Are you new to diving and not sure what dive certifications to get? There are lots of certifications to choose from, and unless you want to work in the scuba diving field, a lot of them may not be that relevant to you. Here are four courses all adult divers should do and why. Note our experience is based on the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) diver training, however you can find equivalent certifications in the Scuba Schools International (SSI) diver training courses.
1. The Open Water Diver Certification
The Open Water course is for those that have decided to take the plunge and get their first scuba certification.
The course is generally completed over 4 days and gives the theoretical and practical skills required for the basics of scuba diving. The theory can be done in one day online, or via instructor led classroom training. The practical is usually run over three days, with the first of those days in pool learning skills, with the next days progressing to the open water for 4 dives.
Be at least 10 years old, a competent swimmer and be in good physical health. Note no scuba diving experience is necessary. For those of you who have completed a discover scuba ocean dive, you can count that ocean dive as credit towards your Open Water certification.
Learn how to put your scuba gear together, how to use the gear/signal underwater, and how to do skills like: taking off your mask underwater, clearing the water out of your mask and recovering your breathing apparatus.
This course allows adult divers to be certified to dive to 18m with a buddy.
The exam consists of two parts: theory and practical. The theory exam is 50 multiple choice questions and the pass mark is at least 75%. The practical exam consists of four open water dives, and on two dives you need to complete the underwater practical skills.
For those new to diving, performing the skills in open water can be a little scary. Make sure you practice your skills in the pool before progressing to open water. For other helpful tips check out our 5 tips for new divers taking the open water course.
2. Advanced Open Water Diver Certification
The misconception with the advanced course, is that to do it, you need to be an advanced diver. The Advanced course however, is suitable for anyone who has obtained their Open Water certification. The aim of the course is to give you additional skills to make you a more experienced and confident diver.
The course is conducted over 2-3 days. There is a theory component, but the focus is really on the practical. For the practical you have to complete 5 different types of adventure dives. There are two mandatory dives: deep dive (to teach the effects of narcosis and how to dive at depth safely) and an underwater navigation dive (to help with navigation skills). The other three dives could be any of the ones listed on the PADI site here. Although note, the courses you can select is dependent on what is available at the dive centre. The adventure dives are really just a taste of different specialist diving courses. If you are interested in them, you can pursue a full certification in the specialty field at an additional cost.
Open water certification. No minimum number of dives is needed. You also need to be at least 12 years old.
When I did my advanced course, in addition to the two mandatory dives I did: peak performance buoyancy, night diver and underwater naturalist (which involves identifying marine life underwater). All of the courses are useful, but the best thing I learned on the course was how to control my buoyancy. Exercises like swimming through hoops and hovering have really helped me become a better diver.
The key benefit of doing the course is being able to dive down to 30m. This gives you a lot more options for visiting dive sites around the world.
One of the best things is, there is no practical or theory exam! This makes the course much more enjoyable, as you can just enjoy the dives, rather than stressing out about whether you are going to pass the exam or not.
I recommend doing this certification as soon as you have obtained your Open Water certification. I struggled getting my Open Water certification and afterwards I spent a year diving before I felt comfortable enough to go for my advanced certification. In retrospect, I should have done it straight away, as the skills learnt (such as buoyancy) made me a better and more confident diver.
3. Enriched Air Diver Certification
The enriched air course (which some of you may know as the nitrox course), is the most popular specialty course. It teaches you how to dive safely on enriched air. Enriched air, is air which has been enriched with a higher level of oxygen (at 32% or 36% compared to normal air which has oxygen levels at 21%).
The course is conducted over 1 – 2 days. You will need to complete at least 2 ocean dives with enriched air and study a theory component.
Open Water diver and be at least 12 years old.
The two key learnings on this course are: how to measure the oxygen levels in the tank, and how to set your watch for enriched air.
Back in 2015 my husband Dean and I were in the Maldives doing multiple dives a day on regular air. Every day the dive instructor would ask me if I wanted to do the enriched air certification, and every day I would say no. I thought he was just trying to upsell me courses that I didn’t need. It was only after discussing it with Dean that I understood the benefits of using enriched air:
- It can make you feel less tired.
- You are less likely to get decompression sickness as there are lower levels of nitrogen in your body. However, the trade-off is there is an increased risk of oxygen toxicity.
- Increased bottom time.
- Decrease the amount of time required for a surface interval.
With so much marine life to see in the Maldives, it made sense to maximise our time under the water, so I decided to sign up for the course and I am very glad I did.
There is no practical exam. There is however a theory exam. It is multiple choice and to pass you need to obtain a mark of at least 75%. As long as you read the book, the exam is straight forward.
Diving with enriched air is more expensive than diving on regular air. So if you want to save some money, only dive on enriched air when you are doing multiple dives a day over several days.
4. Rescue Diver Certification
After completing the Open Water and Advanced diver courses, adult divers are qualified to dive with a buddy to depths of 18m and 30m respectively. But do you think you are well prepared to help your buddy if they get into trouble? Unfortunately dive accidents happen, and knowing how to respond in an emergency by keeping yourself and the other diver safe is an important skill to have, and this is the focus for the Rescue Diver Certification.
Usually runs over 2 – 3 days. There is a theory and practical component. The theory can be done online or can be instructor led in the classroom. The practical involves rescue based exercises in the pool and in open water.
Advanced Open Water. Also you need to have undertaken Emergency First Response Primary and Secondary Care (CPR and First Aid) training within the last 2 years. If you do not have this, you can do it as part of the Rescue course.
How to perform a rescue of a distressed diver underwater and at the surface, find a lost diver, object recovery, emergency procedures in water and on land, rescue breathing and how to deal with equipment problems.
This course is definitely the most fun, physically demanding and challenging of all the PADI courses. The rescue scenario activities really make you think and plan ahead on how to react in situations. You need to expect the unexpected, for example getting your regulator ripped out of your mouth, while you are focusing on something else. Ultimately this made me a much better and confident diver. All divers who dive recreationally multiple times a year should take this course to be better prepared in the unlikely event of an emergency.
The exam is a multiple choice theory exam. If you pay attention in class, it is fairly straight forward. The exam is 50 questions and to pass you need to obtain a mark of at least 75%.
The most important thing is to make sure you are safe before helping anyone else. Also when helping someone, always remain calm.
Remember all of these certifications aren’t necessary for you to enjoy diving. However these are the ones I highly recommend doing because of the skills you learn. And with your new found skills you will be a more confident and safer diver!
About the Author
Amanda Bolzan and her husband Dean Samuels have been certified divers since 2009. Amanda has her advanced open water and Dean is a dive master. They have travelled the world and dived many sites in Australia, Asia, Central America and the Caribbean.
Amanda and Dean have a travel blog called Scatabout which details the fun and unique experiences they have had on their world travels. You can find them doing something adventurous like scuba diving, hiking or something strange like running down the side of a building.
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