For some, the dream holiday means basking in the sun and sipping cocktails. But for those less inclined to lie stock-still under the sweltering sun, few activities are as relaxing and exhilarating as diving. Earning your dive certification opens up a whole new world, and while studying on holiday may deter some, you can divide the course, completing theory and pools sessions beforehand while saving the ocean dives for your holiday. If you're wondering how to get scuba certified, read on for a breakdown of the course requirements.

Diver entering the water

The Dive Theory

Learning to dive safely will involve a bit of bookwork, but don't let that fill you with dread and give you nightmares about going back to school. Dive theory is reasonably straightforward and the courses are designed for children as young as ten to understand.

The mere mention of 'physics' may make some people run for cover, but the physics you need to understand to safe diving is relatively basic. You'll delve into the concepts of buoyancy and water pressure and understand how they apply to diving. You'll also cover dive planning and gain insights into diving equipment and how it works.

Traditionally, the theory section involved watching videos in a classroom, but nowadays you can complete it entirely online. The online study option is perfect for those looking to earn their certification on holiday, as it gives the flexibility to begin the course before you travel. This means less time in a classroom during your trip and more time in the water.

swimmers on the surface

The Swim Tests

As part of your initial diving course, the open water certification, you are required to demonstrate your comfort in the water. This involves two completing two separate swim tests. The first test involves floating on the surface for ten minutes, and the second test involves swimming a distance of 200 metres or snorkelling for 300 metres. There are no time limits for these swims;it's not an Olympic trial, but you do need to prove you can swim and are comfortable in deeper water.

For the swim tests, you must wear swimwear only; buoyant wetsuits are not permitted. These tests should be completed without stopping and should also take place in water that is too deep for you to stand, although they can also be completed in a swimming pool.

Insider tip: As the world's saltiest open sea, the Red Sea is the easiest place to do the swim tests and a great choice for families looking into how to get scuba certified together!

Divers in training

Confined Water Training

Your initial immersion with the instructor occurs in a controlled, easy conditions, typically in a swimming pool or from the beach. Starting in waist-deep water, your instructor will guide you through equipment basics and essential skills, such as clearing your mask (everybody's favourite part!). This is the 'confined water training' phase of the course.

After mastering these foundational skills, you will head a little deeper in the pool to learn additional skills, like buoyancy control and depth management. You will also start to learn the hand signals we use to communicate and how to keep an eye on how much air you have left in your tank.

The duration of confined water training can vary depending on the agency and location logistics. It may be completed in a single half-day session or split into shorter chunks over several days. In holiday destinations, confined water training usually occurs in swimming pools in one day, leaving you with more holiday time for fun dives.

Diver entering boat

Open Water Dives

Now, the real fun begins! It's time to hit the ocean and finally come face-to-face with marvellous marine creatures like turtles, seahorses and perhaps even a friendly shark or two. For your first open water dives, you'll visit dive sites known for relaxed, easy conditions. To get scuba certified, you will complete four open ocean dives with your instructor and fellow students.

During these dives, you'll practice the skills you've learned in the pool, and your instructor will guide you through the area, pointing out the cool fish along the way.

Your first two ocean dives, or open water dives, will take you to a maximum depth of 12 metres, and the subsequent dives will venture slightly deeper, to a maximum of 18 metres, which is the first certification level's depth limit. These four dives should be spread across at least two days, as certification agencies limit training dives to a maximum of three per day to prevent overwhelming you with too much new information all at once.

Diver with fish


Depending on your holiday plans, starting the course at home and finishing it at your holiday destination can be a smart approach. This process is known as the referral scheme, and your local instructor will provide a form that details the sections of the course you've already covered, which you will show your dive instructor on holiday, outlining what remains to be done.

The referral process is especially handy for those contemplating a shorter trip. If you are planning a week-long holiday, it's worth exploring the option of starting your training at home. This way, you can work towards completing the theory and confined water training before you even start packing. Upon arrival at your destination, you'll only need to complete the open water dives, though the instructor may take you in the pool first to make sure you've not forgotten everything...

Diver with school of fish

A Few Final Thoughts...

The process of how to get scuba certified involves four key steps: dive theory, swim tests, confined water and open water dives. This course's flexibility makes it easy to fit it into your travel plans. For short trips, consider beginning the course in advance at your local dive centre to maximize your holiday activities. On longer flights, use your tablet or laptop to study dive theory. Your first water experience is in a controlled, shallow area to acclimate to equipment, and the final two days bring the real scuba magic during ocean dives, turning you into a fully-fledged scuba addict!

Disclaimer: Learning to dive will change the way you book your future holidays!