Practicing neutral buoyancy skills during the Open Water diving certification course.
Practicing neutral buoyancy skills during the Open Water diving certification course. Photo: Steve Howard / Pixabay

If you are thinking about going scuba diving then you will have come across the term ‘open water diver certification.’ But what does it mean exactly, and how deep does it allow you to go? We cover this, and more, such as refreshers, referrals, and what to expect when getting your open water diver certification below!

What is an Open Water Diver Certification?

An Open Water diver certification is also known as a licence to go scuba diving. It is the first level that you can achieve in recreational scuba diving. This certification allows you and another certified diver to scuba dive together, within your training limits.

The certification is proof that you have completed all the necessary practical skills and theoretical skills needed with scuba diving. It is generally recognized around the world. You may receive this certification or licence through a diving agency.

There are many scuba diving agencies to choose from, and they will follow similar protocols in training. Some well-known diving agencies include; PADI, SSI, RAID, BSAC, NAUI, SDI, and more.

Read More: Differences between the Open Water certification vs. Scuba Diver certification

How Deep can you Scuba Dive with Open Water Certification?

In your open water diving certification you will have a maximum training depth that you should adhere to. This is because you will have only been trained to dive at that certain depth. Generally, the open water certification will allow you to dive to a maximum of 18 – 20 meters or 60 – 65 feet.

Read More: How Deep Can You Scuba Dive?

Open Water Diver Depth

PADI Open Water Divers are certified to go to a depth of 18 meters or 60 feet.

SSI (Scuba Schools International) Open Water limit is 18 meters or 60 feet.

BSAC (British Sub Aqua Club) Ocean Diver limit is 20 meters or 65 feet.

RAID Open Water 20 limit is 20 meters or 65 feet.

NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) is 18 meters or 60 feet.

CMAS (Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques) 1 Star Diver limit is 20 meters or 65 feet.

SDI (Scuba Diving International) Open Water Scuba Diver limit is 18 meters or 60 feet.

The reason is because there are more risks and considerations when diving to even deeper depths.

If you feel the need to dive deeper than your certification, then you should consider the option of more training and completing the next certification.

Read More: The Differences between NAUI vs. PADI

PADI Junior Open Water

The PADI Junior Open Water Diver course is similar to the adult certification program but with smaller teacher-to-student ratios and shallower depths depending on the age. The minimum age for the PADI Junior Open Water course is 10 years old.

After certification, 10-11 year olds must only scuba dive with a parent, guardian, or a PADI Professional (Divemaster level or higher). They are restricted to a maximum depth of 12 meters / 40 feet.

After certification, 12 – 14 year olds must dive with an adult certified diver. Therefore, two 14 year olds cannot buddy up and dive alone. They are allowed to dive to the maximum Open Water depth of 18 meters / 60 feet.

When the diver turns 15 years old, their Junior certification automatically switches to the standard PADI Open Water certification. To receive a new PADI card (or at least, an updated photo!) for your certification card, you can head to the PADI website, login, and upload a new photo.

PADI Scuba Swim Test

In the Open Water diver course, there is a mandatory swim test and a float test in the water.

Before Open Water Dive 2, you will need to have demonstrated that you can comfortably float in water too deep to stand in, for 10 minutes, without the use of any swim aids. The easiest way to do this is to lay back flat on the water. You can also tread water during this time.

The scuba swim test consists of completing a 200 meter continuous surface swim without any aid OR, a 300 meter swim with mask, fins, and snorkel. This can be done at any time during your course, and before certification.

The swim float test required in the PADI Open Water scuba diving course
PADI Instructor Emma, supervising the mandatory swim/float test in the Open Water diving certification course.

Open Water Diver Referral

An Open Water Diver referral is when an instructor provides training documentation to another instructor when you are part-way through your Open Water course. It is especially handy if you need or want to finish your course at another location.

Most commonly, a referral will be used if you completed your confined skills in a swimming pool where you live, and then decide to do the Open Water dives in the ocean while on holiday.

Referrals can also be given if you struggle with a certain portion of the open water course, and decide to take a break before resuming your course. The instructor will sign off what you have already completed, so you don’t need to go through the whole course again (unless you choose to do so).

Referrals expire 12 months from the date of the last training segment.

PADI Open Water Diver Refresher

An open water diver refresher means that you are already a certified open water diver, but have not dived recently so you will need to undertake a ‘refresher’ course. This is usually quite a quick process with a professional diver, eg. a Dive Master or an Instructor.

It will consist of going through a Knowledge Review to ensure you remember the basic theory of scuba diving, and then a short water skills practice and assessment with the dive professional.

PADI suggests that if you have not dived for six months or longer, then you should do a refresher course. However, this is just a recommendation, and will depend mainly on your experience level; how many dives you have done in the past, and what conditions you are used to diving in.

To check if you need an Open Water diver refresher, you should speak to the dive centre and a scuba diving professional.

PADI Open Water Final Assessment

To complete your Open Water diver certification you will have successfully passed a theory exam (super easy, don’t worry), and mastered all of the skills that PADI (or whichever training agency you are diving with) has outlined in their Open Water course.

Chances are that if you paid attention during your course and listened to your instructor, then you should have no problem with the theory assessment. The PADI theory exam is a multiple choice exam with questions that you will have covered several times during your course. It is a mixture of what to do in emergency scenarios, knowing the scuba equipment and their uses, and remembering the depth limits of your training depth.

Thousands of people get their Open Water scuba diver certification each year, including children from 10 years and up! It is an incredible gateway and licence to explore the underwater world. By completing the Open Water course you will have gained extensive diving knowledge, life-saving skills, and the ability to breathe and swim underwater!

Emma was initially terrified of the deep ocean but dived right into scuba diving years ago and hasn't looked back since! After completing her PADI DiveMaster certification and with a Bachelor of Communications (Media) background in film-making, Emma started her scuba career as an Underwater Videographer before becoming a full-time PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer. She taught and certified hundreds of PADI scuba divers as Open Water Divers, Rescue Divers, Deep Specialty Divers, Dive Masters and more, and then managed several Dive Centres. Her favourite fish (which is also tattooed on her arm) is the Barracuda!