Skip to main content

Open Water Diver / english Version


„Can I do the „Open Diver“ with you?“, I am often asked.  Alternatively, I like to be asked about the „Open Water“ . People who start to be interested in diving come across the term „Open Water Diver“ relatively quickly. The name is often twisted or shortened a bit, but even then everybody knows what is meant. Many interested people are downright stunned when you tell them that there are other diving certificates. But why is that? And what is the Open Water Diver actually?

Open Water Diver – what is it?

The Open Water Diver, or OWD for short, is a diving certificate. With a diving certificate you document the successful completion of a course. In an Open Water Diver course you learn in theory the basics of recreational diving, all safety-relevant aspects and the handling of your diving equipment. You confirm your qualification in a theoretical examination and by correctly demonstrated practical exercises in the water.

The PADI Open Water Diver, or OWD for short, is the epitome of diving certification and PADI is the largest provider of courses for divers worldwide.

How did the Open Water Diver come about?

The basic prerequisite for recreational diving as we practice it today was the development of so-called autonomous light diving equipment, i.e. compressed air cylinder + regulator. Developments in this field have taken place at different times in different countries. The new sport was given a boost by the first commercially successful regulator, the „Aqualung“. For the first time a device was available, which was solid, light and affordable. The boom was additionally fueled by an American television series that introduced the new sport to a broad public.

Ignorance caused numerous diving accidents in the early years. Clubs recognized the problem and offered the first courses. Here, mainly theory was taught. Proof of such a course became a prerequisite for renting equipment or having one’s tanks filled. This was an attempt to make the sport safer. Since there were no training systems according to today’s standards, these courses conveyed the entire knowledge available to the respective instructor. One completed half a course of study. The first clubs that got involved in this field were mostly from the swimming, apnea or spearfishing scene. Finswimming training, apnea exercises, etc. played a major role. The result was very well educated and trained divers. However, the courses were so extensive that it was impossible to complete them during a vacation.

In 1966 PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, was born. PADI was not the first diving association, but it was the first to commercialize recreational diving. It provoked fierce criticism at the time, and to some extent still does, but it picked up diving in the clubs and made it a cornerstone of the recreational and tourism industry. What were the revolutionary ideas? PADI shortened the courses to a necessary „must“ in order to offer a broad mass the possibility to acquire a diving license in a reasonable time frame. At the same time, an internationally uniform and very strongly structured course system was created. The triumphal procession around the world could begin. Through massive expansion, the PADI Open Water Diver became the epitome of the diving certificate and PADI became the largest provider of courses for divers worldwide.

Early courses for divers were very theory heavy. The Open Water designation explicitly refers to open water diving.

What distinguishes the PADI Open Water Diver from „traditional“ diving certifications?

The Open Water Diver, or OWD, is clearly designed with dive tourism in mind. Customers should be introduced to diving with a minimum of effort and a maximum of fun in the course. The theory imparts basic knowledge to conduct dives safely. Elements that remind too much of „mathematics lessons“ are eliminated as far as possible. The teaching in the course is mainly done through videos and e-learning. A textbook with review questions prepares for the exam. After a short briefing in the pool or limited open water by the instructor, it’s off into the „big water“. Here, too, basic knowledge is taught first and foremost. Apnoea or fin swimming units are not included in the course. Again, the focus is on fun in addition to diving safety.

PADI shortened the courses to a necessary „must“, in order to offer the possibility to a broad mass to acquire a diving certificate in a justifiable time window.

What can I do with a PADI Open Water Diver certification?

Theoretically, you can dive with another PADI Open Water Diver, OWD for short, down to 18m. And this is where PADI’s safety approach comes into play. Of course, a newly graduated PADI Open Water Diver is at the very beginning of his diving career. Buoyancy, orientation and experience are practically non-existent. But depth limitations prevent excessive nitrogen saturation. Even without perfect dive planning, exceeding no-decompression time is nearly impossible. If the maximum ascent speed of 10 m/min is observed, a decompression accident is almost impossible. In vacation areas guided dives are standard and exactly for this the PADI Open Water Diver was developed. An instructor or guide organizes and leads the dive, the PADI Open Water Diver enjoys and paddles behind.

The depth limit of the PADI Open Water Diver, short OWD, is based on the transfer of American values into the metric system: 60 feet = 18.00 m. The no-decompression time in 18 m depth is 60 feet. The no-decompression time at 18 m is 45 min, which is the normal duration of a dive.

What other major associations for divers are there?

Other associations have also had various courses for divers in their programs for a long time. It was mainly expansion and commercial clout that made PADI the class leader. SSI set off in pursuit and has picked up speed since its acquisition by the Head Group. CMAS, with its worldwide licensees, NAUI in the North American and Pacific regions, and the IAC as the German growth are clearly behind. There is an almost unmanageable number of other diving associations and courses that remain unmentioned here. It would simply go beyond the scope.


What about the recognition of diving licenses?

Until the 90’s there were always problems with the international recognition of diving licenses. Remember the times without internet. How should a PADI Instructor in the Maldives know what the IAC is, how their courses look like? Maybe some German text on the card or in the diving passport and that’s it… In addition, there were often aversions of the associations for divers among themselves. Since 1994 or 1999 there are no more excuses. With the foundation of the RSTC and 5 years later of the WRSTC all big associations for divers were brought to one table and common minimum standards of the courses were fixed. CMAS is taking a special role in this, which will not do it any good in the long run.

The WRSTC is a federation of the largest associations for divers for the definition of common minimum standards of the courses. Based on these standards their members guarantee the worldwide recognition of their diving certificates.

Which courses are equivalent to the PADI Open Water Diver?

CMAS insists on its star system. The CMAS* diver training includes apnea and fin swim training. These courses are mostly offered at the club level. I wouldn’t count on anyone in the middle of nowhere knowing what „CMAS*“ means. And yes, I know that the training is above average….

NAUI is one of the oldest and most respected associations for divers in the world. Since they haven’t felt the commercial push of PADI, no great expansion has ever taken place. Nevertheless, they have a larger presence in Australia and China, in addition to North America. Their counterpart to the PADI Open Water Diver course is called Scuba Diver. WRSTC membership guarantees worldwide recognition of this course and uniformity of minimum standards.

The IAC is quite old school in terms of its origins. And yet they recognized the signs of the times earlier than others. As CMAS licensees, they have established their own course system in parallel, which is anchored in the WRSTC standards. So you can confidently do your Open Water Diver with an IAC Instructor.

SSI has been PADI’s most exciting competitor for years. Consistent use of digital resources in the course resulted in the SSI app, which is a dive certification, textbook, logbook and trip planner all in one. As a WRSTC member, minimum course standards are guaranteed and an SSI Open Water Diver is offered. A unique feature of SSI is the Center System. All SSI instructors must be affiliated with a center through which they are certified and which is responsible for quality control. This makes it easier to keep an eye on the black sheep among the instructors.


PADI has revolutionized the diving scene with their Open Water Diver, or OWD for short. Not because they reinvented diving, but because they adapted it to customer needs. The question must be: What do I need to teach a diver in the course so that he can safely participate in dives to a depth of 18 meters? The minimum standards of the WRSTC provide a broad, solid and safety-oriented training. You can therefore complete your Open Water Diver training with other diving associations without any problems, as long as they are members of the RSTC or WRSTC.

Ammerland, AOWD, Apen, Barßel, Cloppenburg, CMAS, Diveinstructor, Divemaster, divinglamar, drysuit, EFR, Emergency First Response, Enriched Air, Gerätetauchen, GUE, Hemmoor, IAC, Kreidesee, lamar, Lampen, Leer, lernen, liveunfiltered, Marcus, Markus, Navigation, Nitrox, Oldenburg, Ostfriesland, OWD, PADI, Personal, Rescue, scuba, tarierunginperfektion, tauchen, Tauchlehrer, Tauchschule, Trockentauchen