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Types of Scuba Diving & What They Entail

Last updated: November 10, 2021
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vector graphic showing divers doing different types of scuba diving

Scuba diving exposes divers to immersive underwater exploration.

If you love underwater adventures, shipwrecks, or Roman archeological ruins, then scuba diving can offer you unfathomable experiences.

Although the earliest underwater breathing devices date back to 500 BC, we’ve come a long way since hollowed reeds or the rebreather devices of the 1700s.

Modern scuba diving owes its name to the efforts of world-famous marine explorer Jacques Cousteau and engineer Emilie Gagnan.

Cousteau coined the Aqua Lung or SCUBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) in 1943.

Since then, experts, scientists, and marine explorers have evolved scuba diving equipment and expanded to new types of scuba diving.

With a world of depths and places for underwater divers, it’s no wonder that both recreational and professional diving opportunities continue to grow.

If you’re eager to venture to the fathoms below or rehearse your mermaid routine, learning about the types of scuba diving and what they entail is an excellent place to start.

Types of Scuba Diving

There are two main types of scuba diving: recreational and professional.

All scuba divers begin their underwater journey as recreational and must work their way through certifications to pursue a career associated with diving.

While freshwater and saltwater diving involves some modifications, the basic skills are similar.

vector graphic showing divers doing different types of scuba diving

Recreational Diving

Recreational diving, sometimes referred to as sports diving, is the umbrella term for leisure scuba diving.

While your motivation for underwater diving will vary, if you’re engaging in scuba activities for personal reasons, it’s probably recreational scuba diving.

Types of Recreational Diving

Since the where and when of recreational scuba diving is up to you, there are no required certifications or qualifications.

However, if you’re renting equipment, joining a guided group, or otherwise using paid-for services, you’ll be restricted.

On the other hand, gaining certification can open more scuba activities.

1. Drift Diving

Drift diving is all about going with the flow, literally.

Instead of a recreational diver directing their path, drift diving involves following a current, such as a river or tidal current.

It’s best to be appropriately certified and comfortable with solo scuba diving in case of unpredictable outcomes.

2. Wreck Diving

Besides visiting with marine life, scuba divers can explore shipwrecks, ruins, and artificial constructs with wreck diving or penetration diving.

If seeing drowned aircraft isn’t exciting, you might participate in efforts to secure retired or wrecked ships for creating artificial reefs.

Wreck diving can be hazardous because the experience is unpredictable.

Hazards include getting lost or trapped within the structure, encountering environmental dangers (marine life, sharp objects, abandoned chemicals, etc.), improper preparation, or limited visibility.

With training and practice, a wreck diver can prevent many of these dangers.

Or, at least, prepare for the unexpected.

3. Night Diving

Night diving occurs at night. While deep dives involve some darkness, night divers experience darker water during the dive and when they resurface.

The advantage of night diving is exposure to nocturnal marine life.

Night diving can be as safe as daylight scuba diving with the right dive gear, practice, and training.

4. Deep Diving

Going further and further, deep divers experience new thrills and risks.

Any dive deeper than 60 feet is considered deep diving.

It requires knowledge of decompression, range capabilities, mixed gases, and other technical skills for the safest, most-fulfilling deep dive experience.

The deeper the dive, the more skills required.

It often goes hand in hand with a higher price.

The increased costs include equipment and training, such as a dive computer or a collection of scuba tanks for various scuba dive types.

5. Cave & Cavern Diving

Cave and cavern diving are distinct experiences, but both involve a confined water dive within a natural structure.

Cavern divers explore a mainly open area with exposure to daylight.

On the other hand, cave divers might go deep diving far from the surface.

Caves are steeper and often narrower, so divers should have plenty of practical experience before cave diving.

Additionally, caves expose divers to a different environment, more similar to wreck diving than open water.

Therefore, divers require specific techniques and scuba gear.

6. Altitude Diving

Altitude diving takes a unique approach in that you’re scuba diving above 1,000 feet above sea level.

Rather than a swim in the ocean, altitude dives take place in other bodies of water, such as mountain lakes.

Most of the skills and equipment for typical scuba diving apply here.

However, the altitude changes calculations for pressure and safety.

The general guidelines for staying safe are keeping to the shallows and extending your stops when ascending.

But, if you’re serious about challenging high-altitude dives, you should take an altitude diving course.

6. Ice Diving

Like ice fishing, ice diving involves penetrating frozen water.

However, instead of remaining cozy and bundled in an ice shack, ice divers brave the icy water.

Ice diving can be dangerous as there is usually a single entry/exit point, limited lighting, extreme cold, and overhead blockage.

However, with precautions, training, and appropriate equipment, it can be an otherworldly experience.

Additionally, ice diving is only permissible for a group outing, not a solo expedition.

7. Technical Diving

Diving agencies sometimes separate technical diving from recreational diving, as it demands more refined skills and significant scuba experience.

The definition is foggy, as many types of scuba diving include technical diving.

Still, some agencies define it as the top level of recreational diving.

Divers at this level have expanded skills, range, and equipment knowledge.

If you’re pursuing specialized diving expeditions, such as wreck diving or cavern diving, which require the ability to navigate under a ceiling or enclosed space, you’re technical diving.

Types of Professional Diving

If you’re getting paid to do it, you’re a professional.

Scuba professionals must adhere to regulations, obtain special certifications, and accept responsibility for other divers.

For professionals, scuba diving isn’t a hobby or a sport but an obligation.

For some professional scuba divers, underwater skills might be their sole area of expertise.

Other divers might master multiple disciplines to complete their specialized tasks.

Read on if you’re interested in aquatic career opportunities.

1. Rescue Diving

As you can guess from the name, rescue diving involves diver aid and emergency response.

The work and necessary specialties will vary depending on the agency or location.

However, rescue divers should have extensive knowledge of emergency response planning and first-aid training.

2. Commercial Diving

Commercial diving constitutes types of scuba diving that engage professional services underwater.

Rather than a service related to diving itself, a commercial diver works with additional trades, such as industrial, construction, or engineering workers.

3. Military Diving

Military diving includes scuba divers working for or with the armed forces.

Missions will vary depending on the military branch, but they may involve rescue, maintenance, or combat operations.

Freediving

Freediving, skin diving, extreme diving, or breath-hold diving is not scuba diving.

It uses different techniques and equipment.

While scuba diving uses a breathing apparatus, freediving uses a breath-hold.

Rather than breathing while underwater, divers hold their breath until they resurface.

There are categories within freediving, subdividing the sport, and adding regulations for records.

For example, the no-limit record, achieved by Austrian diver Herbert Nitsch, is 830 feet.

Other categories include:

  • Constant weight
  • Static apnea
  • Free immersion
  • Variable weight
  • Dynamic

Types of Scuba Diving Certifications

vector graphic showing scuba certifications from SSI, PADI, and NAUI Worldwide

Scuba certification is necessary for many types of scuba diving unless you’re satisfied exploring a swimming pool.

While some resorts allow limited scuba experiences within a confined or monitored space, many facilities are stricter.

If you want to expand those limits, it’s worth looking at some of the types of scuba diving certifications below.

It’s worth noting that not all certification takes place in the water.

There are many components, including classroom time.

So rest assured, you’ll get plenty of time in the water, but whether that’s a pool or a more extensive body of water depends on the certification level.

While anyone with a Divemaster certification can offer certification, it’s best to seek schools and courses associated with a recognized training agency.

For example, ​​PADI, SSI, NAUI, CMAS, and TDISDI are internally acknowledged agencies.

If you want to do some scuba diving while traveling, earning a certification issued by any of these will help.

How Many Scuba Diving Certifications Are There?

According to PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), there are twelve commonly recognized scuba diving certifications.

Within their twelve, five certifications for recreational scuba diving, with the remaining seven for professional certifications and skills.

Although different schools might break down courses uniquely, the certification titles are similar.

The specialized skills taught within each class may vary.

For example, some advanced scuba diving might offer limited search and rescue skills.

Beyond traditional diving, there are more certifications like enriched air (nitrox) diving, mermaiding (mermaid diving), and rebreathers (which are closed circuit as opposed to the more common open circuit scuba).

Truthfully, there’s no limit to the types of scuba diving, and so there are no final numbers for certifications.

But, we’re going to discuss the types available for traditional scuba to get you started.

Common Scuba Diving Certifications

Here are the standard scuba diving certifications and what each one entails.

Scuba Diver

If you want to get your feet wet but like the idea of having a professional nearby, the Scuba Diver certification is the best option for beginners.

While you can skip over this level and dive into the next, it can be helpful for learners with limited time, experience in water, and nervousness.

At this level, the maximum recommended depth is 40 feet.

Additionally, experts recommend diving with a certified diver rather than alone.

Your buddy doesn’t need to be an instructor, but they should have enough knowledge to recognize if you’re floundering.

Open Water Diver

The most basic level for full-fledged diver certifications is Open Water Diver.

Once you obtain this level, you can rent scuba equipment and dive alone.

Before you can graduate to another type of certification, you must start here.

But, you don’t need to go beyond the first certification.

An Open Water Dive involves:

  • Boat dives
  • Diving alone or with another person
  • Diving as deep as 60 feet

Advanced Open Water Diver

The second level advances your scuba skills for further exploration.

You need to prove your ability to navigate underwater and have a deeper understanding of buoyancy.

Consider open water diver certification for the following skills:

  • Night diving
  • Shipwreck exploration
  • Underwater photography
  • Scuba dive as deep as 100 feet

Rescue Diving

A Rescue Diving certification centers on skills for aiding other divers.

You need first-aid and CPR training before you can qualify, so it’s best to sign up for a certification course for those skills before a rescue diving course.

While you can use the certification towards a specialized career, it’s also a wise idea to add to your skillset for future group diving expeditions.

The focus of Rescue Diving includes:

  • Spotting divers in distress
  • Emergency response
  • Rescue for impaired divers

Master Diver

Master Divers must qualify for five other certifications (Scuba Diver, Open Water Diver, Advanced Open Water Diver, and Rescue Diver) and log 50 dives.

While you can certify yourself after completing the five previous diver certifications, taking additional specialized courses is wise.

For example, night diving, deep diving, or other skills you want to pursue.

However, as a Master Diver, you’ve reached the highest certification for recreational divers.

Divemaster

If you’re considering a career involving scuba diving, Divemaster is the first professional certification.

Guides and assistant instructors need divemaster certification.

You must be, at minimum, a Master Diver to qualify.

Dive Instructor

Depending on the scuba diving they’re qualified to teach, there are a few levels for dive instructors.

If you want to get involved, you can start as an assistant instructor.

You can’t certify other divers, but you can help teach and evaluate.

An Open Water Diving Instructor allows you to teach and certify an Open Water Diving course.

A Master Scuba Diver Trainer is more a badge of honor than an advancement.

The title recognizes that the individual has certified at least 25 divers and meets the qualifications for Master Diver.

An IDC Staff Instructor assists course directors or other trainers in teaching the teachers.

If you’re taking a certification to become a professional, you’ll probably interact with an IDC Staff Instructor.

However, if you’re thinking of ranking up to be the all-powerful teacher of teachers, you need to pass through this step first.

A Master Scuba Instructor is another title that recognizes accomplishments more than qualifies you to do something more.

However, you will reach this stage before reaching the ultimate professional certification level.

Master Scuba Instructors issue a minimum of 150 certifications, ten emergency courses, and three PADI seminars.

Course Director

While course director is an instructor certification, it’s the highest tier.

You can train the trainers. Course Directors have accomplished all levels of prior professional certification and most recreational certification.

However, there are probably a few mermaid-certified Course Directors.

Types of Scuba Diving Jobs

Are you thinking about getting paid while enjoying underwater breathing?

Although the possibilities are endless, we’re sharing a handful of ideas for scuba diving jobs.

We also have an article if you’re interested in how these scuba jobs rank.

vector graphic showing a scuba mask with fish in the lenses

Dive Instructor Jobs

The types of scuba diving certification listed some of the instructor jobs available, from assistant to course director.

There are some variations in between, such as teaching specialty courses.

For example, an instructor might focus on emergency and first aid or concentrate on ice diving.

Or, you can keep it simple for entry-level scuba diving lessons.

Trip Leader Jobs

Trip leaders and dive guides are like travel guides, but with a more specific scope.

While you can’t certify divers, you can lead them.

It also means you’re responsible for the safety and planning of your scuba diving troupe.

Divemaster is the minimum certification to become a trip leader.

Dive Center Jobs

You don’t need to be in the water to engage with the diving community.

However, if you prefer diving on your own time but still want a job related to your passion, a dive center job might be the perfect match.

Dive centers emphasize people skills or managerial skills, depending on the position.

Underwater Welder

Combining the skills, education, and certification required for scuba diving and welding, underwater welders deal with hard-to-reach places.

Marine Biologist

While you might not spend every day underwater as a marine biologist, it’s still a reliable way to combine a love of marine life and scientific study.

Other careers involving underwater scientific research might also welcome your scuba diving expertise.

Underwater Stunt Person

Ever seen underwater stunts in movies and wish you were there?

As a specialized stunt performer, directors might hire you for film or other visual media for your underwater daring.

You might play a hero, a villain, or a background character, but a camera will immortalize your skills on screen.

Wrapping Up

Anyone debating a scuba dive in their future should know what certifications, equipment, and skills are available.

Familiarizing yourself with the scuba dive types and what they entail is an exciting first step.

Get to know more about the places you can explore, make friends with a scuba diver group, and prepare to see more.

Are you considering upgrading your certification?

Are you ready for a scuba diving career?

Whatever inspires you, stay safe, prepared, and enjoy the water.

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