The PADI Open Water Course is the most popular and famous entry level scuba diving course in the world and enables anyone that is relatively fit to safely explore the underwater world. The course is aimed at all ages from 10 years old and the course materials will be available in 24 languages by the end of 2015.
When PADI contacted Crystal 2 years ago and asked if we would be interested in participating in the beta testing of their new and revised Open water course we happily agreed. Last December (2014) we became the first diving school on Koh Tao to fully integrate the ‘new’ course into our day to day scuba diving training activities at Crystal Dive.
So, What’s Actually New?
At first glance not much has changed within the main course framework. Every new diver still works the three main sections; knowledge development, confined water training and open water training on their way to becoming a certified Open water diver.
The knowledge development section has been developed and is presented using various support material, along with instructor led presentations. The educational materials include videos and each student receives their own copy of the PADI Open Water Manual.
This manual contains open book Knowledge Reviews. PADI Instructors also use Quizzes & Exams to test their students understanding of the important concepts.
The second part of the training course is the Confined Water training. Ideally this should be conducted in a swimming pool – as we do at Crystal Dive where we have three training pools. In this shallow, safe and clear environment student divers are initially introduced to, and spend time practicing important skills. Some of these skills, such as how to clear water from your mask, divers use on most dives.
Other skills, such as how to share air with your buddy if you run out, will hopefully never be needed in the future. And of course it’s not all staged skills.
We try and keep this as fun as possibly with plenty of swimming, allowing you to get used to your buoyancy.
The third and final portion of the course, and the real reason you signed up for the Open water course, is the four Open Water training dives. This is where you put all the new skills you have learnt into practice.
During the first two training dives, with a maximum depth of twelve meters you spend time practicing to swim naturally. This is done predominately over nice sandy bottoms running alongside the coral reef – this way you don’t hurt yourself, or damage the underwater environment but still get to see lots of marine life.
On the final day, you complete the final two dives, this time with a maximum depth of 18 metres. This will be the depth you are certified to as a new Open water diver.
Should you wish to dive deeper, then you can complete the PADI Advanced Open Water Course immediately after. This will introduce you to different diving environments, such as Night diving, and Wreck diving, allow you to complete a Deep dive to a maximum depth of 30 metres and teach you new skills such as Navigationwhich will give you more experience and confidence.
This format isn’t new. It has existed for the PADI Open Water Course for several decades and it’s a proven, safe and established concept.
So What Has Actually Changed?
Dive Theory – New & Revised Educational Materials
Let’s have a look at the Knowledge Development first: PADI initially produced brand new materials – PADI Open Water Manual & Videos- in eight core languages and by the end of 2015 will have released 24 languages in total.
These are up-to-date, when it comes to modern Equipment and diving techniques (for example Dive Computer versus Dive Tables) and are more simply come more appealingly designed with a more modern look.
Furthermore PADI now produce the Open water materials in several different multimedia formats. As well as updating the existing materials, including their PADI eLearning which was introduced several years ago, PADI now offer a range of Online-Manuals. In 2015 this is becoming more the way we carry our ‘books’.
PADI’s new options allow the user to download the manual on a Smartphone or Tablet. And the recently released ‘PADI Open Water Touch’ integrates the Open water manual, videos and transfers Knowledge interactively.
No matter which of these options you choose, they all offer you the opportunity to prepare optimally for the course, or to refresh your knowledge, after a period of inactivity prior to your next scuba diving holiday. And this can save precious holiday time, which you can then spend doing what you came on holiday to do – Scuba Dive!
Here at Crystal Dive we offer all PADI’s options and with our standard Open Water package every student receives an Online-Manual. This saves carrying the paper manual in your luggage, is multilingual and saves trees!
Swimming Pool Training – More Time For Practice and Fun!
PADI made considerably more changes with the development of the diving skills in shallow water. Obviously the basic skills are still all there. At the beginning, the first skill you will complete is taking your first breaths underwater, and the course structure still employs simple to complex in the order of skills you will complete – an example being partial clear mask, remove and replace mask, no mask swim.
However, PADI have also introduced several new skills and at the end of the confined water training there is now a short dive – or Mini dive as it is refereed to – allowing you more time for practice and fun.
A few key points that I believe are important:
Very Important – You’re Dive Buddy!
The Buddy System has a lot of advantages: it’s more practical, for example when you don your equipment and safer for example when you have to deal with a Cramp or other problems and obviously having a buddy with you to share your experiences makes diving much more fun. There is now more focus on actually diving in the future (after the course) with your buddy.
Dive buddies practice swimming as a team underwater and on the surface, repeat descents and ascents together, whereas the old course tended to result in the student diver focusing more on their Instructor with the limited focus on their buddy tending to consist of basic communication such as asking each other how much air you have remaining.
Big focus on air management
To know at all times, how much air is remaining in your tank is an essential ‘new’ skill you will learn on the new PADI Open water course.
My students need to check their own air supply and the air supply of their buddies frequently.
If I ask during a dive (which I will from time to time) I expect my students to know and signal their remaining air supply within 20 Bar (a full tank has 200 Bar, the reserve/time to finished the dive is 50 Bar) without needing to actually check your air gauge.
With a little practice this teaches new divers to take responsibility, for both their own and their buddy’s safety.
More Buoyancy Control
Another focus of the new revised course is an increase in the development of buoyancy control, as well as swimming techniques, both under water and at the surface. Not only will this make the Open Water Dives more relaxed but it helps protect our underwater world if we move correctly and avoid touching the reef or bottom. Correctly weighting yourself is an important skill, as is practicing Hovering in mid water, to find the right ‘Trim’ (where to position the weights) and finally the swimming practice.
We simulate this in our swimming pool, envisaging the bottom of the pool as a coral reef, practice descending and ascending without touching the bottom – another new skill in the PADI Open Water Course.
Another aspect of buoyancy control you will use generally on every dive (at the start and end) but especially in an emergency situation is achieving and maintaining positively buoyant on the surface. To accommodate this one of the revised skills requires you to drop your weights in a simulated emergency situation.
Buoyancy control is one of most important skills for scuba divers and it is important you practice in order to master your buoyancy. A lot of our new Open Water Divers decide to take the Peak Performance Buoyancy Adventure Dive as part of the PADI Advanced Open Water or sign up for the Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty Course after their Open Water Course.
Self-Assessment & Minidive
Personally, I find this a very important change. Offering student divers more opportunity for self-assessment and allowing them to complete a little dive ‘on their own’. The ‘Minidive’, conducted in the pool is one of the most positive changes introduced in the new Open Water Course Format.
To assist with this PADI developed an underwater slate called the PADI Skill Practice Slate. This lists all newly learned skills and asks our student divers to decide whether they are confident with that skill or would like more practice.
On the other side of the slate is the PADI Dive Planning slate. This lists all the points divers need to consider and agree with their buddy when planning a dive.
In Buddy teams, you then use this to plan your own dive. Points include entry and exit Techniques, direction to swim, communication and buddy checks.
There are also other considerations such as dive time and depth plan, although not so important for the swimming pool we use these during the open water training dives.
As the Instructor, my role at this point is one of observer, although I usually assign left here a few small problems (a cramp or lost mask for example), which you can solve in your buddy teams.
Generally, the new Open Water Course has more focus on repetition & practice.
Theoretically a group with 4 students, on average would complete the old open water course confined water training skills in a few hours- although once the skill has been mastered we move on. However, the more practice and repetition, the more confident we’ll be on our future, open water dives.
From this perspective the new revised confined water training section is my favourite part and I am glad, that here at Crystal Dive we now spend an addition session completing the confined water training. And it shows!
The difference on Open water training dive 1 now, compared with 18 months ago when I was teaching the old open water diver course is significant and my student divers are much more comfortable and confident and most certainly enjoy their first dive.
Open Water Dives – Time To Put Everything Into Practice
The four Open Water Dives are obviously the highlight for every student. And this hasn’t changed with the introduction of the new revised course. The skills on the new version are better sequenced, flexible and more spread across the training dives then previously.
This leaves more time for fun and to more focus on important general skills like maintaining contact with your buddy, knowing each other’s air supply and checking time on dive computers.
This is something Crystal Dive has taken a leading role on Koh Tao. All our student divers now are now issued with their own dive computer, contained in their instrument console for all their open water training dives.
Divers learn more about dive planning, and ascents and descents, after initial practice you’re your Instructor, are then done with your Buddy – just like a certified diver would do in a real, non training open water dive although obviously I’m still there watching and evaluating you.
The final dive of the course is designed to allow you, the students, to plan your own dive. This will include the agreeing on an objective for the dive, a plan to follow; which direction to go, time, depth etc and at what point you will finish with a Safety Stop. All this is done, as if I (your Instructor) isn’t there with you – even though I am and still keeping a close eye on you.
So What’s Better?
From my personal point of view PADI’s ‘New’ Open Water Course is definitely an improvement on the previous course and as such is a positive Development. It is more hands on, offers more opportunity for practice during the course, and personal responsibility for our divers at the end of the course. We spend more time in the water and less time in the classroom – another obvious benefit.
The additional time spent in the confined water can sometimes be a little more tiring but its well worth it and it’s still better spending time in the water than in a classroom!
Overall, when comparing my newly training Open water divers of 2015, to those from 2013, there is a noticeable difference, and with Dive 4 offering few set skills, virtually just a fun dive it’s well worth it!
It is this moment when a lot of our divers decide to continue their scuba diving adventures and enroll on the PADI Advanced Open Water Course immediately after completing the Open water course.
The revised Open Water Diver Course produces better divers. That is beyond doubt. However, the five Adventure dives scheduled over just 2 days, gives you, as a new diver the fine tuning and insight into different dive adventures such as Deep or Wreck Diving that will really turn you into confident and independent diver.
Author: Carsten Neuhaus (PADI MI #479404)