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How do I learn to scuba dive?

Becoming a scuba diver is a wonderful adventure! Scuba certification includes three phases:

1. Knowledge Development

During the first phase of your scuba lessons, you'll learn the basic principles of scuba diving such as

  • What to consider when planning dives.
  • How to choose the right scuba gear for you.
  • Underwater signals and other diving procedures.

You'll learn this valuable information by reading it in the PADI Open Water Diver Manual or by using the tablet version -PADI Open Water Diver Touch™, or online withPADI eLearning®. At the end of each chapter, you'll answer questions about the material to ensure you understand it. Along the way, let your PADI Instructor know if there is anything you don't understand. At the end of the course, you’ll take a final exam that ensures you have thorough knowledge of scuba diving basics.

You'll also watch videos that preview the scuba skills you'll practice in a swimming pool or pool-like environment. In addition to the video, your instructor will demonstrate each skill for you.

2. Confined Water Dives

This is what it’s all about – diving. You'll develop basic scuba skills in a pool or in confined water – a body of water with pool-like conditions, such as off a calm beach. The basic scuba skills you learn during your certification course will help you become familiar with your scuba gear and become an underwater explorer. Some of the essential skills you learn include:

  • Setting up your scuba gear.
  • How to get water out of your mask.
  • Entering and exiting the water.
  • Buoyancy control.
  • Basic underwater navigation.
  • Safety procedures.

You'll practice these skills with an instructor until you're comfortable. When you're ready, it's time for your underwater adventure to begin at an open water dive site.

3. Open Water Dives

After your confined water dives, you'll head to 'open water,' where you and your instructor will make four dives, usually over two days. On these dives you'll get to explore the underwater world. You'll apply the skills you learned in confined water while enjoying what the local environment has to offer. Most student divers complete these dives close to home, but there is an option for finishing your training while on holiday. Your PADI Instructor can explain how you can be referred to another PADI Instructor in a different location.

How long does it take to get certified?

The PADI Open Water Diver course is flexible and performance based, which means that yourPADI dive shop can offer a wide variety of schedules, organized according to how fast you progress. It’s possible to complete your confined and open water dives in three or four days by completing the knowledge development portion online via PADI eLearning, or other home study options offered by your local dive shop or resort.

Your PADI Instructor will focus on helping you become a confident and comfortable diver, not on how long it takes. You earn your certification based on demonstrating you know what you need to know and can do what you need to do. This means that you progress at your own pace – faster or slower depending upon the time you need – to become a competent scuba diver.

What gear will I need to scuba dive?

Choosing and using your scuba gear is part of the fun of diving. Your local PADI Dive Center or Resort will help you find the right gear. Each piece of scuba equipment has a different function so that together, it adapts you to the underwater world.

When you start learning to scuba dive, as a minimum, you'll want your own:

  • Mask
  • Snorkel
  • Fins

These have a personal fit, and your local PADI dive shop will help you choose gear with the best fit and features for you.

During your PADI Open Water Diver course, you’ll learn to use a regulator, buoyancy control device (BCD), dive computer or dive planner, scuba tank, wetsuit or dry suit and weight system. Check with your local PADI Resort or dive shop to confirm what equipment is included in your course package. Consider investing in all your own scuba equipment when you start your course because:

  • You’re more comfortable learning to scuba dive using gear you’ve chosen.
  • You’re more comfortable using scuba gear fitted for you.
  • Scuba divers who own their scuba diving equipment find it more convenient to go diving.
  • Having your own scuba diving gear is part of the fun of diving.

The kind of gear you’ll need depends on the conditions where you dive most. You may want:

  • Tropical scuba gear
  • Temperate scuba equipment
  • Cold water scuba diving equipment
  • Technical diving scuba equipment
What are the requirements for learning to scuba dive?

If you have a passion for excitement and adventure, chances are you can become an avid PADI scuba diver. You'll also want to keep in mind these requirements:

The minimum age is 10 years old (in most areas). Student divers who are younger than 15 earn the PADI Junior Open Water Diver certification, which they may upgrade to PADI Open Water Diver certification upon reaching 15. Children under the age of 13 require parent or guardian permission to register for PADI eLearning, or to use PADI Open Water Diver Touch™.

All student divers complete a brief scuba medical questionnaire that asks about medical conditions that could be a problem while diving. If none of these apply, sign the form and you’re ready to start. If any of these apply to you, your doctor must, as a safety precaution, assess the condition as it relates to diving and sign a medical form that confirms you’re fit to dive. In some areas, local laws require all scuba students to consult with a physician before entering the course. Download the scuba medical questionnaire.

Before completing the PADI Open Water Diver course, your instructor will have you demonstrate basic water skills to be sure you’re comfortable in the water, including:

  • Swim 200 metres/yards (or 300 metres/yards in mask, fins and snorkel) without stopping. There is no time limit for this, and you may use any swimming strokes you want.
  • Float and tread water for 10 minutes, again using any methods you want.

Any individual who can meet the performance requirements of the course qualifies for certification. There are many adaptive techniques that allow individuals with physical challenges to meet these requirements. People with paraplegia, amputations and other challenges commonly earn the PADI Open Water Diver certification. Even individuals with more significant physical challenges participate in diving. Talk to your PADI Instructor at your local PADI Dive Center or Resort for more information.

Do I have to be a good swimmer to scuba dive?

Some swimming ability is required. You need to have basic swim skills and be able to comfortably maintain yourself in the water. Your PADI Instructor will assess this by having you:

  • Swim 200 metres/yards (or 300 metres/yards in mask, fins and snorkel). There is no time limit for this, and you may use any swimming strokes you want.
  • Float and tread water for 10 minutes, again using any methods you want.

Any individual who can meet the performance requirements of the course qualifies for certification. There are many adaptive techniques that allow individuals with physical challenges to meet these requirements. People with paraplegia, amputations and other challenges commonly earn the PADI Open Water Diver certification. Even individuals with more significant physical challenges participate in diving. Talk to your PADI Instructor at your local PADI Dive Center for more information.

My ears hurt when I go to the bottom of a swimming pool or when I dive down snorkeling. Will that prevent me from becoming a scuba diver?

No, assuming you have no irregularities in your ears and sinuses. The discomfort is the normal effect of water pressure pressing in on your ear drums. Fortunately, our bodies are designed to adjust for pressure changes in our ears – you just need to learn how. If you have no difficulties adjusting to air pressure during flying, you'll probably experience no problem learning to adjust to water pressure while diving.

Will a history of ear troubles, diabetes, asthma, allergies or smoking preclude someone from diving?

Not necessarily. Any condition that affects the ears, sinuses, respiratory or heart function, or may alter consciousness is a concern, but only a doctor can assess a person’s individual risk. Doctors can consult with the Divers Alert Network (DAN) as necessary when assessing fitness to dive. Download the medical statement to take to your doctor.

What are the most common injuries or sicknesses associated with diving?

Sunburn, seasickness and dehydration, all of which are preventable, are the most common problems divers face. Injuries caused by marine life, such as scrapes and stings, do occur, but these can be avoided by wearing an exposure suit, staying off the bottom and watching where you put your hands and feet.

Do women have any special concerns regarding diving?

Aside from pregnancy, no. Because physiologists know little about the effects of diving on the fetus, the recommendation is that women avoid diving while pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Menstruation is not normally a concern.

How deep do you go?

With the necessary training and experience, the limit for recreational scuba diving is 40 metres/130 feet. Beginning scuba divers stay shallower than about 18 metres/60 feet. Although these are the limits, some of the most popular diving is shallower than 12 metres/40 feet, where the water’s warmer and the colors are brighter.

What happens if I use up all my air?
Your dive kit includes a gauge that displays how much air you have. You’ll learn to check it regularly, so it’s unlikely you’ll run out of air while scuba diving. However, if you run out of air, your buddy has an extra regulator (mouthpiece) that allows you to share a single air supply while swimming to the surface. There are also other options you’ll learn in your scuba diving training.
What if I feel claustrophobic?

People find the “weightlessness” of scuba diving to be quite freeing. Modern scuba masks are available in translucent models, which you may prefer if a mask makes you feel closed in. During your scuba diving training, your instructor gives you plenty of time and coaching to become comfortable with each stage of learning. Your scuba instructor works with you at your own pace to ensure you master each skill necessary to become a capable scuba diver who dives regularly.

What should I do if my computer stops working during a dive?

In an ideal world, you would have brought your dive tables on the boat and you'd be calculating your pressure group during surface intervals in case your computer went kaput. Actually, in a really ideal world we wouldn't need computers or dive tables or even regulators and ranks because we'd be able to breathe underwater and nitrogen wouldn't affect us and we'd be able to eradicate prejudice and war and hunger by joining hands with everyone everywhere and jumping in the water in one great worldwide scuba diving love-in.

But in this world, your dive computer is still a machine and machines fail. And when it does, you should be ready to bail out, aborting the dive and reaching the surface safely. If you've been monitoring your computer regularly during the dive, you should have a good idea of where you stand with respect to decompression. If your dive buddy is diving with a computer and you've stayed close together throughout the dive, you may be able to use his computer to give you a general idea about your status. However, you should not share your buddy's dive computer as if it were your own and continue to dive.

Assuming you were diving within the recreational limit of 130 feet, here's the plan: First, assess the situation calmly, then move promptly to less than 60 feet. Step two: At 60 feet, slow your ascent rate to 30 feet per minute and move to 15 feet. Step three: Hang there and burn air. Over-decompressing is not a concern, but the opposite is. If the last reading of your computer or your buddy's computer put you well in the clear, this hang should serve as an extended safety stop. No need to suck the tank dry, but if your decompression status puts you at risk, use all available air just to be sure.