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How To Get Open Water Certification

   September 21st, 2022   Posted In: Articles, How-To   Tags:

How To Get Open Water Certification

Have you made the decision to get SCUBA certified? What exactly is an open water certification? Maybe you’re wondering ‘How many dives do you need for open water certification?’ or even ‘How deep do you dive for open water certification?’ Let’s answer some of your questions about the course.

First of all, there are many different SCUBA certifying agencies in the world that offer open water certification. Where you live or are going to get certified might dictate which organization you go through.

In this article, I will describe how to get an open water certification through the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). Every organization has similarities and differences in their courses. Refer to the certifying agency you will use for more detailed information about their programs.

Open Water Certification Meaning

What does ‘open water certification’ even mean? In the terms of SCUBA diving, open water is in comparison to confined water. Confined water is typically a pool or pool-like conditions. It is confined in that there are walls or barriers surrounding the water that do not allow students to wander off, and the water is calm.

Open water refers to any large body of water that is larger than a swimming pool and typical of what divers will be diving in. Getting certified in open water means you will be certified to SCUBA dive in any big lake or ocean or similar diving sites. The skills and knowledge learned in the open water certification course are very important to SCUBA dive safely.


Before starting an open water SCUBA certification course, the main thing needed is a medical form. Your certifying instructor will send this along. These diving medicals were designed and updated by diving medical professionals. Sometimes a doctor’s note will be required before any in-water activities can take place. Besides the medical form, other forms including liability releases will be signed. 

Additionally, in order to become certified, there will be a swim test outlined below. It is a good idea to swim laps in a pool and be in good physical shape to perform the swim test and SCUBA dive safely.


With PADI, there is the option to do all the book learning online, called e-learning, or to come into a classroom at a dive shop with other students and an instructor. With either option, there are five sections in the open water certification book. There are knowledge review questions at the end of each section that are answered and reviewed by an instructor. Also, there are quizzes and a final exam based on the knowledge gained from the book. Dive tables will also be taught my most, if not all, PADI instructors. 

Swim Test

I often hear the question “Do I need to be able to swim to SCUBA dive?” The answer is that you will need to be able to pass a swim test which is a 200-yard swim nonstop and a 10-minute tread/float.

Confined Water

Confined water training usually takes place in a pool. As mentioned above, this can also be pool like conditions in an open water setting such as a calm lake. The purpose of confined water is to introduce divers to essential skills and how to handle and avoid certain problems that may arise during SCUBA diving.

With PADI, there are five confined water sessions that take place typically over two or more days. Once the skills are mastered in confined water, divers move on to the open water training part of the course. 

Open Water

Open water training usually takes place in a lake or ocean. There are four open water dives that are completed for the open water certification course over at least two days. During the training sessions, only a few select skills that were learned in confined water are demonstrated by the students. Open water is mostly for students to become comfortable and work on their buoyancy skills. 


Different dive shops and instructors will require or not require that you have your own equipment during the class. Usually, students are required to have their own personal equipment such as a mask, snorkel, and fins. Even if not required, these items, especially a mask, are great to have because they fit you well. No one wants a rented mask that leaks while they are diving. Wetsuits, hoods, gloves, and booties might also be required to have. However, some places might rent these items out if they are needed in your course, i.e. you are diving somewhere cold.

The major pieces of SCUBA equipment are usually offered as rentals as part of your course fees or for additional fees. These pieces of equipment for rent include tanks, weights, regulators, computers, depth gauge, submersible pressure gauge, and buoyancy compensator device (BCD).


The cost for open water certification courses varies by location. Consult with your local dive shop for prices. Within a geographical area, prices among dive shops are usually quite comparable.


In this blog, I have used the term ‘usually’ a lot. Not just every certifying agency is slightly different in their open water certification course structures, but also dive shops and instructors could also slightly vary in terms of length of courses and logistics. Within the PADI organization, the open water certification course, as well as all other courses offered, are structured with standards so that no matter where you go in the world to get certified, you will learn the same skills. 

How to get open water certification is as easy as searching for your nearest dive shop where you want to get certified. Many people choose to get certified on vacation in an exotic place while many others choose to get certified in their hometown prior to a trip. Either choice will get you on your way to exploring the many wonders of the underwater world!

Candace is an avid scuba diver and freelance writer with a PhD in Biomedicine. She has been diving since 2002 and is currently a PADI IDC Staff Instructor. When she is not instructing, she enjoys writing about scuba and volunteering at the local aquarium where she dives with the sharks!

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