Teaching Your Kids to Dive: PADI Junior Open Water Program

In the fourth of our series on dive programs for children, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the PADI Junior Open Water Program. 

In the first two of our series on kids’ diving courses, we covered Bubblemaker and Seal Team, wherein participants must be at least eight years old. If your child is 10 or older and has shown interest in diving, the Discover Scuba Diving program may help them, and you, decide if they’re ready to pursue diving more seriously. Here, we’ll cover the PADI Junior Open Water Program, available to kids 10 and older.

What sets Junior Open Water apart?

The most important thing to note about this course is that it’s a big jump from the Bubblemaker, Seal Team, and Discover Scuba Diving programs. It is, in fact, the same course that the adults take. It features the same book, same knowledge mastery and skill mastery requirements. It’s vital to really consider your child’s readiness for this course. If they’re ready, look for a program that offers a 2-to-1 or 1-to-1 ratio of student to instructor so that your child can learn at his own pace.

Below are the course requirements and some tips from PADI IDC Staff Instructor Sheila Shelton of Texan Scuba if your child is ready to be an open-water diver.

The PADI Junior Open Water course

As I already mentioned, this is big. The course will require a lot of reading, knowledge and skills mastery. Before the classroom and pool time, the student must read the PADI Open Water course textbook. He or she must complete the knowledge reviews in each chapter. Once they start their classroom training, students will take a variety of quizzes, as well as a final exam that covers all the material in the textbook. Remember, this is the same book that you and I learned from.

The other big requirement to begin the course is that students must demonstrate that they can complete a 10-minute swim/float without any swim aids in water too deep to stand. Then they must complete a 200 meter/yard continuous surface-swim with no gear on or a 300 meter/yard surface swim using mask, fins and snorkel.

Students in the Open Water course must demonstrate much more than the ability to breathe underwater.  They will demonstrate a variety of skills on land, including their pre-dive buddy checks, assembly and disassembly of their equipment, putting on and adjusting their equipment, and inflating and deflating their BCDs.

In-water skills training

In the water, students clear and breathe through a snorkel; adjust for proper weighting; orally inflate their BCD; remove their weights; recover and clear a regulator; breathe without a mask and then clear a mask; locate and read their submersible pressure gauge; demonstrate various hand signals; hover mid-water; and perform a controlled ascent and descent.

As the pool sessions continue, students demonstrate some emergency skills, including sharing air with a buddy; a tired-diver tow; simulation of breathing on a free-flowing regulator; a controlled emergency swimming ascent; and cramp removal techniques on themselves and on their buddy.

Once in open water, students demonstrate all these skills again and also must complete a straight-line surface swim with a compass, safety stops, and a straight-line and reciprocal swim underwater.

Different rules for Junior Open Water Divers

As mentioned, this course includes everything that adults must do to get certified.  However, once certified, the rules of diving are different depending on the student’s age. Until age 15, all divers are referred to as “junior,” no matter how many certifications or dives they achieve prior to their 15th birthday. Junior Open Water divers age 10-11 can only dive with a parent, guardian, or PADI professional and to a maximum depth of 40 feet (12 m).  Junior Open Water Divers age 12-14 years old can dive with a certified adult other than a parent, guardian, or PADI professional, and they may dive to 60 feet (18 m).

If you feel like this may be too much for your child, there is a scaled-back option called the PADI Scuba Diver program. In this subset of the Open Water program, students learn to dive under the direct supervision of PADI Divemaster or higher to maximum of 40 feet (12 m).  This course offers more theoretical and better-developed water skills than PADI’s Discover Scuba Diving Program. Upon completion, however, the student is not qualified to dive independently or even with a parent or guardian.

The Scuba Diver Program covers the first three chapters of the five-chapter OW textbook, and includes the first three confined-water dives and first two open-water dives. It also only requires a 10-minute swim/float. There is no formal training on dive tables or computer use. If you are unsure about whether to certify your child, this course may be a good starting point. If your child does well, they can come back later to do the full Open Water program.

Tips to ensure your child’s success 

If you and your child have decided to proceed, following a few recommendations can help them succeed and enjoy the course. While PADI stipulates a maximum student-to-instructor ratio of 8-to-1 in the pool and 4-to-1 in open water (2-to-1 for ages 10-11), as mentioned, PADI IDC Staff Instructor Sheila Shelton feels strongly that 2-to-1 or 1-to-1 ideal. This way students can learn at their own pace. It may cost more, but it gives the instructor time to slow the training down.

Shelton also suggests that children take this course in summer so they have more time for textbook reading and comprehension, and suggests that parents schedule classes earlier in the day when children are still fresh.  It’s usually easier for dive shops to schedule private lessons during the week. This also makes training in the summer more appealing, when there are fewer people trying to enroll in classes.

Final advice

PADI offers a variety of ways to study the course content, including eLearning, tablet app, hard copy book and DVD. But Shelton thinks today’s kids are most comfortable using PADI’s eLearning option. The Open Water Diver Online course allows students to study at their own pace through an interactive computer-based program.

Shelton also recommends talking with the instructor about your child’s readiness prior to course enrollment. Prepare for the possibility that the instructor may tell you after the first class that your child is not ready. That evaluation may require actual time in class with your child, and it is imperative to respect the instructor’s opinion.

Finally, a word about dive tables. If you certified when I did, tables were a must. We didn’t have anything else. Now, however, computers are a major part of our dive experience. Some dive shops still teach tables, even though it makes the class a bit longer. Shelton and Texan Scuba have decided to include tables in their instruction. As a parent, I would make sure that the dive shop I choose for my child’s training does the same. Understanding tables can save a trip if a computer fails, and also helps kids understand what the numbers mean.

What’s next?

Once a child completes Open Water, they can continue their junior journey, even if they are under 15. Once the child 12 years old, he can take Junior Advanced Open Water. This includes five specified dives, including a deep dive. This certification offers ability to dive to 70 feet (21 m). Kids can even achieve Junior Master Scuba Diver certification, the highest recreational rating in the PADI system. To do so they must complete their Junior Open Water, Junior Advanced Open Water, Junior Rescue, certifications in five PADI specialty courses, and log 50 dives. Age requirements for PADI’s specialty courses vary, so check with your dive shop to determine which specialties your child can pursue.

Stay tuned for more information on Junior Rescue and other courses available to your child on his junior journey.