How to Get Scuba Certified (Step-by-Step)

Scuba Diving, Learn Scuba

Disclaimer - If you approach any dive shop and want to go scuba diving, you’ll need to provide a certification card before they’ll let you rent equipment (so yes, you need to be certified). If you’re not, they’ll notice immediately when you attempt to put your gear together, so no faking.

Obtaining your official scuba diving certification can seem extremely daunting at first glance; however, from personal experience, we can tell you that it’s actually not difficult. The process by which you attain your scuba certification is quite the adventure in itself.

Whether you live on the beach or in a landlocked city, becoming scuba certified is relatively easy if you’re willing to pay a few hundred dollars to learn the proper way to do it.

And therein lies the key to scuba certification training; the process teaches you how to prepare for the worst-case scenarios (like running out of air at 50 feet below the surface of the ocean) so that you can enjoy the experience knowing that you’re capable of handling anything the sea throws your way.

Now, how do you actually become a certified scuba diver? Here’s the step-by-step process that we took to earn our license:

1. Find a Dive Shop
If you live near a coast, finding a local dive shop that offers PADI or SSI training courses is easy (we went through PADI, which we find to be a thorough, easy-to-work-with organization). If you live in a landlocked city, you’ll still find plenty of dive shops that can take you to massive lakes or lava tubes filled with water that will count as future open water dives (Step #8). Check out the shops and get a feel for the staff; they’ll be the ones training you to dive, so make sure you like the shop.

2. Ask about Cost and Requirements for Certification
Each dive shop operates a little differently. Some dive shops require you to spend a lot of time in the pool with little emphasis on the academic side of things, while other shops drill the academics of diving. And, depending on where you are, dive shops may charge a few hundred dollars more or less for the Open Water Certification course. Do your research.

The certification requirements should at least include:
  • 4 Open Water Dives
  • A few pool sessions
  • Passing the Open Water Certification Final Exam

3. Read the Open Water Certification Handbook
Once you begin your training program, you’ll be given a scuba handbook that seems like a waste of time. It’s not. The book gives you 200 pages of essential information that’s been gathered by generations of professional scuba divers. Use their wisdom and expertise to guide you on your new journey so that you don’t make a mistake underwater and end up in the hospital. Reading this book could be a matter of life or death.

4. Take Each Practice Quiz
Though the dozens of practice quizzes don’t count toward your certification, they help solidify the knowledge from the book. The questions on these quizzes will be on the final exam as well, so use it as a study tool.

5. Pass the Final Exam
If you don’t pass the final exam, it’s not the end of the world because your scuba instructor will likely explain each missed question to you; however, if you don’t take the time to read the book, you’ll probably miss each question, which means you don’t have the dedication to learn about scuba diving. Make sure you pass the exam so you can move on to the fun stuff!

6. Practice Everything in the Pool First
During your pool sessions, your instructor will teach you to survive any worst-case scenario situation that you could encounter in basic scuba diving. Whether it’s running out of air, losing your mask, or removing your scuba gear underwater, your instructor will have you practice each skill in the pool. Though it might seem boring, it's safe to mess up here and try again (it took me about 10 tries to remove my mask, clear it, and replace it in the pool).

7. Practice Everything in the Pool Again
As previously stated, it’s safe to mess up in the pool and try again (you won’t have that chance when you’re 50 feet below the ocean surface). Make sure you can practice every skill with fluency in the pool before you go out on your first open water dive because panicking o the ocean floor is the worst thing you could do (besides holding your breath).

8. Achieve Four Open Water Dives (with Dive Instructor)
During these open water dives, your instructor will guide you through the water and stop occasionally to have you practice certain skills. You’ll have to remove your mask and clear it and replace it underwater. You’ll have to rise to the surface using your buddy’s alternate air source. The goal of these dives is to have you feel comfortable underwater while an instructor is still there to help you if you falter.

Your instructor will tell you where you can achieve your four required open water dives. If you’re near a coast, the open ocean is a likely bet. If you’re landlocked, you may find yourself going on a adventure to places like New Mexico’s Blue Hole. Don’t worry too much about the quality of your first four dives; the point to is to get scuba certified so that you can go wherever you want in the future!

9. Ensure Instructor Processes through PADI or SSI Systems
After you’ve accomplished the checklist of requirements for Open Water Certification, make sure that your instructor processes your certification through either PADI or SSI (the two biggest, most recognized scuba certification programs in the world). You’d hate to wait around for months to find out that you missed doing one practice skill in the pool that needs to be fulfilled before you receive your certification. Double check that everything is cleared before you leave.

10. Log Your Dives with ScubaEarth
After your receive your temporary scuba certification via email, make sure to log your dives using ScubaEarth. This electronic database will allow you to keep track of your dives so that you can progress to higher rankings and classifications as a recreational scuba diver.
Scuba certifications last a lifetime with no annual fees or renewals. Get certified and keep diving in order to enhance your skills and enjoy the adventure that you worked so hard to achieve!

Thanks to the expertise that PADI offers, we were able to get scuba certified easily while feeling comfortable in the water due to their well-organized training program. We plan to continue our diver training through PADI because we enjoyed the experience that they provided.


Tom Malone is the Editor-In-Chief of The Adventure Tribune and author of adventure novels, like Across Americana. He is based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains while not traveling abroad.
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