California (CA) Diving Laws

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California (CA) Diving Laws

Can you go scuba diving in California?

You can absolutely go scuba diving in California! From beginners looking to dip their toes in the water (no pun intended) to experienced divers looking for a challenge, you can absolutely dive in this incredible state.

Let’s take a look at the laws, certifications, licenses, and what you need to know.


Experience and certifications

You do not need any formal diving experience to scuba dive in California although this doesn’t mean you can jump right into the deep end. A certain amount of training is necessary and there are a few certifications you should have before jumping off a boat or entering the water from shore.


How much training do I need to go diving in California?

First, let’s examine your options when it comes to training for scuba diving:


Open Water Certification – This certification will allow you to dive in recreational areas with no limit on depth. You must be able to swim 300 yards nonstop, which means if swimming alone you’ll have to exit the water at some point during the swim because you’re out of sight of land. Other requirements include 10 open water dives.


To get your Open Water certification, you must: – Enroll in an American Red Cross or similar organization’s open water class and training program. – Be at least 10 years old to enroll in this type of program.

This is the age used by most schools and organizations for the swimming prerequisites (300 yards). Complete a minimum of 10 dives with an instructor as part of their open water class.


Advanced Diving Certification – This certification increases the depth limit to 130 feet but does not allow you to dive solo.

You must always be with another certified diver, supervisor or instructor while diving with this particular level of certification. Other requirements include 20 open water dives and 51 days of cumulative experience within the past 12 months.


To get your Advanced rating you must: – Earn your Open Water certification and be able to demonstrate 20 more dives in open water. Enroll in a course overseen by an organization recognized by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI, NAUI, SSI).

Complete the advanced course and meet current dive requirements for that particular agency. You can check the PADI website or call PADI directly to find out what their exact requirements are when it comes to training time, dives and other factors.


Divemaster Certification – This certification is not needed unless you’re planning on taking up instructional roles at some point later on down the road. Divemasters must be designated as such by a diving organization or facility with which they have an agreement. An employer will need to submit your name for Divemaster certification to the organization overseeing such certifications.


What does California law say about diving?

Anybody who is certified by an organization recognized by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI, NAUI, SSI) can dive! California in general is fairly loose when it comes to diving laws, so you won’t be getting in trouble for simply wanting to dive in allocated areas.


Diver-Down Flag Rules California Law

In an effort to provide both a visual and a written way to help keep divers safe, it is now mandated by law that any boat or other vessel over 16 feet in length must have an approved diver-down flag on board when in the waters of this state.

The flag should be displayed from sunset until sunrise, whenever divers are present.

Failure to comply could result in fines up to $500 per day. Here are the specifications/guidelines for the new flags:

– All flags should measure 4 ft x 6 ft with at least 2 inches between hoist and fly edges when fully hoisted (i.e., not limp).

– Each side of the flag should be marked with one or more solid black diagonal stripes that are 1 inch wide and at least 3 inches long.

– The overall impression of the flag should portray a black background with a representation of a diver in white color on each side of the flag, along with one or more diagonal lines (which can be either red or yellow).

– A nautical star is optional but recommended for added visibility. If present, it should be located within the white area next to each diver’s head.

Exceptions – Note: The above standards do not apply to flags used by boats under 10 ft in length, sailboats under 20 feet when sailing and motorboats being used by volunteer lifeguards as part of their patrol duties on beaches officially designated as bathing beaches.



Snorkeling is considered one of the most popular water activities in California and is perfectly legal. There are a number of places to go snorkeling in various parts throughout the state.

Some famous spots include Anacapa Island and Channel Islands National Park, Catalina Island and Crystal Cove State Beach (just to name a few). Note that your snorkeling or scuba diving depths cannot exceed 130 fsw.


Wreck Diving

Whilst you are allowed to dive wrecks, you cannot keep the items you find if the sunken vessel is over 50 years old (and even then you may have trouble keeping it).

It’s highly recommended that you dive with a group as part of any form of wreck diving.