Do You Need to Know How to Swim to Scuba Dive?

What Are the Swimming Test Requirements for Scuba Diving

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Technically, no. Scuba certification does require a water skills assessment, but entry level programs often do not. However, whether a prospective diver should be able to swim is a matter for debate.

Some Scuba Diving Programs Do Not Require a Swim Test

Entry-level scuba diving programs, such as PADI's Discover Scuba Diving program, do not require participants to pass swim test. These sort of programs offer divers the chance to try diving in a swimming pool or in shallow open water in small groups. They require minimal skill practice and the participants are dependent upon the instructor for help in the unlikely event of a problem. Very small groups, well-designed courses, and highly trained instructors minimize the risk involved in these programs, and they are generally an excellent and safe way to try diving and to discover if it is an activity that an individual would like to pursue.

Scuba Diving Certification Requires a Swim Test

Scuba diving certification does require a swim test. In the PADI Open Water Course, prospective divers are required to:

Swim 200 meters without swim aids, or 300 meters with swim aids such as fins, a mask and a snorkel.

Float without the assistance of a floatation device for ten minutes.

For prospective divers with physical disabilities, most training organizations will allow the use of adaptive techniques to comply with the swim test training standards.

Do I Need to Be a Good Swimmer to Scuba Dive?

Participation in a high school swim team is not a prerequisite for scuba certification. Scuba certification swim tests are not timed, and participants can use whatever swimming stroke they desire to pass the test – even goofy ones.

What Is the Value of the Swim Tests in Scuba Diving Certification Courses?

There are three main reasons that testing swimming and floating ability during scuba certification courses is important. 

1. Diver Comfort: Scuba diving certification courses include swim and float tests for diver safety. Determining whether a prospective diver is comfortable enough in the water to swim a short distance and to float on the surface is logical, and a good indicator of whether a student will be comfortable in the open water.

2. Logistical Considerations: In some dive locations, a diver may need to be able to float on the surface after handing his gear into the boat for a few moments. In fact, donning and removing dive gear on the surface is a skill taught and tested in most entry-level scuba certification courses.

3. Emergency Management: In the unlikely event of an equipment malfunction, it is conceivable that a diver would have to ditch his scuba equipment and swim to the boat or shore, or wait on the surface to be picked up. Testing swimming skills confirms that a diver would indeed survive such a scenario. However, given the reliability of modern scuba gear, a situation requiring the diver to shed all of his equipment on the surface is highly unlikely.

Should All Scuba Divers Be Able to Swim?

This is certainly an interesting question. People enroll in scuba courses for a variety of reasons, and a few of them seem inappropriate to me. I have heard students state that they want to learn to dive in order to overcome a fear of the water or to learn to swim. I would urge such students to become comfortable in the water by enrolling in swimming courses before ever considering a scuba experience program or entry-level certification.

• Diver Confidence: While the technique of swimming underwater in scuba gear is very different from the technique of swimming on the surface without equipment, confidence in oneself and one's abilities in the water does translate to diving. In many cases, this confidence and ability appear to be directly correlated with a student's comfort level when scuba diving. Students who are completely certain that they would be able to survive in the water with out scuba gear are certainly much more comfortable using it.

• Basic Diving Skills: Consider that even a scuba program that does not include a swim test will still require the student to put water in his mask and to remove a regulator underwater. Students who are afraid of having water in their faces will not enjoy these skills, and would do better to increase their comfort level in the water before attempting to dive.

• Problem Solving: Scuba diving is an equipment dependent activity, and the reliability of the equipment is extremely high. However, the remote possibility exists that a diver will need to deal with an equipment-related issue by using emergency management skills such as switching to the instructor's regulator, even during an initial dive experience.

I do not feel that scuba divers need to be expert swimmers, but a basic ability to handle oneself in the water without fear or stress is an absolute requirement in my opinion, Knowing how to swim and float are a huge step in acquiring that confidence. Prospective divers who do not have the ability to stay calm on the surface without a floatation device or who cannot swim (however sloppily) for a short distance should first learn these skills with a professional swimming coach. A diver who is not confident without his gear is one uncomfortable situation away from panic, and panic, as all scuba instructors know, endangers both the person panicking and those around him.

The Take-Home Message About Knowing How to Swim and Scuba Diving

Anyone who choses to scuba dive should be comfortable in the water. Swimming underwater is different from swimming on the surface in many ways, but the ability to handle oneself on the surface is a good indicator of subsequent comfort underwater. Scuba diving experience programs, such as PADI's Discover Scuba Diving program, do not include swim tests, but scuba diving certification courses do. Although knowing how to swim is not required for basic scuba experience programs, it is advisable.