Finding out there is more than Nemo under water can be a thrilling experience for young kids, says Alex Boulton, Educational Consultant for PADI Asia Pacific. He tells suitcases&strollers about why parents should try a diving holiday and how you can SCUBA dive with your kids. 

Why should kids learn how to dive?

It’s exciting and a great education in the natural world. Children are fast learners in the underwater world, able to master techniques that adults find challenging. A child can acquire these skills which become second nature whether they continue to SCUBA dive for the rest of their life or pursue a passion for snorkelling. The water awareness that SCUBA diving promotes is a useful companion to other water activities. Being able to dive opens the gateway to understanding and becoming aware of the mechanisms at work in the underwater world.

Why choose diving over other outdoor activities? What does diving offer kids that other activities don't?

Being under water is a state change. Most terrestrial outdoor activities are limited by gravity. Under water, these restrictions are lifted. Children get the opportunity roll, spin and move unrestricted. They can choose where they want to be in the water column and their orientation. There is nowhere else they can experience this freedom.

What is the best age for kids to start learning to dive?

There is a program for 8 year olds and above called the PADI Bubble Maker. This is an introduction to using SCUBA in a swimming pool environment. It’s an opportunity for children to have fun and experience weightlessness and have a new sense of mobility under water.

They can then progress to the PADI SEAL Team which is also in a swimming pool environment where they are introduced to special diving activities such as diving at night, in wrecks and recovering objects from under water.

In terms of a qualification the minimum age for diver training is 10 years old for starting a PADI Junior Open Water diver course. In certain countries local law mandates a different age, such as in Australia where the minimum age is 12 years.

Is diving dangerous?

There is an element of risk with all outdoor activities. Diving is no exception. This is why the PADI Bubble Maker experience is confined to a pool and a small ratio of divers to one instructor. There is a cognitive level necessary to grasp the concepts that underpin diving techniques and this is why certification training can only begin when the student is 10 years old.

Indeed, a 10- or 11-year-old still has restrictions once qualified (such as diving with a qualified parent/guardian/instructor to a maximum depth of 12 metres) that older Junior Open Water divers do not have.

What about sharks?

[Although s]harks are present in most bodies of salt water, a diver is at no more risk [from sharks] than a swimmer, kayaker or surfer. In fact the anecdotal evidence suggests that the diver underwater is actually at less risk compared with those engaged in water sports on the surface.

How good at swimming does a child need to be to be able to master diving?

The PADI Junior Open Water diver must successfully complete a 10 minute float/water tread and a 200 metre swim or a 300 metre snorkel swim (using a mask, snorkel and fins).

What is the essential diving gear that parents should invest in for kids – or is it best to just rent it all?

As children grow so quickly it may be advisable to rent or hire some equipment such as the Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) from a dive centre. We recommend purchasing at least a mask, snorkel and fins as personal equipment as these provide a level of comfort and fit that make the activity more enjoyable. Your child can also then use these for snorkeling. Depending on the water temperature [where you are going], it is also advisable to purchase a good fitting wetsuit or exposure suit as children lose heat much faster than adults.

Where are the best places to dive with children?

Learn to dive somewhere warm for longer durations in the water.  

There are numerous locations throughout the Asia Pacific region. You can’t always guarantee that all the marine life will be there but I’d select the destination based on what you want to see: soft coral, hard coral, turtles, stingrays, sharks, octopus, sea dragons, cuttle fish, crabs, seals, dolphins, whales, mantas or eels. This is the spirit of exploration that diving fosters and is a great way to get your child involved in their own adventure.

If your kids love observing fish underwater, check out suitcases&strollers’ list of cool Underwater Hotels or read the suitcases&strollers story Snorkeling with Kids

For more family beach safety tips, see the suitcases&strollers interview with the team from Bondi Rescue here