10 Tips to Get Over Your Fear of Scuba Diving

How Do I Get Over My Fear of Scuba Diving? 

  1. Breathe Slowly & Regularly
  2. Practice in Calmer Waters First
  3. Buddy-Up With Other Divers
  4. Memorise Basic Hand Signals
  5. Be Comfortable With Equalizing
  6. Choose the Right Scuba Instructor
  7. Get Enough Rest/Sleep Beforehand
  8. Recognise That You Are In Well-trodden Waters
  9. Remember Your Inspiration & Goal
  10. Remember Scuba Is a Privilege

Have you been on your way to go for a dive, whether it be your first or your hundredth, and you feel anxious, seasick, claustrophobic, or even scared?

Scuba diving for the first time can be very overwhelming, from putting on all the equipment to taking your first breath underwater, fear is a common feeling that you should not feel ashamed of, we have all been there at least once (even us experienced divers!). 

Hydrophobia, fear of the water, is usually unlikely among scuba divers, but the ability for divers to breathe underwater is anything but normal or natural. With hydrophobia, it can take one incident of swallowing water under the surface or your tank running out of air that can unmask the fear of scuba diving…

So, What are Divers Usually Afraid of?

  • The ocean being powerful
  • Depth 
  • Not being able to breathe
  • Water going up the nose
  • Not being able to communicate 
  • Dangerous marine life
  • Mask clearing skills
  • Failure 
  • Being alone 

As you can see there are so many things that can trigger fear in diving, and these are only some of them. Fear of scuba diving is normal, in fact, it is part of the experience, but there are many ways you can try to overcome it.

Our Top 10 Tips to Beat the Fear of Scuba Diving!

I asked some of my dive instructor friends around the world for some tips to help get over your fear of diving. These 10 tips were the most common that they came up with. Hopefully, the advice they gave, will help you overcome your fear and take the plunge…

1. Breathe Slowly & Regularly

When we breathe on land we don’t think about it (I bet you are now though!), but underwater you can hear your breathing through the equipment and can see the bubbles being expelled from the regulator

Breathing continuously and never holding your breath, is the most important rule of scuba diving.

When underwater we do everything slowly, including our breathing, as this is the best way to conserve our air. And conserving air means longer dives – fantastic!

When diving, focus on your breathing in and out and keep a calm pace – this is strange at first as we do not usually breathe underwater, but you will get the hang of it in no time and it will feel unusually natural!

2. Practice in Calmer Waters First

It is never a good idea to plunge right into your fear and tackle the ocean first, which is why you learn skills and training in calmer waters or a pool first. 

Take this time to get comfortable with your equipment and any skills such as mask clearing – which is always a tricky one with everyone!

Diving in a pool is a great opportunity to get comfortable, feel safe, and gives you an idea of what real scuba diving is like. 

Once you move into the open ocean, you can try shore diving first, instead of rolling backwards off the boat into the middle of the sea. Shore diving always allows you to exit faster if those diving demons start to reappear. 

3. Buddy-Up With Other Divers

dive buddy

Scuba divers are taught from day one, that diving is a team sport, well a team of two usually!

This is what we call the “buddy system”, where you grab a partner to venture the blue depths with. The buddy system is there in the unlikely event an emergency occurs, you can signal your buddy to assist you (and vice versa). 

Buddying up with someone that is more experienced than you, will make you feel much more comfortable and also gives you the opportunity to meet new friends to share stories with.

Some dive buddies will even arrange future dive holidays together afterwards!

4. Memorise Basic Hand Signals

As we all know, we cannot verbally communicate underwater, so we are restricted to using hand signals only. 

Before you head out to the ocean (or pool), your dive guide or instructor will teach you basic underwater hand signals, such as, OK, not OK, going up/going down, slow down, stop, low on air, and out of air. These are just the basics but there are so many more you can learn! 

Do not worry if you forget some of them, as long as you remember the important ones, you will be absolutely fine!

A good tip from my experience is to buy a small diving slate (and a pencil). They are cheap and if you are really worried about communicating, you can write a message to your dive buddy or instructor and they can write back. 

5. Be Comfortable With Equalizing

As we descend, the pressure in our body’s air spaces builds up.

You will need to remember to equalize your ears as you dive deeper, this depends on the person, but it is generally every 1m, with the first 5-10m being the most important to do so. 

When we equalize, we open the Eustachian tubes that are normally closed. This allows higher-pressure air from your throat to enter your middle ears preventing them from rupturing. 

To equalize, pinch your nose while gently blowing – you should feel the pressure being released. Never blow too hard as this can rupture your eardrum.

Some people can equalize by moving their jaw from side to side, and others by swallowing – you can use any of these 3 techniques, or even all of them to find the most effective technique for you!

Personally, I use a combination of nose blowing and jaw wiggling. It is also common for one ear to be easier to equalize than the other. Nose blowing easily clears my left side, but my right side sometimes needs a bit more persuasion!

If after all these techniques your ears are still not playing ball, slowly ascend a little and try equalizing again – just remember to tell your buddy that’s what you are doing, they may wonder why you are not continuing your descent. 

Remember every time you feel the pressure build-up, that is the signal to equalize again.

Never push through the pain, this will only end up in an injury such as reverse squeeze in the sinuses – which means time out the water for a while, and no one wants to be that person having to take a dry day!

6. Choose the Right Scuba Instructor

Your scuba instructor has a huge impact on your diving experience. They must be someone you can completely trust, especially if you are likely to grab onto their hand during the dive. 

Always tell your instructor or dive guide before you head out, about any fears you have – do not be embarrassed, they have seen this a thousand times!

Instructors are there to make students and newly certified divers at ease, they are much more experienced than you, and are trained to help. 

If you are really scared, you can ask to have a private lesson in the pool or calmer waters first, this will put your mind at ease during the dive so you can focus on all the amazing underwater marine life! 

Remember, the fear of scuba diving is completely natural, and instructors are extremely familiar with it – they were probably scared too when they started diving. 

7. Get Enough Rest/Sleep Beforehand

Hitting the nightclub or bar the night before a day of diving is not the best idea.

Even on a normal day, a hangover is rather unpleasant, wanting to lie in bed all day, binge-watching your favourite TV show – now imagine having to get out of bed and go diving…

Even though it looks effortless, scuba diving is both a physically and mentally tiring sport, and for less experienced divers, probably even more so.

From carrying heavy oxygen tanks to remembering hand signals and skills when needed, diving can be quite exhausting.  

This is why getting enough sleep the night before and getting enough rest is important before hitting the water – it makes such a big difference to your dive experience! 

8. Recognise That You Are In Well-trodden Waters

A very common fear among divers (and other watersports), is what lies beneath the surface.

Usually, thoughts running through the mind are can any of these marine organisms take a quick snack or gobble me up? T

his most likely stems from bad media coverage and movies such as “Jaws”, which is a great movie, but was totally blown out of context…

An interesting fact about “Jaws”:

Jaws author, Peter Benchley felt regret for the way sharks were portrayed in his book and the subsequent films. So much so, that he spent the rest of his life as a shark conservationist.

Trust me when I say, there is nothing to worry about, marine creatures, especially sharks, are not interested in scuba divers – in fact, they are quite scared of us, especially the bubbles our regulator creates. 

The first time you go diving, I am 99.9% sure you will not be the first diver to dive there, plus you are likely to be diving in shallow waters where sharks don’t like to hang out. So, the chances of coming face to face with a marine creature that will challenge you is very very slim. 

9. Remember Your Inspiration & Goal

Remember why you decided to take up scuba diving, and think about this whenever your fear of diving creeps back into your mind. Underwater you will feel free as you glide over the reef which is home to so many different colourful fish.

Enjoy the rays of sunlight beaming down in the day, and the hidden gems that only come out during the night on a night dive.

Watch scuba videos and documentaries to get yourself pumped up before your dive, it will also remind you why you took up such an exciting sport! (I still do this if I’ve not dived for a while)

I am sure that once you bite that fear in the butt, you will look back and replace that fear of scuba diving with addiction, becoming a diver-holic much like myself!

Scuba diver swimming over a reef

10. Remember Scuba Is a Privilege

Scuba diving is an experience that many people are envious of, whether it be travelling to exotic locations, diving in crystal clear waters below ºC, or your local beach, you are that person that gets to explore the wonders of the ocean that most people would never get the opportunity to do in their lives!

Scuba diving is truly an unforgettable experience, and no matter how many times you do it, every dive is different, think of yourself as an underwater adventurer. 

Scuba diving doesn’t have to be just a hobby, you can make it your job too! There are so many different scuba diving related jobs out there. 

So what are you waiting for? This is YOUR time and YOUR adventure!

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:

DiveAssure

Diver Alert Network (DAN)

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Conclusion

Scuba diving is both eye-opening and exciting, but also sometimes terrifying. 

There is no shame in feeling nervous and anxious when scuba diving, it happens to us all. It is how you identify the issue and overcome it so you can become more relaxed and enjoy scuba diving – which is what it’s all about! 

Never be afraid to speak to people – this can be your instructor or even your dive buddy, you are likely not the only one in the ‘fear-boat’.

Scuba diving is one of those sports that will bring together like-minded people no matter where you are from in the world. Ocean nerds are a cracking bunch, and make friends for life!

Even after reading this advice, if your fear of scuba diving is still crippling you, there are many diving organisations (PADI, SSI, BSAC etc.) that offer different training programmes to become a more confident diver. 

If you take anything from this article, take this:

Go into that dive reminding yourself that you are safe and in control of the situation, and tell yourself that you are strong and nothing is going to stop you from being an underwater adventurer!

Thank you for reading, we hope to see you soon. Happy bubbles!

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Darby Bonner

Darby is a marine biologist and PADI scuba diving instructor from the UK. With over ten years of diving experience, she has visited some of the best dive destinations in the world. Currently, Darby is living in Bali, Indonesia and regularly dives at some of the most beautiful dive sites in the Indian Ocean. Her passion for the ocean led her to study seals, publish a paper, and become a marine mammal medic. In the future, she hopes to complete her master’s in marine science, and of course, continue her love for teaching and diving!

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