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How to Get Scuba Certified - And Why You Should

Tyler Moss - Conde Nast Traveler
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August 8, 2017

Once certified, you can dive anywhere from the cenotes of Mexico to the chilly Baltic Sea. (Getty)

“For most people, this is as close to being an astronaut as you’ll ever get. It’s leaving planet Earth behind and entering an alien world.”

That’s how Mary Frances Emmons, deputy editor of Scuba Diving magazine, describes the thrill of strapping on a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus and plunging into the depths of the sea. She’s not alone in her excitement: Scuba diving is an immensely popular sport, with more than 3.1 million participants in the U.S., according to a 2017 report by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Even so, potential divers might be intimidated by the required training and perceived costs, or by how the hazards of the sport are depicted in pop culture. But below the choppy surface, scuba diving is a safe, accessible pastime unlike any other.

How to Get Certified

While certification is not required by law, no respectable dive shop or scuba tour company will provide equipment or services to a person who cannot show a valid C-card (a small plastic card proving that you’ve taken the proper certification classes). Thankfully, opportunities to receive training are more abundant than ever. The three most prominent international certification programs are run by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI), and Scuba Schools International (SSI).

Programs can vary in duration (from just a few days to a couple of months) and cost (likely somewhere in the $300–500 range), but usually consist of a few standard components: Initial “book learning” covering basic skills and safety principles (in a classroom setting, or through PADI’s e-learning portal); “confined water” training in a pool or other enclosed body of water to become acquainted with equipment (privately or in a group); and a series of four “open water” dives (between 15 and 60 feet deep) to put those learnings into practice. Beginners will want to invest in their own mask, fins and snorkel, but the certification program provides the rest.

What Makes It Safe

Safety concerns often hold back those interested in scuba from taking the literal plunge, but serious accidents are rare, as a 2011 report from the nonprofit Divers Alert Network demonstrates. Among the most important aspects of certification is learning how to react in any given situation, and being acutely aware of your body, equipment, and surroundings. “There’s always some element of risk because none of us can hold our breath forever and we can’t breathe [under] water, but we can learn to handle those risks safely,” says James Morgan, vice president of PADI's Training, Sales & Field Services. “Over the [certification] course, we not only talk about what the risks are, but how to mitigate them. We go through and practice safety procedures.”

Another oft-expressed apprehension among newbies is fear of sharks, no doubt perpetuated by movies and TV. Prior to the release of The Shallows (touted as Jaws for a new generation), marine biologists were in such an uproar over what they felt to be mischaracterization of sharks that they sent an open letter to Columbia Pictures setting the record straight. The fact is, sharks in the wild have no interest in humans as long as they don’t feel attacked, or think you’re stealing their food.

Read the rest at Conde Nast Traveler

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