Do You need to Know How to Swim to Scuba Dive?
Bear with us for a moment because the following question is going to seem a bit strange.
Do you need to know how to swim to scuba dive?
Well, on first thought, the obvious answer is yes. After all, you’re underwater; you’re moving around. It’s not like there are floaties or life jackets way down below the surface.
But on second thought, the major risk of being in the water without being able to swim is drowning, and the circumstances are very different when it comes to scuba. If you have access to a source of air and will be kept afloat by your BCD, in other words, should you really be that concerned that you never fully learned how to swim?
The answer is, kind of.
Let’s start with the good news. If you can’t swim, it doesn’t completely preclude you from being able to scuba. In fact, some diving programs don’t require a swimming test, because there are ways to pair up with a diving partner who can swim who will be able to help you through the process. In other cases, swimming tests are very minimal, requiring you only to be able to show a basic ability to swim.
In general, though, you will have to pass an open water swimming test if you want to be certified by PADI. The test requires you to be able to tread water for 10 minutes and swim 200 to 300 meters (which would be like swimming back and forth in a lap pool around four times). Most of these tests are untimed, so you don’t have to be a particularly strong swimmer to pass.
That said, being able to swim is a major aspect of a successful, and let’s face it, enjoyable dive. Here are some of the benefits of being a strong swimmer underwater:
Confidence. Diving is an activity that takes a lot of problem-solving and assertiveness. You need to be able to make a plan for your dive, be flexible when things change, and maneuver a landscape that is totally different than anything you’ve ever experienced. Without a grasp of swimming, though, it can be difficult to feel like a master of this environment.
Reliability. Every time that you dive, you have an impact on another person, namely your diving buddy. With this person, you’ve put together a dive plan and talked about emergencies. You’ll also be exploring together and taking in the sights as a team. But you also play a huge role in the safety of your diving partner, and if you can’t swim, you may have trouble supporting your buddy in times of emergency.
Emergency. Speaking of emergencies, it may be helpful to think of swimming as a safety net. If things start to go wrong underwater, you may be forced to get yourself out of a tricky situation or make an emergency ascension. While you may be able to manage these situations well enough without being able to swim, having the ability to physically move and respond will greatly increase your chance at success.
Enjoyability. Given what we’ve explained so far, swimming seems to be a pretty useful, if not crucial, skill for diving. But there’s another reason why swimming makes sense before getting your diving certification: it makes the process more fun. It’s highly enjoyable to swim around with your diving partner, exploring reefs and caves and taking in scenes of wildlife. If you’re focused on trying to move around without really knowing how to swim, you may be missing out on what’s around you. It’s like going to a foreign country without speaking the language. Yes, you can get by, but it’s way more fun when you can interact fluently with your environment.
If you don’t know how to swim, you’re not out of luck.
Sure, swimming greatly enhances the diving experience, but, like we said before, it’s not always required. Still, if you’d like to make the most out of your dives, it might be worthwhile to sign up for a swimming class. Learning how to swim can be done at any age, and doesn’t have to be a chore. By signing up for a class, you can make sure that you are learning in a safe environment.
Even if you can swim, sometimes people get the idea that they need to be an expert to become a scuba diver. That’s absolutely not the case. As long as you can maneuver fairly comfortably underwater with the use of fins, you’ll be able to have a good time.
When swimming is absolutely necessary.
There are certain types of diving experiences that simply cannot be done without a mastery of swimming. One popular form is freediving. These four to five minute dives, done without the help of a breathing apparatus, require you to go above and beyond the average ability to swim. Each second counts and freedivers are continually training their bodies to become stronger swimmers.
When in doubt, talk to a trainer.
Every diving class is a tiny bit different, and you may find that your diving instructor has his or her own way of circumventing the non-swimming problem. The best thing you can do is be honest with the instructor and follow any recommendations for classes before enrolling in a certification course.
As always, your safety is the most important thing, so we highly encourage you to consider whether diving without being able to swim is safe for you.