Can You Teach Yourself to Scuba Dive?

Can You Teach Yourself to Scuba Dive?

No, you cannot teach yourself to scuba dive. While diving may look easy, and it mostly is, but there is quite a lot of science and skills you need before safely diving, even in very shallow water and only an Open Water course can provide you with this, or you might easily get into trouble and the worst can happen.

Looks easy right?

You may have seen people’s holiday videos, watched some GoPro or YouTube videos of people floating around underwater with a tank on their back and thought – I can easily do that! So why would I need anyone to teach me?

So, with that, you head down to your local dive shop and ask to rent some equipment, you’re not sure what you even need, so you start asking the customer service people at the dive shop about it who ask: “Are you certified?”

“Say what now?” is your reply, which is met with firm and disapproving looks by the dive staff who go on to inform you that they will not allow you to hire any dive equipment due to you not being a qualified scuba diver and that they will be contacting other dive shops in the area to let them know you may try to hire equipment from them too!

Think that’s harsh?

Of course many things in life you can learn from friends and family like driving a car or playing the piano, but having actual lessons from a qualified and experienced instructor who has an active teaching status will always be able to increase your skills and knowledge far better than learning the ropes on your own. 

Do you still think you can teach yourself to scuba dive? Read on to find out why it might not be such a good idea!

Practically anyone can learn to dive. For example, people with missing limbs have become incredible instructors! Generally, there are only a handful of medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, and cardiac conditions that can prevent you from learning to scuba dive.

This means that the only way to learn to dive is with a dive instructor following an approved program such as PADI or SSI.

So, what’s the deal with these certification courses?

All Open Water Diving courses, whether conducted by PADI or SSI or another certified agency like RAID or BSAC, will provide you with a complete understanding of the risk and dangers involved with scuba diving through classroom work (the theory part) and underwater instruction (the practical assessments).

The length of these courses vary, but they all cover the basic physics of what happens to our body at differing depths, how to mitigate these effects and a load of safety information about the underwater environment.

You will also spend quite a lot of time practising skills underwater during the confined water sessions. These usually take place in a swimming pool or pool-like environment, which will allow you to safely dive.

Scuba Diving Skills

There are over 20 skills or skill sets you need to learn and all of them are relevant to your safety underwater. Invaluable skills such as learning how to deal with an “out of air” underwater is needed before even contemplating going diving without an instructor.

Not only that, during scuba diving training you will learn skills to help your dive buddy underwater too!

Scuba divers should always dive with a buddy for safety. As a diver, you will need to know not only how to manage yourself underwater, but also the safety of your dive buddy, should they require any assistance during the dive.

Skipping the training, or lying about it, so you can just go and explore the underwater world, is not only dangerous to yourself – but can be catastrophic to others who are with you.

Just don’t do it, don’t put yourself or others at risk!

There is also an attitude component – dive instructors not only teach you skills and knowledge but adjust your attitude towards the sea and the sport of scuba, ensuring you make the right decisions when diving and maintain a healthy respect for the ocean and all the beautiful creatures that live within it.

Most Open Water courses have a minimum of two half-days in a classroom for theoretical study, with homework, quizzes and a final exam to ensure the right information has been learned.

There is also at least one-half day in a swimming pool or pool-like body of water for learning and practising the required skills. The final part of your training is the actual dives in the ocean (or another open water site such as a lake or flooded quarry).

The Open Water Course has four open water dives, usually spanning two days, depending on water conditions. In the first and second dive, you will go down to a maximum depth of 12 m, and in the third and fourth, a maximum of 18 m. All four dives are under the direct supervision of your dive instructor.

When you have finished the Open Water Course, you are now certified to go diving!

You will have the planning ability, diving skills and enough knowledge to enter the ocean without the need of a dive shop or instructor, however, until you feel confident enough to dive with a buddy, it is recommended you dive with a dive guide that knows the dive site.

By going into your local dive shop and showing them your certification – they will allow you to rent dive equipment and are also likely to give you advice on the best local dive spots, conditions and some safety issues as well.

Now, doesn’t that sound better?

Of course, it’s always going to be easier for you to just go diving with a dive shop and follow one of their dive guides around a dive site. But the whole point of learning to dive is the ability to do it independently once you have enough experience and are confident enough to head out with just a dive buddy. 

It’s also important to note that once you have finished your Open Water Course and can go diving independently, it does not necessarily mean you have enough experience to do so.

There are more courses that will give you this experience and additional knowledge such as the Advanced Open Water Course where you do five different dives such as a deep dive to 30 m, diving at night, navigation, search and rescue or even underwater photography if that’s your thing!

There are also extended speciality courses on these subjects and more, like enriched air where you change the levels of oxygen in the tank you breathe.

While some sports such as rock climbing or kayaking may lend themselves to on-the-job learning by friends or family, other sports, especially scuba diving, you can absolutely not due to the level of information and skills to be developed and the new environments you are heading into that requires training from a dive professional.

But what if you are not quite ready to commit to the Open Water Course?

Luckily, there are ways to get a “taste” of scuba diving without having to do any courses.

Let’s find out how!

Can I Scuba Dive Without Having to Learn or Do an Open Water Course?

Of course, you can, you just have to do it with a qualified instructor, as you cannot teach yourself to scuba dive. There are many introductory scuba diving courses that you can partake in, before committing yourself to the Open Water Course. The PADI Discover Scuba Diving Course or the SSI Try Scuba Program are aimed at just that!

During “try dive” or “DSD” training, you are given a brief rundown on the equipment you will use, learn a few skills such as clearing your mask, and information on the underwater environment.

The instructor will also cover basic key physics and biology to explain vital information such as why you cannot ascend too fast, and why you need to dive within arms reach of your instructor at all times.

The instructor will then directly supervise you underwater down to a maximum depth of 12 m in a shallow and calm dive site. Sometimes the instructor needs to maintain a hold of you at all times, other times they can watch from an arms-length away if they feel it is safe to do so.

If you do swim independently, they are always in quick grabbing distance to make sure if you start to do something dangerous – they can stop it before it happens.

A “try dive” or DSD” experience is aimed at giving you a safe and enjoyable underwater experience that will hopefully lead to you wanting to do more and even undertake the Open Water Course in the future.

So, you have completed a try dive, and now you are hooked, and who can blame you? The underwater world is fascinating!

But now you may be wondering if you are cut out for all this training to become a certified diver…however, do not worry, scuba diving training is designed to be easy – you will be given all the knowledge and skills needed to pass the course with flying colours.

Below I am going to tell you exactly how easy it is to learn to scuba dive!

Is It Hard to Learn How to Scuba Dive?

No, not at all! All the science information that you need to understand is aimed at all levels that can partake in the Open Water Course. So, for most of us, it should be simple enough to understand.

On the physical side of things, the equipment itself can sometimes be a little bulky, especially in colder water environments where you will need thicker wetsuits or a drysuit (given the correct training), gloves and a hood – but once you get the hang of it you will be fine.

Dive tanks themselves can be quite heavy, as are the dive weights you will need to drop under the water, but these are often kept on the boat to minimize the distance they have to be carried.

Also, diving is very much a team sport, with you and your buddy always checking each other and helping each other out with equipment both in the water and on land before the dive.

Boat staff or dive instructors and divemasters will also be on hand to help you into and out of the water if needed.

In case you are overweight, are missing limbs or have a medical condition that makes it difficult getting in and out of the water – there is always the option of putting it on and taking it off in the water itself and with the help of others around you.

Parts of the course may feel a little difficult at first, but almost everyone manages to learn how to deal with these issues very quickly ensuring that learning to scuba dive should be neither intellectually nor physically hard to do.

Ok, so that doesn’t seem too difficult right?!

But you know what else? It also doesn’t take long to complete the Open Water Course!

How Long Does It Take to Learn to Dive?

The quickest scuba diving courses can be conducted in, is two and a half days, but most courses running straight from start to finish often take four days, which gives more time for underwater skills practice and revisions if you or other people on the course require it.

Courses can also be broken into smaller modules for people learning part-time and can take up to four weeks with some weekday after work academics and classroom work.

The confined water skills and the open water dives can be conducted on a number of weekends for people that don’t have the ability to undertake the course from start to finish in one go.

This gives people more flexibility and extra time for training if needed.

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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Final Thoughts

Scuba diving requires professional training, so no, you cannot teach yourself how to scuba dive. Teaching yourself can be extremely dangerous.

The Open Water Course is the first step to becoming a certified diver. It includes three parts: classroom study sessions including the final exam, confined water dives in a pool or pool-like environment, and four open water dives.

Once you have passed the course you are free to hit the water with a dive guide or dive buddy if you are confident enough you have enough experience to do so.

Remember that learning to scuba dive is not difficult, it doesn’t take long, and is important for not just your safety, but the safety of others.

Thank you for reading, and good luck with your scuba training!

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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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