The Open Water Diver Course – Your Entrance into another World as a Certified Diver
[reading time: approx. 7 mins.]
In this blog post we’ll be talking about getting a certified diver: the Open Water Diver Course and it’s price, duration, the theory and practical part and the differences between PADI and SSI.
(The following information are from our own experience and also well-researched, but can of course change as time goes on.)
The Open Water Diver
The Open Water Diver (short: OWD) Course is an initial diver training that allows - after the successful completion - diving with a dive buddy and a guide until a depth of 18 meters.
Most divers worldwide begin with this course. If you’re not sure yet if you’ll like diving, you can do a Try Scuba Dive in advance. Have a look here for further information about the Try Scuba.
The OWD course is split in a theory and a practical part. There are two different ways to learn the theory: at home before your holiday or at the diving center mixed with the practical part. We definitely prefer the at home (online) version, it’s the best way to save time on your holiday and you’ll already get excited before.
Easy learning with the SSI App
What you’ll learn about:
some introducing facts about the ocean, the marine life and its reefs
all parts of your diving gear:
wetsuit: against freezing (optional with shoes and a hood
regulator: for breathing underwater
octopus: your second regulator for any emergencies
jacket: for ascending/descending
inflator: for air control in your jacket
finimeter: to control your remaining air
tank: contains your air
ABC equipment (mask, fins and perhaps a snorkel)
computer: to control your actual depth and diving time
weight belt: without this you would dive on the surface
First row: wetsuit, jacket & inflator, computer, mask & snorkel
Second row: regulator & octopus, finimeter, shoes, fins, tank
the diving basics like breathing smooth and steady, ascending slowly, doing a safety stop at the end of your dive and not going further if anything feels uncomfortable
most common ways how to equalize your ears (for sure you know the uncomfortable feeling in the airplane), e.g. pinching your nose while gently blowing air out (called the valsalva method) or maybe just swallowing works for you as well (for me it’s the best method)
very important but easy physical laws (e.g. Boyle’s law) to understand why and how your body and your equipment changes under the pressure of the water
the most important dive signs for an uncomplicated communication, like “everything ok”, “I have a problem with my ears”, “I have 100 bar left”, “I want to descend/ascend”, “No air” or “Look at that octopus/turtle/moray/shark” and so one, there is a sign for anything you want to express
the right usage of your lungs and your BCD (buoyancy control device, part of your diving equipment) to descend or ascend in the water
how to calculate your air consumption to plan a dive correctly
the different ways for an emergency ascent if you get out of air
and last but not least: the different diving diseases and how to react right in the case of emergency
Don’t be discouraged now, it may sound pretty much at the moment, but it’s so much fun learning something new and you don’t need to know everything by heart of course. If there are any uncertainties, write them down and ask your diving center on site. Your diving instructor will check your knowledge anyway before the theory test and will run through the most important points with you again.
Now let's talk about diving
The OWD Course is like getting your driving license, the theory is often boring and exhausting in the beginning and the practical part is exciting but sometimes you’ll push your limits. But then when you’re allowed to dive, it’s just so much fun! So let’s come one step closer to the fun part:
What you’ll get to learn in the practical part:
The three most important points (which you also need to do in the Try Scuba) are mask clearing, pretending to lose your regulator and bring it back into your mouth and breathing out of your buddy’s octopus (your diving partners second regulator – in case of running out of air).
The only difference to the Try Scuba is that you’ll not only let a small amount of water inside your mask for the exercise – you’ll flood your mask completely. Not at the first try, but at least you should be able to do it at some point, because the advanced exercise for this is taking off the mask completely and putting it on again underwater.
And to be honest – it doesn’t just sound hard, it really is. Maybe some of you won’t have any problems with this exercise, but we know a few people who are struggling with it, including me (Tami). I needed lots of training and repetitions until I finally did it. It was only in my head, but I couldn’t help it.
But that was really the only hard part, the rest is easy going.
Another exercise is to take off your jacket (while still breathing) and then of course take it on again, so it’s maybe a little bit tricky, but nothing to get nervous of about.
Furthermore you’ll do some exercises with the buoyancy. It’s one of the most important things for the safety of yourself as well as for your environment to be neutrally balanced – meaning to float underwater.
We saw so many people, not only beginners, diving in front of us and while they had no control about their buoyancy they touched and broke some corals with their fins, swirled up all the sand making it impossible for us to take good pictures and in addition to these aspects, it’s also not good for your body always going up and down and up and down.
A good example for a diver without a good buoyancy
In the course you’ll learn how to be neutrally balanced but honestly, the more you dive the better you get. So don't stress yourself, it will not work immediately.
Another small exercise is navigating and the right handling with a compass. No worries, you should not dive on your own, it’s just to show you how a compass works and how to use it underwater.
Our last practical point now is the uncontrolled and the controlled emergency ascent. In case of an emergency, e.g. running out of air or having any other problems with your equipment, you should swim to the surface as soon as it’s possible – which doesn’t mean immediately. Another important rule applies here: First think then act.
You need to do the controlled emergency ascent when there’s a chance to reach the surface with your remaining air, just by slowly swimming to the surface while constantly exhaling. When you can’t do that because you’re for example too deep, you’ll need to do the uncontrolled one. This one includes removing your weight belt and ascending pretty fast, while also exhaling constantly.
The uncontrolled ascent should always be the last opportunity because you can have several diseases afterwards. But everything’s better than drowning in the depth, right?
In the OWD you’ll of course practice all exercises in a safe depth and no one will ever put pressure on you when you’re not ready yet! Take your time when you’re not feeling safe!
When you start searching for a suitable diving center you will notice that the words SSI (Scuba Schools International) or PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) appear on their websites or even on a flag in front of the center. That’s the name of the organization the diving center belongs to, means they teach and dive according to the standards of this organization.
There are several others, less known organizations, but we’ll just talk about these two. For us it was never a question of choosing a smaller organization, because now on our travels we’ll for sure always find our organization to dive with (which is SSI) and make further courses.
In general PADI and SSI are qualitatively equivalent and their OWD license is accepted worldwide. As the OWD is the first course in your divers career, it’s not that important where you do it because you can still switch the organization after that one to absolve additional courses with another organization.
There are only two main differences in the OWD course which we will now shortly point out:
1. PADI is more strict when it comes to the course plan, whereas SSI is more flexible in their course units and adapts more to the needs of the new divers.
2. Usually the PADI OWD is a little bit more expensive in comparison to the SSI course, because you need to buy a book for learning the theory.
That’s it already. Maybe there are some small differences in the execution of the exercises, but they depend on the diving instructor, the country and the diving center as well, so that’s nothing important.
Our conclusion here is to just decide on a diving center that you feel comfortable with or maybe already got some personal recommendations of friends. If you want some help on this, read the blogpost about: How to Find a Suitable Diving Center for Beginners.
The Duration of the OWD Course
The duration is not fixed and depends on your experience (maybe you did some Try Dives before) and if you’re studying the theory already at home. But it can be said that usually the course takes between 3 and 5 days with a minimum of four to six dives.
Example: Our course on Malta took 3 days, but we studied the theory with the online training at home and already had five Try Scuba Dives before the course (Fun Fact: for a while we didn’t have enough money for the OWD so we always just did Try Dives).
The price varies widely among different diving schools and depends on the location and the organization. In addition to the course itself you’ll always need teaching material, the rental equipment (assuming that you don’t have your own equipment) and finally the certification fee. Sometimes all that is included in the total price for the OWD, sometimes not, so have a look on that or ask if you can’t find it out, otherwise they will probably charge you way more than expected.
A few price examples (including everything): We made our OWD with the Extra Divers Malta and paid 420 Euro. On Koh Tao we would’ve paid 11.000 Baht (around 290 Euro) and in Australia 800 AUD (around 510 Euro), although we’ve also seen diving centers that would’ve charged 1.000 AUD.
You see, it varies a lot depending to the location and the living standards there.
Pro Tip: Once you’ve decided on a diving center, ask them if you need a medical statement that shows that your lungs, heart and general condition are suitable for diving. In some countries it’s legally required to have that proved before your dive, and that shouldn’t ruin your chance to do the OWD.
Certified Open Water Diver
After the OWD you can call yourself a certified Open Water Diver, congratulatioooons. You can now do one dive after another until a depth of 18 meters to become more confident while diving and already start thinking about your next course that allows you to go deeper. With SSI that would be the Deep Diver Course (40 meters) or with PADI the Advanced Open Water (30 meters).
Pro Tip: When you’re done with your OWD and your next dives are fun dives (without a course) you should have a diving insurance. We have the dive card basic from AquaMedbut luckily(!) we can’t tell you about any personal experiences with that insurance. We chose this one because it is very well known and really not expensive despite all the insurance conditions.
We hope you’ll have a lot of fun with your OWD course and we would love to hear about your experience in the comments below.
If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Tami & Chris