Last updated: 04:42 PM ET, Thu September 08 2016

Getting Scuba Certified On Vacation: It’s Easier Than You Think

Features & Advice | Will McGough | September 06, 2016

Getting Scuba Certified On Vacation: It’s Easier Than You Think

Photo courtesy of PADI

Getting scuba certified via PADI – an accreditation that lasts a lifetime – had always been on my to-do list, a platform upon which I could base future trips to far-away lands. After toying with the logistics of when and where, I concluded that getting certified in a real ecosystem would be far more stimulating, and a way better happy hour story, than the bottom of a city reservoir or county pool. That much I knew. But I did have concerns. Was it worth it to travel all that way to spend my “vacation” doing coursework, held up in some classroom? Would I even have the time to put my head above water and experience the destination? The reservoir might not be sexy, but was it a more practical option? 

As the calendar turned to December last year, I hopped a flight down to the Caribbean country of Grenada to find out. If you’re old enough, you might remember when Reagan invaded Grenada in 1983. Otherwise, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is its history of spice plantations. Once marketed as the “Island of Spices” or “Spice Island,” Grenada exports holiday cheer all year round in the form of high-quality nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. Its people echo these feelings of comfort with their good looks and approachable smiles.

On the surface, the hilly rainforest terrain satisfies the island’s spirit of adventure. Its best-kept secrets, however, remain underwater. Thanks to strong currents, the Grenadian waters are perfect for a technique called “drift diving,” a low-energy form of exploration where the diver is moved across long distances with minimal effort, maximizing the amount of terrain that can be explored in a single dive. For me, a man with limited time on the island, this was a much-appreciated quality of Grenada as a dive destination – I wanted the most bang for my buck.

I signed up for the PADI Open Water Course offered by Sandals La Source (more on that below), and one thing I learned right off the bat was that not all certification outlets play by the same rules. Regardless of where you take the physical exam, be it the Caribbean Sea or the local lake, the process begins several weeks before you even dip your toe in the water. As part of your training, you are expected to internalize the PADI-certification manual, which goes through dive safety, equipment, communication, and procedure. In most cases on the mainland, students attend lectures where an instructor explains the material over the course of a couple classes. When you get certified abroad, you’re expected to arrive prepared, having already done the coursework (you can prepare on your own or link up with a local class). For me, this was a huge win. It meant I didn’t have to spend one minute in a classroom down in Grenada.

READ MORE: Top Spots for SCUBA Diving Around the World

After you complete the coursework and pass a written test, the next step is to demonstrate what you’ve learned in a series of 5 dives. That sounds like a lot. But here’s how it went for me: My flight arrived after dark and I transferred to the hotel. First thing the next morning, I went to the on-site dive center at Sandals to take the written test. I passed. Then, I spent an hour in the pool going over basic skills – breathing, hand signals, buoyancy, etc.

From there, I walked down to the beach and went out for two shore dives right from the resort, one 32 minutes and one 27 minutes. I was done before lunch and celebrated with a beer. The next day, I boarded a boat from the resort dock and completed a 36-minute shipwreck dive and a 36-minute, max depth (60 foot) dive. I was once again finished in time for lunch, but this time, I was really finished. Less than 48 hours into my trip, I was a certified diver.

With travel expenses, getting certified in the Caribbean ultimately did cost more than a course at the local reservoir, to be sure. Yet because the process was so swift and simple, and so much of the actual learning is done at home beforehand, I was still able to get an actual vacation out of the trip. In addition to the dives, I had plenty of time to explore Grenada. On my free afternoons, I toured the island, visited local spice markets, ate my fair share of local oildown, and “limed” at corner bars with locals. 

As I sat at lunch on day 2, a certified diver planning out the rest of my trip, my concerns that the certification process would hijack my vacation seemed laughable. Turns out, getting scuba certified can be a part of the trip, not the overwhelming purpose – just a couple extra hundred bucks and two half days of time.

Not bad for something I’ll do the rest of my life.

If You Go:

The PADI Open Water Course requires a total of five dives (one confined water, four open water) and the completion of a written final exam. Certifications are valid for life. You can learn more about the PADI Open Water Diver program and its requirements here.

Sandals La Source Resort is Grenada’s most inclusive and economical diving program. For certified divers, diving is included in the price of the room, which starts at $266 per person per day and includes food, drink, and two dives a day. At Sandals, getting certified via the PADI Open Water Course costs an additional $450 per person. If you complete your training in the first few days of your stay, your savings will grow exponentially as you take advantage of the two free dives a day thereafter.

If your standard of lodging is lower, you can piece together your certification from other local dive shops. Dive Grenada, for example, offers training ($575 per person for the PADI Open Water Course) and dives ($65/dive) on an a la carte basis.  

For more information on Grenada

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