Becoming a family of certified divers opens up a whole new world of adventure and discovery. Tim Ecott talks kids and learning to dive with PADI.
My obsession with diving has allowed me to explore all of the world’s oceans and given me the privilege of remarkable underwater meetings with everything from giant humpback whales to pygmy seahorses. Breathing underwater is so vital to my happiness that I have even cleaned the grout between the tiles in swimming pools just to spend an afternoon in my diving kit.
Apart from the wonder and excitement of meeting fish, turtles, starfish, sea-slugs and stingrays, being underwater is an exercise in meditation that enriches my life. Being underwater frees my mind in ways that don’t seem possible on dry land.
WHO IT'S GOOD FOR:
Most dive centres around the world operate under the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) system. It is a tried-and-tested method of learning to dive and allows children to do a basic certification from the age of 10. It imposes restrictions on the type of diving children may do and offers different levels of certification to children and adults, and is carefully designed to develop the skills needed to be a safe and competent diver.
From the age of eight, the PADI system allows children to become ‘bubblemakers’ on a pool-based course that familiarises them with using scuba equipment and helps them gain confidence.
From the age of 10 they can dive in open water down to a maximum depth of 12m, but only when accompanied by a PADI professional or a certified parent or guardian.
After the age of 12 they can dive to 21m, accompanied by a certified adult.
THE RISK FACTOR
Diving is statistically a very safe activity, but there are inherent risks in breathing underwater. And when something goes wrong it can be fatal. Children rarely have the emotional maturity to consider those risks in the same way that we do. As a parent it is you who takes on that risk. Even if a child is a confident swimmer you need to think about how they could react to an underwater emergency. If something unexpected happens – losing a flipper or their mask filling with water – will they panic?
One of the most dangerous aspects of diving is the risk associated with swimming to the surface rapidly. It is a factor in causing decompression sickness (the bends), but more dangerously there is the risk of lung injury if you come to the surface in a panic while holding your breath, an instinctive reaction under stress. I don’t say this to put you off diving as a family, but parents need to be aware of what they are undertaking.
WHERE TO GO?
Finally, think about where you could go diving. It’s not essential that children see a whale shark on their first dive. Consider whether you want the hassle and expense of a long-haul flight and whether the destination poses other challenges for children – malaria, for example.
Do some careful research about the weather at your destination – hot, sunny days may be accompanied by a prevailing wind that makes the sea rough. Or it may be the time of year when there is plankton in the water and visibility is limited. Clear, calm, warm water makes beginners happy. They can brave the North Sea when they’re older.
I would advise buying your child his or her own mask – there’s nothing worse than an ill-fitting one that keeps filling with water. Make sure they know how to prevent it fogging up, and that they know how to clear it of water while underwater. It’s a skill that the instructor will teach, but it can make all the difference between a good dive and a bad one.
And remember that water conducts heat away from your body much faster than air – even tropical waters can make you feel chilly after several minutes. Children generally have less body fat than adults so will feel the cold sooner. It’s worth buying them a well-fitting wetsuit. And they can always wear it when swimming to protect from stings and sunburn.
To make a family diving holiday successful there are some essential rules to be followed. First, only you can judge whether your child is ready to try diving. Your immediate responsibility is to be a confident and experienced diver yourself. The first step is to get your child into a swimming pool with an instructor so they can try it out, an exploratory experience to see how they handle the equipment, and how controlled they are when they swim around.
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