Scuba diving is an increasingly popular activity with over 9 million divers worldwide, primarily located in Europe and the United States. With many things to do while underwater from wrecks to reefs, people of all ages are joining the trend.
However, one of the most frequent questions I hear from prospective divers is if they are too old to take up the hobby. There has been a bit of debate on this topic over the years. So how old can you start scuba diving?
There is no definitive age with which it is too late to start scuba diving. If you are in good health, you can start diving at any age as long as you are at least 10 years of age. While there is no upper limit to start obtaining an open water certification, you must be physically fit enough to swim 200m and tread water for 10 minutes. The oldest person to scuba dive is 98 years old.
Let’s take a look at how age can affect diving ability as well as the age requirements.
As we’ve said, the only age requirement for diving is on the lower end of the spectrum, something that surprises some people. Both PADI and SDI (the two major certification agencies) require students to be at least 10 years old.
Divers who are under 15 will earn a junior open water certification which can be upgraded when they reach 15. Additionally, children younger than 13 must have parent permission in order to register for courses and e-learning.
There are no age restrictions for certification on the upper end of the age spectrum. The only requirements are that you are able to swim 200 meters and tread water for 10 minutes.
Additionally, all persons must complete a medical questionnaire before becoming certified.
If you check any box on the questionnaire, you will need to get checked out by a doctor. If you’re older, you’ll likely check a few boxes. In fact, many divers check boxes at a relatively young age because the questionnaire is thorough.
Getting approved by a doctor is not difficult. The doctor essentially signs off that you are in good enough health to be able to withstand the rigors of scuba diving.
One thing to note is that some dive resorts will have age restrictions, often around age 80. This is likely due to insurance-related reasons.
It’s important to note that people can dive at every age. For example, Jacques Cousteau famously dived until his death at age 87. Additionally, Bill Lambert of Rockford, Illinois, learned to scuba dive three years ago at age 98.
He was still diving last year when he became the oldest person to ever complete a dive.
However, one of the things scuba divers always want to encourage is for people to be informed about the risks and how diving may affect them. Let’s take a look at a number of things that should be considered in your decision to become a diver.
Diving puts a lot of pressure on the body, particularly the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. This is because as you go deeper in water, the weight of the water column above you exerts increased pressure. You also absorb excess nitrogen when you breathe compressed air and need to slowly expel it from your body.
Diving is a very safe activity for people in good health but does have increased risks such as increasing the likelihood of heart attack.
Thus, for anyone with any lung or heart ailments, consulting with your doctor is critical. In fact, as we’ve noted above, it will be required before getting certified.
There are two things to consider when reflecting upon mental fitness for diving. First, as we age, it becomes more difficult to learn something. This is not a trait of people at a certain age. In fact, even by our 20s, it is more difficult to learn.
Scuba diving requires learning how equipment functions, safety procedures, and a variety of other information. If you are older, it may take you a bit longer to master concepts. This is perfectly fine. A good scuba instructor will work with you at your pace and help you feel confident in your skills.
Another consideration is that responding to emergencies underwater requires the ability to be calm and think quickly. You need to be able not to panic, remember your training, and act. While emergencies are rare, your ability to respond is something to consider.
The Scuba Diving Population
It is worth highlighting that scuba diving is a sport where a sizable amount of participants are over 50. This is because scuba diving’s first surge of popularity was 30-40 years ago. So younger divers have now aged in the hobby.
Additionally, scuba diving can be a bit of an expensive sport, particularly if you want to buy all your own gear. People tend to have more disposable income as they get older, meaning scuba diving is a hobby many people take up later in age.
The fact that so many divers are over the age of 50 (which is what Divers Alert Network considers an older diver) is a sign that age is truly not a constraint.
To become a certified scuba diver, you must be at least 10 years old. There is no upper limit for the sport. While age does not matter, physical fitness and overall health are important factors.
Additionally, there are physical and mental demands that are placed on divers which should be considered. Getting a physical from your doctor is a good way of finding out if you are in good enough health for diving.
Mike resides in landlocked Indiana but takes every opportunity to travel to warm waters for diving. When in his home state, he typically dives quarries. His favorite place to dive is the reef off of Ambergris Caye, Belize. When not diving, he works as a researcher, runs marathons, and spends time with his three kids.