Which level of certification
PADI training courses are divided into 4 levels: Elementary, Advanced, Rescue and Professional courses.
Elementary courses: DSD, Scuba Diver & Open water
These entry level courses are designed to get you started in diving and give you the confidence to progress to more advanced courses.
1. Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) is more of an experience program designed for you to have fun than a course.
2. Scuba Diver is a subset and approximately half of the Open Water course, Scuba Diver is designed for people that dont have the time or ability to complete the entire Open Water course, once certified you will be able to dive with a PADI professional to a maximum depth of (Divemaster - 6m / 20ft, Instructor 12m / 40ft).
3. The Open Water (OW) course is designed to teach you the basics of diving and to make you a safe diver, you will learn basic dive theory, underwater skills, buoyancy control and dive planning, after certification you will be able to dive with a buddy most places in the world to a maximum depth of 18m / 60ft.
Advanced courses: Adventure Diver & Advanced Open Water
Advanced courses are deisgned to widen your abilities so that you can dive on a lot more dive sites around the world, they provide you with more confidence under the water, and give you a taster of what the specialty courses are like.
1. Adventure Diver is a subset of the Advanced Open Water course, it consists of two required dives and one elective dive; Deep, which certifies you to go to 30m / 98ftin the future, Navigation where you are taught how to navigate around dive sites in a buddy team and an elective dive; one many people choose is Night, which certifies them to do night dives in the future; this course is usually only for people short on time. The majority continue onto the full advanced course after open water.
2. Advanced Open Water is just the addition of 2 further elective dives, elective dives are the first dive of any of the specialties
3. Specialties are designed for those that find a particular subject of interest, for example if you like deep dives and want to be able to go to 40m / 131ft (maximum depth for recreational divers) then you can complete 3 further deep dives and become deep certified; there are more than 16 different specialities to master.
There are NO quizes, very little theory work and only basic skills in the advanced course. Advanced is designed to be fun and extend your experience with an instructor next to you; by the time you finish you should feel confident in diving deeper and navigating around dive sites with your buddy.
Rescue: EFR & Rescue diver
The EFR & Rescue diver courses, often described as "serious fun", provides you with a solid background in emergency care / accident response and
in-water rescue senarios; this next level of training moves your awarness from being on you and your buddy to other divers on the dive site; it provides you with a lot more confidence in the water and enables you to act on emergency situations in and out of the water, it is also a prequisite to the Dive Master
Professional: Diver Master and above
Dive Master is the first professional qualification in PADI, this does not mean you have to work as a dive master once qualified, you can still dive for recreation; a lot of people do their dive master certification because its extends their diving ability and awareness considerably more than non-professional levels; as part of the training you assist on courses, practice the required in water skills to demonstration level, learn how to map dive sites and lead fun divers around them as well as gaining a solid grounding in dive theory. After Dive master there are further professional level qualifications such as Assistant Instructor, Instructor, MSDT, Staff Instructor, Master Instructor and finally
What level do I need?
This is entirly up to you, how much you like diving, where you want to go diving, what types of diving you want to try and whether you want to do it as a profession.
As a very basic I would recommend doing both the open water and advanced courses together, this may sound a lot but if you do the open water course and then wait a while before completing your advanced you may find that you have forgotten a lot of the basics, completing the advanced course straight after the open water really solidifies what you have learnt and you will remember it better next time you go diving.