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I'm thinking about getting my PADI but I'm very concerned about my horrible swimming skills. I'm a freediver and I'm perfectly comfortable in the water - deep water, being sloshed around by waves, mask getting flooded, diving in the dark, etc. I can do with no problem. Throw me a cheapo pair of fins and I can go at it for hours on end. But it's extremely hard for me to swim un-aided because my body density is pretty high and I will sink like a stone if I'm not constantly moving. As a result, I have to expend a lot more energy than most people just to keep my head above water if I'm not using some kind of gear.
I can do a distance swim if I'm on my back and constantly moving.
I can't tread water for more than a minute before getting tired out.
I can't relax everything and just float. If I'm totally relaxed I sink.
If I completely fill my lungs with air I become neutrally buoyant with my head about a foot under the water
At this point I'm pretty sure I would just fail the swim test unaided Would instructors allow me to do the test with fins?
I, too, was concerned about the swim test but it was no big deal at all. To answer your question, I believe most, if not ALL, dive shops allow you to either swim 200 meters without fins and a snorkel or 400 meters with your snorkeling gear. I might be off on the distances but you get the point. My dive class actually had everyone use their snorkel gear. Of course it was a cinch to complete, and since you are great in the water, you will have no problem.
Bottom line -- you will be allowed to use your fins and stuff to complete the swim test.
The other segment of water testing involves an ability stay afloat for (I think) 10 minutes. This can be done by treading water, drown proofing, or any other method.
Just as a comment on treading water when buoyancy is the issue; your ears and the point of your chin should be under water. In other words, the only part of your body exposed to air is your face. You should be able to stay afloat with fairly passive sculling and kicking.
When I did my PADI test we did the long swim with our choice with or without snorkel gear. If you did snorkel gear it was longer. On the treading water it was without gear but you could swim around for the 10 minutes or you could float or you could tread water it was up to you- you just had to be unassisted (no gear) for 10 min.
You do need to talk about your concerns with your instructor so he/she can help you through it. I will forever be greatful to my instructor for listening to my concerns ( I was overcoming some major fears from a canoe accident) and working with me to get scuba certified. I ended up having to have extra pool time to pass my initial stuff but he stuck it through to the end with me. I remember the night when he had another instructor come in to help him and I thought "great he brought in the other guy to pass me off to him so he could get the rest of the students through- how embarassing!" Instead he had the other students (who all were advancing through the training with no problems) go with the new guy and he took me off the the side to help me. Very professional and now I am advanced open water certified and have the opportunity to explore the other 70% of the world!
Talk to your instructor and have him/her help you. They might have some tricks to get you through or take the time to get you there.
Although many people refer to the float requirement as a "tread" requirement, it is not so. Your job is to stay afloat for 10 minutes. That can be done in many ways, including (but not restricted to) treading water. Backfloats, drownproofing--all are good. In fact, the primary requirement is that you don't drown for ten minutes. If you drown during this test, you automatically fail the course.
You know I have pretty much the same problem. I float, not at all, but I still made it through the swim test unaided. There are no stroke requirements so you can do anything short of standing up and walking. I did a combination of modified back stroke, free style and the UMSC survival stroke (frog kick, face in the water, arms out front to side for propulsion and to the side and down to bring your face out of the water to breath). It wasn't pretty, but it also wasn't terribly difficult as long as I stayed moving. Also, there is a modified technique for treading water for those who don't float well which I used as well. It is functionally a cross between a back float and treading water. All you have to do is lay back in the water and buck your hips forward so that you are more horizontal in the water. I think I might have looked something like a drunken duck as I weaved my way crazily about the pool, but it did work.
Talk to your instructor to find out what it is that they want to see, but don't get too worked up about it. Even us Scuba Stones can make it through!
The PADI Open Water swim test is not timed. The test is to see if you can move a given distance in the water. If you want to do the whole swim doing the doggie paddle or frog kicking on your back, it doesn't matter. What you need to avoid is stopping or standing in the shallow end.
The "tread water" test is timed. It does not, matter if you stay in one place or not. This test is simply to determine if you can remain on the surface for 10 minutes without drowning. You can float on your back and kick a little to go in circles or figure eights. What you need to avoid in this test is holding on to the side of the pool or standing up in the shallow end.
Both the 200 Swim Test and the Tread/Float are completely useless tests as an indicator for Scuba Success. I continue to urge the agencies to do away with them altogether.
In the meantime, while they still insist on them, the 300 swim with Mask, Fins & snorkel makes more sense than the 200 without. Why? Because you will be learning to dive using a mask, fins & snorkel.
Everything we do in the sport is equipment based. We even refer to it as an equipment intensive sport. Why then do we have students doing tests without equipment?
There are many people who don't swim well... but put a mask, fins and snorkel on them and they quickly become fish in the water. Why preclude someone from becoming a diver just because they can't swim without fins? They'll be using fins every time they go diving.
I have yet to see a diver anywhere on the earth jump into the water without a Mask & Fins. If they do, they're no longer divers - they're swimmers. If you're going to jump off of a boat without a mask and fins - then YES - you ought to be able to swim a little bit. But that is something outside the scope of this discussion.
Now, don't be too intimidated by the 300 swim with Mask, Fins & Snorkel. It's really easy. It was put in place for those who could not swim the 200 without the assistance of equipment. Thank god for "some" common sense. The better idea however is to require a 100 yard (football field) swim in full dive gear. This is how divers will typically find themselves swimming on the surface... and usually in less than ideal conditions (waves, currents etc...)
The 10 minute float/tread is very easy. Breath control is all you need to learn. Inflation and deflation of any humans lungs can keep them afloat in combination with simple arm and leg movements.
In any event - relax... and let go of the anxiety... Diving is fun.