Prerequisites for Scuba Diving: Age and Health

What Conditions Prevent You from Scuba Diving?

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) with a male scuba diver. Indonesia.

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Scuba diving once had the reputation of being a physically demanding and dangerous activity best left to Navy Seals and Jacques Cousteau. It has evolved since its early days and this is no longer the case. Advances in scuba equipment, the use of dive computers and sophisticated dive planning, as well as a better understanding of diving physiology have made diving safer and easier than it once was. Almost anyone can learn to dive.

Am I Physically Fit for Scuba Diving?

All scuba diving students must answer a scuba diving medical questionnaire before beginning a diving course. The high pressure a diver experiences underwater effects how his body functions in a variety of ways. Physical conditions that may not be bothersome, or even noticeable, in everyday life may be dangerous underwater.

Lung problems (such as a collapsed lung or asthma), ear issues (such as problems with ear equalization), allergies, and certain diseases are all potentially dangerous underwater. Some medications are contraindicated for diving. Divers should carefully read, and then honestly answer the diving medical questionnaire before beginning to dive, and they should review it periodically throughout their diving careers. 

Am I the Right Age for Scuba Diving?

The age requirements for scuba diving vary among countries and scuba diving organizations. As a general rule, children aged 8 and above may scuba dive, depending upon their maturity level. Most diving organizations offer special children's courses in shallow, controlled conditions for kids aged 8 and above, and allow children 10 and older to enroll in scuba certification courses. In the USA, most organizations require children to be 12 years old before certification.

Currently, no upper age limit for scuba diving exists. In fact, my oldest open water certification student was an 82-year-old female, and she turned out to be a great diver! Research into the risks associated with diving at an advanced age is ongoing.

Do I Need to Know How to Swim Before Learning to Scuba Dive?

Not exactly. Before enrolling in a scuba course, prospective divers should be relatively comfortable in the water. While it is not necessary to have swum competitively in high school, a diving student should not be so terrified of the water that he is uncomfortable in the deep end of the swimming pool. Is it a good idea to scuba dive without knowing how to swim? My opinion is that it is not.

To enroll in a one-day experience course, a person need only be comfortable in the water. To earn a scuba diving certification, a student diver must pass a watermanship assessment for scuba diving, which varies depending upon the organization and certification level. For example, one organization requires that students tread water/ float for 10 minutes, and swim 200 meters (or snorkel 300 meters) without stopping.

Can I Scuba Dive With a Disability?

Yes, you can. There are entire scuba diving organizations devoted to teaching people with disabilities to scuba dive. The term for this sort of diving is adaptive diving.

Scuba diving is becoming an increasingly popular sport for people with physical disabilities. Adaptive diving gear has been developed for divers who may have difficulty using standard dive gear, such as webbed gloves for divers who cannot swim with fins. However, in many cases, specialized gear is not necessary. Divers are weightless and move freely underwater, so the weight of the scuba gear is not an impediment.

Every new diver must relearn how to efficiently use his body in a completely foreign environment. Divers who have a physical disability are starting at exactly the same point as any other new diver—zero.

Motivation for Scuba Diving

The fact that most people can learn to scuba dive does not necessarily mean that everyone should. Before enrolling in a scuba diving course, a potential diver should consider his reasons for doing so.

Divers who want to learn to dive because it seems like a risky adrenaline-filled sport should reconsider—properly done, recreational scuba diving is a sport about control, relaxation, and adventure, but not about pushing yourself into survival situations.

A person should never take up scuba diving simply to please a spouse, parent or friend. While these people may serve as inspiration, for diving to be safe and enjoyable, a person needs to want to be underwater. The good news is that if you want to learn to dive, you most likely can. Welcome to the 70% of the world that most people never get to see!