What To Expect From Your Open Water Diving Course

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What to Expect from your Open Water Diving Course

Have you been thinking about diving but not sure what to expect? Until Recently I didn’t even realise you needed a licence to be able to dive but there is a lot you need to learn to make sure you have fun and safe dives. Find out here what to expect from your open water diving course.


Which Organisation to Use? 

The first question you need to think about is which dive certification organisation to use. There are many organisations out there but which ones are available will depend on the location you do your course. I did my Open Water in Thailand and my choices were PADI and SSI.

What to Expect from your Open Water Diving Course

I hadn’t planned to go diving on this trip so I hadn’t researched who was better. I had heard of PADI and knew they were a worldwide organisation but the SSI course was cheaper so I wasn’t sure who to use. I spoke to the dive shop about them and he said that both were the same and there was no real advantage of using PADI over SSI.

In fact, SSI was more flexible with their training which means you don’t have to a pass one section before moving on to the next. You can come back to it later after you’ve gained a little more confidence under the water.


What Does the Course Entail? 

So you’ve signed up for one of the courses but what does that mean? As a student taking on the Open Water course you are agreeing to:

  • Study the Manual and Videos

  • Complete academic review sessions and pool sessions

  • Complete open water dives

What to Expect from your Open Water Diving Course


Open Water Manual

I’m afraid there is a bit of study work involved with the Open Water Course. While diving is great fun it also poses a lot of risks if you are unprepared. Before you click away let me assure you it’s easy, simple and well worth sitting through!

If I had opted for PADI I would have been given a manual to keep but as I was backpacking around Asia at the time I really didn’t fancy adding a thick book to my backpack! Thankfully with SSI I just had one on loan from the dive centre so I didn’t have to worry about finding room for it.

What I also liked about SSI is you can download a free app for your phone that has the manual on it. It also has little quizzes at the end of each chapter. The app is also handy to have as you can electronically store all your dives on it and have a digital copy of your license.


Open Water Videos

As well as having a bit of studying to do from the manuals there are also some videos to watch. Some people learn better from watching than reading so they are making sure the information gets to the student. I’m not going to lie, the videos are the boring, outdated kind you get made to watch at school. It sucks but it’s something you have to do briefly in order to be allowed to dive.

Another reason that I went for SSI over PADI was that the training videos were shorter. PADI videos go over everything twice which makes them twice as long. If you learn better by watching this could be a good one for you but as I learn better by doing there was no need for me to watch everything twice. The information didn’t really start sinking into my head until I hit the water but we all learn differently so it depends on what works best for you.

What to Expect from your Open Water Diving Course


Academic Review Sessions

To make sure the information is starting to get through to you there are review questions at the end of each videos. Don’t panic though, they are simple. It’s just a case of filling in the missing words from sentences and you can have the manual open in front of you! It’s not an exam, just a way of making sure you didn’t miss the important bits in the videos. It’s really easy I promise!


Open Water Exam

I’m sorry, there is an exam that you do need to pass in order to get your Open Water Diving License. Before you click away there is nothing to fear from this exam. It’s a simple multiple choice exam that you only need to get 75% correct in order to pass. Oh and it’s also designed to be easy enough for 10 year olds to pass!

Don’t forget, you’ve also just studied these things so they’ll be fresh in your mind. The manual shows what are key facts so I just flicked through those before my exam as a little refresher.

What to Expect from your Open Water Diving Course

Like I said, it’s an easy exam but if you do fail what happens? Do you need to redo the whole course? Of course not! Your instructor will go over the wrong answers with you and all you have to do is take another test. The test only takes about 15 minutes so it’s very little bother if you do have to take it again!

When do you take this exam? Well it’s actually up to you and your instructor really. I was asked if I wanted to do it after the first day of diving or second. After he pointed out that most people don’t want to do an exam after completing their final dive I agreed to do it before my final day of diving. After we returned I quickly flipped through the manual while he prepared the test, then I simply took it, passed it and that was it. All over.


Pool Sessions

Your Open Water Course is more about the practical side which is why the theory and exam stuff is quick and easy. Before you get taken out for an actual dive you’ll need to practice the skills in safe, shallow water. They say you should have 6 pool sessions but the instructor is left to decide how many each student needs. Most try and fit everything in to one longer session.

When I did mine we went to the beach for our training as I did mine on an small island in Thailand. The training is done in shallow water that covers your head when you sit down but you can easily stand up in if you feel uncomfortable with a certain task.

What to Expect from your Open Water Diving Course

During the pool session there are a set of skills you must show the instructor you are comfortable with. In reality, they are all easy but each individual will find some easier than others. I did not like having to take my mask off under the water but was quite comfortable taking my regulator out (the thing you breath through).


What sort of skills will you learn?

  • How to do a controlled descent
  • How to mantain buoyancy underwater
  • How to clear your mask when water gets in
  • How to clean your mask if it get foggy
  • How to completely remove your mask and put it back on underwater
  • How to clear the regulator of water if it’s had to leave your mouth
  • How to find your regulator if it should fall out
  • How to communicate with your buddy underwater
  • How to remove weights in case of emergency
  • How to do a controlled ascent
  • How to do an uncontrolled ascent
  • How to do a buddy breathing ascent
  • How to remove and then put on your equipment underwater


While it may not seem like it at the time, all of the skills are necessary to have. When you’re diving you can only communicate with simple hand signals and you can’t rush up to the surface to speak. During one of my dives I suddenly had the urge to cough which kept getting stronger. I had no idea what to do but because we had practiced it I was comfortable to simply take out my regulator, cough, and then return it to my mouth.


Going on the Open Water Dives

Once you’ve done some theory, learnt some skills and demonstrated to your instructor you’re comfortable with them it’s finally time to get out in the water. To pass your Open Water Course you will need to complete four open water dives. Each dive school will be slightly different in there approach but when I did my Open Water with Phi Phi Sea Frogs they had a boat to take us out into the ocean.

There were several people coming out on the boat but I was only diving with my instructor and another girl who was doing a refresher dive. She wanted to practice controlling her buoyancy underwater so us working together during our dives made sense.

Phi Phi Sea Frogs Boat

That’s what you want from your dive centre. You want one that treats you as individuals with individual needs rather than customers to just take money from. This is why I liked that the Sea Frogs were taking everyone out in different groups, each with their own instructor or dive master.

During your open water dives you’ll be experiencing one of the different ways of entering the ocean. There are several ways of doing it but as I was on a boat for mine I had the jump. Well, technically it’s more of a large step. If you’re entering from the beach though you will be shown how to do that instead.

What to Expect from your Open Water Diving Course

Once you are in the water you will slowly descent like you practiced but this time going down further. The trick here is to remember what you were taught during your pool sessions and remain calm. Just remember that you are in safe hands and there is someone there keeping a very close eye on you.

During your dives you will repeat some of the training exercises from the pool to make sure you are still familiar with them. All the dives will be slightly different but you will probably be doing some games along the way too. We did several to practice floating because that’s what we needed to learn.

What to Expect from your Open Water Diving Course

All divers will tell you that everyone handles diving differently when learning but everyone has moments of feeling uncomfortable as it’s a completely new experience and there’s lots going through your mind. During my second dive I had a massive panic attack that almost stopped me coming back to finish the Open Water Course.

The trick is to stay calm as panic leads to mistakes and mistakes can cause serious health problems. I don’t say this to scare anyone but it is true. If you have all the skills under your belt you will be fine. I found I relaxed when distracted by the beauty around me.


Why Go Diving?

Diving isn’t for everyone but it opens you up to a whole new world. I had always loved snorkelling so being able to go deeper was an unbelievable experience. I’m so happy with my decision to start diving. There are so many amazing things to be seen under the sea. I can’t wait to explore more dive sites all around the world.

What to Expect from your Open Water Diving Course



I hope this has helped show what you can expect from your Open Water Diving Course. It may seem like a lot of work but it is worth it and diving quickly becomes an addiction! 



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What to Expect from your Open Water Diving Course

10 Responses

  1. I’ve been considering doing an open water diving course for a while now but for one reason or another, never got around to it. This information is actually really reassuring as honestly, I was a bit nervous that I would be thrown in at the literal deep end but clearly, there are lots of baby steps before diving right in. Thanks for putting at least some of my fears to rest!

  2. I’ve always admired the gorgeous images divers can take, but I don’t know if I will ever work up the nerve to take the plunge. It is nice to hear all the steps involved. I was under the impression I would have to start right in with ocean diving.

  3. Really useful post. I’m planning on doing a PADI course when I get to Koh Tao so it’s good to read and get some more detail on what the course actually entails! How long ago did you do it? Have you managed to dive much since then?
    Sarah recently posted…Buxa Fort: Staying in an Indian Hill Village

  4. Thanks for sharing! We have been thinking about doing a PADI course during our travels but not really done much research about it. I didn’t know about all the studying and exams that you must do to pass, I just presumed that you get taken out with an instructor a few times! So this is good to know!
    Paul recently posted…The ultimate guide to Vietnam by motorbike: Advice from a 7 week adventure!

  5. I’ve been diving for 7 years now, and I don’t regret getting certified, studying and doing the pool sessions at all. In those 7 years I’ve taken also the Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver, Divemaster and Nitrox Course and I’m always looking for more. I’ve especially loved the Rescue Diver Course because it teaches you soooo much!

    Have fun diving! Happy bubbles

  6. I have scuba dived once and would love to get certified. The only thing is that I have panicked a few times when I was snorkelling because of the breathing. I think I always will be scared of diving sickness. But apart from that, I would love to it is a dream of me to do professional underwater photography. Thank you for sharing this info 😀

  7. Always thought how amazing these underwater photos are and how lucky the divers are. Never really thought though that it takes actual courses and exams. The post is really useful and full of practical information!

  8. With my daughter coming to visit me in the Philippines next week, this has come at the right time. She has asked to do a diving course so I’ll forward the post to her.
    Lots of good useful information here. Im surprised that the exam is so easy though. I might even try some myself.

  9. Very detailed post and it sounds like you’ve covered a lot of ground. I’m don’t plan on open water diving, but I love see photos of people in the deep and the sealife they see.
    Lara Dunning recently posted…A Dream Big, Travel Small THANK YOU!

  10. Hi Claire,

    Thanks for the detailed breakdown here. I recall our neighbor being a dive instructor when we were living in Koh Lanta. He regularly suggested we visit the tank to get a feel for diving; me and my wife still have a decent fear of diving so we declined 😉 Looks like an amazing way to see the world underwater. Maybe I will dive in to my fears and the sea one day 😉


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