In a couple of months, (Summer 2010) I want to go to Australia with my girlfriend. Its known for the beautiful Great Barrier Reef. To take full advantage of it I want to go SCUBA diving. I heard you need to get certified. To go on a vacation and SCUBA dive can someone tell me how I can get certified? Also, is there an age requirement?

Thank you

Yes, you will both need a SCUBA certification to go diving. Australia is known the world over for its beautiful diving, so this is a great idea.

You have a few options to get this certification, but first there’s something important you need to know about diving in Australia: they have a strict policy about medical releases.

Pick a dive operator before you leave the country. They’ll send you a medical release form and, if you need to get a doctor’s permission to dive, you can take care of this at home. Otherwise you risk not diving or having to pay for a doctor’s exam overseas.

A SCUBA certification (called an Open Water certification) has three parts:

#1 Classroom or online study
#2 Pool training
#3 Open water (ocean) training

Completing this certification earns you an open water diver card. Any dive operator you go to (no matter what country) will require this proof of certification experience before taking you out diving. During your course, you’ll learn all the key dive skills such as how to assemble SCUBA gear, how to clear your mask if it gets water in it, etc.

You can complete some or all of the above training before going on your vacation.

OPTION #1 – Get certified in Australia
You could get a full certification (parts 1-3) in Australia. Speaking as someone who did her initial SCUBA certification while on vacation – I don’t recommend this option. You’ll spend 4-5 hours in a classroom and doing homework. Yuck.

OPTION #2 – Study online & do 100% of your water work in Australia
Complete your classroom work online (for example: padi.com/elearning). When you get to Australia, do your pool practice and ocean dives.

OPTION #3 – Complete your classroom / online study at home and water work at home. Do either a "warm water referral" or get the full certification before leaving home.

This is (IMHO) the best way to go. Take your time: get your skills and gear dialed in at a pool near you. You can choose to do your open water / ocean dives and get completely certified before you go to Australia. Some areas have beautiful local diving to explore.

Alternately, you can do parts 1 and 2 (classroom and pool work) and do what’s called a "warm water referral" and do your four certification dives (part 3) in Australia.

One last thing:

Choose a large certification agency such as PADI (or other member of the Recreational Scuba Training Council – RSTC) for your training to ensure your referral will be widely accepted. Beware of places offering a "universal referral" or one that isn’t specifically affiliated with an RSTC training agency (PADI, BSAC, NAUI, etc). To be sure you’ve got a reputable dive operator, check the training agency’s websites to make sure your dive operation is listed as an authorized facility.

Have a wonderful trip!