How Many Scuba Diving Certification Levels Are There?

Pretty much anyone can become a scuba diver if they have the right gear, an ocean nearby and are void of any serious medical conditions. However, before you get your underwater camera ready to capture the entire experience, there is one important thing left: every diver has to undergo some level of training and must receive at least a basic level of certification before they’re ready to dive.

How Many Scuba Diving Certification Levels Are There

Moving forward from the basic certification, there also specialized courses for cave diving, shipwreck diving, and well, you get the picture. The certification level you need to reach depends on the type of scuba diving you want to do.

Do You Need To Be Certified At All?

Before you put on your gear and jump into the water, remember that this isn’t a Disney movie and you’re not a mermaid (or a merman) and you have lungs and not gills. You need to obtain at least a basic Open Water certification before you can scuba dive. In fact, initially, you’ll need to study the theory of scuba diving before you’re even allowed to get in the water.

What Are The Different Types Of Certifications?

Although there are many different certification levels, they are divided into two main types: recreational and professional.

Recreational Scuba Diving Certification

Here are the recreational diving certifications offered by PADI from the most basic to the advanced levels:

PADI Scuba Diver (Junior for Children)

This certification is for those scuba divers who have limited time for the activity. Completing the certification will allow divers to reach a maximum depth of 12 meters (40 feet). At this level, you can’t go scuba diving on your own and need to be accompanied by a professional dive instructor at all times (a dive buddy doesn’t count).

Open Water Diver (Junior for Children) – OWD

This certification teaches you how to manage your gear and move around comfortably underwater. Once you’ve completed it, you can scuba dive independently and either go alone or with your dive buddies. You don’t need to be accompanied by a professional. The maximum depth allowed is:

  • 18 meters (59 feet) for adults
  • 12 meters (40 feet) for children- children with this certification will still need to be accompanied by a scuba-certified adult.

Advanced Open Water Diver- AOWD

This certification is pretty similar to the OWD with the main difference being the maximum depth you can reach. The limit for AOWDs has been increased to 30 meters (100 feet).

Rescue Diver Certification

The primary focus of this certification is on providing you with rescue skills. This will help you deal with underwater problems and emergencies (such as equipment malfunction) when you’re scuba diving.

Master Scuba Diver

This is the highest level recreational scuba divers can reach. It includes specialty training for night diving, shipwreck diving, etc. Once you master 5 of these specialty dives along with the rescue diver certification, you become a Master Scuba Diver.

Recreational Scuba Diving Certification

Professional Scuba Diving Certification

In order to become a professional scuba diver, you need special certification after becoming a Master Scuba Diver:

Dive Master

Completing this certification makes you eligible for aiding dive instructors and becoming a group guide.

Assistant Instructor

Once you complete this level, you can assist dive instructors involved in training divers-to-be. You will be allowed to give theoretical classes on your own and can be used to assess the performance of students in surface exercises. However, at this level, you can’t provide certification approval.

Open Water Scuba Instructor- OWSI

Once a PADI official certifies you as an OWSI, you can teach, train and approve different scuba diving certifications.

Master Scuba Diver Trainer

You can become a Master Scuba Diver Trainer in 2 ways:

  1. Enroll in an MSDT course
  2. Certify at least 25 divers and complete at least 5 PADI Specialty Instructor courses.

IDC Staff Instructor

An IDC Staff Instructor is somewhat the assistant of the Course Director. At this level, you provide theoretical and physical training under the Course Director’s supervision.

Master Scuba Instructor

Once you’ve completed this certification, you reach a whole new level. The requirements to reach this level include:

  • Issuing 150 PADI certifications at different levels
  • Teaching 10 “Emergency First Response” courses
  • Participating in 3 PADI seminars.

Course Director

The Course Director is in charge of training future dive instructors. This is the final level of certification for professional scuba divers offered by PADI.

Different scuba diving certification levels

What Are The Most Common Certifications For Amateur Divers?

For those who have developed a recent interest in scuba diving, there are some common types of certifications:

Open Water Diver

This is the most basic level of scuba certification and it doesn’t have any prerequisites except being over the age of 10, knowing how to swim and being free of any medical conditions that prevent you from diving.

The course starts out with theoretical learning, confined water dives in swimming pools and finally, the open water dives. The course helps you figure out how to use basic scuba gear including your mask, regulator, fins, BCD and gas tank.

Scuba Diver

This course is a subset of the OWD and is suitable for those who are short on time. It provides just enough skills for short dives, up to around 12 meters deep.

Discover Scuba Diving

This course is ideal for those are interested in scuba diving but not committed enough to obtain proper certification. The lessons are conducted in a pool, by the beach or off a dive boat.

This course covers the basics about handling your scuba equipment underwater with ease, experience how scuba divers breathe underwater and just having fun in the water. it also includes an information session on the OWD certification for those who are interested.

All these courses are offered by PADI and you can cover the theoretical segment through e-lessons available on the PADI app.

Do You Need A Professional Certification?

You will need a professional certification in certain cases. This includes if you want to become a professionally certified dive instructor and if you’re interested in specialty dives such as cave diving, cold water diving, deep diving, etc. The levels of professional certification have already been covered, but we’ll walk you through some specialty certifications as well in case you’re interested:

  • Adventure Diver– ideal for those interested in underwater photography, diving in dry suits and exploring marine life.
  • AWARE Shark Conservation– find out more about the importance of sharks to the ecosystem and what you can do to protect them.
  • Coral Reef Conservation– a theoretical training session, similar to the Shark Conservation one.
  • Cavern Diver– you’ll learn about the equipment needed for cavern diving and experience exploring caves firsthand.
  • Night Diver– the ocean is even more magical at night than it is during the day. The Night Diver course will help you obtain the certification needed to experience this magic.
  • Ice Diver– if you love a little thrill and adventure, you’ll want to enroll for the Ice Diver Certification. Not only do you get the chance to swim in freezing waters, but you also get to see marine life few people have ever had the opportunity of witnessing.

There are many other specialty courses that help you explore the depths of scuba diving. If you’re interested, you can contact PADI to find out about a particular course you’re in search of.

How Long will a Scuba Certification Last?

If you are certified through PADI, your scuba certification will not expire. Even if you have an OWD, you’re certified for life. However, if you haven’t dived for a long period of time, it’s recommended that you refresh your scuba skills through Review and ReActivate classes at PADI or any other refresher course offered by your dive institute.

Are there different Certifications between the US and Europe?

While certain certifications are restricted to the region you obtain it in, certification from renowned institutes such as PADI are valid anywhere across the globe. Generally, dive institutes have to meet ISO standards to be internationally certifiable.

Once you’re certified, you’ll receive a card (resembles an identity card) that will signify where the card is valid. Wherever you dive, you will need to show your card first.

Child Scuba Diving

Do Children need Certification?

All scuba certifications, even the most basic ones such as the OWD require you to be at least 10 years of age or older. However, there are some courses designed for children who are even younger:

Bubble Maker Program

The Bubblemaker program lets children have fun in the water. For children who are 8 years old and above, the course provides scuba gear for them to breathe underwater and lets them swim in shallow waters. The maximum depth that can be reached is 2 meters (6 feet) and training includes the use of children’s scuba equipment.

In fact, for your water-loving children, you can even throw a Bubblemaker party to get the fun started.

PADI Seal Team

For children who are 8 or older, the Seal Team program includes fun sessions known as Aqua Missions where children can take pictures underwater, explore shipwrecks, learn about specialty diving, etc. once you’re old enough for actual scuba certifications, your Seal Team credits will provide you with an advantage when you reach OWD level.

In short, yes children do need certification, and if they want to pursue scuba diving professionally, they will need to be 10 years old or more. Even at this point, they will receive junior certification and can only be professionally certified once they cross the age of 15.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, before you can actually scuba dive, you need at least a basic level of training. If you just want to experience it as a once in a lifetime thing and just want to see the bright corals and marine life, basic certification is sufficient.

If you want to do something more exciting like shipwreck diving, you’ll need professional specialty certification.

If you want to turn your scuba diving passion into a full-time career, you’ll need to cover a number of levels of professional certification until you become a Course Director.

Basically, any type of scuba diving requires certification, but the level of certification depends on your level of interest in the sport.