Can You Scuba Dive Without Knowing How to Swim?

can you scuba dive without knowing how to swim

Asking if you can dive without knowing how to swim is like asking if you can fly an airplane without any pilot training. Going with this analogy, you could make the argument – airplanes have autopilot mode, so the pilot doesn’t really need to do much, kind of like how scuba divers have all of their gear to assist them. However, there are times when a pilot needs to take over. In a similar vein, a scuba diver must also take over and this requires you know how to swim.

You need to be able to swim in order to get your scuba certification. There’s no getting around this. As part of the certification process, you will be asked to do a swim test which involves swimming at least 200m (656ft) and staying afloat for 10 minutes without any buoyancy aids prior to starting your scuba training. If you cannot accomplish this, you can’t get a scuba certification. On top of that, you’ll have to learn all of the basics of scuba diving procedures which will surely prove too much if you’re worried about drowning due to lack of swimming ability.

Furthermore, you might be wondering if you need to be a strong swimmer in order to scuba dive safely. Ideally, the better you are at swimming, the safer you will be. As long as you can pass the swimming test, then you have the aptitude to be certified. You should be aware of how to use your scuba gear, particularly the buoyancy control device (BCD), so that you can adjust your buoyancy levels as needed.

Why Should You Learn How to Swim?

With all of the rules and regulations we have in place as well as advancements in diving technology, scuba diving has become a relatively safe sport. However, the ocean can be an unforgiving environment and being over 50 feet underwater is inherently risky. Thus, you should be doing everything in your power to be ready for unexpected circumstances.

Knowing how to swim for scuba diving is all about safety. It will not only make you more comfortable in the water, but reduce your chances of drowning. If something goes wrong with your BCD, do you have what it takes to surface without assistance? What if you get caught in an underwater current and swept far away? Will you be able to safely return to the boat or pier?

Furthermore, for many divers, it is easy to get lost in your excitement as you try to explore every inch of the ocean. By knowing how to swim, you can improve your coverage as you explore the depths. You will be able to maximize the limited air time you have to see more underwater sights if you can swim more efficiently.

If you are inefficient at swimming while scuba diving, you will be inefficient in your air consumption. You will fatigue yourself faster, increasing your heart rate and burning through your air supply twice as quickly. Also, if you are unconfident in your swimming ability, you may be on edge the entire time, causing an elevated base heart rate.

Knowing how to swim can dramatically increase your bottom time as well as the amount you are able to see, and will save your life in the event of an equipment malfunction. It will also make it a lot easier to get certified in the first place.

How Good of A Swimmer Do You Need to Be?

No one is asking you to be the next Michael Phelps. You just need to know some basic strokes and be able to swim a short distance without getting bent out of shape.

Minimum Endurance Levels

If you can swim 200m in one go and tread water for at least 10 minutes, then your swimming skills are more than adequate for scuba diving. In fact, these are a couple of the tests you will undergo as part of your scuba certification process.

Swimming isn’t rocket science. It is simply a matter of learning the movements and building up your endurance. After that, it’s all about confidence and motivation to be able to improve yourself as a swimmer and scuba diver.

There’s no harm in signing up for some swim classes if you feel your skills have deteriorated over the years. You can also just practice on your own time in preparation for a big event, such as an upcoming beach vacation. Knowing how to swim has many practical applications outside of scuba diving, after all.

Which Swimming Stroke Should You Learn?

For those learning how to swim for the purposes of scuba diving, you don’t need to know every stroke and swim style in the book. As long as you’re not resorting to doggy-paddling, you should be fine. The first thing you should learn is how to tread water. Start with using your legs and hands, then try using only your legs so that your hands are free to do other things. Work your way up to staying afloat for 10 minutes before learning a proper stroke.

Next, it is highly recommended that you learn the breaststroke at a minimum. It is easy to learn and does not require much energy to perform. If you are taking swim lessons, let your instructor know your main reason for learning how to swim, and why you want to learn the breaststroke.

If you are starting from zero and are worried about your lack of skill, you can start off by wearing a flotation device until you are confident enough to swim without one.

Swimming Lessons for Scuba Diving

If you already have swimming experience, you may be able to train on your own. For those who don’t want to go into it blind, it’s better to take some swim lessons. Having someone teach you proper techniques can help you avoid mistakes and speed up the learning process exponentially. On your own, you may develop bad habits that are hard to unlearn.


How expensive swimming lessons are depends on if you are learning in a communal group or are taking lessons with a private instructor. Group lessons are typically cheap and can be taken at your local community center. Private lessons are more expensive, but you can get 1-on-1 instruction and their full attention at all times. You can specifically tell them what your goals are and ask any questions as they come up.

If you want, you can take what’s called a swimming vacation. They can be expensive, however the cost will cover not only the swim lessons but also accommodations. You can try finding a buddy or bring your significant other with you to share the expense (and make the experience more enjoyable). This is not a feasible choice for everyone, but if you want to learn how to swim for scuba diving in the most luxurious way possible, this is for you.

On-Location Swim Lessons

What better way to prepare for your actual dive than to take swimming lessons at the same place you intend to dive at? Many locations that you can scuba dive at also offer swim courses. This will do wonders for your confidence and give you peace of mind if you are already familiar with the environment you will be diving at.

How much do you actually swim while diving?

Despite our strong encouragement that you should know how to swim for scuba diving, you don’t actually need to do much swimming in practice. Most of the swimming is done when you are descending. Since you will be wearing scuba fins, any extra bulk and drag that the scuba equipment adds can be easily overcome. You will also be swimming slowly to conserve energy and preserve your air supply.

The other times you will be swimming during a scuba session are when you swim from your boat to and from the dive buoy that marks the location where you will begin your descent from. Since this distance is typically very short, you mostly just need to stay afloat for a few feet.

These are the times you will be swimming under normal circumstances. It is very straightforward and simple assuming that everything goes well (it should, most of the time). However, being a strong swimmer is essential in case of equipment malfunction or an emergency. Should your BCD fail, you need to be able to unload your dive weights and ascend safely on your own. Rough water conditions can also make it difficult for you if you are not a skilled swimmer.

Hopefully these dangerous conditions never happen to you, but you need to be prepared if the need to swim ever arises.

Testing the Waters

If you aren’t a strong swimmer, or you want to give scuba diving a try without investing time and money into scuba equipment and passing a scuba certification, the PADI institute provides a one-day Discover Scuba lesson for non-swimmers.

You can get a chance to experience what it’s like to dive in shallow waters under the watchful eye of a dive instructor. Lack of swimming experience is fine because you will be donning proper scuba equipment including a scuba tank and fins so you can breathe and move underwater.

This lesson is so valuable because you can get access to gear you normally won’t have, plus you have a dive instructor to assist you if any problems arise. However, you should still be physically fit enough to swim with the assistance of dive gear.

Check if your resort offers introductory lessons where you can test the waters and get a taste of what it’s like to scuba dive in a safe environment. Once you understand the basic techniques and can maneuver your body easily underwater, then you are ready to tackle the scuba certification.

Alternative Methods to Explore the Underwater World without Swimming

If you’re asking whether you need to know how to swim to scuba dive, you’re probably not very confident in your swimming ability but you still want to see the underwater world. Did you know that scuba diving isn’t the only way to do that? Two excellent alternatives are glass boat tours and submarines.

Glass Boat Tours

Many tropical resorts in the Caribbean offer glass boat tours. The glass boat is essentially a large sailboat with glass windows on the bottom so you can look down into the ocean. It’s not nearly as personal as scuba diving where you can swim much closer to the coral reef and marine life, however glass boat tours are available to everyone, no swimming required.

Submarine Tours

A submarine tour provides an experience that is actually somewhat similar to scuba diving. It is an excellent way to explore the ocean floor without needing to know how to swim or getting a scuba certification. This option is ideal for people who are unable to dive due to health concerns or physical disabilities. They are also a safe way for people to overcome their fear of the water.

SNUBA Diving

That’s right, SNUBA diving. Not to be confused with SCUBA diving. SNUBA diving does not require a certification and requires only a 15-minute instruction from the tour guide before starting. It’s like a cross between snorkeling and SCUBA diving. Read this article to learn more about how it compares to snorkeling and SCUBA diving.

Getting Over Your Fear of the Water

It is perfectly natural to be afraid of things that are dangerous. If you don’t know how to swim, then feeling anxiety or fear in the water is understandable. However, you can overcome this fear, learn how to swim, and eventually, pass your scuba certification.

This is where a dive instructor is invaluable. Any programs where non-swimmers can participate will be conducted under the supervision of a dive instructor. The waters you will be diving in will be shallow, no more than 10-12 meters (33-40 feet). Even at these depths, you can already get a sense of the majesty of the ocean.

Prior to the dive, your instructor will give you some basic instructions so you have an idea of what to do. The instructor will also get that the equipment fits you properly. You should let them know if the fit is uncomfortable, and you should also ask them to clarify anything you didn’t understand in their lesson. You will be fitted with a flotation device, so you don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to surfacing.

Once you head underwater, make sure you stick closely to the instructor and the rest of the group. The biggest shock will be adjusting to breathing underwater. This should take no more than a few minutes for you and your nerves to get used to the whole breathing underwater and diving aspect. Remember to breathe regularly and to never hold your breath when diving.

Parting Words

If you don’t know how to swim, you can’t pass your scuba certification, which means you are not qualified to scuba dive. It’s definitely worth the effort to learn how to swim for scuba diving. If you know how to swim, it opens up opportunities to participate in other water sports such as snorkeling, surfing, and swimming for leisure. Being a strong swimmer will enhance your scuba diving experience. You’ll be able to cover more ground much faster, and maximize the time you spend underwater.

You don’t need to have a proper scuba certification if you just want to get a glimpse of the underwater world. You can learn how to swim at a basic level and go snorkeling or do some shallow diving at instructor-led classes. You can even go on a glass boat or submarine tour and stay dry the entire time as you marvel at the underwater sights.

With that said, swimming is a great skill to know, and may even save you or someone else’s life one day. All you need is some dedication and perseverance, and you can learn how to swim for scuba diving.