just close your eyes before clearing your mask if it fills up with water).

When buying any diving equipment, the most important consideration is comfort and fit. Be sure that your mask is the right size and fits your face well.

The Snorkel

Snorkels come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and with fancy gadgets. Things on top of the basic snorkel are bells and whistles, but they may add to the comfort and fit.

Several snorkels come with purge valves near the mouth piece. This valve was created so that water only travels 1-way – out of your snorkel. Therefore, you don't have to use as much energy clearing your snorkel since the water will exit the valve as well as the top of the snorkel.

Make sure the mouth piece fits well and does not cut in to the corners of your mouth (Note: it really smarts when you combine an open cut and salt water for long periods of time). Typically, silicone mouth pieces will be most flexible and comfortable, but will cost more. You get what you pay for.

Finally, don't use a fancy device to snap your snorkel onto your mask. Just get a cheap double-ring snorkel-keeper. This basic rubber band-like device will keep your snorkel in place and reduces the chance of you losing it.

The Fins and Booties

Remember how we asked you before if you would be diving in warm or cold waters? Your answer will determine what kinds of fins you purchase. Full-foot fins are used in warm water, typically when you dive from a boat (they also tend to cost less). When diving in cold water or from a rocky shore, you should use neoprene booties and open-heel fins that strap on (this type allows more of a customized fit). Fins have a broad price range and vary greatly in their materials, shapes, and sizes. In general, the longer the fin and the stiffer the blade, the more the fin empowers your kick. Furthermore, vented-blade fins are designed to increase power based on the flow of the water through the vents. Keep in mind that you need the leg power to use these fins though – don't buy fins that require more strength to move them than you have to give. Comfort and fit should ultimately help you determine your purchase.

Additional Equipment

Renting vs. Buying: The rest of the equipment includes: a buoyancy compensation device (B.C.), a regulator, console, a wet suit, and air tanks. We'd prefer not to get into what all this stuff does. You'll learn it in your certification course. But for you Impatient Irvings out there who need to know now, check out for more details. Now, all this stuff can get quite costly so it is important that you ask yourself if you are ready to purchase the equipment right away, or if you want to test things out first by renting.

Renting Buying Pros

  • No maintenance (e.g., rinsing and caring for your equipment after diving)
  • Opportunity to try out different brands and types of equipment
  • Lower costs
  • Comfort and fit
  • You know where it has been
  • Quality and known features
  • Lack of variety in rental gear
  • Sacrificing comfort and fit
  • Unknown quality of equipment
  • High initial costs
  • Equipment maintenance (e.g., care and rinsing, tank inspections, regulator maintenance)
  • Transporting your gear on trips

We suggest that you start out renting the equipment, and if you like the sport, then consider making purchases. When you do eventually choose to buy all of your equipment, the order in which you should do so is as follows: 1- mask, snorkel, fins and booties, 2- B.C., 3- regulator, 4- consoles/gauges, 5- wet suit, 6- tanks.

Scubabooty is an awesome site when diggin' around for diving equipment. Make sure you do research on scuba gear before you dive into the investment by checking out all items in scubabooty (such a cool name ain't it!). Ask for recommendations from your teacher or fellow students on what type of products to buy and where to buy them. There are many options available these days besides dive shops, including diving newsletters, chat rooms, your local classifieds (for used equipment), scuba equipment web sites, mail order firms, and water sports stores. Make sure you check return policies and that you are buying from a reputable company. And keep your receipt. If you end up hating scuba diving, you'll hate it even more when you go into your garage and see all of the equipment staring at you.


Why do you need to get certified? Why can't you just strap a pack on your back and jump off a rock into the ocean? Because stores won't sell you air tanks unless your certified, and most dive masters won't take you diving to the really cool places unless you're certified. Good enough reasons?

So assuming that you want to become a certified scuba diver (as opposed to those pesky ninja scuba divers), you'll need to find an instructor and certification agency. Use the Internet or Yellow Pages to find your local dive shops, YMCA, and independent instructors (assuming that you want to get certified close to home rather than while on vacation). Check out the certification agency web sites for the National Association of Diving Instructors (NAUI) and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) to find contact info for courses in your area. These are the two biggest certification agencies. We'll tell you more about NAUI and PADI below, but their web sites provide plenty o' information about various options for certification courses and where you can find courses that are close to you. Then comparison shop based on recommendations, price, and class size and length.

It's important to get recommendations for instructors from others because (1) you are paying for someone to teach you skills you may need in life or death situations and (2) you can't trust just any schmuck trying to make a buck. Get referrals from friends and co-workers for certified dive masters. When you contact the instructors, find out what agency they are certified by (more on this below). Ask them about their experience, philosophies, and teaching styles. For example, are they willing to give special attention to someone having trouble? Are they able to translate technical knowledge into memorable lay terms? Do they challenge students to master skills rather than just pass everyone?


Prices for certification courses often range from $100 to $350 and more. There is such a broad range because different courses include different things. It's essential to find out every last morsel that is included in a course because that $100 course can end up costing you more than the $350 one. Here are the things you should ask about: text books and dive tables, log books, equipment (people usually provide their own mask, snorkel, fins and booties – but rental fees for other equipment like B.C.'s, regulators, and tanks are usually included), boat fees, open water dives, and the Certification card (including picture).

Classes Size and Length

Ask about size and length. Of the CLASS, pervert. If you can't afford private or semi-private lessons, ask the maximum size of a typical class. Remember, smaller classes mean more time spent with individual students, which leads to safer diving. The instructor-student ratio should ideally be no more than 1:4. Is the course a 3-day weekend crash course or is it an intensive 8-weeks of classroom and dive time? Although you may be in a hurry to get certified before a vacation and the shorter courses are probably cheaper – do you really think you can absorb all there is to know in 3-days, while you know that others take a full 2 months to learn the same skills? (They can't all be idiots.) After you get the 411 on all these things, weigh the pros and cons of the courses offered.


There are many agencies around the world; however, in the United States the two you should concern yourself with are the NAUI and PADI. These two agencies have different philosophies and methods of training. NAUI is a not-for-profit agency, founded in 1960 and based on educating qualified divers. PADI is a for-profit agency, founded in 1966. PADI takes a marketing approach to diving which has been quite successful and has made them the largest and most recognized certification agency in the world. PADI offers shorter courses than NAUI with more levels, which may lead divers to falsely believe they are at a higher level of proficiency than they really are. PADI and NAUI utilize different dive tables. NAUI's dive tables tend to be more conservative in terms of Surface Interval Time allotted. Ultimately, what is most important for your training as a good diver is your instructor rather than the certification agencies s/he is affiliated with. But with all else being equal, we'd prefer to go with NAUI.


Written Exam

Now it's time to bone down and study about scuba diving. We suggest you go with a course that gives you several weeks to absorb the dense lectures and book readings on various topics such as buoyancy, diving physics, and depth and time limits. At the end of your course, you will be required to take a written test. You must pass it to become certified Here's a few quiz questions that are similar to what you might be asked:

I-- A diver, while ascending, should always:

a) hold his/her breath b) exhale c) breathe normally d) any of the above, it doesn't matter

II-- For every ___ feet of depth (in salt water) gauge pressure increases by 1 atmosphere.

a) 22.4 b) 66 c) 14.7 d) 33

III-- Match the situation to the law of physics that best explains it.

a) Decompression sickness
b) Decreased tank pressure after a "hot fill"
c) Air embolism
d) Nitrogen narcosis
e) Floating or sinking

1) Boyle's Law
2) Archimedes' Principle
3) Dalton's Law
4) Henry's Law
5) Charles' Law

Answers: I) b, II) d, III) a-4, b-5, c-1, d-3, e-2

Granted, these were some tough questions, but scuba diving is a tough sport. In addition, you'll need to know how to use your dive tables like the back of your hand (that is, calculate surface interval times for multiple dives and how much time you need to give yourself before increasing or decreasing your depth). For more in depth (no pun intended, ha ha!) information on diving and the skills you need to get certified, please refer to these texts: (1) Clinchy, R.A., Egstrom, G., Fead, L. Jeppsen's Open Water Sport Diver (5th Edition). Mosby - Year Book, 1992. (2) Barsky, S. Adventures in Scuba Diving (NAUI). Mosby - Year Book, 1995.

Swim Test

While you are reading and studying, you will also be taking swimming pool training dives. And, believe us, there's nothing that builds more character in a person than learning what is at the bottom of ye olde publick swimming hole. Most U.S. based scuba diving agencies have a 200-yard minimum swimming requirement (300 yards for the YMCA) for certification. There are also survival/safety requirements that will be tested in the pool such as treading water and tired diver tow (dragging a tired swimmer to "shore"). What's important about the training dives in the pool is that it's your opportunity to suit up and get familiar with all the equipment in a contained and supervised setting.

The final step on your way to being a scuba diver is to try an open water dive. This is when all your hard work in the classroom and pool is finally put to the test. You will be required to pass a series of five open water dives in a lake, quarry, ocean or other large body of water. You will be asked to perform some of the following skills and more:

  • Set up and check your equipment and your buddy's equipment (don't be fresh)
  • Know your hand signals
  • Plan the dive
  • Ascent and descent: controlled and normal, with and without reference (boat)
  • Mask: clearing and removal
  • Snorkel: clearing
  • Buoyancy: pivot, hover, donning and doffing B.C., manual inflation B.C.
  • Regulator: clearing and recovery
  • Octopus: use and ascent
  • Cramps release
  • Tired diver tow
  • Navigation: compass surface and compass navigation

So you wanna be a scuba diver, and now you're closer to being one. That's enough time spent on your computer reading about it. Follow the simple steps we've outlined here and dive in! Who knows, maybe you'll be the one to find Atlantis. Maybe not.