Learning to dive as a family lets you explore all of the world’s oceans and gives you the privilege of remarkable underwater encounters with everything from humpback whales to pygmy seahorses. Apart from the wonder and excitement of meeting fish, turtles, starfish, sea-slugs and stingrays, being underwater is an exercise in meditation and in today's hectic world, that's as good a reason as any to start learning to dive with kids.
Kids can start learning to dive from age eight
Most dive centers around the world operate under the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors)
system. This tried-and-tested method of learning to dive allows children to do a basic certification from the age of 10. It imposes restrictions on the type of diving children can do, 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.
- Learning to dive from the age of eight, the PADI system allows children to become "bubblemakers" on a pool-based course that familiarizes them with using scuba equipment and helps them gain confidence.
- Learning to dive from the age of 10 they can dive in open water down to a maximum depth of 40 ft, but only when accompanied by a PADI professional or a certified parent or guardian.
- Learning to dive after the age of 12 they can dive to 70 ft, accompanied by a certified adult.
Risk factors in learning to dive
Diving is statistically very safe, 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 danger in the same way that adults do, so you need to think ahead. Even if a child is a confident swimmer how will 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's a factor in causing decompression sickness (the bends). But, even more worrying, is the risk of lung injury if you come to the surface in a panic while holding your breath - an instinctive reaction under stress. This shouldn't put you off learning to dive as a family, you should just be aware of the potential risks - rest assured, all PADI certified diving instructors are aware of them too.
Where to start learning to dive?
Think about where you want to start learning to dive. It’s not essential for children to see tropical marine life on their first dive so you can easily avoid the expense of a long-haul destination like the Maldives. The Florida Keys; Monterey or Santa Catalina Island in California; Atlantic Beach in North Carolina
are all good US destinations for families learning to dive for the first time. 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. So just remember: clear, calm and warm water makes learning to dive a lot more fun.
Essential equipment for learning to dive
Think about 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.
The lowdown on learning to dive
To make learning to dive as a family successful there are some essential rules to follow. First, only you can judge whether your child is ready to try diving. 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. Learning to dive with your kids is fun, but if you're a first time diver yourself, think about taking some adult lessons - the more confident you are the more secure your children will feel about learning to dive themselves.
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