Jacques Cousteau was born on June 11, 1910 in Saint-Andre-de-Cubzac, Gironde, to Daniel and Elisabeth Cousteau. As a child he played in the creeks close to Marseille, France where his family lived. He went to college at Stanislas in Paris and in 1930 he entered the Ecole Navale and became an officer gunner. In Toulon, where he was serving on the Condorcet, Cousteau carried out his first underwater experiments, thanks to his friend Philippe Tailliez.
In 1936, Tailliez lent him some Fernez underwater goggles, predecessors of modern diving masks. Cousteau also belonged to the information service of the French Navy, and was sent on missions to Shanghai and Japan (1938) and in the USSR (1939).
In 1930 he entered the French Navy as the head of the underwater research group. He later worked his way up the ranks as he became more famous and more useful to the navy. On 12 July 1937 he married Simone Melchior, with whom he had two sons, Jean-Michel (1938) and Philippe (1940). His sons took part in the adventure of the Calypso. In 1991, one year after his wife Simone's death of cancer, he married Francine Triplet. They already had a daughter Diane Cousteau (1980) and a son Pierre-Yves Cousteau (1982), born before their marriage. He was the brother of right-wing fascist journalist and World War II Germany collaborator Pierre-Antoine Cousteau (1906–1958).
Cousteau died at the age of 87 of a heart attack while recovering from a respiratory illness. He is buried in the Cousteau family plot at Saint-André-de-Cubzac Cemetery, Saint-André-de-Cubzac, France.