A Guide to Dive Experiences & Dive Certifications

Diver on shore getting ready to go diving

Posted on: October 23rd, 2020

Scuba diving was once considered a recreational activity reserved for the wealthy or extreme adventure seekers. Whilst diving is still referred to as an extreme sport, recreational diving is now much more accessible to everyone*.
*subject to meeting certain age and medical requirements

With a wide variety of dive training agencies available worldwide, gaining a recreational dive certification or taking part in a scuba diving experience for the first time is now more accessible to anyone with a sense of adventure.

However, due to the wider choice of different training agencies, courses and certifications available it can be confusing on which course to take, equivalent ratings, terminology etc or even what each certification level means. Below we have tried to give an overview of some of the main certifications available and how they compare.

Overview

 


How do diving agency certifications compare?

Comparison table diving courses by diving school and diving experience level
  Approx. Duration
PADI SSI SDI BSAC NAUI
Beginners / First Timers 1-2 hours Discover Scuba Diving (pool only) Try Scuba Diving (pool only) Scuba Discovery Try Dive (pool only) Try Scuba (pool only)
1/2 day Discover Scuba Diving (pool + dive) Basic Diver (pool + dive) n/a Passport Scuba Diver (pool + dive)
Entry Level Certifications 2 days Scuba Diver Scuba Diver n/a n/a n/a
3-4 days Open Water Diver Open Water Diver Open Water Scuba Diver Ocean Diver Scuba Diver
Continued Education 2-3 days Adventure Diver Open Water Diver + Deep + 1 specialty Open Water Scuba Diver + Deep + 1 specialty Ocean Diver Advanced Scuba Diver
2-3 days Advanced Open Water Diver Advanced Adventurer Advanced Adventure Diver
2-3 days Advanced Open Water Diver + 24 dives + 4 Specialties Advanced Open Water * Advanced Diver
2-3 days Rescue Diver Advanced Open Water + Diver Stress & Rescue Specialty Rescue Diver Sports Diver Rescue Scuba Diver
*Recognition based Master Scuba Diver Master Diver Master Diver Master Scuba Diver
Professional Certifications Course times can vary
Final exams and assessments are usually structured. Get details from your chosen dive school.
Divemaster Divemaster Divemaster Dive Leader Assistant Instructor
Divemaster
      Advanced Diver
Assistant Instructor Dive Control Specialist / Training Specialist Assistant Instructor Assistant Open Water Instructor
Open Water Instructor
Advanced Instructor
Open Water Scuba Instructor Open Water Instructor Open Water Scuba Diver Instructor Instructor
Specialty Instructor Advanced Open Water Instructor Open Water Scuba Diver Instructor + Teaching Specialties
Master Scuba Diver Trainer Instructor Divemaster Instructor
IDC Staff Instructor Dive Control Specialist Instructor Instructor Trainer
Master Instructor Master Instructor Course Director
Course Director Instructor Trainer Instructor Trainer Course Director
Comparison table diving courses by diving school and diving experience level
  Beginners / First Timers
Approx. Duration PADI logo SSI logo SDI logo BSAC logo NAUI logo
PADI SSI SDI BSAC NAUI
1-2 hours Discover Scuba Diving (pool only) Try Scuba Diving (pool only) Scuba Discovery Try Dive (pool only) Try Scuba (pool only)
1/2 day Discover Scuba Diving (pool + dive) Basic Diver (pool + dive) n/a Passport Scuba Diver (pool + dive)
  Entry Level Certifications
2 days Scuba Diver Scuba Diver n/a n/a n/a
3-4 days Open Water Diver Open Water Diver Open Water Scuba Diver Ocean Diver Scuba Diver
  Continued Education
2-3 days Adventure Diver Open Water Diver + Deep + 1 specialty Open Water Scuba Diver + Deep + 1 specialty Ocean Diver Advanced Scuba Diver
2-3 days Advanced Open Water Diver Advanced Adventurer Advanced Adventure Diver
2-3 days Advanced Open Water Diver + 24 dives + 4 Specialties Advanced Open Water * Advanced Diver
2-3 days Rescue Diver Advanced Open Water + Diver Stress & Rescue Specialty Rescue Diver Sports Diver Rescue Scuba Diver
* Recognition based Master Scuba Diver Master Diver Master Diver Master Scuba Diver
  Professional Certifications
Course times can vary
Final exams and assessments are usually structured. Get details from your chosen dive school.
Divemaster Divemaster Divemaster Dive Leader Assistant Instructor
Divemaster
      Advanced Diver
Assistant Instructor Dive Control Specialist / Training Specialist Assistant Instructor Assistant Open Water Instructor
Open Water Instructor
Advanced Instructor
Open Water Scuba Instructor Open Water Instructor Open Water Scuba Diver Instructor Instructor
Specialty Instructor Advanced Open Water Instructor Open Water Scuba Diver Instructor + Teaching Specialties
Master Scuba Diver Trainer Instructor Divemaster Instructor
IDC Staff Instructor Dive Control Specialist Instructor Instructor Trainer
Master Instructor Master Instructor Course Director
Course Director Instructor Trainer Instructor Trainer Course Director
Comparison table diving courses by diving school and diving experience level
Beginners / first-timers Approx. duration
PADI logo PADI Discover Scuba Diving (pool only) 1-2 hours
Discover Scuba Diving (pool + dive) 1/2 day
SSI logo SSI Try Scuba Diving (pool only) 1-2 hours
Basic Diver (pool +dive) 1/2 day
SDI logo SDI Scuba Discovery 1/2 days
BSAC logo BSAC Try Dive (pool only) 1-2 hours
NAUI logo NAUI Try Scuba (pool only) 1-2 hours
Passport Scuba Diver (pool + dive) 1/2 day
 
Entry level certifications Approx. duration
PADI logo PADI Scuba Diver 2 days
Open Water Diver 3-4 days
SSI logo SSI Scuba Diver 2 days
Open Water Diver 3-4 days
SDI logo SDI Open Water Scuba Diver 3-4 days
BSAC logo BSAC Ocean Diver 3-4 days
NAUI logo NAUI Scuba Diver 3-4 days
 
Continued Education Approx. duration
PADI logo PADI Adventure Diver 2-3 days
Advanced Open Water Diver 2-3 days
Advanced Open Water Diver + 24 dives + 4 Specialties 2-3 days
Rescue Diver 2-3 days
Master Scuba Diver *Recognition based
SSI logo SSI Open Water Diver + Deep + 1 specialty 2-3 days
Advanced Adventurer 2-3 days
Advanced Open Water* 2-3 days
Advanced Open Water + Diver Stress & Rescue Specialty 2-3 days
Master Diver *Recognition based
SDI logo SDI Open Water Scuba Diver + Deep + 1 specialty 2-3 days
Advanced Adventure Diver 2-3 days
Advanced Diver 2-3 days
Rescue Diver 2-3 days
Master Diver *Recognition based
BSAC logo BSAC Ocean Diver 2-3 days
Sports Diver 2-3 days
NAUI logo NAUI Advanced Scuba Diver 2-3 days
Rescue Scuba Diver 2-3 days
Master Scuba Diver *Recognition based
  *Recogntion based certifications do not usually require taking a specific course but instead are awarded from dive experience in certain environments.
 
Professional certifications Approx. duration
PADI logo PADI Divemaster Course times can vary.

Final exams and assessments are usually structured.

Get details from your chosen dive school.
Assistant Instructor
Open Water Scuba Instructor
Specialty Instructor
Master Scuba Diver Trainer Instructor
IDC Staff Instructor
Master Instructor
Course Director
SSI logo SSI Divemaster Course times can vary.

Final exams and assessments are usually structured.

Get details from your chosen dive school.
Dive Control Specialist/Training Specialist
Open Water Instructor
Advanced Open Water Instructor
Divemaster Instructor
Dive Control Specialist Instructor
Master Instructor
Instructor Trainer
SDI logo SDI Divemaster Course times can vary.

Final exams and assessments are usually structured.

Get details from your chosen dive school.
Assistant Instructor
Open Water Scuba Diver Instructor
Open Water Scuba Diver Instructor + Teaching Specialties
Course Director
Instructor Trainer
BSAC logo BSAC Dive Leader Course times can vary.

Final exams and assessments are usually structured.

Get details from your chosen dive school.
Advanced Diver
Assistant Open Water Instructor
Open Water Instructor
Advanced Instructor
NAUI logo NAUI Assistant Instructor Divemaster Course times can vary.

Final exams and assessments are usually structured.

Get details from your chosen dive school.
Instructor
Instructor Trainer
Course Director
Toggle contents display
Comparison table diving courses by diving school and diving experience level
For beginners / first timers
PADI PADI logo
Discover Scuba Diving (pool only) 1-2 hours
Discover Scuba Diving (pool + dive) 1/2 day
SSI SSI logo
Try Scuba Diving (pool only) 1-2 hours
Basic Diver (pool +dive) 1/2 day
SDI SDI logo
Scuba Discovery 1/2 days
BSAC BSAC logo
Try Dive (pool only) 1-2 hours
NAUI NAUI logo
Try Scuba (pool only) 1-2 hours
Passport Scuba Diver (pool + dive) 1/2 day
 
Entry level certifications
PADI PADI logo
Scuba Diver 2 days
Open Water Diver 3-4 days
SSI SSI logo
Scuba Diver 2 days
Open Water Diver 3-4 days
SDI SDI logo
Open Water Scuba Diver 3-4 days
BSAC BSAC logo
Ocean Diver 3-4 days
NAUI NAUI logo
Scuba Diver 3-4 days
 
Continued Education
PADI PADI logo
Adventure Diver 2-3 days
Advanced Open Water Diver 2-3 days
Advanced Open Water Diver + 24 dives + 4 Specialties 2-3 days
Rescue Diver 2-3 days
Master Scuba Diver *Recognition based
SSI SSI logo
Open Water Diver + Deep + 1 specialty 2-3 days
Advanced Adventurer 2-3 days
Advanced Open Water* 2-3 days
Advanced Open Water + Diver Stress & Rescue Specialty 2-3 days
Master Diver *Recognition based
SDI SDI logo
Open Water Scuba Diver + Deep + 1 specialty 2-3 days
Advanced Adventure Diver 2-3 days
Advanced Diver 2-3 days
Rescue Diver 2-3 days
Master Diver *Recognition based
BSAC BSAC logo
Ocean Diver 2-3 days
Sports Diver 2-3 days
NAUI NAUI logo
Advanced Scuba Diver 2-3 days
Rescue Scuba Diver 2-3 days
Master Scuba Diver *Recognition based
*Recogntion based certifications do not usually require taking a specific course but instead are awarded from dive experience in certain environments.
 
Professional certifications
PADI PADI logo
Divemaster Course times can vary.

Final exams and assessments are usually structured.

Get details from your chosen dive school.
Assistant Instructor
Open Water Scuba Instructor
Specialty Instructor
Master Scuba Diver Trainer Instructor
IDC Staff Instructor
Master Instructor
Course Director
SSI SSI logo
Divemaster Course times can vary.

Final exams and assessments are usually structured.

Get details from your chosen dive school.
Dive Control Specialist/Training Specialist
Open Water Instructor
Advanced Open Water Instructor
Divemaster Instructor
Dive Control Specialist Instructor
Master Instructor
Instructor Trainer
SDI SDI logo
Divemaster Course times can vary.

Final exams and assessments are usually structured.

Get details from your chosen dive school.
Assistant Instructor
Open Water Scuba Diver Instructor
Open Water Scuba Diver Instructor + Teaching Specialties
Course Director
Instructor Trainer
BSAC BSAC logo
Dive Leader Course times can vary.

Final exams and assessments are usually structured.

Get details from your chosen dive school.
Advanced Diver
Assistant Open Water Instructor
Open Water Instructor
Advanced Instructor
NAUI NAUI logo
Assistant Instructor Divemaster Course times can vary.

Final exams and assessments are usually structured.

Get details from your chosen dive school.
Instructor
Instructor Trainer
Course Director

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Diver students training in a pool

Whilst some training agency certifications may differ slightly in terms of certified training depths and skills, in general, the below is a good guideline for most experiences or certifications. All certified divers must dive with a dive buddy who is also a certified diver.

Beginner/First Timers - No certification usually maximum depth of 12mtrs
  • Discover Scuba Diving (Padi)
  • Try Scuba (SSI)
Entry Level Certifications
  • Scuba Diver (12mtrs) - must dive with a certified professional
  • Open Water Diver (18mtrs)
Continued Education Certifications
  • Advanced Open Water Diver (30mtrs)
  • Deep Specialty (40mtrs)
  • Rescue Diver
Professional Certifications
  • Divemaster
  • Open Water Scuba Instructor

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Questions (FAQ’s)

Will my chosen certification be recognised worldwide?

Most training agency certifications are recognised worldwide, however, if you get certified by lesser-known agencies some dive centers that check your level may not have seen the card previously as the majority of certifications are done by the top 5 agencies. As long as the training agency is an approved organisation then dive operations worldwide should accept it as proof of training to scuba dive.

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What are the restrictions for my certification?

Whilst the most popular certification training agencies are all pretty much the same at the different levels, it’s worth checking your individual type of certification. As a guide the following usually apply;

  • Scuba Diver - 12mtrs max depth + must dive with a certified professional
  • Open Water Diver - 18mtrs max depth + must dive with another certified dive buddy
  • Advanced Open Water Diver - 30mtrs max depth + must dive with another certified dive buddy
  • Deep Specialty - 40mtrs + must dive with another certified dive buddy

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Which is the best training agency? SSI? PADI?

PADI and SSI have firmly established themselves as the top 2 recreational dive certification agencies around the world. With large networks of affiliated dive clubs, centers and resorts in most countries worldwide they are arguably the 2 most recognised dive certifications. Both offer online theory learning (eLearning) and very similar requirements for their certifications. They are very closely matched in terms of the requirements needed to get certified, the main differences can be how the courses are conducted by the instructor.

PADI tends to offer tiered certification levels gained by taking specific courses to further your knowledge and experience, whilst SSI and other agencies such as SDI also offer ‘experience recognition’ based certifications. For example, you can gain a higher certification level if you have logged and completed a number of dives or in certain environments, no specific course to be taken. An example of this is SSI’s Specialty Diver, Advanced Open Water Diver or Master Diver which are awarded after completing certain levels of training (specialties) or a number of dives combined. Divers can then simply apply for the new certification level.

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What are Specialties?

Specialties are add-on courses to your current certification in specific areas of diving and can vary across different training organisations. They are usually paid courses that provide divers further training and experience in certain types of diving. Some popular example of these can be seen below;

Deep Diver Specialty/Training

This recreational certification will usually allow divers to safely experience and dive to depths up to 40 meters maximum. 40 meters is considered the maximum safe depth for recreational divers to dive with normal air. Anything below this depth is considered Technical diving and requires further training in the use of mixed gases and decompression diving.

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Enriched Air Nitrox diver

Enriched Air Diver (Nitrox) Specialty/Training

Nitrox is a premixed gas that recreational divers can safely dive on with the correct training. The gas contains a higher percentage of Oxygen than normal air and allows divers to safely extend their allowable bottom times without going past their no-decompression limits.

  • Normal Air = 21% Oxygen
  • Nitrox = normally 32-36% Oxygen

Whilst Nitrox cannot reduce the amount of gas/air breathed by a diver, therefore not magically improving air consumption, it does add benefits for divers who wish to spend a little longer at depth to possibly view a wreck or wall that would normally only be safe to dive to for less time on air.

Nitrox does, however, come with some strict depth restrictions, as higher percentages of Oxygen become dangerous to divers at certain depths. Besides this, diving with Nitrox with the correct training can actually offer safer dives when completing multiple dives per day and is a great option when on liveaboard dive holidays. It helps reduce the build-up of nitrogen in the blood.

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Wreck Diver Specialty/Training

Wreck diving is extremely popular due to the possibility of exploring impressive sunken structures underwater. Some of the most famous dive sites in the world are wreck dives, for example, the Thistlegorm in the Red Sea Egypt, the Liberty Wreck in Bali, Indonesia or the ex-USS Kittiwake in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.

By undergoing instructor led training in this specialty, divers can gain specific knowledge on how to dive and explore wreck dives safely and responsibly. Due to the complication of wreck dives and safely navigating in and around them, some may require further training to dive safely.

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Learn to take pictures underwater

Other Specialties

All the training agencies offer many other different specialties such as Digital Photography, Ice diving, Cave diving, Boat diving & Sidemount. This allows you to choose areas of further interest to pursue in your diving.

Whichever dive training agency you choose (or have) you should find that they are widely accepted worldwide and offer similar levels of training.

Remember: Always dive with a buddy and within your training experience. Enjoy exploring!

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Origin: US