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Scuba Diving – How young is too young

Submitted by admin on 2009-07-13 | Last Modified on 2010-04-07

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As the U.S. government rolls out scuba diving courses for kids to help promote the scuba diving industry the question hangs in the balance – how young is too young to start scuba diving?

There have been a number of instances where children (around 12yrs old) have lost, or almost lost their lives while scuba diving. In one circumstance a father was teaching his son to scuba dive in the deep end of their pool. The child panicked and came to the surface, holding his breath, dying from an air embolism. In another, a 12yrs old boy was out scuba diving in a lake with a dive team. Nobody could testify exactly what happened, whether he ran out of air or if his tubes got tangled, but by the time he was brought to the surface his heart had stopped. Dive members used CPR to get his heart started again, before he was transported to the hospital. While another boy was diving with his parents, he got separated. The air in his cylinder ran out and without a buoyancy device, his weight belt prevented him from reaching the surface. Unfortunately he drowned.

We tend to forget that children are not small adults. The maturity and experience that is needed to make the right decision, in an emergency, is often beyond the reach of a child. It is also unknown how diving is likely to affect a child’s health and development. Repeated hyperbaric exposures can have lasting detrimental effects on a child’s spinal cord. Bones that have not reached full maturity yet and even brain damage could be a factor. Because children have different metabolic rates than adults, they lose heat differently. As current Dive tables are designed for the use of adults, no studies have been conducted to produce the equivalent for children.

Hearing loss is another potential danger if the child forgets to clear the ears when the pressure changes underwater – a situation that is quite likely, as the child is distracted by the underwater wonders.

While a child of 10 can be taught the motor skills necessary to dive, it is unlikely they will have the needed judgement in an open water dive. It is quite possible that the instructor may recommend that the child wait until a later date to be certified, or restrict their diving to under 40 feet. Some instructors have refused to certify children, because of their age. Other instructors feel it is unwise as they don’t know how scuba diving will affect a child’s physiology.

Advertisements for diving classes and certification for children as young as 10 has become common practice, as dive operators and resorts try to cash in on the scuba diving industry. Their motives are driven by ignorance and some unscrupulous outfits whose only interest is profit.

Would you really want to risk your child’s health? While we have become a generation of “want it and want it now” it may be in your child’s best interests to have to wait before learning how to scuba dive and enjoy the beauty of the deep. Let your child develop the maturity and judgement skills and in the meantime learn how to become a strong swimmer and even snorkeler.


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I'm a dive master. My son learned how to dive when he was 12. For years before that he tagged along with me on the dive boats. He carried gear, cleaned up, and even learned to pilot the boat. He snorkeled around when the water was warm. I did not teach him to dive, I left that to the instructors. I did take him on two of his check out dives. For several years he dove with instructors and dive masters and me. I was confident in his skills and his ability to think his way out of a problem.
He was exposed to diving early on and grew into it over a long period of time. Maybe that is what made his diving experience so successful.
Now he takes me diving.....................
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Sounds like you handled the situation the way most people should, monitoring the child's skills and their abilities and understanding what scuba diving requires and making sure their child is capable of handing any situation they may experience. It's all about steps, and becoming more and more comfortable underwater. I think the case for most fatalities are due to children being thrown in the deep end (so to speak) and being expected to handle situations they are not trained and prepared for.

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