Physical Requirements for PADI Open Water Certification

What sort of physical feats would I have to be able to perform in order to earn PADI Open-Water adult SCUBA certification?

I’m not exactly in tip-top shape.

It’s been a while, so it is possible that the rules may have changed. But the requirements were not too bad - they want to make the sport as “available” as possible.

There were basically two main “tests”:

  • swimming. I couldn’t tell you the exact distance, but it amounted to 20 laps in this small pool (NOT an olympic sized pool - more like around a 20 foot length pool). You can’t stop, you can’t walk (some parts of the pool were in the shallow side), and you can’t use the edge. BUT you can take as long as you want - go as slow as you want. Except for when the pool may close, you could take as long as you wanted (which I did). You can use any stroke (so I did the majority on my back), and you can change strokes however you’d like.

  • floating. NOT treading water. You need to float, keeping your face (not full head) out of the water for 10 minutes. This is really not too hard once you relax. You don’t need to float on your back, but if you can, that would be fine. I ended up just having my face above water, and just occasionally flicking my hands to keep this position. I did not tread water (no legs, and no real arm movement).

It would behoove you to have some reasonable aerobic capacity - lugging dive gear and swim outs can take their toll. But it’s not a requirement to be in any great shape. It will also help with how long your tank will last.

Although it’s not the easiest thing to find on the PADI website, your answers are here.

As a former PADI instructor, I can say that these requirements are really minimal, and I’ve seen people in all sorts of condition learn to dive. The only people I’ve ever seen rejected on the basis of physical ability are a woman with arthritis too bad to operate the equipment (she was really uncomfortable with diving anyway), and another woman who became panicky any time she put her face in the water. (After two hours in the pool just trying to get over that hurdle, she gave up, although I assured her that we could try to work on it again if she was willing.) There was also a doctor who had another doc sign off on his med questionnaire and later had a heart infarction on his first open water dive (thankfully not on my watch). Weight and strength have never really been an issue, and frankly the majority of divers seem to be at least moderately overweight. There are even special assistance programs for disabled divers, so a moderate physical handicap isn’t a showstopper as long as you can safely manipulate the equipment. Unless you have a chronic disorder like epilepsy or asthma that would prevent diving safely, there is no real reason that you couldn’t pass the Open Water requirements. The biggest problem I’ve seen with meeting requirements is actually women with low body fat in the treading water evaluation; since they can’t float, they actually have to tread and bob for ten minutes in just skin, which can be tiring. With a dive suit and BCD on, that’s no real challenge, so it’s not a problem in actual diving.

The Rescue Diver requirements are somewhat more stringent, owing to the fact that you have to be able to manipulate, tow, and evacuate another diver. I’ve still seen people I would classify as being medically obese pass these requirements without great difficulty, and if you ever plan to shore dive or dive with a small group I highly recommend getting at least this level of certification and training. The other specialty dive courses like wreck diving and deep diving are less useful; you can basically get the same training by reading up on the subject and doing a few dives with someone who is experienced in this area, although some dive boats will require either this coursework or extensive experience. The exception to this is Enriched Air Diver certification, which is required if you want to dive using enriched air or Nitrox.

I’m not a huge fan of any of the big commercial dive certification organizations as they are basically geared to getting people certified as quickly as possible in order to expand the mature recreational diving market, so consider the training that you get as a bare minimum, and seek to educate yourself further on diving safety and procedures, if not dive physiology and equipment.

Getting too and from the boat, or in the case of shore diving, in and out of the water, is actually the most physically tasking part of diving. The dive itself is a lark, and you actually don’t want to exert yourself during diving, as it burns up precious air and increases the likelihood of a physical problem.


If this is all true… then it’s about as strenuous as when I got my swimming merit badge in Boy Scouts…

He was being even strict in describing the floating portion. Our dive instructor (certified last year) said to go over to the deep end, and don’t drown in 10 minutes. I wasn’t a strong swimmer technique wise, and alternated 8 laps in an olympic sized pool freestyle/backstroke with no problem, whereas someone else basically did a doggie paddle and took FOREVER.

There is a physical questionare that if you answer yes to requires doctor approval (as the previous poster mentioned asthma/heart conditions). However when I went diving in Australia they wouldn’t let you dive with those restrictions --however everything is the honor system with consent forms. You’re taking the risk by lying.

I see a lot of moderately overweight divers. There is not that much exertion while underwater, but if it is EXHAUSTING carrying all your gear to a dive site, putting it on, walking to the water, and swimming to the dive location.

In all though, just be able to pass the swim test. I took swim lessons and the first I couldn’t do 1 lap. The 3rd lesson I passed the PADI requirement easily – but I’m a marathon runner and in shape.

Jeez. I took (and failed) a Scuba diving course in college. I flunked because I couldn’t pass the physical requirements, one of which involved swimming 3/4 the length of an olympic pool, under water on one breath, starting from 1/4 the way in (so we couldn’t push off the wall).

Either PADI has lightened up a lot since then, or the requirements for the college class didn’t match PADI’s requirements.

There is (or at least was when I was still teaching) a requirement for a 20m underwater swim, which is analogous to an ascent from 60 feet (although in reality your buoyancy is increasing as you ascend and it is really all you can do to vent out and prevent popping up like a cork. If you can’t do this then you should reconsider diving, as it is a basic and legitimate safety requirement.

You don’t say, but how good are you at swimming? For a lot of divers, the actual surface swimming is the most challenging part, and this has less to do with athleticism than technique and comfort in the water. If you aren’t a proficient swimmer you might want to take adult swimming classes first, and try doing some skin diving (not surface snorkeling, actually diving from the surface down) rather than jumping right into the equipment intensive SCUBA. You don’t actually do much swimming in SCUBA diving, particularly if all of your diving is from a boat, but it will make you far more comfortable and confident in the water knowing that you can shed the gear and make your way back to a boat in just skin.


Question -

Why is asthma disqualifying? I mean, sure, if you’re having an attack I can understand why diving would be a really bad idea, but is there something about diving that exacerbates asthma?

Is the degree of asthma a factor? Would someone with well-controlled, mild asthma have an issue?

If you are having an attack in 60+ feet of water, at least a minute away from the surface and more to an inhaler, then yeah, it’s a major problem. A diver in distress is not just a hazard to himself but to the other divers in his party, and the vasco-restriction that comes with high pressure can stimulate an asthma attack. In general, it’s a really bad idea and medically contraindicated as far as all dive certification agencies are concerned.


Err…not everyone can do that. I am lean enough that I sink unless I am swimming. If I lie on my back and hold my breath and do not move my legs sink first till I am upright in the water with just the barest bit of the top of my head at the surface. If I exhale I sink. If I want to keep my head out of the water enough to breathe I simply must swim at least a little.

FWIW I have a scuba certification.

I believe the actual test is, as “steadierfooting” mentions, to be in the deep water and not drown for 10 minutes. We were told we did not have to tread water, and need only do what was required to keep our mouths out of water the whole time. We all ended up in the minimal-movement-face-out-of-water position. I consider “head out of water” to be more like treading water, which requires much more effort. “Face out of water” is just that - your head is partially submerged and just your face is out of water. I, too, will sink without some effort, but I found that if I just did a little hand waving, I could maintain the face out of water position.

*Stranger *really said most of what I wanted to say, but I’d like to add:

As I diver, my general rule is that I don’t dive with anybody who can’t lug me out of the water (or who I can’t lug for that matter) for the simple reason that if the shit hot the fan, I don’t want to die because my buddy’s out of shape. I don’t pay much heed to the DIR religionists, but they’re right in one thing (and a couple more): a buddy who can’t help you out isn’t your buddy, it’s the same as diving solo.

Where I dive (Baltic sea) diving is more of an extreme sport than anywhere warm and tropical…at the same time, when you have 30m of water above you, there are an awful lot of unpleasant ways to die.

So any history of asthma at all knocks you out of the running, then? I understood about the hazard during an attack, I was not aware that the higher pressure could trigger an attack all on its own.

Too bad, I guess I won’t be learning to scuba dive then.

Sucking on a non-compliant regulator is just about like suffering from an asthma attack.

Take solace in the fact that most of what there really is to be seen can be seen in from skin diving depths (>30 feet). Some of my best dives have ended up deco-ing in the shallows with the coral polyps, sea anemone, and sea grass waving in 15 feet of water. You may not be swimming along with bat rays and guitar fish, but there is a lot to be found in the shallows.


I would also like to add that it depends on where you get the certification. The regulations are the same worldwide, but my boyfriend got his in Australia and I got mine in Thailand, and from what I can tell the instructors in Thailand are a hell of a lot more lax than the ones in Australia.

For the floating in water part, they allowed us to do whatever - tread, float on our backs, etc. I am a pretty poor swimmer but managed to pass without too much trouble.

For what it’s worth, the NAUI swim requirements are essentially the same. (I can’t find exact numbers online and I don’t have my books with me.)

I will endorse that. After a couple of years snorkelling, my wife both went to a resort to get scuba-certified in the Turks & Caicos. You can imagine our dismay when our asthma disqualified us from learning. So my wife stuck to surface snorkelling, and I taught myself freediving.

Freediving doesn’t have the risk of exacerbating asthma because you are holding your breath. Because of the physiology, there isn’t any risk of the bends, either.

Of course, asthmatics such as us often have lower lung capacity and can’t hold our breath long. The chief risk is running out of air, but your body is pretty insistent about warning you when this could be a problem. Really, really insistent.

In many mixed scuba/snorkel trips we’ve been on since then, the scuba divers are hanging out at depths I can reach, often easily. The biggest differences, so far as I can tell, between freediving and scuba diving experiences in most Caribbean locations:
[ul][li]The scuba divers can hang out at 30’ and watch stuff where I have to go back up after a short-ish visit[]The scuba divers can explore wrecks, caves, dropoffs, and other underwater features that I avoid[]The scuba divers have to lug a lot more equipment and weight aroundThe scuba divers take a lot longer to get ready to get in the water[/ul][/li]Overall, the pros and cons about balance out. At this point, in fact, I prefer to go with scuba operators instead of snorkel operators because the snorkel operators are often just herding hordes of inexperienced cruise ship passengers through beat-up shallow areas.

I’m not used to the asthma getting in my way, that’s all. I can still hold my breath for a full minute. I’m out of practice, but I used to routinely dive down 20 feet on my own. True, last breathing test my lung capacity was only at 95% of the value expected for a woman my size and age, but hey, I do have a lung problem.

On the other hand, I’m not stupid. If an activity could increase the chances of a problem or exacerbation I want to know about it and factor it into my risk assessments.

Besides which, aviation and scuba hobbies aren’t always a good combination. Maybe I’ll just stick to flying.

There have been some efforts to relax the no-asthma when diving restriction - make it no attacks for the past X years or something. But it does get down to having an acute health issue of any kind when you’re 100 ft down can be fatal. Scuba is one of the few activities that can & will get you a hefty surcharge on life insurance.

And if you’re going to mix flying & diving, do them in that order.

The thread already contains many comments about the requirements. However, I didn’t see any that mentioned that the requirements are divided into two basic parts. One is the physical test: swimming a particular distance and treading water.

The second is a medical checklist. You either have to pass that or get a doctor’s certification. I don’t remember anything in it that automatically disqualifies you, but I don’t have asthma or anything else that would be an issue.

OK, having said all that, what you need to earn an Open-Water certification, what you need to get a useful certification, and what you need for your particular interests and locale are all different.

The PADI OW cert, as I remember, is for dives of 60 feet or less in warm water. If you want to dive occasionally in the tropics, it may be good enough. IMHO, it doesn’t qualify you to do very much in the way of diving on your own. They don’t even talk about boat diving until Advanced OW.

If you dive (as I do) in the Monterey area, you need a lot more training and better conditioning (again, IMHO).

Having said all this, I suggest you try out OW, see if you can pass, and then get into as good shape as you can. If you enjoy diving, it could motivate you to get healthy!