How long will the open water certification take?​

One of the most often asked questions we receive here at Raleigh Scuba Diving is “How long will the open water certification take?”. Like with most things in scuba diving, there are a couple of different answers with no real “right” one, but lots of different opinions. The answer depends on your personal preference, your experience and the dive shop’s business model sprinkled on top for good measure.

To be clear, our outlook on certifying students is we want to give you a great experience, make you an amazing diver but also insure you retain the knowledge we share to keep yourself and your family/friends safe when diving.

With that being said, let’s delve into how scuba classes are conducted, the agency “standards” instructors MUST adhere to, safety, student experience, and a few other things that we consider important to know BEFORE you choose your instructor or scuba shop for your training

The "standards" in every scuba class

For the purposes of understanding what standards are, agencies define specific aspects of dive training which must be adhered to by the instructor (aka – a standard). For example; under what conditions specific skills must be introduced. They’ve separated those out into two different types:

  • Pool – Pool dives are when new skills are generally introduced. For the open water certification, those skills revolve around buoyancy, mask clearing, regulator clearing and associated variations of those core skills. The first time you get into the water you should be in “pool like conditions” (according to the standards). That doesn’t necessarily mean you will be in an actual pool, but there should be minimal current, good visibility and rigid depth limits.
  • Open Water – Open water dives are conducted to get the student more experience in deeper water, see more cool stuff and usually where students demonstrate the skills they learned to their instructors. These dives may be conducted only after finishing the required skills for pool dives. Open water will also have specific requirements (such as depth) but a lot is left up to the instructor as well (limiting class size in bad visibility for example). There are scenarios where you may move forward with part of your open water dives BEFORE finishing ALL of your pool dives.

How many dives are required for open water certification?

Now comes the specifics, and probably some confusion. When it comes to defining a “dive”, most agencies do NOT consider pool training a “dive” (for logging purposes). However most instructors keep it simple at call them “dives” because, honestly, what else would you call them. PADI defines a dive as reaching a minimum depth of 15 feet for 20 minutes OR at least 1400 PSI of your gas consumed in open water. Most other agencies are similar in their definition. For your Open Water certification, the dive requirement is:

  • 5 pool dives
  • 4 open water dives

There will be some variance in the agencies on the exact number dives required but most are fairly close to this requirement. You can do multiple training dives in a day (you can do ALL pool dives or up to 3 open water training dives in a single day). There are other restrictions but we won’t get too far into that. The important part to come away with for this is there are 8 (SDI) or 9 (PADI) full slates of skills that you must go thru for your in-water training (one slate per “dive”). In other words, there is a lot to cover.

Now we get to the fun part, how class is structured. Each agency has their own standards for when a diver can begin their open water training. For PADI, each student MUST have completed dives 1-2 in the pool and a certain amount of e-learning before going doing open water dive 1. You must complete pool dive 3 before your open water dive 2, etc… So does this sound confusing yet? The reason for this structure is the student must have seen a demonstration and practiced most skills in the pool BEFORE doing it in open water. There are a couple of exceptions (navigation, SMB inflation) but these rules are designed to teach students in a safe, controlled & relaxed manner.

These skills and practices MATTER!

So how long should it take to get your open water certification?

Now that we’ve covered some of the elements you go through while learning to dive, we can better answer the question of how long should it actually take to get certified. If the open water class is structured in a particular way, it can be accomplished in as few as 2-3 days but most dive shops teach them over 4. The reason for this is simple, getting certified in 2 days is like cramming for a final exam. You may squeak by on the tests but you’ll retain very little knowledge and forget most of it in a short amount of time. As scuba diving is far more than an academic pursuit, Raleigh Scuba Diving feels cramming a certification into 2 or 3 days is an injustice to the diver, does not adhere to our core mission of training quality divers and can lead to knowledge gaps which are potentially hazardous for the student. Training over 4 days is actually more expensive for the shop and uses more resources, but this is not about our bottom line. It is about producing good quality, competent and safe divers who have the tools & knowledge to enjoy diving for a lifetime.

 When we opened our dive shop, the founders agreed we will conduct our training dives not only to standards, but exceed those standards when it is beneficial. We don’t want sitting on a platform while you wait for other students to conduct skills to be your “dive”. We mandate actual dive time for each class so you can get real world practice and guidance from our instructors. Diving is truly a community of people and we are passionate about being good stewards of our community.