Due Diligence for Parents of Young Divers

Children can be eager and responsible students, but keeping them safe underwater warrants some special precautions.

I have been diving around the world with parents and their kids for 17 years. At Kids Sea Camp we take nearly 350 families diving each year, we have certified more than 5,000 young people, and we have never had a scuba diving accident. I attribute this safety record to being the mother of two divers and having very conservative views about kids and diving.

Parents often express reservations or concerns about going on dive vacations with their kids. I have heard more than my share of scary stories of close calls and stressed-filled dive trips, such as the following:
  • a divemaster who led a family with young children into a wreck
  • a dive guide who took a group of divers that included eight kids between 11 and 15 years old to 100 feet
  • a dive operator who took children under the age of 12 on open-ocean night dives deeper than 50 feet
  • divemasters who never turned around to check on their group
  • a dive guide who took a couple and their 11-year-old to 75 feet
  • a divemaster who responded to a parent's request for more engagement underwater by stating that he was not a babysitter and it was not his job to take care of the kids
  • dive guides who took families with young children on dives without briefing them about the likelihood of seeing large sharks, resulting in kids bolting to the surface in fear

Who is responsible for these mistakes? The dive operators? The divemasters? The parents?
Parental Responsibility
Parents need to be confident, capable divers themselves. When you take responsibility for someone else's life, regardless of whether it's a child or an adult, you need to be physically fit, properly equipped, familiar with the rules and adept at reading weather, currents, waves and tides.

It's amazing how many parents and dive professionals are unfamiliar with the standards for youth diving. Many parents haven't even looked at their children's certification cards. Even if the dive instructor doesn't mention the child's maximum depth or other restrictions, these limitations are noted in the course materials. At the end of your child's certification course, ask the instructor for a handout that lists the standards and restrictions associated with the certification.

When looking for a dive operator to take your family diving, do your research, ask questions, and thoroughly vet the operator. Some good questions include the following:
  • Are you a kid-friendly dive center?
  • Do you offer, and do you currently teach, children's scuba programs?
  • Are private instructors or dive guides available, and are they familiar with youth diving standards?
  • Do you provide rental dive gear for kids, including small weight belts, small cylinders, masks, fins, snorkels, buoyancy compensators, wetsuits and regulators with small mouthpieces?
  • What safety equipment is available on the boats, and where is your emergency plan posted?
  • What are your communication capabilities (radio, cell phone, satellite phone, etc.)?
  • Do you dive any sites that are well suited to families with kids?
  • Is there a hyperbaric chamber nearby that treats divers?

Two young divers have fun working on their buoyancy control and demonstrating hand signals.

Most training organizations require divers younger than a certain age to dive with a parent or a dive professional; kids are not certified to dive only with other kids. I personally do not allow children under 17 to dive deeper than 70 feet without a dive pro as a buddy, even if they have an advanced certification.

A refresher in the pool before a dive trip is a good idea for kids — and adults. Taking a refresher course together is a great way to get on the same page with your child with regard to procedures, and it may be a fun way to get excited for the trip together.

Before you go diving with your child, know your child's certification and the maximum depth associated with it. Also be sure you know with whom the child is certified to dive (i.e., a dive pro, a parent or guardian, or any adult). Finally, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Am I qualified and confident in my ability to care for a young diver?
  • Am I physically fit and capable of assisting or rescuing a child?
  • Am I up to date on my skills and hand signals?
  • When was the last time I went diving?
  • In what conditions will we be diving (wreck, night, drift, current, etc.)? Do I have enough experience with that type of diving?
  • What hazardous marine life will be present, and do I know how to respond to a sting, bite or other injury?
Dos and Don’ts for Parents
  • Do inform yourself about all the risks involved with diving.
  • Do go to your local dive shop to try on dive gear and get kids fitted properly.
  • Do talk to multiple dive operators to find the most kid-friendly ones.
  • Do carefully read the waivers and forms.
  • Do make sure you have an emergency plan in place.
  • Do set a good example and instill good habits in your kids (e.g., conduct safety stops, perform predive safety checks, etc.).
  • Do abide by your child's depth limit.
  • Do make sure that your and your child's gear are streamlined.
  • Do make sure your child is comfortable with all of his or her gear and has checked weights and releases prior to the dive.
  • Do check gauges early and often when diving with kids.
  • Do turn to check on your young buddy often and stay within one breath of him or her at all times.
  • Do take DAN first aid courses.

  • Don't ever lie on a form about a medication or medical condition.
  • Don't buy dive gear from sources that are not authorized dealers of that brand.
  • Don't ever drink alcohol and dive or take children diving if you're feeling unwell.
  • Don't ever push your child to do something he or she is not comfortable with.
  • Don't ever lie about a child's age for a certification course.
  • Don't touch anything — take only pictures, leave only bubbles.

© Alert Diver — Q2 Spring 2017