What is the PADI Open Water course?

The steps involved in earning your golden ticket to the magical underwater world.

28 July 2020

By Danel Wentzel

We often look to the sky and wonder what it would be like to be in space and experience zero-gravity. But why don’t we look to our oceans and think the same thing? The incredible feeling of weightlessness, the wonders that the ocean hold and the beautiful marine life are only some of the reasons why we scuba dive.

PADI is an international diver training organisation that teaches a range of courses from the Discover Scuba Diving experience to Rescue Diver and beyond. The PADI Open Water course is the entry level certification that will enable you to dive with a buddy, unsupervised to a depth of 18 metres.


There are some prerequisites you will need before starting your PADI Open Water course. The minimum age is 10 years old and any divers 14 or younger, will receive a PADI Junior certification. During a water skills assessment, you will be asked to complete a 200m continuous surface swim of a pool or confined open water. After the swim, you will need to tread or float in water too deep to stand for at least 10 minutes.

You will also be asked to fill out a medical form of 10 or more questions to determine if you are fit to dive. Don’t worry if you answer yes to any of the questions, you will just need to have a consultation and approval by a physician before starting any in-water activity.

We have an article where we talk more about the Diver Medical Form, including a link for you to download it.

Knowledge Development

The specific schedule of the PADI Open Water course can vary depending on your instructor or dive centre so here we will just mention the content and practical sessions. Firstly you will need to go through the theory behind scuba diving, learning about the challenges involved and how we can dive safely.

This can all be done at home on either iOS, Android or desktop. You will need to download the PADI Library app and accommodate for a 1.4GB download for the Open Water course.

The knowledge development is split into 5 sections, with each section having interactive reading material with built-in videos followed by a knowledge review.

The knowledge review will be automatically marked and if any incorrect answers, it will replay the relevant video that explains the concept in question. From there you may move onto a 10 question quiz where you will need 8 out of 10 to pass.

After completing each of the 5 sections you will have access to the 50 question exam, where you will need 75% to pass. There is an additional section called the eRDPmL, that will teach you about the recreational dive planner RDP. There is a 5 question quiz, followed by a 10 question exam, where you will also need 75% to pass.

Once you have successfully finished the knowledge development, your instructor will receive your results and you may move onto the confined water (pool) sessions.

Learn to Dive

Well done, now you know the theory behind scuba diving, but before we jump in and start blowing bubbles, we need to first look at what are all the parts of your scuba diving gear. The instructor will run you through the different bits of gear like the cylinder, BCD, and regulator. They will then demonstrate how to assemble, disassemble and care for your gear.

Finally we get to enter the water with all our gear on and start diving. The confined water skills follow the same structure of the knowledge development, and are split into 5 sessions. The skills are broken up into surface skills, shallow water skills and skills in water too deep in which to stand.

The instructor will introduce a skill to you on the surface, where you can ask questions, and then demonstrate in a precise fluid motion how to perform the skill. Afterwards she will signal to you to perform the skill yourself. Only after you feel comfortable in doing the skill and your instructor sees you have mastered the performance requirements can you move on to the next session.

Each confined water section builds on the skills of the one before it, and it's through this repetition that will boost your confidence as a new diver. After completing each of the skills, dekitting and rinsing your gear, you will be ready for the moment you have been waiting for, your first dive in the ocean.

The 4 Ocean Dives

The last thing you need to do, to earn your golden ticket, is to prove to your instructor that you know how to plan your dive safely, perform pre-dive safety checks, maintain good neutral buoyancy without touching the reef and keep to your buddy procedures. The first dive is amazing, there is so much life and freedom compared to the confined walls of the training pool.

The open water section consists of 4 dives with the first two having a maximum depth limit of 12m, which increases to 18m for the last two dives. There are a number of skills involved but here is a short list of some of the skills you can expect:

  • Open Water 1

    • Partially flooded mask

    • Regulator recovery and clear

  • Open Water 2

    • Fully flooded mask

    • Neutral buoyancy

    • Alternate air source use and ascent

  • Open Water 3

    • Neutral buoyancy with oral inflation

    • Mask remove and replace

Open Water 4 is where you and your buddy are asked to “lead the dive”, under the direct supervision of your instructor of course. You will need to plan the dive, perform a predive safety check, descend with a visual reference, maintain buddy contact throughout the dive while demonstrating control of your buoyancy without touching the reef. When it is time to end the dive, you will signal to the instructor and ascend together no faster than 18 metres per minute.

During either of the open water dives 2, 3, and 4, you will need to perform a controlled emergency swimming ascent (CESA) and also operate a compass underwater navigating a reciprocal heading.


Congratulations, you are now a certified PADI Open Water diver! This means that you can go to a dive centre anywhere in the world and rent scuba diving gear, including a cylinder. You can plan a scuba dive, buddy up with another certified Open Water diver (or higher) and go explore a dive site up to a depth of 18 metres.

PADI Junior Open Water divers aged 10 and 11 can only dive to 12m under direct supervision of a scuba diving professional or parental guardian, and junior divers aged 12 to 14 can dive to 18m but must dive with an adult certified diver.