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Scuba Dive into a New World

For those in the know, scuba diving is considered the ultimate in watersports and the only way to fully experience the beauty of the Caribbean. Scuba divers take their hobby seriously. For many, scuba diving is much more than a hobby. It's a way of life.

SCUBA is an acronym, standing for "Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus". Credit for developing the equipment usually goes to famed oceanographer and conservationist Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan. The diving system they created was used by the French navy in World War II. After the war, Cousteau popularized scuba diving as a recreational sport that has gained millions of adherents worldwide.

Scuba Diving If you're in good health and reasonably fit, you most likely meet the physical requirements to learn scuba diving. However, you can't simply rent some equipment and jump in the water. Learning to scuba dive is akin to learning to drive. You'll need to do a little studying, take an instruction course, and then test your skills in the water -- and that's just to get your learning permit. Fortunately, scuba instruction is typically fun and relaxed.

The Caribbean is an international center of scuba diving and there are hundreds of certified dive operators in the region. Most offer a beginning course (often referred to as a "resort" or "learn to dive" course) that usually stretches over two days. Completion of the beginning course puts you on track to earn "open water certification", the closest thing scuba diving has to a driver's license. An open water certificate grants you the freedom to enjoy scuba diving without professional supervision and move on to more advanced certificates.

Certification, however, requires commitment. The open water course usually extends over three or four days and involves classroom instruction and several dives. (Before you get too deep, please review the basic health issues related to scuba diving.)

Although there are no "scuba police" to enforce the rules of the sport, the scuba world is supported by an institutional framework. PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors), and several other smaller organizations have been established to teach and certify scuba divers. They serve as the unofficial self-governing body of the scuba diving community. PADI is by far the largest and most widely recognized scuba diving organization. Since it was established in the 1960s, it has issued certifications to more than 12 million divers throughout the world.

Dive operators that are not certified should be considered rogue outfits and strictly avoided. Scuba diving is potentially riskier than most other watersports and good operators take safety very seriously. They will require prospective divers to produce a valid certificate before suiting up. Even if you have a valid certificate, they may ask you to take a refresher course if you haven't dived during the past year.

Scuba divers seldom object to the demands of their sport. They understand that diving requires participants to act carefully and responsibly. If you follow the rules and employ common sense, you'll enjoy an undersea world that non-divers can hardly imagine.

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