In recent years scuba diving has become more and more popular with younger and older divers, due to its accessibility and interest. According to the Diver’s Alert Network (DAN), older divers are defined as those who are over the age of 50. There is no maximum age for scuba diving, but whether the person is physically able and confident to dive. This question would also apply to someone in their 20s! I personally work with a Dive Master who is in his mid-50s who works full-time, and I’ve had many Open Water diving students who were over 50 years of age.
Maximum Age for Scuba Diving
There is no maximum age for scuba diving or an upper age limit for scuba diving. But there are things to consider when you are an older diver. Let’s have a look at some of the factors that will affect older divers.
Read More: What is the Minimum Age for Scuba Diving?
Experienced Older Divers
There are many certified divers who are now considered ‘older divers’. This is because scuba diving became very popular 30 to 40 years ago, which means those who started diving then are most likely still diving now. We also know that the growing older population are typically wealthier and more active in their travels and hobbies.
In the past, scuba diving was not as regulated, with fewer rules, and riskier diving. Older divers who are already certified often are more experienced divers too. They have probably dived in different countries, in various conditions over the years. They’ve usually seen it all. However, they may have picked up bad diving habits, or have never used scuba diving equipment that we currently use.
Read More: What Equipment Do We Use in Scuba Diving?
As safety regulations have increased over the years, we have had to deal with divers who might have no previous regard for rules or safety. For example, in my workplace, an older fun diver who was only certified to 30 meters, claimed that they had been down to 60 meters on one tank of air, with no additional safety equipment and wanted us to offer them the same experience! Or divers who want to go inside the shipwreck without holding a wreck certification. Many times these are the divers who will argue with us just because they are not used to being told to dive within their dive limits!
Check out some of the things ALL divers should do for their own safety.
Am I Too Old to Scuba Dive?
As a scuba instructor, I have taught scuba diving to quite a few people in their 50s, 60s, and one, in her 70s! We never discriminate on age, in fact, we encourage it. I personally think it is very cool for people to learn something so new and different at a later age. However, there is a belief that an older diver is generally harder to teach than a younger diver – though there are definitely exceptions to this! This is because it has been reported that it is harder to learn new skills and retain new information in older brains. Seriously, even teaching children compared to 20-year-olds is easy, as the children’s brains are like sponges, ready to take in new information and master new skills!
This is not to say that all older people are difficult to teach new skills. It’s just that it may take longer. For example, you may need to repeat a skill several times before the older diver feels comfortable with it. I’ve also found that older people will have more fear. And this fear can immobilise people underwater, which means you need to coax them out of it. They may tend to overthink and consider the rare but worst possibilities. 20 year olds backpacking on their first solo trip don’t have that fear compared to people in their 50s.
The only thing you would need to really ask when considering if there is a maximum age for scuba diving or if you are too old to scuba dive is your medical history and physical fitness.
Working at dive centers or being an independent dive instructor, we will always ask new students to fill out the appropriate scuba diving medical form. This is regardless of age, weight, physical capabilities, nationality, etc. EVERYONE must fill out a medical form.
In this form, we ask about your previous medical history; lung diseases, asthma, any sinus surgeries, sea-sickness, etc. This is so we have the right information and know that you are healthy enough to scuba dive. There is a small section dedicated to people who are over 45 years old with questions about smoking, any family history with heart attacks etc. and this is because older divers do have a higher risk of heart and lung issues, regardless of being underwater or not.
If you answer a YES to any of the questions in the medical, we will need a dive doctor to sign this off before allowing you to scuba dive. The doctor may sign you off if they determine something is of minimal risk, for example, if you have mild seasickness. Or refer you to a specialist who can conduct tests on you for more serious issues such as lung disease or current asthma which can seriously deter your ability to breathe compressed air.
The dive medical is not scary at all and is needed before you proceed with scuba diving. This is to ensure your diving insurance is valid (you should always carry dive insurance!) and that the dive center is aware of any prior medical history that could impact your diving.
Another factor to consider when going scuba diving – again, regardless of your age is your physical ability.
Physical ability does not mean that you have to be physically capable. We have had a few divers who use prosthetic legs on-land and divers who were in wheelchairs. These divers had to adapt using different techniques in order to dive, and we as instructors, have had to teach a bit differently. But it is doable.
When we assess if someone can physically dive, we are looking at their health (one of the questions in the PADI dive medical form is whether you have the “Inability to perform moderate exercise (example: walk 1.6 km/one mile within 12 mins.)?” This is because scuba diving does require some physical exercise.
The scuba tank is heavy and cumbersome on-land and on the surface. This can cause difficulty for people who cannot perform moderate exercise. We also need to make sure that a diver can perform the skills that are required in a scuba diving course; eg. Being able to remove and replace a regulator back into your mouth, being able to clear a scuba mask of water, remove a weight-belt etc.
In your Open Water certification, there is also a swim test. This is not timed, but you will need to swim continuously for a certain length. This requires physical stamina and a strong heart and lungs; essential factors to consider when scuba diving.
Notable Older Divers Diving After 50
As there is no maximum age for scuba diving, let’s have a look at some notable divers who were older.
- The founder of modern diving, Jacques Cousteau was still diving into his 80s.
- My personal hero, Sylvia Earle, a marine biologist and explorer in her 80s, who is featured in the documentary “Mission Blue.”
- Jill Heinerth, a Canadian cave diver who was the first person to dive the ice caves of Antarctica who is now in her 50s and still diving.
What Age to Stop Diving?
We know there is no maximum age for scuba diving, and there is no particular age when you should stop diving. However, there are some considerations you need to know as an older diver. These things to consider will be dependent on your health and mind, rather than your physical age.
Your eyesight may deteriorate as you age. This can affect your diving as you may not be able to read your depth gauge, air gauge, or dive computer.
Solution: Use large faced gauges or consoles which are easier to read. You can get a dive computer with large and bright screens. If you are struggling to see your consoles, then mention this to your buddy or dive guide in the briefing and they can check these for you during the dive.
As you get older there may be physical things that can get harder or are more difficult to do. You may struggle lifting your tank, or can’t bend over to grab your weights.
Solution: Buddies and dive guides are always here to help you. If you are struggling with something, there will be someone to assist you. Just ask!
New equipment, new safety regulations, and new diving theory that you need to learn. All of these things can be confusing and slightly overwhelming if you are older (or younger!).
Solution: Find a patient instructor or dive buddy who can go at your pace. You do not need to rush anything or try to keep up with other people in your group.
We are all aging, but as we get older, we need to understand that some things will change and the abilities we once had, may change and impact our everyday lives. Your hips and joints will be stiffer. Your rheumatoid arthritis may flare up increasing your risk of arterial gas embolism, or more.
Solution: Reassess your own capabilities before every dive. If you have had a major medical or physical change then you should visit a Dive Medic/Doctor to be reassessed before you scuba dive. DAN recommends “divers over 45 years of age should get a medical examination once a year – at a minimum.”
So there is no maximum age for scuba diving but there will be some considerations to follow if you are an older diver. Do not feel the need to rush or try to keep up with younger divers. On the other hand, try to learn from other divers (young or old) and realize that even if you have been diving for decades, that there are new habits and concepts to learn. After all, diving should be fun and most importantly, safe for everyone!