The Pool Is Open

Open Water Diver Certification: An Overview
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Dive Training
CONFINED FREEDOM: A pool dive training session, part of the open water diver certification program (Corel)
The New World

Fiji, Florida, Australia, Egypt, Belize, Brazil, the Galapagos, the Caribbean…the number of places that’ll leap onto your “must dive" list will likely be limited only by your budget and vacation time. To sample a few of the best, consider the following:

Honduras: Anthony’s Key

Fiji: Soft Coral Capital

Australia’s Daintree and the Great Barrier Reef

PLUS:Six Lonely Planet guides to the globes top dive spots.


While there are all levels of scuba certification, to get the most out of the activity, start with an open water diver course, which will reward you with the ability dive anywhere in the world without additional class time.

While the structure of specific open water diver courses vary to suit all schedules, the course itself is logically divided into three sections:

  1. Class Time
    The PADI Open Water Diver Manual and a film (video or DVD) serve as the backbone of this section to familiarize yourself with all aspects of diving, including equipment descriptions, planning dives, what to know before you dive, how to establish buoyancy, how to manage your air supply, and so forth. There are quizzes at the end of each of the five chapters, along with in-class tests, and a final exam at the end of the course. There are also home-study options available, which can include the textbook, computer CD-ROMs, and in-class review, for those with busy schedules.

  2. Confined-Water Dives
    Typically held in a pool, this series of five skill sets introduce the basic skills of scuba. You’ll get familiar with setting up your gear, breathing underwater, establishing buoyancy, and safety-skill tests like buddy breathing and clearing your mask of water.

  3. Open-Water Dives
    After completing your classroom and confined-water dives, you undergo a series of four skill tests in a real aquatic environment (ocean, lake, or quarry, depending on where you are). This is the final step in your certification, and involves a review of all the classroom and confined-water skills, as well as additional safety skills.

Where to Get Certified
The quick answer is everywhere. You don’t need a pristine reef system and azure waters to learn to scuba; there are PADI-certified training centers throughout the world, from the coasts of the Caribbean to the American heartland, and each offers all variety of training, from accelerated courses with take-home CD-ROMs to private one-on-one instruction to six-week small-class courses. And if they’re PADI-certified (refer to for worldwide list of PADI dive schools), they know their stuff. But when in doubt, ask the dive center to provide a client list to get some referrals. If they hesitate, there’s a reason.

If you have the time and money, enroll in a course with lectured classroom time and two or three confined-water dives—the more time you spend in the water learning to work with the equipment, the more intuitive the experience becomes.

Unless you live in a place with spectacular diving conditions like Florida, and if you’ve already planned a diving vacation, consider taking the classroom and confined-water courses locally, and then take your open-water dives once you reach your destination. You may lose one day, but taking your open-water tests in the crystalline Caribbean is definitely a step up from completing your qualification in a lake or quarry. That said, with dive centers all over the world—including smack dab in the central United States—diving in lakes and quarries is a common practice. Just envision seeing massive cat fish instead of coral reefs. Getting certified locally also means you can hit the waters when you do go on that dreamland scuba-centric trip.

Of course, you can take the entire course at a tropical resort. Just be prepared to spend several of those perfectly tropical days either in the classroom or the pool before you’re certified to drop below the surface of that picture-perfect ocean.

The Small Print
You must be at least 10 years old to receive certification (students younger than 15 who complete the course receive their Junior Open Water certification). During your first pool session, you’ll be asked to swim 200 meters (no time limit), and to tread water for 10 minutes, but that’s the limit of the physical requirements.

Cost will vary depending on where you get enroll, from as little as $70 for classroom and confined-water classes to $300 for the entire package. Lower-cost fees typically don’t include equipment rental costs, and most resort open water referal courses cost $150 (your dive center will give you a certificate indicating that you’ve passed the classroom and confined-water skills). Overseas locales like Vietnam and Thailand offer lower-cost resort certification.

PADI offers a comprehensive list of certification courses, including open water diver as well as courses on night diving, wreck diving, underwater photography, coral reef conservation, and ways to become a diving instructor. Check with PADI ( for additional information, including a regional list of all certified operators and classes throughout the world.

Nathan Borchelt is the lead editor for

Published: 30 Jan 2007 | Last Updated: 7 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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