As a dive instructor and parent to two adventurous kids I was keen for them to experience the wonders of scuba diving at a young age. But how old do you need to be before you can actually get them into the water? Pretty young is the answer. Swimming and snorkelling have no limits and the underwater exploration can begin as early as 1 year old. But breathing from a regulator and mask and delving into the the world of scuba diving does have its age limits.
Koh Tao is the ideal place to introduce the kids into the magic of scuba diving. A small idyllic island in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Tao is surrounded by warm crystal clear tropical waters, an array of colourful marine life, beautiful white sandy beaches and lush, jungle filled hills. Koh Tao, or Turtle Island as it translates to, is a tropical paradise island with a 21km coastline and a myriad of beautiful bays.
Koh Tao is the ideal destination for the family
Koh Tao has an overabundance of sun, sand and sea and is great for families to enjoy amid the famous scuba diving on offer. Known for its beautiful scenery, it also has a reputation for being the cheapest place in the world to learn to dive. Not only is it budget priced, the island is home to high quality scuba instruction which is what you want when you are considering getting the kids into the underwater world. So where do you start. Other than familiarising kids with the water, the PADI Bubblemaker program is the natural starting point of a lifelong dive career.
Head underwater with the PADI Bubblemaker
If kids have been swimming and snorkelling from a young age, they are likely to be comfortable in the water and this goes a long way to ensuring they will gravitate to the underwater world scuba diving offers. The entry level scuba experience for kids is the PADI Bubblemaker program. As the name suggests, the program is to familiarise kids as young as 8 years old to the magic that is scuba and the underwater world it opens up.
Kids get the opportunity to play with the equipment out of the water. They often get a thrill out of inflating and deflating the BCD and are amazed by the sound the equipment makes, especially breathing. Imitations of Darth Vader ‘use the force luke’ regularly follow the first few breaths. It brings laughs and helps relieve any tension and apprehension that many kids feel amid the excitement.
The experience usually begins in the swimming pool. Equipment is donned, masks adjusted and under confined conditions kids get the chance to breathe underwater through a regulator for the first time. As an instructor, the amazement on their faces is something that is a joy to witness.
Underwater magic in the pool and the ocean
Starting slowly the kids get a chance to practice with the equipment in the controlled environment of the pool and if comfortable they have the opportunity to go out into the ocean and explore the magic of a real coral reef. Young children are generally limited to calm, sheltered conditions and despite now being able to go underwater, participants in the PADI Bubblemaker program are restricted to a maximum depth of 2m. Even these shallow depths open up a world of enjoyment and often start kids on a journey of endless possibilities.
Becoming a PADI Seal Team member
No age is too young to get the kids involved in an understanding of the ocean world and associated marine conservation. The PADI Seal Team program teaches responsibility and respect for the aquatic realm. The program is designed to get kids involved and interested in the aquatic environment. Often pool based ‘aqua-missions’ provide opportunities for exciting, action packed fun and games that complement the scuba diving experience.
Aqua-missions include basic scuba diving skills such as breathing underwater, clearing a mask and programs similar to those undertaken in the pool based component of the PADI bubblemaker program. So if your kids have done the bubblemaker, maybe they could move onto the potentially more exciting aqua-missions such as wreck specialist – titanic hunting and night specialist – are you afraid of the dark? Also, there is search and recovery specialist – treasure hunt or snapshot specialist – pictures! Say cheeeese! Or creature specialist – I like turtles!
All of these activities provide exciting new opportunities to become more comfortable, competent and knowledgeable about being in the water preparing the kids for more adventures as they grow and develop.
When the kids reach 10 years old a whole new range of opportunities open in the scuba diving world including the PADI Discover Scuba Diving experience. This is a one day introduction to scuba diving that enables all participants, including kids, to learn the basic scuba diving safety guidelines and skills that enable them to dive under supervision of a PADI instructor.
They generally start in a swimming pool before heading into the ocean but this is not necessarily the case. It could depend on your prior experience or comfort in the water that will determine how quickly the kids end up in the ocean.
One of the best things about the introductory one day program is the ability to ‘try-before-you-buy’. It is a great chance to see if the kids are going to like scuba diving before enrolling in the full four day certification open water program. If you are comfortable in the shallows and able to complete a couple of basic skills, you can dive to a maximum of 12 metres depth.
PADI Certification, the road to adventure
The first certification program available to kids is the PADI Junior Open Water Diver Course. This course is an entry-level diver certification that is recognised worldwide, is valid for a lifetime and can be completed by anyone from the age of 10 years old. The open water course enables kids to become certified divers to explore the underwater world at their leisure.
Teaching kids is a wonderful experience for the instructors as well. The sheer joy exhibited by kids when they are immersed in the underwater environment is special. One of the hardest things as an instructor is trying to remind them that diving responsibility requires a fair degree of maturity and awareness. To be a good scuba diver you need to relax and move slowly. Kids rarely understand this notion, attempting to rush to the next exciting thing.
As high energy individuals, sometimes the hardest thing is getting them to slow down and focus on their breathing, their body position and understand that they are likely to see more if they develop their skills, become a more competent diver. As a diver with good skills, you are less likely to scare away marine life, you will see more and enjoy a lot more.
As a Junior Open Water Diver aged 10-11 you will be able to dive down to a maximum depth of 12m anywhere in the world whilst being guided by a dive professional. At 12 years old you are permitted to dive a little deeper – 18 metres – and then on a child’s 15th birthday they can apply to PADI for an adult certification card.
The joy of teaching kids on Koh Tao
I have had the pleasure of not only teaching my kids how to dive, but also sharing an amazing array of experiences with my kids. Both of my kids were certified at 10 years old and have enjoyed some amazing adventures. Together we have seen whale sharks, stingrays, turtles and a world of spectacular underwater marine life.
Being an avid marine conservationist my kids have been exposed to and learned about the many issues facing the marine world, specifically coral reefs. Together we have conducted numerous beach and dive site clean ups, participated in awareness raising events and contributed to a number of active reef restoration projects.
The kids have had the opportunity to propagate and plant corals in coral nurseries and develop artificial reefs as alternative dive sites for scuba diving training and additional habitats. It is an experience i feel privileged to have shared with them. I am glad they understand the importance of our ocean environments and the role coral reefs play in supporting the world’s human population. This provides knowledge supporting a more sustainable life and lifestyle.
Travel and dive with the family
The best thing about having certified divers as kids, it allows you all to participate in scuba diving adventures on future vacations. There is an amazing world underwater and the sooner kids are exposed to these opportunities the greater chance they will become accomplished scuba divers and appreciate the sheer beauty of this natural wonder of the world.
At 12 years old your child could complete their PADI Advanced Open Water course which enables them to be certified to go deeper. Better still, they get the chance to explore a whole range of other underwater adventures such as night diving, wreck diving (depth dependent), fish identification & DPV (underwater scooters!). As a 12 year old they’ll be certified to a maximum depth of 21 metres which will be automatically 30 metres once they reach 15 years old.
Completing the advanced course enables diving a number of world class locations around the world, including diving Sail Rock which is the best site in the gulf of Thailand and the opportunity to see the infamous Whalesharks! The best thing about diving for kids is as they get older, the opportunities only become more enticing.
As a 15 year old, kids can dive for longer as Enriched Air Nitrox specialty divers. And all of this prepares them for the possibility of turning a passion into a career as a PADI professional. With scuba diving, the ocean floor, rather than the sky, is truly the limit.
Nathan Cook M.Sc
PADI MI 479720