You don’t need to be an Olympic swimmer in order to learn to scuba dive. Scuba diving isn’t about covering big distances or swimming really fast. In fact, we take great care not to over-exert ourselves in the water, and if you swim too fast you won’t see a thing! Also, divers wear fins, which add a lot of power to your kick stroke, and wetsuits and BCDs, which assist with buoyancy.
However, you do need to be at least comfortable in the water in order to become a scuba diver. If you’re absolutely terrified of water and struggle to take a shower without a lifeguard on standby, scuba diving is not the sport for you. If you can’t swim at all, you do need to learn to swim before you learn to dive. If you’re a half way ok swimmer who can hold your own in your pool at home (but not necessarily swim the English Channel), then let’s talk!
There are swimming tests for the various courses (the precise name of the skills being tested is watermanship). For Open Water, you have to do the following, either in a swimsuit or wearing a wetsuit and weighted for neutral buoyancy (i.e. wearing a weight belt):
- swim 200 metres continuously without any swim aids,
- OR swim 300 metres continuously wearing fins, snorkel and mask ;
- float unassisted in water too deep to stand in, for 10 minutes.
The Divemaster course requires the following:
- swim 400 metres non-stop with no swimming aids;
- swim 800 metres non-stop, face in the water, wearing mask, snorkel and fins, with hands tucked in;
- tow or push another diver for 100 metres in full gear, non-stop;
- tread water for 15 minutes in water too deep to stand in, hands out of the water for the last 2 minutes.
At Open Water level, these swims are not timed. The Divemaster and Instructor swims are timed. You can use whatever stroke you want, but doggy paddle may get tiring! The swims are very important to confirm that you have basic water skills and can take care of yourself (and others, at DM and Instructor level).
If you’re a decent swimmer already, improving your swimming fitness, stamina and technique will definitely improve the quality of your dives. Not having to think about your position and attitude in the water will enable you to focus on the other things around you, and get more out of the experience. Developing your swimming muscles (that’s almost all your muscles!) and your cardiovascular endurance in the pool will make diving feel a lot less physically strenuous, and you’ll be far more relaxed knowing that your body is in a condition to handle the sport with no strain at all.
Finally, being a confident swimmer will make you a more confident scuba diver. While we try not to rush on dives, you never know when a situation will arise that will require you to swim towards or away from something quickly. If you do boat dives, you’ll need to float on the surface at the start and/or end of the dive, waiting for the other divers to gather together, or for the boat to pick you up. Strong swimming technique and developed muscles will help you in both these situations. Basic swimming skills should be part of your arsenal as a fully prepared and competent scuba diver.
If you are in need of swimming lessons – whether it’s to start from scratch or improve your stroke, contact Swimlab, run by Hilton and Wayne Slack, at the Wynberg Military Base swimming pool and in gyms around Cape Town. They offer swimming lessons, coaching, training for high performance swimmers, and even sell swimming gear.