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PADI Recreational Scuba Diving Certification Levels

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a PADI Scuba Diver and a PADI Open Water Diver or a Divemaster and a Master Diver? With so much information online it can be confusing to know what the different titles mean and what order to take the courses in – and yes, there is an order! In this Blog we aim to clear up any confusion and explain each of the levels in sequence.

PADI Discover Scuba Diving Experiences

These are not scuba diving certifications but they are diving experiences that enable you to try scuba diving with an Instructor. During your Discover Scuba Diving experience, you will learn some basic diving theory, try out some skills in our pool and you have the option to make a dive in the ocean. If you think that you would like to go on to become certified in the future, let your instructor know and your pool session and dive can count towards your open water course!

PADI Scuba Diver

The PADI Scuba Diver is roughly the first three fifths of the PADI Open Water Course – making it an ideal option for those who do not have enough time to complete the full Open Water course. It can be upgraded to Open Water later by taking the remaining two fifths. PADI Scuba Divers can dive to a maximum depth of 12m / 40 feet providing they are accompanied by a professional diver.

PADI Open Water Diver

This is the first level of autonomous recreational diver – meaning that once certified you will be able to dive with any other diver – you won’t need to dive with a professional. To take the PADI Open Water Course you need to be a minimum of 10 years old, have a reasonable level of fitness, and feel comfortable in the water.

During the course you will complete five theory sessions, five dives in the pool, and four dives in the ocean. This is a lifetime certification allowing you to dive to a maximum depth of 18m / 60 feet. NOTE: If you do not dive for an extended period of time after certification it is recommended to take a refresher course.

PADI Advanced Open Water Diver

To take the PADI Advanced Open Water Course you need to be a certified Open Water Diver. Despite the name, you do not need to be an advanced diver to take this course. The aim is to advance your skills during the course by trying five different types of diving. You will need to make a mandatory underwater navigation dive and a deep dive and the other three dives are your choice. The five dives are known as Adventure dives and if you only have time to complete three of them, you will be certified as an Adventure Diver - which can be upgraded to Advanced Open Water once you have made your remaining two dives.

After completing the Advanced Open Water course your new depth limit will be 30 meters / 100 feet, giving you access to even more dive sites and underwater experiences!

PADI Rescue Diver

The PADI Rescue Diver course focuses on developing you into a much safer diver, capable of preventing problems and dealing with emergencies in the unlikely case that they occur. You’ll learn self rescue techniques as well as how to carry out underwater searches, how to manage resources, and how to handle both surface and underwater rescues of others.

To take the PADI Rescue Diver course you need to be an Advanced Open Water Diver and have an approved CPR and First Aid certificate (dated within the last 24 months). If you aren’t yet CPR and First Aid certified, you can take the Emergency First Response with us here in Koh Tao before starting your Rescue Diver course (see below).

Emergency First Response

The Emergency First Response course is a comprehensive First Aid and CPR course that takes one day to complete. There are no diving entry requirements for this course.

You will learn how to assess the scene of an incident and how to keep yourself safe through the use of barriers. You will learn how to deal with responsive and non-responsive individuals, spinal injuries, serious bleeding, how to splint injuries, and bandaging. You will also learn how to carry out illness assessments, how to react in an emergency, how to handle a multiple casualty scenario, and how to maintain someone’s lifeline through CPR while waiting for emergency services to arrive. This is an invaluable course with real-world application.

PADI Master Scuba Diver

The PADI Master Scuba Diver is the highest level of recreational diver – also known as the black belt of diving!

To be certified as a Master Scuba Diver you need to be a PADI Rescue Diver AND have completed 5 different Specialty courses. Specialty diver courses usually include theory sessions and 2-4 dives with your instructor. If you choose a Specialty course that you also completed an Adventure dive for, your Adventure dive will count as your first Specialty course dive. Once you have completed 5 Specialty courses you can apply immediately for your Master Scuba Diver Certification!

Specialty Courses at FIFTY SIX DIVE

Here in Koh Tao we have incredible conditions for an entire range of PADI Specialty courses. Whether you want to try a sidemount configueration, try your hand at underwater photography, or simply work on your buoyancy.

Here are three of our most popular specialty courses:

Go deep diving with us here in Koh Tao and get certified to 40 metres - the maximum limit for recreational diving! Deep diving on Koh Tao is an absolute dream due to the number of dive sites we have to explore - a plethora of untouched deeper wrecks, reefs, granite pinnacles, and walls that take you far beyond what the average diver will ever see.

Take the wreck diving specialty with us and learn the skills you need to plan and execute wreck dives safely and comfortably. Wreck diving is one of the most fascinating aspects of scuba diving – especially when you are certified to explore inside the wreck. When you wreck dive with us you’ll also have the chance to explore the sunken remains of the magnificent HTMS Sattakut.

The Enriched Air Nitrox specialty is the best specialty certification to help you maximise your dive time by staying underwater for longer with shorter surface intervals. How does this work? Using enriched air reduces your nitrogen load during each dive – and during your specialty course you’ll learn the science behind the theory.

Now that you have a clearer picture about the available PADI courses and the order of flow, what’s your next step? If you are ready to get started in diving, or want to continue your PADI education, get in touch!

For more information or to make a reservation, contact us on or fill out our contact form and we’ll get right back to you.

We look forward to welcoming you to diving in Koh Tao soon!

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