PADI’s Advanced Open Water Diver course appears to be a divisive and contentious issue among divers. If you visit a scuba forum and search “PADI AOWD”, you’ll quickly find numerous threads bemoaning the course (strangely enough, usually from divers certified under different agencies).
What is it?
If you are unaware, the course comprises 5 dives, including the Deep Adventure Dive, the Underwater Navigation Adventure Dive, and three elective dives that the student, with the aid of their instructor, choose from a list of approximately 18 other Adventure Dives. The students are also required to study the Adventures in Diving manual and complete the corresponding Knowledge Review sections at the end of the chapters, which they then go over with their instructor. The idea of the course is for divers to gain more experience, skills, and knowledge while diving with a PADI professional. It is also designed so divers can try new activities, such as night diving for example, in a controlled manner (i.e. with an instructor) and then decide for themselves if they would like to make further such dives, with an instructor present (by taking a PADI Specialty course), or without. On successful completion of the course, the diver earns the certification level “Advanced Open Water Diver” and can dive to a maximum recommended depth of 30m. Why is the course contentious? The crux of this debate is in the interpretation of the word 'Advanced' in its title. On one side of the debate, people defend the use of the word in that it refers to the training accurately as being more comprehensive (i.e. more advanced) than the entry-level course (i.e. Open Water Diver). While the counterargument is the course (with only 5 dives) does not truly elevate any diver to the status of “Advanced” (i.e. expert). So who’s right? Ah, that’s the million-dollar question and I think this argument is set to run for as long as there is diving. Personally, after congratulating my students when they complete the course, I then have a chat with them about how I hope they appreciate that 5 dives don’t make anyone an “Advanced Diver”, it just entitles them to make more advanced dives, and the only way to truly become “Advanced” is by making more dives and building up their experience levels. How soon is now? Another point of contention is the course is generally marketed at novice, or newly qualified divers, who can take the course immediately on completion of the Open Water Diver course thus earning the right to call themselves “Advanced Divers” with only 9 logged dives. I originally thought it wasn’t a good idea to immediately start the AOWD course after completing the Open Water course and would advise students to log some dives before doing so. I’ve since changed my mind, to a certain extent anyway. I can’t see a problem with divers making additional dives under the guidance of an instructor after completing their Open Water course (after all, this reflects most educational systems), but I do worry that some divers then equate only earning certification cards with diving. Certification cards on their own signify very little, they have to be balanced with actual dive experience.