Can you SCUBA if you can’t swim? It’s not as obvious as you think!

Can you SCUBA if you can’t swim?

Yes! You can SCUBA dive if you don’t know how to swim!

It sounds like there should be an obvious answer; given that SCUBA diving is under the water, but that’s just it – SCUBA diving is under the water, not on top of it.

So, do we go with the obvious answer and end this article now?

No, don’t be silly! Let’s dig a little further (one could say we should dive straight in…but that pun would be too obvious!)

Often, images of SCUBA diving brings up images of wide-open seas with horizons stretching to the limit of your vision, a large boat full of people, strange tanks of gas all over and smiling people in wetsuits about to jump into the sea.

This tends to be the last place a non-swimmer would want to find themselves, however, what If I told you that not all diving is quite like this and even if you don’t know how to swim; there are options for you to be able to SCUBA all over the world?

Ooh, now I’ve got you! Let’s dive in (yeah…I went there anyway!)

woman jumping into the ocean

Can I try Scuba Diving if I Can’t Swim?

Yes, you can try scuba diving if you can’t swim. Both PADI and SSI run “Try Dive” scuba programmes. However, to be a fully certified scuba diver you will need to be able to swim.

When diving, we don’t just jump into a wide-open ocean, miles from the land without quite a bit of training beforehand. SCUBA tends to start very shallowly, in a swimming pool or a shallow bay in the sea when we learn how to be an independent diver.

In fact, you don’t even have to know how to swim to try SCUBA in the first place, so the majority of people CAN try SCUBA.

Many SCUBA training agencies like PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) or SSI (SCUBA Schools International) that have dive shops and offices worldwide run a ‘Discover Scuba Diving’ program that is usually a half or full day with an experienced instructor.

What is Discover Scuba Diving?

In Discover Scuba Diving programmes the instructor will:

  • Set up all your scuba equipment.
  • They will ensure the equipment is ready for you by the pool, beach or boat.
  • They will provide you with a detailed explanation of how the dive is going to proceed.
  • They will help you in to your equipment and into the water (don’t worry, it all floats!).
  • Will slowly descend under the water right with you, and even help you maintain your position in the water.

Once you start going under the water, the instructor will adjust some settings on your equipment to try and get you stable and floating with water above and below you (like you are hovering in the water).

As you can breathe through the equipment and are not trying to float, all you really have to do now is move your legs in a kicking motion with fins on and you will be moving around under the water!

The instructor will guide you around under the water, showing you underwater life or potentially showing you how much fun it can be in a weightless environment by flipping upside down.

Time will slow down and before you know it – you will be chasing your instructor around by kicking your feet having the time of your life.

At the end of your dive, your instructor will bring you back to the surface and back to the boat or shore. They will keep you afloat by putting more air into your equipment making it and you – float. Again all you have to do again is kick!

Do I Need to be Able to Swim to Learn how to SCUBA Dive?

You WILL need to be able to swim if you want to be a fully certified diver. While you can try diving without having to know how to swim, when learning to SCUBA dive, you are learning to become an independent diver that can also assist others.

This means having the ability to swim is required to become an Open Water diver, which is the standard independent trained diver. However, there is an option with PADI to become a diver without having to complete a full swim test – the PADI SCUBA Diver.

This course is short, consisting of some classroom work, some time in very shallow water and two dives in the sea. It is approximately half of the full course and you can upgrade at any time.

You are restricted in both dive depth (12m instead of 18m) and accessibility (you must dive with a PADI professional instead of your mates). While there is no swim test, there is a 10 min survival float you will need to pass in order to receive the qualification. This course is usually 2- 3 days in length.

How far do I have to swim to learn to dive?

The swim test required is a 200m swim (any swim stroke) or a 300m snorkel with fins with NO TIME LIMIT. There is also a 10min float and again you can use any stroke. These tests tend to be done in a swimming pool or a very calm and shallow bay.

If you love your SCUBA experience and wanted to learn how to be a more independent diver, the PADI or SSI Open Water courses are the answer.

These courses will take you beyond the shallows and truly teach you how to comfortably dive in the ocean.

Where Can I Learn to Swim?

Learning to swim is something many of us take for granted, but for those that can’t – it can feel very scary indeed.

Both PADI and SSI have programs that can teach you to swim, however, many countries have organisations that may be closer to home, such as swimming.org or usaswimming.org.

Learning how to swim is a useful lifelong skill that can not only be used to enjoy holidays more often but could be useful in saving a life one day.

Can I go Snorkelling if I Can’t Swim?

Yes, you can, but you won’t get the full experience. You can wear a life jacket or floatation device as well as fins, mask and snorkel and provided the water is not too deep – you will be able to see all the sea life.

However, to get the most out of snorkelling, it’s nice to go deeper and be able to ‘duck dive’ and swim down, holding your breath to look at marine life before coming back to the surface to breathe.

Like many things, the more confident in your abilities – the more you will be able to do.

Will SCUBA Diving Make me Less Afraid of the Water?

Like many phobia’s, actually doing the thing you are scared of CAN help you at least partially overcome it. Learning how to swim has many advantages as we have discussed, but it is being out on a boat and on open water that many people associate with being afraid of the water.

Learning to dive will take you out into these conditions and with the help of experienced professionals or other divers – you will slowly overcome your fears as you develop your diving skills.

Who knows, perhaps one day you will become a dive professional yourself and help others overcome the same fears.

Don’t Forget Your Dive Insurance!

Before you go out on any dive trip or holiday, it is essential to make sure you have insurance that covers you if something goes wrong. Check out our dive insurance article for more information.

Or go straight to these dive insurance company websites:


Diver Alert Network (DAN)

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While the answer to the question is a resounding yes, we can see it’s not quite so simple as that if you want to take your diving experience further.

Regardless of whether you can currently swim or not, trying SCUBA is a fun and exciting experience we all should try at least once as it could open your eyes to the underwater world so many of us love.

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Paul Fulbrook

Paul Fulbrook is a writer, scuba diver, ex-science teacher and marine biologist. He has a passion for coral reef biology, diving on coral reefs and writing about diving. He also loves cats and his children (sometimes).

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