Scuba Diving: A Family Affair?

It’s a common misconception that children and diving are incompatible, so divers with young families often feel torn between wanting to spend time with their kids and wanting to spend time underwater, both on vacation and in daily life. But diving needn’t be exclusive to adults — there are scuba-training programs available for children as young as 8 years old, and there are many benefits of diving together as a family.

Classroom lessons are brought vividly to life underwater, allowing children to understand concepts like the food chain or how an ecosystem works from firsthand experience. Diving also inspires an appreciation for the underwater world, allowing children to grow into environmentally compassionate adults. It offers an excellent way for families to keep fit together without putting too much strain on young bodies, and challenges children to try new things and become braver, more adventurous people. Most importantly, diving offers an opportunity for families to create memories that will last a lifetime, to bond over shared experiences, and to depend on one another above water in the same way that they must underwater. Here we’ll offer a guide for all those divers looking to share their passion with their family, either now or in the future.

Courses for kids

Several training organizations offer scuba courses for kids, of which PADI’s are perhaps the most popular. There are two PADI courses that allow parents to introduce their children to the basics of diving from the age of 8: the PADI Bubblemaker course and the PADI Seal Team course. The former allows children to use scuba equipment to breathe underwater, in a confined water environment, and no deeper than 6 feet (2 m). Children are directly supervised by a professional at all times, and are given a certificate, a temporary tattoo and a water toy in order to make the experience as memorable and as fun as possible. Children aged 8 or older are also eligible to enroll in the PADI Seal Team Course, which teaches them basic scuba skills via “AquaMissions” that include breathing underwater, mask clearing and regulator recovery. In this course, children can even choose from a series of specialty AquaMissions, which introduce them to the concepts of wreck diving, navigation, buoyancy, underwater photography and more.

Children aged 10 or older can enroll in the PADI Open Water Diver course, the same entry-level course offered to adults. Upon completion, children between 10 and 14 will be issued with a Junior Open Water Diver certification, which carries certain age-related safety restrictions. Children aged 10 and 11 must dive with a PADI professional or a certified parent/guardian even after qualification, and cannot exceed 40 feet (12 m), while children aged 12 to 14 must dive with a certified adult. Kids from 12 to 14 can also complete junior versions of other PADI courses, including Advanced Open Water, Rescue and Master Diver. Once a child turns 15, they can upgrade their certification card and the age-related restrictions will be removed.

Tips for diving with family

Children are used to the classroom, are generally quick to adopt new skills, and are often amongst the most attentive scuba students. However, it’s important to make sure that diving remains fun for children, so don’t push them too hard, or push them before they’re ready. A child may be able to start diving at 8, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all children are capable of diving safely at that age. As we know, diving can be taxing both physically and mentally, so it’s up to parents to honestly evaluate their child’s enthusiasm, strength, and ability to remain focused on learning before enrolling him or her in a scuba course. When your family is ready to take the plunge, ensure your kids’ safety by only certifying through a reputable and fully licensed training center, preferably one that has experience teaching young children.

If diving is a big hit with your kids, you may consider buying them their own scuba equipment. However, children grow quickly, and so purchasing an expensive BCD can be a bit of a waste, particularly when you can rent them for a fraction of the price. That said, it’s well worth purchasing child-sized soft gear, including a mask, fins and wetsuit, as these items require a precise fit and can make a big difference in your child’s comfort in the water. You’ll find that small-sized masks in particular are often in short supply at many dive centers.

Choosing a family-friendly dive destination is important, too. Many destinations, particularly in the Caribbean, specialize in accommodating divers of all ages, and can therefore cater to your children’s diving needs. Kids Sea Camps are held worldwide each year, and combine children’s diving courses with a range of other family-friendly activities. Destinations for 2015 include Grand Cayman, Bonaire, Palau, Yap, Fiji and Honduras, all of which are world-renowned spots for adult divers, too. Even if your children aren’t old enough to dive, or simply don’t want to, you can still have the best of both worlds by choosing a destination that combines excellent diving with plenty of quality family time opportunities. Florida, for example, allows parents to explore world-class dive sites one day and spend time on the beach, at Disney World or in the Everglades the next.

Ultimately, there’s no reason diving and family should be mutually exclusive. It’s easy to share your passion with the ones you love most, and in the process, hopefully instill in them a lifelong passion of their own.

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