First time diving - which course is right for you?

One of the biggest questions we get asked is "I'd like to try diving, which course is right for me?", so we thought this blog may be able to offer some help in deciding.  


Course options

First, let's look at what options are available to someone wanting to learn to dive. As a non qualified diver, you have 3 options; a Discover Scuba Dive, the Scuba Diver course, or the full Open Water Diver course. So what are the differences?

The Discover Scuba Dive is a dive experience where the aim of the session is to show you the basics for diving, how to be comfortable and safe underwater and then go for a shallow dive to let you experience what scuba diving is all about. This involves a little bit of online theory, a briefing by an instructor, skill practice in confined water followed by a dive, and generally takes 60-90 minutes in total. It's enjoyable and at the end of the session you will have completed a scuba dive, but you won't be a qualified diver.

The Open Water Diver course is a little more intense - a lot more theory, a lot more time in the water, but at the end of the course you will be qualified to dive to 18 metres, all over the world, with a dive buddy. The course teaches you what you need to know to be safe underwater. It usually takes 3 full days to complete and about 9 hours of online theory before the course starts. 

There is another option, which is a half way house between the Discover Scuba Dive and Open Water Diver. This is called the Scuba Diver course, and qualifies you to dive to a maximum depth of 12 metres with a dive professional. 

A dive experience

The Discover Scuba Dive (commonly called a "try-dive" and abbreviated to "DSD") is the perfect first step for many people due to its versatility and ease of access. It gives an introduction to the basics of scuba diving, and takes you on a fun, exploratory dive, without going into an overwhelming amount of detail, or taking too much time. In a nutshell, it gives you everything you need to know to be safe while diving under the close and direct supervision of a dive professional, allowing you to quickly experience a whole new world.

As such, the DSD is perfect for people who:

  • Are just curious and want to see what diving is all about
  • Want a fun experience while on holiday
  • Are a little nervous, and want a gentle introduction to see if they like it
  • Are interested in doing a course in the future, but want to try it out first
  • Don't have the time or the funds to commit to a course

The whole experience can be done in just one morning or afternoon. It starts with around 15 minutes of online theory (which can be done in advance, or on the day). This is followed by a dive briefing, making sure that you understand what to do and how the equipment works. Then we head down to the sea - there is a short skill session in the shallows where we teach you how to use the equipment safely underwater, and then once everybody is comfortable, we go for a guided dive exploring along our house reef.

Once successfully completed, your experience will be registered on the PADI database, so there will be a permanent record of your dive. If you want to take it further, there are options to complete a second dive in a suitable location, such as the shallow parts of the reef at Cirkewwa, or the famous shipwreck of the HMS Maori near Valetta. And if you do get the bug, the option to continue on to the full course afterwards is always there.

Becoming a qualified diver

For many, a simple dive experience isn't enough. Becoming a qualified diver gives you the freedom to explore many dives sites beyond the Discover Scuba Diving limits, and the flexibility to buddy up with other qualified divers. It gives you a more thorough understanding of dive theory, trains you for emergency situations, and improves your dive skills so that your dives are more comfortable and enjoyable. It also means you're not having to sit through a basic introduction to diving every time you want to get in to the water.

With the Discover Scuba Diving experience, you are very limited in which dive sites you are able to dive. So for anyone who wants to dive more than once, or anyone interested in exploring a wider variety of dive sites, becoming qualified is a no-brainer. 

The courses consist of three parts: theory, confined water, and open water.

The theory portion of the course is completed online, in your own time. This gives you the flexibility to work at your own pace, in an environment that suits you best. Once complete, there is an exam to test your knowledge, which is also completed online, followed by a quick review at the dive centre, where we make sure you have understood all the key concepts. Our friendly staff are on hand throughout your course to answer any questions you might have and help you with any topics that you may be struggling with.

The confined water sessions (CW for short) are basically your skill-training sessions. These only take place in calm, clear, and shallow areas. There are five separate skill sessions, and the skills taught start off simple and progress to complex as you learn. The dives are performance-based, which means we will not progress to the more complex sessions until the earlier sessions have been mastered - meaning, once again, that you will progress at your own pace. Skills consist of a mixture of safety procedures (e.g. buddy checks, safe entry and exit techniques), dive skills (e.g. finning techniques, buoyancy control), and emergency scenarios (e.g. flooded mask, loss of primary air supply). As we complete these sessions in a sheltered area of our house reef in Saint Paul's Bay, we also have plenty of opportunity to see exciting marine life, even in the training sessions.

Then we have the open water dives (OW for short). This is where the fun really starts. We complete four full dives - some will be on our house reef, and some will be at other dive sites around the island. During the open water dives, you will be putting all your previously-learned dive skills into practice, with an emphasis on dive planning and preparation. This is where you really learn to become a diver, your hard work starts to pay off, and you get to truly enjoy some quality diving.

Open Water or Scuba Diver?

So, why are there two different entry-level courses, and what is the difference?

Actually, they start off exactly the same - the Scuba Diver course is basically the first half of the full Open Water Diver course. As such, it takes roughly half the time - half of the theory, half of the confined water skill sessions, and half of the open water dives. It's a great option for those who are limited on time, or lack the confidence to complete the full Open Water course. However, there are some limitations with the certification: While the Open Water Diver course qualifies you to dive to a maximum depth of 18 metres, with any other qualified diver, the Scuba Diver course qualifies you to dive to a maximum depth of 12 metres, and you must always dive under the direct supervision of a dive professional. 

 Scuba Diver Course  Open Water Diver Course
Maximum Depth 12 metres 18 metres
Can buddy with Dive professional only Any other qualified diver
Theory 3 chapters (~5 hours) 5 chapters (~9 hours)
Confined Water 3 sessions 5 sessions
Open Water dives 2 dives 4 dives
Total duration 1-2 days 3-4 days
Total cost €315 €450


The great thing about the Scuba Diver course is that you can always continue where you left off and complete the full Open Water Diver course at a later date, if you wish - you will just have to complete a quick refresher beforehand. Sometimes, even when enrolled in the full Open Water course, a diver may not be quite ready to qualify. In this situation, the Scuba Diver option can give them a recognition of achievement and a formal qualification, and the additional training required to meet Open Water standard can, again, always be completed at a later date if required.

Enough... just tell me what to do!!

Ok, ok - that's why you're here, after all! 

If you are interested in learning to dive, then the Open Water Diver course should be your first option: click here to book your course

If you:

  • know you want to achieve a qualification, but you don't have the time to complete the full open water course while you are on holiday, or it doesn't quite fit into your budget right now
  • are nervous, and you know you don't ever want to dive without a dive professional guiding you, or there are no sites deeper than 12 metres that you are interested in

Then the Scuba Diver course is a great place to start: click here to book your course

If you:

  • Are just curious and want to see what diving is all about
  • Want a fun experience while on holiday
  • Are a little nervous, and want a gentle introduction to see if you like it
  • Are interested in doing a course in the future, but want to try it out first
  • Don't have the time or the funds to commit to either course

then Discover Scuba Diving is your perfect introduction: click here to book your experience 

What next?

So, you're ready to book your diving dates? Or maybe you have more questions? Simply contact us at the dive centre:

+356 2134 0511

We look forward to diving with you soon :D

Written by: Susie & Ben

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