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Most scuba diving certification organizations offer scuba diving courses for children as young as 8 years of age. For some children, this may be an appropriate age to start diving, for others it may not. In fact, whether or not children should be allowed to scuba dive is a matter of debate in the scuba diving community.
Not all children who want to learn to dive are mature enough to pursue the sport, and many dive instructors feel that teaching kids to scuba dive is unnecessarily risky. No conclusive studies on the physiological effects of scuba diving on a child's developing body have been completed. The purpose of this article is to provide information about scuba courses for kids, but you can read more about whether or not kids should dive here: Is Scuba Diving Safe for Kids?
How Old Do You Have to Be to Scuba Dive?
A general industry standard is:
• 8 years old to learn to scuba dive in a pool
• 10 years old to become a certified scuba diver
What Sort of Scuba Courses Are Available for Kids Aged 8-10?
A variety of kids' scuba courses exist. The shortest of these courses is the one-session "try dive" during which children are taught the extreme basics needed to keep them safe (ear equalization, hand signals, etc) and then allowed to play in a pool under the supervision of an instructor. In-depth, multi-day courses are also available for young kids. These courses differ from adult courses in that they teach scuba diving skills and dive theory in smaller, simpler increments broken up over many short classes. For example, a one hour-long class may focus on mask clearing, while another entire session is dedicated to learning to use the buoyancy compensator. The students are confined to shallow water (usually no deeper than 12 feet or 4 meters) in a highly-controlled environment such as a swimming pool.
Scuba Diving Certification Courses for Kids Aged 10 and 11
While 10 and 11-year-olds are welcome to enroll in the children's courses listed above, they may also pursue a scuba diving certification. Most scuba organizations now offer open water certification for kids beginning at age 10. Children who enroll in these courses must read the same materials and take the same examinations as adults. Whether or not a child will excel in a certification course will depend on his reading level as well as other factors.
A child who successfully completes the open water course will receive a "junior" certification. The certification requires the same course work as an adult certification. However, a junior certification has certain limitations placed upon it. For children aged 10 and 11, these restrictions include always diving with a scuba certified parent /guardian or a dive professional, and never descending below a maximum depth of 40 feet. A junior certification can be upgraded to an adult certification at age 15 without further training.
Scuba Diving Certification Courses for Kids Aged 12 to 14
Kids aged 12 to 14 may enroll in a variety of junior scuba diving certification courses. Most scuba agencies offer junior versions of their adult courses, including open water/ basic certifications, advanced certifications, rescue diver certifications, and even specialty courses. Children aged 12-14 may not lead dives or act as assistants to scuba instructors.
Junior certifications for children aged 12-14 also have depth and supervision restrictions; however, they are not quite as strict as the restrictions for younger children. Most training organizations limit children aged 12-14 to a maximum depth of 60 feet for the junior open water certified divers. Some organizations allow junior advanced open water divers to descend to 72 feet. In all cases, kids aged 12-14 must dive with a certified adult or dive professional. All junior certifications may be upgraded (in most cases without additional training) when the child reaches 15 years of age.
Links to courses designed for kids aged 8-12 and 10-14:
• PADI Junior Scuba Certifications
• SSI Junior Diving Programs
• SDI Programs
The Take-Home Message About Scuba Diving Lessons for Kids
Most scuba diving certification organizations offer scuba diving classes for kids as young as 8 years old. Younger children are allowed to snorkel but are prohibited from breathing compressed air. Children as young as 10 years old may pursue certification provided they are physically, emotionally, and intellectually capable of completing the same course as adults. Junior certifications have depth and supervision limitations which can be removed when the child is 15 by upgrading his certification.