Types of diving courses

Once you've got the basics the next natural step is to improve your skills and build your confidence with all manner of exciting specialities from underwater naturalist to wreck diver.
Open Water; Advanced; Rescue; Wreck and Peak Performance Buoyancy: at first glance the different types of diving courses out there might seem overwhelming, but, brilliantly, they all follow a pretty direct and distinct route only diverting into niche territory as you log a certain amount of dives within each course category. Unless you’re pushed for time, your first foray into the scuba world will be to achieve your Open Water Diver certification. From there, you can branch out according to what you enjoy, be that photography, night diving, or fish identification, or focus on branching up through the course category ranks in search of diving’s Holy Grail: the Master Scuba Diver qualification. We’ve outlined each of the main types of diving courses to make it easier to choose.

Scuba Diver Course

The Scuba Diver course is best suited to those that want to become a diver, but are short on time. It isn’t offered by all scuba diving holiday operators, but it can be a sensible choice for someone who isn’t sure how confident they will feel in the water. Effectively, it’s an intermediate step towards your Open Water Diver certification and consists of three half days over which you’ll complete three of the five required theory sections, three of the five required confined water dives, and two of the four required open water dives. You’ll complete the course able to dive under the supervision of a professional to a maximum depth of 12m and can pick up where you left off to obtain you Open Water Diver qualification when you have more time.

Open water diver

The Open Water Diver course is where it all really starts – all you need is to be over 10 years old, have adequate swimming skills and be in (medically certified) good health. The course is straightforward and consists of three phases. Firstly, theory, or ‘knowledge development’, which involves studying online, independently or in a classroom to get you up to scratch with the basic principles of scuba diving. Secondly, five confined water dives to learn all of the basic skills. Lastly, four open water dives to put your skills and knowledge into practice and start exploring the magnificent underwater world now available to you.

Adventure Diver

Who wouldn’t want to be an Adventure Diver? It’s got the most ‘007’ name of all of the courses and there is a very cool list of scuba adventures, or ‘specialty’ dives, that you’ll need to complete three of to gain your Adventure Diver certification. The Adventure Diver course is a subset of the Open Water Diver course that you’ll need to get under your belt first before you’re free to tailor your specialty dives and learn more about what it is that floats your boat, be that peak performance buoyancy, night diving or fish identification.

Advanced Open Water Diver

You don’t need to be advanced to take this course, rather it advances your existing diving skills. You have to be at least 12 years old to take the course, and to have passed your Open water Diver certification, after which you’re free to plan your advanced learning path with your instructor by successfully logging a total of five ‘specialty’ dives. Two are mandatory: ‘Deep’ – to equip you to deal with the physiological effects of deeper scuba diving, and ‘Underwater Navigation’ – to fine tune your compass, visual landmark and time skills. The other three are entirely up to you.

Rescue diver

Rescue Divers are the emergency services of the underwater kingdom and this course is hallowed as the most challenging, but most rewarding, of all diving courses. It’s all about learning to prevent and manage problems that might occur under the water – not just for you, but for others too. You’ll need to be at least 12 years old and have gained your Advanced Open Water qualification with Underwater Navigation specialty dive, plus you need to have completed a CPR and First Aid training course within the past 24 months. You may study this alongside your Rescue Diver certification, it’ll just mean adding more work to an already pretty heavy course.

Master Scuba Diver

If you ever reach the point in your life where you can flash your Master Scuba Diver card, you’ve made it – fewer than 2 percent of scuba divers ever achieve this elite rating, which is earned by sheer hard diving graft through a gamut of underwater experience. As well as your Open Water, Advanced Open Water, and Rescue Diver qualifications, you’ll need five additional Specialty Diver certifications and to have logged a minimum of 50 dives to achieve such scuba greatness.

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Scuba Diving Specialties

Underwater Naturalist

Pre-requisites: age 10+, Open Water Diver
This specialty diving course furthers your knowledge about why some creatures behave the way they do and what their roles are in the bigger aquatic picture. You’ll learn about all the major aquatic life groupings; the role of plants, food chains, and predator-prey relationships; how to interact with marine life responsibly, and all about each organism’s role in the underwater environment.

Fish identification

Pre-requisites: age 10+, Open Water Diver
It’s likely the most common question you’ll ask your dive instructor is ‘what was that fish?’ So, if you want all the answers at your own fingertips, a Fish Identification specialty diving course is the way forward. Recognising what it is that’s swimming alongside you will not only give you knowledge of lots of species and how they differ across the continents, but will enhance your overall enjoyment of the diving experience, too.

Night diver

Pre-requisites: age 12+, Open Water Diver
There is one main reason most of us shudder at the thought of the sea at night and that one reason is Jaws. But, a) he wasn’t real and b) your instructor will make sure you don’t get eaten by anything on a night dive and will instead introduce you to a hugely mysterious and spellbindingly beautiful nocturnal kingdom. Even if you’ve dived the same site numerous times it will appear entirely new under the bright glow of your dive light. Thrillingly, it will also be inhabited by a wholly different set of weird and wonderful creatures.

Wreck Diver

Pre-requisites: age 15+, Adventure Diver
Ever since the Titanic broke its bow on an iceberg, wrecks of ships, planes and cars have held fascination, especially when sunk to the bottom of a seabed and teeming with brightly coloured aquatic life. A Wreck Diver specialty course is the ultimate underwater adventure, but will also give you an insight into the historical and cultural significance of the wreck, show you how to survey and map it properly, and teach you how to explore it responsibly with minimum damage or disturbance to its inhabitants.

Ice diver

Pre-requisites: age 18+, Advanced Open Water Diver
Winter sees many bodies of water covered with thick ice – conditions that drive water skiers and fisherman away, but draw ice divers in. To become an ice diver, you need to learn how to handle specialised equipment and safety lines as well as learn a whole new language of signals and communications, not to mention how to cut holes in ice that can reach a thickness of 6ft. Once you’re gazing up at the frozen ceiling, you’ll be confronted with a highly unique situation, so if extreme, unusual and challenging is a combination that makes your heart beat faster then this one’s definitely for you.


Pre-requisites: age 18+, Rescue Diver, 40 logged dives to begin and 60 to qualify
For those who catch the diving bug really badly, becoming a Divemaster is about honing your knowledge and skills to a professional level with a view to becoming a mentor and motivator of newbie divers, supervising activities and assisting with training. Whether you want to pack in your day job and become a dive instructor in a far flung destination, or get a weekend job at your local dive shop, the Divemaster Course is geared those who want to dive as a career, not as a hobby.

Open Water Scuba Instructor

Pre-requisites: age 18+, Divemaster certified for a min of 6 months, 60 logged dives to begin and 100 to sit your Instructor Examination (IE)
Deciding to become a fully fledged scuba diving instructor takes hours of diving and a proper commitment, but once you’re there you’re free to teach scuba diving wherever you please. You’ll need to be a qualified Divemaster first before taking on the Instructor Development Course, which is sat in three parts. Pass all of those and you’re free to share your love of all things aquatic with the world.
Lynne Gillis, from our supplier, Dive Urge, shares her opinion on the different types of diving courses available: “’Deep’ and ‘Underwater Navigation’ are the two essential specialty dives you need under your belt to become an Advanced Open Water Diver, but we add a third one – Peak Performance Buoyancy (PPB), which is about getting your buoyancy right. It’s the number one environmental skill that you can apply while diving in terms of bashing into things and getting too close to the corals and not knowing how to get out. We take divers far away from all of the corals and the fish to a sort of underwater play park where we teach them how to feel very comfortable with themselves and their equipment while refining their technique for better control over where they are positioned in the water. Everyone finds it useful and good fun too.”
Written by Polly Humphris
Photo credits: [Page banner: Rich Carey] [Top box: TANAKA Juuyoh] [Scuba diver course: eGuide Travel] [Advanced open water: Pascal van de Vendel] [Underwater naturalist: National Marine Sanctuaries] [Wreck diver: Reiseuhu] [Open water scuba instructor: Nik MacMillan]