Learning to dive in Bali has never been more accessible over the past decade with the many choices of dive shops now available around the island. They’ll provide you with your required and internationally recognized PADI or SSI certifications, and most importantly, the basics you need to know to be able to jump into the waters and enjoy the beautiful underwater scenes teeming with vivid tropical marine life.
You won’t need to buy or bring along any gear, as all of these are provided. Besides regularly arranging for exciting dive trips, as part of your beginner’s course some may take you to open waters of Bali’s great dive spots, hence a practical and more pleasurable approach. While course types, certifications and facilities vary among dive shops in Bali, here are the lowdown on taking scuba diving lessons in Bali, to give you a general idea before you take the plunge.
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- Romantic Aristocat Evening Cruise with 5-Course Dinner
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There are over a hundred recreational diving certification organizations listed worldwide, however the most popular and widely available certification among dive shops in Bali are PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and SSI (Scuba Schools International). Both schools adhere to strict guidelines set by the WRSTC (World Recreational Scuba Training Council), and with any certifications issued by them, you can virtually dive at any recreational site in the world.
- With PADI, you can opt to learn diving in Bali with their Open Water Diver course, the most popular scuba course joined by millions worldwide. The course is available for those aged 10 years and up, in good physical health, and you obviously have to know how to swim adequately. It’s the first or introductory course by PADI that can get you started in diving. PADI is known for its business oriented approach – it insists you buy the manuals that go along with each course.
- SSI also provides its popular Open Water Diver course, comprising training sessions in a modular, six-session teaching system. This includes video, manuals, a study guide, dive logs and dive tables. You can register online (for free), for their eLearning suite, which provides great reading material covering all aspects of diving. This helps minimise your time in the classroom, so whenever you go for the actual course, you’ll have more time in the water (or training pool, first).
Both PADI and SSI Open Water courses are practically similar in terms of skills, dive requirements and training standards. Only minor variations are in the order the skills are taught and priorities of emergency procedures. SSI is often considered cheaper as you don’t have to buy manuals for each course (emphasis is more on post-course reviews).
Some dive shops are manned by a team of international dive instructors who can provide courses in different languages, most commonly English, French, German and Indonesian.
Other Diving Courses
Once you've completed a beginner's diving course (Open Water) and obtained your certification, you can add to your skills with any of the higher levels. Course names may vary among organisations, but fall into the same levels, as follows:
- Advanced: ‘Advanced Open Water Diver’ (PADI and SSI) - You'll learn to manage yourself better in actual diving environments.
- Rescue: 'Rescue Diver' (PADI) and 'Diver Stress & Rescue' (SSI) - Teaches you how to take better responsibility in emergency situations and advanced rescuing techniques.
- Dive Guide: 'Divemaster' (PADI) and 'Dive Guide' (SSI) - You will know how to lead groups and plan diving tours.
- Dive Instructor: 'Open Water Instructor' (PADI) and 'Dive Guide' (SSI) - For dive instructors-to-be, who will eventually issue certifications to other divers.
Extended specialty dive programs for those who wish to go further with their dive logs and go beyond recreational diving, can explore these other programs that some dive shops in Bali offer:
- Nitrox or 'enriched air' diving, for extended dive times
- Altitude diving, for deep dives beyond 300m
- Underwater photography, to capture vibrant sea life in photo or video
- Wreck diving, for explorative dives with minimum risks
There’s certainly no problem in mixing and matching progressive courses between PADI and SSI – they’ll simply assess your training history online.
Scuba Diving for kids in Bali
Although dive shops in Bali widely offer courses for adults, with recreational dives also catering mostly towards adults, it’s good to check whether they offer anything for kids. PADI offers kids from eight years up fun programs that let them get a sense of diving and using scuba gear. Seal Team and Bubble Maker programs let kids discover and use basic scuba gear, including masks, snorkels, fins, regulators, buoyancy control device (BCDs), dive gauges and oxygen tanks.
Similarly, SSI has its Scuba Rangers program with sessions that allow kids to learn about the environment, gain more diving experience and have a fun time in the water. These include underwater photography or night diving with torches in the training pool, up to a maximum depth of 4 meters.
How a Beginner's Diving Course Goes
Both PADI and SSI Open Water courses introduce you to the theory of diving, gear aspects, safety, and common hand signals. Both provide eLearning or digital courses online, but as described above, PADI costs you while SSI lets you register for free. Both let you learn at your own pace and at your own convenience through a series of presentations and interactive quizzes as you progress. You’ll then need to complete a review session at your dive shop of choice.
At the dive shop, you’ll proceed with another classroom and theory reassessment, continued by pool training sessions. This includes hands-on gear preparation briefings (such as wetsuit fittings, weights, mask, snorkel and flippers, BCD and tank) and practice runs in the pool starting at safe depths. In the water you’ll learn about proper buoyancy control, mask clearing upon flooding or fogging, moving underwater, and emphasis on the ‘buddy system’ (help your partner).
The pool training portion of the course is perhaps the most for beginners, as it lets you do as much trial and error in a totally safe environment. You’ll get the hang of emergency procedures, such as air sharing and passing with your buddy through an extra regulator or ‘breather’, how to remove weight belts and even your whole scuba unit underwater (and strapping them back on), and different ways to enter the water, such as from the side of a boat when in open water.
Then, next is the actual trip to sea. Your instructor(s) will assist you with your first trip, mostly to Bali’s favourable beginner dive sites (see below). At most dive sites in East Bali, you can don your main body gear, walk over the pebbly beach and into the water. Only then you strap on your flippers. Other sites may get you on a boat and enter locations with sand beds clear of coral. You’ll go through all you learned in the pool. Don’t expect to see fish on your first dive.
Safety and Insurance
Emphasis is largely put on the ‘buddy diving system’. You must always dive in pairs, have visual contact and assist your partner throughout a diving trip. This includes preparation and checking of diving gear prior to the trip, and considering the safety and wellbeing of your partner at all times in the water.
Your normal insurance coverage might not cover activities such as diving. Most courses often include diver insurance coverage as part of the package. It is always wise to check with your dive shop beforehand. The Divers Alert Network Asia Pacific, widely known as DAN AP (Australia based), is supported by most dive shops in Bali. It is a global member-based network of non-profit dive safety organisations working for the safety of all divers, and includes 24-hour assistance and emergency evacuations.
Good to Know
Open water courses take up between 12 to 15 hours to complete. Best dive sites for beginners in Bali include east coasts of Amed, Tulamben and Padangbai, all within a 2-hour transfer from the main resort areas of south Bali (Kuta, Legian and Sanur). Coastal waters off Menjangan Island in North Bali are great if you can make the usually longer, up to three hour trip. These sites also allow you to snorkel and dive right off the beach. This includes the coast of Pemuteran in North Bali with its famous bio rock reef project. Read more about out Bali’s collection of dive sites here.
While you can choose any time of the year to start your open water dive course and pool training, best time to learn diving in Bali with best visibility at sea (thus heightening your chances of being able to see schools of tropical fish on your first dive), is usually around the dry season, between April and November. Diving right off the beach at Amed tends to offer lower visibility, due to the nature of volcanic sand beds.
Price ranges vary widely among dive shops and certifications. And many combine and package certifications with dive trips, including transport and meals, which all add up to the total fee. Your dive shop will charge an additional fee for the in-water portion of your certification. You may also need to purchase a mask, snorkel, pair of fins and other personal dive equipment, while most include gear rental fees to the total.
A three to four-day PADI or SSI Open Water Diver course with included open water sessions at Tulamben starts from USD 395. PADI courses include surcharges of up to USD 60 for manual books and fees. Check out the price ranges offered by some of the best dive shops in Bali.