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What Are The Different SCUBA Diving Certification Levels?

   February 28th, 2022   Posted In: Articles   Tags:

What Are the Different SCUBA Diving Certification Levels?

There are many different SCUBA diving certification levels in many organizations (PADI, NAUI, SSI, TDI, etc.). While every organization varies slightly in their names and requirements of each level, they are very similar.

Basically, diving certification levels can be broken down into three main categories: 1) recreational, 2) technical, and 3) professional. I am going to focus on PADI’s system of diving certification levels.

Recreational SCUBA Diving

Open Water SCUBA Diver

The very first SCUBA diving certification level is Open Water. This course teaches the basics of becoming a diver from skills, equipment, and basic physics and physiology. There is class, pool, and open water dives involved. In the book, there are five sections to read along with five knowledge reviews to be completed and reviewed by the instructor.

SCUBA diving skills are then introduced and mastered in the pool during confined water sessions. The skills are then demonstrated in open water (i.e. ocean, lakes) on four different dives. The open water SCUBA diving certification can be completed in as little as three days or over a couple of weeks, depending on the schedule. The maximum depth limit for open water SCUBA divers is 60 feet. Usually, divers are required to have their own personal items such as mask, snorkel, fins, wetsuit, booties, gloves, or hood, depending on the dive environment.

Advanced Open Water SCUBA Diver

The advanced open water SCUBA diving certification level introduces divers to five different specialty areas. It can also improve their ability to think like a diver. There are two required dives: deep and navigation. The other three adventure dives are chosen by the student and instructor for what is of interest and appropriate to the dive site. In addition to the dives, there are five corresponding knowledge reviews to be completed. The advanced SCUBA diver certification increases the maximum depth limit to 100 feet. It can be completed in as little as two days. Divers wishing to go to the recreational maximum depth limit of 130 feet are recommended to take the Deep Diver course.

Rescue Diver

The rescue SCUBA diving certification level teaches divers how to self-rescue, rescue others, and prevent potential problems before they happen. This course is highly valuable to every person that wants to continue diving safely for many years to come. Additionally, divers will be required to have first aid/CPR certification. It is also highly recommended to become certified in oxygen tank use for emergency purposes. Rescue diver certification can take place over several days. Despite what the name implies, recreational rescue SCUBA divers are not involved in search and recovery efforts of people or weapons. These tasks are for public safety divers.    

Master SCUBA Diver

The master SCUBA diving certification level is the highest rank for recreational SCUBA divers. It is referred to as the “black belt of SCUBA diving”. Rather than a specific course, the master SCUBA diver title is earned over time. To earn this certification level, divers need to be certified rescue divers, logged at least 50 dives, and have 5 specialty course certifications. Once all of these items are met, an instructor will sign the paperwork for you to submit.

Technical SCUBA Diving

For divers wishing to go deeper than 130 feet, there are a variety of technical SCUBA diving certification levels. Each course is meant to train on how to safely conduct decompression dives. There are also courses on the use of different gases while diving as well as different gear setups such as sidemount and rebreather. Training in technical diving requires additional equipment and can get quite pricey. It also can get colder at depth, so proper thermal protection is needed, usually a dry suit.

Professional SCUBA Diving


The first professional SCUBA diving certification level is called divemaster. To qualify to start as a divemaster candidate, you must have advanced open water and rescue diver certifications, 40 logged dives, recent first aid/CPR training, and a dive medical. Divemasters assist instructors with their students in a variety of classes often aiding students that are having difficulty in mastering a skill or supervising student divers while the instructor works with other students. Divemasters can also teach some courses. 


There are many instructor SCUBA diving certification levels. It is the natural progression for most divemasters or assistant instructors. To begin the process to become an instructor, the diver must be 18 years old, have been certified for 6 months, be a divemaster or assistant instructor, have 60 logged dives, have a dive medical, and current primary and secondary care certification. Instructors teach many different types of classes, including those listed here, and some can teach new instructors. 

All of the different diving certification levels do not expire (professional rankings do require membership). However, if it has been a while since you have been in the water, it is recommended that you take a refresher course before going back for a dive.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are numerous SCUBA diving certification levels. Not mentioned here are numerous specialty diver courses such as wreck, photography, etc., and new specialty courses are constantly being developed. Once you become an open water SCUBA diver, keep learning! Diving is a fascinating sport and, with proper training, can take you to some incredible places all around the 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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