Swimming, snorkeling, surfing and even sailing and sportfishing. These are just a few of the watersports enjoyed by kids and adults alike in the Caribbean. More often, add scuba diving to this list especially for pre-teens and teens. The Caribbean is a perfect place for these two age groups to learn to dive due to year-round warm weather, protected bay areas that are reassuring to beginner and new divers, and a plethora of coral reefs and marina life to explore even at shallow depths. That said, the ticket to success for parents is knowing when their child is ready to learn and choosing the appropriate type of instruction. After that, a lifetime awaits of exploring the underwater world.
What Age are Kids Ready to Scuba Dive?
Kids as young as 8 years old can get a taste of scuba diving. For example, several Caribbean dive centers will offer the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Bubblemaker and Seal Team and Master Seal Team courses.
“The Bubblemaker course is a half day, restricted to confined water like a pool no deeper than 6 feet and is accompanied by a scuba instructor. Kids learn about diving theory, scuba equipment and experience diving in this environment,” explains Christine Finney, marine biologist and manager at Eco Dive, located at the Coyaba Beach Resort and Port Louis Marina, in St. George’s, Grenada. “The Seal Team courses run 1 to 5 days and similar to the Bubblemaker, but they can go to 12 feet. Special training, called aqua missions, further the learning with activities like marine life identification and conservation, dive navigation and underwater photography.”
The minimum age to actually learn to scuba dive is 10 years old in most areas, according to PADI. Those age 13 and younger need an adult’s permission to register for a dive training class, such as those offered by PADI and similar organizations. From the ages of 10 to 14, divers can earn the PADI Junior Open Water Diver certification. At age 15, they can upgrade to the Open Water Diver Certification. The difference is that the Junior certification has a depth restriction of 40-feet and Open Water goes to 60-feet.
Beyond age, students need to be able to swim, advises Andrea Syrett, general manager at Dive BVI, which has locations on Scrub Island and at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour and staff cross-trained in PADI, NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructor) and SSI (Scuba Schools International) certifications. “This is tested at the beginning of the course by having the student swim and then do a 10-minute float, both in water too deep in which to stand.”
Kids are usually more comfortable in the water than adults, however, a certain maturity level and attention span are definitely needed to learn to dive, says Kim Frye, who owns and runs The Scuba Shop in Simpson Bay, St. Maarten, with her father, Peter Frye. “Kids do exactly the same Open Water Course as an adult. So, there is quite a bit of theory with big words and math involved, and a learning session of dive skills where the student really needs to be able to pay attention and be involved. Most importantly, the young person has to want to learn, not be there because the parent thinks it is a good idea.”
One way for a parent to test the waters with their child is during a fun activity. For example, every year The Scuba Shop hosts an Underwater Easter Egg Hunt on Easter Monday. Over 1000 painted rocks are laid in water up to 30-foot deep. Participants, ranging in age from toddlers to grandparent’s free dive with mask, snorkel or goggles to find these submerged gems. A scuba division was also recently added. Last year, over 200 residents and visitors alike participated.
For teens, a summer camp experience that includes scuba diving instruction may be a keen introduction. Sail Caribbean, through its sister company Sail Caribbean Divers, with three locations in the BVI, offers multi-day and multi-week programs where teens learn to sail, live on boats, dive and more, explains Emily Graf, one of Sail Caribbean Diver’s PADI Scuba Instructors. “The teens really love this.”
Or, book a one-day discover scuba diving course. This enables young people to get a taste of the experience and see if it’s something they’d like without parents investing a lot of time and money upfront, suggests Paul Roos, owner/operator of Jolly Dive, in Jolly Harbour Antigua. “This course teaches the basics of what happens to your body due to the increased pressure as you go underwater, basic skills like mask clearing and equalizing one’s ears in a pool setting and getting comfortable with the use of scuba equipment. This is not a certification course, just an experience course.”
There is a two-day course, Scuba Diver certification, Roos adds. This is only half the full Open Water Diver certification course. It does provide a C-card (certification card), but depth of dives are restricted. Later, however, it’s possible to do the second half and become fully open water certified.
Go Scuba Diving!
Of course, the best part of kids learning how to scuba dive is to actually go diving. The Caribbean offers several spectacular spots. In Barbados, it’s Carlisle Bay, says Andre Miller, marine biologist and PADI MSDT and Freediver Instructor at Barbados Blue Water Sports, at the Hilton Hotel in Needham’s Point. “With six sunken ship wrecks to explore, Carlisle Bay is definitely a fun dive for kids and families!”