5 most useful PADI specialties for Canadian scuba divers

New scuba divers almost invariably ask ”what’s next?” Ideally, new scuba divers should start diving and get experience (within their limits and with appropriate local briefings/guides). But for many divers, it’s hard to travel regularly for scuba. Further scuba training can help fill that gap, and hopefully open the door to local, cold-water scuba diving. (Full disclosure: I teach most of these specialties at Toronto Scuba Centre.)

The obvious next-step after the PADI Open Water certification is the PADI Advanced Open Water certification. This course consists of 5 ”adventure” dives, each with a unique theme. Beyond getting more experience diving, you also get certified to go deeper (30-40 meters). After the Advanced certification, there’s also the Rescue Diver course, which will definitely make you a more confident diver (and it’s really hands-on and fun).

But where stuff really gets interesting is the world of the PADI specialty courses. There are dozens of specialties offered, and each course does a deep dive (pun intended) on a specific topic or type of diving. They all have an academic portion (reading, class and/or eLearning), some have confined water (pool) dives and most of them have open water dives. A few are academic-only, but most require 2-4 open water dives, so they take place over 1-2 days.

In case you needed more motivation to take some specialty courses, if you take 5 specialties (and have your Rescue Diver certification), you quality for the PADI Master Scuba Diver rating, the highest non-professional rating in the PADI world.

Top 5 PADI specialty courses

This is a subjective listing, and there’s nothing that says you need to stop at 5 PADI specialties. Depending on your diving interests and objectives, a different set of specialties may be more appropriate. But drop a comment below and let me know what you think!

Deep Diver

Keith exploring the Arabia shipwreck in Tobermory, Ontario
Keith exploring the Arabia shipwreck in Tobermory at a depth of 33m (110 feet)

Deep diving brings special considerations, especially when you approach depths of 30m (100ft). These range from gas narcosis, to short NDLs and faster gas consumption.

The PADI Deep Diver specialty includes 4 open water dives where we go deep to experience and full understand what it’s like to dive under these conditions. Even if you’ve done fun dives to these depths, I promise you’ll walk away from the Deep specialty learning something new.

Enriched Air (Nitrox) Diver

Scuba diver with a Nitrox tank exploring the Sweepstakes shipwreck in Tobermory
Extending our bottom time in Tobermory with Nitrox

We all want to spend more time underwater, and diving with enriched air (Nitrox) allows exactly that. When diving with Nitrox, your tissues absorb less nitrogen, giving you longer NDLs, especially when diving in the 18-30 meter range, and doubly when doing multiple dives in a day.

Diving with Nitrox is very safe, but there are some safety considerations, which is what this course teaches. Diving is optional for this course, and many (most?) shops teach this as a ”dry” specialty.

Dry Suit Diver

Exploring the China shipwreck in Lake Ontario
Exploring the China shipwreck in Lake Ontario in a dry suit; temperature at 31m deep was 7ºC in July

When the water temperature gets below 15ºC (60ºF), it’s worth thinking about diving in a dry suit. When the water is below 10ºC (50ºF), you definitely need to be in a dry suit. And if you get cold easily, you may consider diving in a dry suit in even warmer water.

In Canada (and other northern climates), a dry suit lets you really take advantage of our great local diving. It extends our local dive season (May through October/November for most people, although ice diving is also a possibility). And some colder bodies of water are really best enjoyed in a dry suit, even in the middle of the summer.

The PADI Dry Suit Diver specialty teaches you the considerations for dry suit diving over 2 open water dives, including achieving neutral buoyancy and dealing with trapped air in the dry suit.

Delayed Surface Marker Buoy (DSMB) Diver

Scuba diver at the surface with a deployed delayed surface marker buoy (DSMB)
Scuba diver at the surface with a deployed delayed surface marker buoy (DSMB)

A whole specialty course on deploying a DSMB seems like overkill, but most divers who dive with a DSMB are not comfortable deploying it from depth. That’s because most of them were never taught how to deploy it from depth. But once you learn how do do it, it’s not that daunting and it’s actually quite fun (and very useful).

The PADI DSMB Diver specialty course involves 2 open water dives where we practice inflating a DSMB from depth in various ways, and using a DSMB to mark our position while scuba diving and for performing a safety stop.

Equipment Specialist

Two sidemount tanks below the water surface before a dive in Humber Bay Park West, Toronto
Understanding your equipment and being able to perform quick fixes can save a dive

When you learn to scuba dive, you learn gain a basic understanding of what equipment we use and what it does. But in the introductory Open Water course, the discussion of equipment is, well, introductory.

Most scuba divers benefit from the more in-depth explanations and discussions on equipment that happen in the PADI Equipment Specialist course. It’s not overly technical; it’s designed to give all recreational scuba divers a better understanding of how the equipment works and how to take care of it. But most importantly, it teaches you how to fix simple and common equipment issues. This knowledge helps you better maintain your scuba gear, and likely implement quick fixes to save a dive.

Despite being a ”dry” course, it arms you with a wealth of knowledge and will make you a better scuba diver (and a hero when you save somebody’s dive).

What do you think of my top 5 PADI specialty courses?

  1. Deep Diver
  2. Enriched Air (Nitrox) Diver
  3. Dry Suit Diver
  4. Delayed Surface Marker Buoy (DSMB) Diver
  5. Equipment Specialist

What are your favourite specialty courses?

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