10 Cool PADI Scuba Diving Specialties

PADI Scuba Diving Specialties

10 cool PADI scuba diving specialities for qualified divers.

For aspiring divers looking to get started, an open-water certification can seem like the end goal (visit our Scuba Diving Intro site for more info), but as anyone with his or her C-card can attest, it’s really only the beginning. An open-water certification indicates mastery of the basic skills required to stay safe underwater, but if you really want to thrive — and enjoy diving to its fullest — it takes experience and a range of new skills, customised to your interests and the places you want to dive.

“It’s important to continue your education as a diver for several reasons,” says Karl Shreeves, PADI’s technical-development executive. “It answers the question many newly certified divers have: ‘Now what?’ Second, every course you take expands your skill set and your experience, opening doors to new diving opportunities. Third, it’s a great way to connect with other divers.”

For all these reasons and more, PADI offers a vast lineup of continuing-education courses that provide experience and training for just about any diving activity you can imagine. Both distinctive specialties, such as Mine Diver, and core specialties like Night Diver and Underwater Navigator, just to name a few, keep you current with your diving — and they’re a heck of a lot of fun.

“PADI instructors can offer two categories of specialty courses,” Shreeves says. “Standard PADI specialties have wide applications — these are core classes like Deep Diver or Digital Underwater photographer — while PADI Distinctive Specialties are created by an individual instructor, and approved by PADI, to teach a specialised skill or to highlight a unique experience in a destination.”

Core Specialty – Digital Underwater Photographer

Digital Underwater Photographer

Look around a dive boat — chances are the most experienced divers on board are the ones carefully cradling a spiderlike underwater photography rig. That’s because digital underwater photography is one of the most popular and rewarding pastimes you can spend underwater.

Carrying a camera while you dive not only lets you capture all the marine life you encounter, but it also motivates you to fine-tune buoyancy and air consumption, and it gives you a whole new perspective on the sport. A keen photographer can find a lifetime of wonder simply exploring the microcosm of a single coral head, and the pursuit of incredible images can lead you to the ends of the Earth.

Whether you have a penchant for photographing macro critters in the Coral Triangle or shark-feeding frenzies in the open somewhere like the Bahamas, the best way to get started is with PADI’s Digital Underwater photographer specialty course. Designed as a beginner photography course that specifically addresses the challenges of shooting underwater, the Digital Underwater photographer specialty uses the PADI SEA method (which stands for shoot, examine and adjust), while offering an introduction to underwater photo equipment and helping you master buoyancy.

Distinctive Specialty – Coral First Aid

coral nursery

With rising sea temps and pollution taking their toll on coral, most divers know that the building blocks of our reefs are suffering. And many dive destinations have launched reef-restoration programs to help preserve corals like the endangered acropora (staghorn) corals.

As part of any dive holiday run by DiveStyle we always make sure we are environmentally aware divers and cover various marine issues on that holiday. We organise evening lectures and dives.

One of our most popular being the Red Sea Shark expedition.

Core Specialty – Underwater Navigator

underwater navigation

If you finished your Open Water certification, and you still can’t find your way back to the boat without surfacing, don’t worry; you’re not alone. Underwater navigation is one of the most important dive skills to learn, and it’s also one of the hardest to master. Depending on visibility and the terrain of the dive site, accurately finding your way underwater can require keen natural navigation, skilful compass navigation or a complex mix of the two.

“Every dive involves navigation,” Shreeves says. “When you can navigate well, you avoid long surface swims, you always know which way to go to head to your exit, and you use your air more efficiently.” By taking the Underwater Navigator specialty, you get the inside scoop on the techniques divemasters and instructors use to keep themselves oriented at all times.

Not only will you practice estimating distances and navigating patterns, but you’ll also get comfortable with compasses and dive-site maps.

You may also consider combining this with the PADI Search & Rescue, once you have mastered the art of navigation.

Core Specialty – Dive Propulsion Vehicle

scooter diving

It’s no secret that divers love dive gadgets, especially ones that help them explore faster and farther underwater while conserving both air and energy. Enter: the PADI Diver Propulsion Vehicle specialty course.

“Learning to use the DPVs allows you to explore parts of the reefs that are unreachable without them,” says Emma Nicholsby, of Divetech on Grand Cayman. “You are able to cover more ground, allowing you the opportunity to see more of the reefs, walls and marine life on a single dive.”

But just like driving a scooter on land, they require a little training to enhance your comfort and safety, and to ensure that your ride doesn’t break down halfway through the dive. “By completing the PADI DPV specialty, you learn from our instructors the important safety factors when diving with DPVs, reef etiquette and how to control your scooter,” Nicholsby says.

Distinctive Specialty – Shark Awareness

shark diving

You don’t have to go to the Bahamas to do the Shark Awareness distinct speciality course.

Did you know that you can do this speciality right here in the UK?

Contrary to popular belief, sharks do occur around the coasts of Britain. In fact we have over 40 species! Including some of the fastest, rarest, largest and most highly migratory in the world!

How many can you name?

Don’t fancy doing this in the UK? Why not join us on one of our Far Flung holidays!

Core Specialty – Night Diver

night diving

No amount of day diving can prepare you for the thrill and challenge of descending onto a reef under the cover of darkness. “You learn that the dark isn’t scary and that a day of diving doesn’t have to end when the sun goes down,” Shreeves says. After dark, the usual fish slip into the corals to rest as nocturnal predators like octopuses and lobsters come out to play. And if you’ve never seen psychedelic displays of bioluminescent plankton exploding across a darkened reefscape, you’re in for a treat.

A Night Diver specialty course is one of the best continuing-education decisions you can make in your dive career. The class includes three night dives, during which you’ll learn everything from how to communicate with other divers using your flashlight underwater to safe entry and exit techniques, and how to navigate in the dark. Most PADI centres and instructors offer the Night Diver specialty, and awesome night dives can be found around the world, from the temperate waters of Seattle to critter-rich reefs in the South pacific.

But diving in the dark requires extra equipment — flashlights, tank markers and entry/exit lights — not to mention specialized hand signals and top-notch navigation. Taking the plunge with an experienced instructor is a great way to get the hang of it.

Distinctive Specialty – Mola Mola Diver


mola mola

One of the most unusual, hard-to-find creatures in the ocean is the mola mola, or ocean sunfish, but did you know that divers can reliably see them right here in the UK!

The Mola Mola Awareness specialty is supported by PADi’s Project AWARE, and is designed to teach divers about the biology of the rare fish and how to dive with them responsibly.

“My first encounter with the mola mola left me in awe of this magnificent, elusive, yet little-understood marine creature,” says Paul Spratt, the instructor who created the Mola Mola Awareness specialty course at Lembongan Dive center in Bali. “I had more questions about them than answers, so I started researching their behavior and the best ways to interact with them. I created the specialty to share my findings with fellow divers.”

The course includes presentations and two open-water dives. “this enables divers to have a mola mola dive in a safe, passive manner,” Spratt says.

Distinctive Specialty – Self-Reliant Diver

Bonne Terre Mine scuba diving

Although most scuba dives are made with a buddy, an experienced diver may want or need to make dives without a partner. During the Self-Reliant Diver course, you learn about potential risks of diving alone and the value of equipment redundancy and necessary back-up gear. During three scuba dives, you develop skills for self-reliance and independence, while becoming a stronger partner in a dive pair or team.

Distinctive Specialty – Sea Turtle Awareness

Homestead Crater, Utah scuba diving

There’s been a steady decline in worldwide sea turtle populations, but there are ways to fight this. Learn basic sea turtle identification, how to record sightings and conservation steps you can take. The course includes two scuba dives or two snorkelling excursions.

Core Specialty – Deep Diver

scuba diving on a wall

Diving the deeper half of the recreational diving limits — from 18 to 40 metres — can seem both seductive and daunting to a new diver. On a reef wall, it’s easy to slip into the inky-blue depths without even noticing, and many of the best ship- wreck dives lie in deep, open waters.

“As we drop below 18 metres, our air consumption goes up, our no-stop time goes down, our buoyancy declines, and we begin to feel the effects of nitrogen narcosis,” Shreeves says. “None of these are hard to deal with, but you have to know how to manage them.”

The PADI Deep Diver course is the best way to log some deep dives under the watchful eye of an instructor. Not only does the class include four deep dives, but it also introduces you to new equipment, like backup air tanks, and teaches you how to plan for and manage problems when the surface is no longer a few fin kicks away.

“The Deep Diver course opens the door to wrecks, walls and other sites in the 18 – to 40 metre range,” Shreeves says, “including some of diving’s top spots that you might otherwise miss.”

Created by Travis Marshall March 26, 2014
Edited & added to by John Campbell January 31, 2019

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