How do I start scuba diving?
June 25, 2008 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I want to start scuba diving as a hobby. Where do I begin?

I've read up on some stuff online, but they've mostly been membership sites with more promotions than information. Same with the magazine, Scuba. I am located at least 3 hours from any beach. Once I have the basics, I'd like to make trips to various places but I need to get started.

Any suggestions are appreciated.
posted by icollectpurses to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Starting under the assumption that you don't have a SCUBA diving certification, that's a good place to start. Contact your local YMCA or check the yellow pages for nearby SCUBA shops (even my hometown in land-locked Ohio had a handful of SCUBA outfitters), many of them offer starting-from-scratch classes that will put you on the way to certification.

It also may be worth checking if any local colleges/universities have SCUBA diving clubs that may offer discounted classes or group outings.
posted by dicaxpuella at 9:42 AM on June 25, 2008

Well, your first step should definitely be to get certified. I'm not sured exactly where you're located, but in the DC area it runs a couple hundred bucks to do a course (group lessons; individual lessons would be more expensive). Some places will arrange it so you can run through the entire course in a 3-day weekend, while other places have you come in 2-3 times a week after work for a couple of weeks. You spend some time in the classroom, learning about the mechanics of diving--what's an atmosphere of pressure? how quickly can you ascend in ft/minute safely? what's the bends, and how do you avoid it? what's a j-valve, and why should you be really certain about whether or not your tank has one before you start your dive?--then do more work in the pool, learning how operate the equipment and communicate under water. At the end of the course, you need to do a couple of open-water dives to get your final certification. These aren't too tough--just going down with an instructor a few times and making sure that you know what you're doing.

Any local dive shop around you that rents equipment or does diving tours should probably have dive courses. I'd look for one that gets you PADI certification, which is probably the most widely-accepted. Call around to compare prices. However, this is probably one area that I wouldn't cheap out on--diving can be an extremely dangerous sport, especially if you don't know what you're doing. Before going through a course, you should make sure the instructor is a certified dive instructor (not just a certified diver), and that they've been doing this for a while. There are some resorts and (in my mind, unethical) dive shops that will dump you in the water with no training, and I can't overemphasize what a bad idea that is. Around 100 people a year die every year in diving accidents, and you don't want to be one of them.

In terms of equipment, you probably don't need much, especially if you don't live too close to a beach. At least in the beginning, you're only going to be going out on excursions with dive shops, and any place that will rent you an air tank will also rent you a B.C., weight belt, mask and fins. (Caveat: if you have a hard time fitting into regular masks, that might be something you want to buy yourself--my face is kind of narrow, and the masks for rent at dive shops often leak a bit around my temples.)

Feel free to me-mail me if you have any specific questions--I've been certified for almost 15 years, and gone on dive trips every other year during that time. It's a fantastic thing to do when you travel.
posted by iminurmefi at 9:45 AM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I live two hours from a beach and had no trouble getting certified and going on dives. You don't say where you are, but if you are near a city of any size you can take a class from a training center affiliated with any of these organizations: PADI, NAUI, IDEA, SDI; there are others but those are the ones I see most frequently. Then sign up for lessons and from there it pretty much takes care of itself.

Most of your initial training will be done in a pool; ideally the dive center you train at will have its own, indoor pool (as opposed to renting the pool at the local Y or something). This allows for classes year round and allows for easy scheduling of makeup classes if you have a busy schedule. It is fun to take lessons with someone else but not at all necessary; the classes and trips are a great way to meet people and make friends. When you sign up they will tell you what you need, but in general they can loan or rent you everything you need beyond a bathing suit and perhaps mask/snorkel/fins. At the end of the course the whole group generally goes to the beach for a open water checkout dive before final certification; in my case they went to Fort Lauderdale. I was unable to make that trip, so for a little extra the instructor took me to a local lake for my checkout dive. I did get to go to FL with many of that group a few weeks later, though, and had a blast, even though I went alone. As I said above it is a great way to meet people. My dive buddy on that trip lived very near me, and for a couple of years afterwards we would regularly meet to go diving in the Savannah River, where we found some cool artifacts. If you want more info, let me know in this thread or via MeMail.
posted by TedW at 9:46 AM on June 25, 2008

In fact, here's a locator for the PADI shops in your area. Those would be the first place to call about certification courses.
posted by iminurmefi at 9:49 AM on June 25, 2008

What everyone else said.

Look for scuba shops in your area and go talk to them. I live in land-locked Nevada, a desert, and there are four scuba shops here. The shops will almost certainly offer basic Open Water certification classes or at least tell you where to go.

Open Water certification costs vary of course, but you are probably looking at $250-300, AND you'll probably be asked to at the very least provide (purchase) your own mask, snorkel, and fins, so tack on another $150-200. Other equipment you can usually rent.

Scuba is great fun, but I should alert you that there is nothing inexpensive about the sport. If you are looking to fully outfit yourself (and you should, but perhaps not all at once) you're gonna drop like $2000 easy. And then of course, there will be those killer dive trips to Fiji, or Hondurus, or Australia, etc etc. ;-) It's addictive.

Have fun and save your pennies!
posted by elendil71 at 9:51 AM on June 25, 2008

On preview, good advice up thread.

Start by taking a training course from a dive association certified instructor. In North America, there are 2 main dive associations that certify divers: PADI and NAUI. Both provide effective training materials and offer certification of dive instructors and dive center facilities worldwide. You can probably find a PADI or NAUI dive instructor offering training near you, even in your landlocked abode. Many such instructors use YMCA pools or college facilities, so if a Yellow Pages or Web search doesn't quickly turn up instructors in your area, you can check with such facilities, too.

Much of the early training is pool based, and even your early certification dives can be accomplished in fresh water sites like lakes (which can also provide interesting dive destinations near your home, later). Usually, inland dive instructors will organize 1 or 2 weekend trips to the ocean for landlocked students, to complete open water training. A basic PADI Open Water certification course will take 3 to 6 weeks, meeting 1 or 2 nights a week. I recommend this, as opposed to 1 or 2 day "resort courses" taught at inclusive dive resorts, since the Open Water certification is the basic PADI certification for participation in most recreational dive activities, including organizing your own dive trips with partners. And by doing it near home, over a few weeks, you have time to master skills gradually, without the pressure to learn quickly, in order to avoid missing dive destinations on a combined resort trip. Learning near where you live can also open relationships with other divers in your area, and clue you in to local dive activities and sites, so that you have more opportunities to dive, rather than just making it a once a year vacation activity.
posted by paulsc at 10:06 AM on June 25, 2008

...I should alert you that there is nothing inexpensive about the sport...

While you certainly can spend a lot, I find that trips to Florida (I live in GA) are pretty reasonable. If you go with a group you get discounts on everything and you spend all day on a boat instead of shopping or sipping $10 drinks with umbrellas in them. You can spend a small fortune if you want to, but it can be pretty reasonable compared to a lot of hobbies.
posted by TedW at 10:07 AM on June 25, 2008

Welcome! Recreational diving is a really fun (if expensive) hobby.

It's worth checking out the all dive shops in your area for your first move. The right shop will be really helpful as you get started: you can get certified with them, rent/buy starter equipment, meet dive buddies, get diver's insurance, go on well-organized trips, continue with certifications. Recreational diving can be very much a community-oriented sport, and it's good to have guides you trust and like. PADI or NAUI certifications are good bets; they're accepted almost everywhere.

You'll probably need your own mask and snorkel for the open water certification course. You may need your own fins - these are very personal and can get expensive, so don't blow the bank on fan-dancy fins until you know what you need and like. You can rent everything else from the shop.

Many shops will have courses every month. Most are structured with several classroom weeknights, weekend pool days for practicing technique, and a final written exam and open water skill exam (here in DC, open water certifications often happen in old flooded quarries converted to diver training sites). You will occasionally find fast-track courses compressed into three full days - I think both are effective and teach you everything you need to know; it depends mostly on your schedule and learning pace.

The other way to get certified is ON a trip - many resorts and "on location" dive shops offer trial packages and certification courses. These are expensive, and less personal.

Once you're certified, look around and see if there's a Meetup group in your area, or a dive club. Diving is a great way to meet people, and keeping your skills honed between trips is always smart. Keep renting equipment until you're sure you're going to stick with it - you can rent when you're traveling as well, which is handy if you don't want to pay overweight baggage fees to lug all your crap from place to place.

Go warm-water diving for your first trip. It's by far the lowest-stress way to dive, and you'll see beautiful things. We really like all-inclusive dive lodges in low-traffic places, not fancy tourist resorts - simple lodging, group dinners, intimate atmosphere. Eat, sleep, and dive - it's a great way to spend a week or ten days. Check out the dive magazines and forums for chatter about locations, or inquire at your dive shop.

Be safe, and have fun!
posted by peachfuzz at 10:10 AM on June 25, 2008

If you do choose to learn to dive in a resort course setting, be aware that you need to plan to finish your diving activities at least 24 hours before you fly home again, commercially. Many resort dive centers will do everything they can to build in this delay for new divers on "learn to dive" package trips they organize, but if you are organizing your training in a remote destination, sometimes, details can be overlooked. Don't over schedule resort trips - weather and your own limitations have to be taken into account, always.
posted by paulsc at 10:34 AM on June 25, 2008

sorry, I wasn't trying to be secretive, just that I am near the midAtlantic ocean. I am in metro DC area. Thank you for the advice so far, please keep'em coming.
posted by icollectpurses at 10:58 AM on June 25, 2008

Great advice above. I dive quite a bit for my job as a scientist, and I will add that you should not spend a nickle on gear until you figure out if you like it or not. It's not for everyone. We've trained several people here at work who just didn't take to it at all. People who thought they would love it. It's weirdly claustrophobic, often cold, and always soggy. You have to be pretty tolerant of mild to fairly substantial discomfort, and you have to be willing to put up with 4-6 hours of preparation, boat rides and clean up for one or two hours of fun. But for some, like myself, there is really nothing like it. It's awesome.

My training dive, I burst a blood vessel in my nose and my mask got really bloody inside. I was OK with it, but one lady in class got freaked out by the sight of my bloody face and quit on the spot. This after sinking several hundred dollars to get to the point where she was on her final certification dive. The dive master said that happened to him once in a while, and it was just one of those things. On the same dive another person could not equalize pressure in one of his ears. The pain was clearly pretty terrible for him, and prevented him from getting certified on that day.

It's serious business.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 12:17 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are a ton of shops in Metro DC. I got certified ten years ago through Atlantic Edge in Gaithersburg; they've got really good plugged-in people working there, stock some nice equipment, and offer a wide variety of general and technical classes. They have great equipment sales twice a year, and they always seem to have well-organized trips with various focuses (NC wreck dives, Caribbean trips, occasional cold water trips!) going on.

My dad also likes The Dive Shop in Fairfax, and the National Diving Center in Van Ness.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:26 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

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