The prospect of learning to dive is as daunting as it is exciting for many would-be divers — after all, breathing underwater directly contradicts of our most basic survival instincts, and certain entry-level skills (including mask removal and out-of-air scenarios) often pose significant challenges for new divers. It can be difficult to predict whether or not you’ll be able to conquer those initial fears before you first try diving, and, if you do, whether or not you’ll enjoy diving thereafter. Because of this uncertainty, committing to a full scuba course (both in terms of time and money) can be off-putting. This is where PADI’s Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) course comes in, offering first-time divers a quick and relatively inexpensive way to find out how it feels to breathe underwater. Potential divers who enroll in the course can make an informed decision as to whether or not they want to pursue full certification.
Offered by most PADI dive centers around the world, the DSD course teaches new divers basic scuba safety guidelines and skills under the direct supervision of a PADI professional. Depending on the dive center, and on the participant’s preference, DSD classes can take place in a swimming pool or in open-ocean, up to a maximum depth of 40 feet (12 m). To ensure that the student understands scuba theory, the class includes a knowledge-development session, which covers topics including equipment purpose and use, breathing rules and equalization, hand signals and respect for the aquatic environment. Later, during the skills section, participants are taught essential skills, including regulator clearing and recovery, mask clearing and BCD inflation and deflation at the surface. After the student has completed these two sections, they’re taken on a short underwater tour, giving them the opportunity to get comfortable with breathing underwater and to take in some aquatic sights.
Of course, the purpose of DSD is ultimately to encourage those who are on the fence about diving to sign up for their Open Water course. At the end of the experience, participants are given information on a full certification, and in many cases, dive centers offer a discount on Open Water courses taken as a result of the DSD. This gives the course a monetary value; another major benefit of the DSD is the credit participants can gain towards their Open Water course. The skills learned during a DSD are the same as those learned in the first confined-water section of the Open Water course, and the optional open-water tour counts as the course’s first open-water dive. Those who complete a DSD don’t have to repeat those sections of their Open Water course, which gives them a head start in getting certified.
I can personally vouch for the value of the DSD, having enrolled in my own Open Water course after an unforgettable DSD experience in Australia. For me, the DSD was the cheapest way to experience the underwater world when my budget was stretched to the limit. Those who are considering the DSD as an affordable intermediary step should note my experience as a cautionary tale, though — I fell so hard for diving that I ended up spending everything I had not only on my Open Water course, but also on every certification all the way up to professional level soon thereafter. The DSD course could also save you money, of course, if as a result you realize that diving isn’t for you after all.
Anyone over the age of 10 can complete the DSD course, provided that they’re in good health and can pass a basic dive medical assessment. Because of this, DSDs are also a great way for divers to introduce family members and friends to the sport, particularly if they have reservations about enrolling in a full certification course. In the end, the real value of this course is that it makes diving accessible to everyone, including those who are nervous and those who may not have the time or money to commit to a full certification. Ultimately, the Discover Scuba Diving program enables anyone with even a fleeting interest to experience exactly what it is that makes our sport so special.