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Get Started Scuba Diving

I was not always an avid scuba diver, like I am now.  In fact, I had an intense fear of drowning that I worked hard, over the course of many years, to overcome.  However, despite my fear, I've always been fascinated by the ocean, and that fascination led me to initially pursue a career and a masters degree in Oceanography. Eventually, my love of the ocean overcame my fear and I decided that earning my scuba certification would help me squash this once and for all. Besides, it was a fear of drowning and entrapment rather than a fear of the ocean itself. It wasn’t easy and I even dropped out of my first scuba course because I just couldn’t get comfortable being submerged in the water.  

I could never have imagined that years later, underwater would be my happy place!  I am now so passionate about sharing scuba diving experiences with others, that I organize a local scuba club in Tampa, Florida and own Authentica Travel and Dive Coordinating--emphasis on the DIVE part here.


Getting over the fear of drowning was tough, but so was sifting through the information available about scuba certification.  I struggled to figure it all out.  I didn’t know where to start or where to go.  I made a lot of mistakes and had a lot of misunderstandings about the process.  

This is the beginner’s guide I wish I had available when I was first starting to explore what it would take to earn my scuba certification. 

WRSTC Standards Guide the Diving World

The World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC)is an international organization, and their main mission is to create international standards for recreational scuba diving.  Recreational divers travel around the world to enjoy their sport. Because of the inherent dangers of diving, having a universal set of training standards is critical to keeping divers safe, no matter where they are from or where they are diving.  

Council Member Agencies teach the WRSTC Standards

There are several agencies around the world that teach and promote the WRSTC standards.  They create their own instructional methods to teach the WRSTC standards and that’s why you’ll see different training methods and materials from agency to agency.   The United States WRSTC Council members are: IANTD, NASE, NAUI, PADI, PDIC, PSS, RAID, SDI, SNSI, SSI.  You definitely want scuba training that is connected to one of these agencies. 

Connect with a Local Dive Shop

When you seek out scuba certification, your best bet is to connect with a local dive shop.  The shop and their instructors will have an affiliation with at least one of the WRSTC member agencies listed above.  Each of those agencies will have a unique approach to teaching the WRSTC standards.

The WRSTC standards of scuba instruction will be taught but the instruction materials and methods will vary from agency to agency, from dive shop to dive shop, and from instructor to instructor.  If the program is a WRSTC member agency, then you can rest assured that you are receiving scuba instruction that is internationally recognized.  

How to Pick the Right Program

So how do you know which one to pick?  The first thing you want to do is be sure that you select a program that will earn you the Open Water Certification (OWC)*.  That is the certification that will allow you to dive to depths of up to 60 feet.   Most dive shop websites will have details about their OWC programs.  Check those out and find a program that seems to be a good fit for you.

On my second try at earning my Open Water Certification, I decided to take a 12 week course offered through the university where I was a student at the time.  An extended course with many practice opportunities was my comfort level.  So, take your time exploring the different certification options and find a couple that look like they will work for you.  And, be sure that the training is from one of the WRSTC Council affiliated agencies.

Be Comfortable with Your OWC Instructor

Contact the instructor before signing up for a course.  The connection you have with the instructor is perhaps the most important thing to consider when choosing a program.  A strong teacher-student relationship is the key to your success as a novice scuba diver.  Have a conversation and see if their approach, patience, and empathy are a good match for your personality and learning style. 

Advanced Open Water Certification is Worth It

Advanced Open Water Certification is an additional certification I always recommend to people looking at earning their OWC.  This certification opens up an entirely new world of diving and is definitely worth the effort. Advanced OWC allows you to dive to 130 feet.  If your goal is to dive to shipwrecks or iconic spots like the Galapagos or Mexico’s cenotes, this certification is a must.  Earning this certification can often be combined with your OWC, so seriously consider learning the additional material and doing a few extra dives to get your Advanced OWC.

Gear: What to Buy. What to Rent.

New divers are often concerned about the cost of gear.  Yes, a whole scuba set up can be quite expensive.  For the beginning recreational scuba diver, the best thing to do is rent most of your gear.  These are the items that you should purchase, not rent: mask, fins, booties, and snorkel.  These items come in the most close contact with your body and sometimes require a personalized fit.

Saving money is a definite benefit of renting gear when you’re first starting out.  Another advantage is that you get to try different equipment.  As you experience different brands and styles of gear, you’ll start to understand your preferences.  That way, when you start to build your own set up, you’ll be able to make informed choices about your gear purchases.  Buying all the equipment too early in your scuba journey may leave you disappointed with the choices you made as a brand new scuba diver.

Discover Scuba Classes, Be Careful

Some dive shops offer an intro course called Discover Scuba. This is not a scuba certification.  Dive shops offer these courses, but you will also commonly see them offered on cruise excursions or vacation destinations near the ocean.  In Discover Scuba courses, you will get a basic rundown of scuba gear and how to use it.  The instructor will help you put on scuba gear and then, you’ll get into the water.  

For Discover Scuba classes, the best-case scenario is testing out your comfort with scuba gear in a pool.  Some dive businesses will take you to dive in open water on the same day.  I have strong reservations about Discover Scuba divers being in open water because if you make mistakes on a dive, no matter how well you are supervised, you can harm yourself or others.  Inexperience can cause divers to panic or act carelessly.  

Well-trained, OWC divers follow strict etiquette to protect the natural world we explore.   We don’t follow swimming animals, no matter how cool they are.  When we are near reefs, we take care not to accidentally damage delicate coral.  Inexperienced divers will often kick coral or land on it because they don’t know how to control their movement in the water.  

Discover Scuba experiences can be tempting, especially when you are on vacation.  Carefully consider the hazards of this option before you choose a Discover Scuba experience on your next vacation.

Explore Below the Surface

Scuba diving has given me some of the most profound moments of my life and I believe exploring the world below the water’s surface is a gift that every adventurer should experience.  Earning your Open Water Certification (and maybe even your Advanced OWC) will open a world of wonders for you to enjoy.

Once you earn your OWC, be sure you connect with us here at Authentica Travel and Dive to join our next amazing dive adventure!

*Open Water Certification is the name of the certification in the United States.  Other countries may call their WRSTC affiliated training certification by a different name.

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