When we talk about PADI certification levels, we often mention PADI’s core courses. But what’s considered a “core” course?

There isn’t a strict definition, but it’s fair to say: any course that’s a prerequisite for both Master Scuba Diver™ and Divemaster is a core course.

This includes:

In case you’re not familiar with the difference between Master Scuba Diver and Divemaster: Master Scuba Diver is considered the “black belt” of recreational scuba diving while the PADI® Divemaster course is the first professional-level scuba course.


PADI Certification Levels Flow Chart

In the PADI course flow chart below, all the core courses are shown in blue along the top. Master Scuba Diver is also shown in blue, but it’s a rating denoting achievement, not a course. 

PADI certification levels chart for recreational and professional diving

As the chart above shows, every new diver starts with Open Water Diver. After Open Water Diver, divers can try different types of specialty diving in addition to or as part of their Advanced Open Water Diver training. To become a Rescue Diver or take certain specialties, an Advanced Open Water Diver certification is required.


Open Water Diver

PADI Open Water Diver is the first core course. It will transform you from a curious landlubber into an underwater ambassador. 

Interested in learning how to scuba dive? Here are some helpful articles about earning your first scuba certification:

Not sure if scuba diving is for you? Try a Discover Scuba Diving experience. You can also sign up for the free online course: Introduction to Open Water Diver.


Advanced Open Water Diver

The PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course, sometimes shortened to “AOW,” is all about gaining experience and trying new things. It’s a core course, but there’s no exam and very little reading compared to the Open Water Diver course.

A common misconception about the Advanced Open Water Diver course is that it’s for experienced divers only, but that’s not true. The goal of AOW is to advance your skills, not push the limits of recreational diving.

During the Advanced Open Water Diver course, you’ll:

  1. Make a deep dive with your instructor
  2. Practice navigation topside and underwater

The rest is up to you! Tell your instructor what interests you (underwater photography, fish identification, wreck diving, etc.) and give it a try. The Advanced Open Water Diver course is like a specialty diving sampler platter.


Rescue Diver

The third core course is PADI Rescue Diver. In my opinion, it’s the most transformational course after Open Water Diver. 

When asked, “What scuba course was your favorite?”, countless people say Rescue Diver. It’s hard to explain until you’ve gone through the course, but Rescue Diver is serious fun. You’ll build confidence and become a better dive buddy as you practice identifying and fixing different problems.


PADI Scuba Courses Online

No matter where you’re at in your scuba diving journey, you can advance your skills anytime and anywhere with PADI eLearning®. Start your training online and finish with a PADI Instructor, Dive Center or Resort anywhere in the world.

Not sure what your next step should be? Ask a scuba diving expert. Click the button below to connect with a PADI Dive Shop.


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