Types of Scuba Certifications: The Big 5

If you’ve ever wondered about what the hierarchy of scuba diving certifications looks like, you’ve come to the right place. You may or may not know that there are A TON of different scuba certifications you can earn once you complete the basic open water diver.

It is worth mentioning that there are various scuba certification agencies, but in this article I will be focusing on PADI, who I am most familiar with and who is by far the most popular in the world.

You can simplify the certification ladder into what I like to call “The Big 5”. These are the main certifications that divers can earn that open the doors to many other unique options.

In this article I will be going over the typical certification path that divers take, from beginning to advanced.

My goal is to provide you with an overview of the different types of scuba certifications without weighing you down with all the nitty gritty details. I will save those for other articles.

Open Water Diver

This is the entry level certification that EVERYONE must have in order to open the door to other classes that PADI offers. I won’t go into much detail on this certification here because in another article I lay out everything you need to know about it in great detail. So if you want to learn more and access the post, click the following link: https://topscubadiving.com/how-to-become-scuba-certified-everything-you-need-to-know/

Just to give you an idea of what it looks like, there are three main stages. Classroom learning, confined water dives, and open water dives.

Once you finish the initial book learning and test, you move into diving in a pool. It is in this stage you fist breathe underwater and begin to apply what you learned in the classroom. After you are comfortable with some various skills in the pool, you move on to the open water dives.

You will typically go on 4 open water dives either in a lake or ocean. Here the instructor will test you on various tasks and skills underwater. If you pass that, you earn the open water diver certification.

This is technically the only certification that you need in order to scuba dive. It doesn’t have an expiration date, so if you didn’t want to earn any other certifications the rest of your life, you would still be able to dive.

Again, if you are interested or want to learn more about what this process looks like, I recommend you read the article I mentioned previously.

Advanced Open Water Diver

This is the second step in the scuba diving certification ladder. The name might sound intimidating, but you don’t need to be an advanced diver to earn this certification. In fact, as long as you are at least 12 years old and have earned your open water diver c-card, you can enroll in this course.

The main goal of the course is to “advance” the scuba diving skills you learned previously. However, the structure of this course is very different. You have the ability to choose your own path to earning the certification and will work with your instructor to choose the dives you want to focus on.

So here are the main requirements: 5 adventure dives, 2 of which are required, and the other 3 you get to choose. The 2 required dives are: Deep Adventure Dive, and Underwater Navigation.

The other 3 dives you get to choose from a long list…scratch that…a VERY LONG list of adventure dives. There are too many to name but keep an eye out for an article going over some options available to you.

I really like the freedom this certification provides you because it allows you to focus on your specific diving interests. So if you want to expand your diving knowledge and skill set, the advanced open water diver course is the next step to take!

Rescue Diver

The next step in the certification ladder is the rescue diver course. Many believe that it is the most challenging of the courses offered, but also the most rewarding.

Anyone who is at least 12 years old and has completed the Underwater Navigation adventure dive (completed in the advanced open water diver course) can enroll in this course. You might also need to have CPR and First Aid training within the past 2 years, but you should talk to your instructor for more details.

The main goal here is to prepare you to handle both minor and major emergencies that can happen while diving. Being able to handle problems underwater will provide you with a whole new level of confidence as a diver.

Upon completion, you will be able to prevent and handle your own emergencies, as well as help others in those same situations.

The topics you will cover include: self rescue, rescuing unresponsive divers, rescuing panicked divers, how to help others with stress, emergency management, and emergency equipment.

Dive Master: Turn Diving Into a Career

Once you earn the rescue diver certification you might be able to work towards becoming a dive master.

The reason I say “might” is that along with the rescue diver c-card, there are a few other requirements you need to meet: 18 years or older, CPR and first aid training in the past 2 years, a medical statement signed by a physician, at least 40 logged dives to begin the course, and 60 dives to earn the certification.

The main goal of this course is to teach you how to organize and lead a variety of scuba diving activities. There are many different workshops and training sessions you complete in route to this certification.

This is a very well respected certification and is the first level of professional diving training. Upon completion, you will be able to turn scuba diving into a career, whether that is at a local dive shop or in some fancy tropical resort.

Master Scuba Diver: An Elite Group

This is the best of the best, a very small and elite group of divers. According to PADI, less than 2% of divers ever earn this rating.

In addition to earning all the certifications covered in this article so far, you will also need 5 specialty diver certifications and at least 50 logged dives.

This is no small feat, but that is no reason to not try at all. It is a valiant goal to have and along the way you will experience many amazing diving adventures.

Start Climbing the Ladder

I hope this article helped clarify the path you can take from the first step to the very top of the scuba diving world. There are so many different courses to take and skills to learn, there is always room for growth!

I promise climbing this scuba certification ladder will be infinitely more enjoyable than climbing the corporate ladder, so what are you waiting for? Whether you don’t have any certifications right now, or have a few already, there are so many more out there.

If you have any questions or comments related to certifications, feel free to leave it below. Happy diving and start climbing!

4 Replies to “Types of Scuba Certifications: The Big 5”

  1. I never knew there were 5 different ones, I actually thought there was just open water and then advanced of some sort. This was so interesting to see. I have a friend who just moved to the phillipines to become a dive instructor! Now I know way more about what she’s posting about.
    Have you been through the ladder of getting all these different certifications?

    1. Thank you for the message Molly, I really appreciate it! I’m glad you found the article interesting and informative. When I first started diving I thought there was only one also, but it’s pretty amazing at all the different options there are. That is really awesome your friend is becoming a dive instructor, what a fun job that would be! I have not had the time to go through all of the certifications yet, I’ve been on about 30 dives so far and can’t wait to continue to dive more!

  2. I read up on the PADI certifications couple of years ago when I wanted to try scuba diving. I’ve always loved snorkling and free diving but had never tried scuba diving.

    I went to a free test lesson on a pool and to my surprise I scuba diving was a lot harder than I pictured, I had problem with depressurising my ears so I got a huge head ache. Also my mask leaked and pushed water to my nose. I also didn’t like how clmupsy I felt in water with the tanks.

    So I never tried it again. Reading this made me want to give it another chance, maybe in some beautiful crystal clear natural waters.

    1. Jukka, if you love snorkeling and free diving I would think you’d enjoy scuba diving as well. Although it’s more complicated, once you get the hang of it, it becomes a lot more enjoyable.

      As for your pool experience, I’m not totally surprised. Some people have trouble equalizing their ears, but it was more than likely a one time problem. The “clumsy” feeling you were talking about only happens in the pool. When you dive at greater depths and figure out your buoyancy, you experience a totally weightless feeling that is indescribable.

      I’m glad you found the article inspiring and interesting, I hope you consider giving it another shot! Thank you so much for the comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *