Although there are few experiences as peaceful as gliding weightless through the water in full scuba gear, the grace and beauty of the sport belie the fact that diving has inherent risks.
Fortunately, these are well understood and with proper training, there is little danger, so long as you follow the proper protocols and ensure beforehand that you are in adequate physical condition to take part in scuba diving in the first place. Indeed, children as young as 10 regularly receive scuba training.
In terms of training, thousands of different certified dive centers can be found throughout the world.Tying many of these centers together is PADI (padi.com), with regional headquarters in Rancho Santa Margarita, California; Sydney, Australia and Bristol, England. Since its founding in 1966, PADI has created standards and training protocols covering everything from basic open-water scuba diving to rescue diving, night diving and underwater videography. It has also established a certification program for instructors, instructor trainers and dive centers and resorts, designed to guarantee that all divers will receive complete and competent training no matter where in the world they go.
In terms of costs, getting certified for entry-level, “Open Water Diver,” as it’s called can range anywhere from $350 to $800 depending on location and whether or not you need to rent equipment or will be bringing your own. As for the training itself, it consists of three distinct stages: 1) learning the principles of scuba diving and dive safety on shore, 2) confined water dives, in which you are introduced to the gear itself in a quiet body of water or swimming pool, 3) four “open water” dives, typically made over the course of two days, in which you put your skills to the test.
Other scuba training organizations include the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI—naui.org) based in Riverview, Florida, and Scuba Schools International (SSI— divessi.com) based in Boca Raton, Florida.
With respect to safety, while the chances of injury in scuba diving are very small, a well-established dive safety and treatment infrastructure has also been put in place, both in the United States and abroad, to ensure that in the event a diver is injured, he or she can quickly access the necessary medical assistance.
Beyond that, as a scuba diver it is a good idea to become a part of the Divers Alert Network, or DAN (diversalertnetwork.org), a membership-based not-for-profit that does everything from research dive-safety issues to certify dive-safety instructors and provide evacuation insurance to ensure that if worse comes to worse, you’re covered.
DAN also provides support services to divers in emergency situations via a 24-hour medical hotline that can be accessed from anywhere in the world to help with everything from medical referrals to figuring out the logistics of an evacuation.
In fact, so successful has DAN been in caring for divers that it has also created a subset called DAN Boater (danboater.org), which provides the same 24-hour hotline medical evacuation and medicals repatriation services to non-divers, both at sea and on dry land.