Guide to PADI Open Water Dive

After two breathe-taking (no pun intended) snorkeling trips to the Key Largo reefs, I wanted to dive deep to take a good, close look at the corals. In preparation for my training dives, I took notes on the skills to be tested on each dive. The post is for my reference, and hopefully it can help other beginner divers.

The skills tested on each dive, according to the PADI Diver’s logbook, are listed below. Of course, different instructors may choose to different sequences for completing the skills.


Open Water Dive #1
  • Hand signal recognition. Key signals: Okay. Ascend. Descend. Which way? Something's wrong. How much air? Low on air. Out of air. Turn around.
  • Equipment preparation, donning and adjustment
  • Predive safety check
  • Entry
  • Buoyancy / weight check
  • Controlled descent
  • Trim check
  • Partial mask flood
  • Regulator recovery / clear
  • Underwater exploration
  • Signal air supply
  • Stay close to buddy
  • Ascent
  • Exit
Open Water Dive #2
  • Plan dive
  • Equipment preparation, donning and adjustment
  • Predive safety check
  • Entry and weight check
  • Orally inflate BCD (surface)
  • Descent
  • Buoyancy control
  • Mask clearing
  • Alternate air source use / ascent
  • Underwater exploration
  • Avoid contact
  • Signal air supply
  • Stay close to buddy
  • Ascent
  • Exit
Open Water Dive #3
  • Plan dive
  • Equipment preparation, donning and adjustment
  • Predive safety check
  • Entry and weight check
  • Free descent
  • Buoyancy control / oral inflation
  • Mask remove / replace
  • Underwater exploration
  • Avoid contact
  • Stay close to buddy
  • Signal air supply
  • Ascent
  • Exit
Open Water Dive #4
  • Plan dive using slate
  • Equipment preparation, donning and adjustment
  • Predive safety check
  • Entry and weight check
  • Free descent without reference
  • Avoid contact
  • Stay close to buddy
  • Underwater exploration
  • Signal air supply
  • Signal turn point
  • Ascent
  • Safety stop
  • Exit

Flexible Skills
  • Cramp removal
  • Tired diver tow
  • Inflatable signal tube/DSMB Deployment
  • Surface swim with compass
  • Emergency weight drop (or in CW)
  • Remove/replace scuba (surface)
  • Remove/replace weights (surface)
  • Snorkel/regulator exchange

Equipment preparation, donning and adjustment
  • Cylinder in front, switch on right side
  • Check visual inspection date within 1 year
  • Check hydrostatic inspection date within 5 years
  • O-ring in place
  • Test air quality by sniffing - good air is dry and odorless
  • Secure BCD onto the cylinder
  • Connect the regulators to the cylinder, low pressure inflator to BCD
  • Read off air pressure
  • Make sure auto-inflator works
  • Check both second stages work
  • Clip everything in place
  • Predive Safety Check

    Use the acrynom BWARF (Baptists Want All Righteous Friends). My instructor used the phrase “Beans With Rice And Fish” during class. Come up with your own to help you remember. B = BCD, W = Weights, A = Air, R = Release, F = final check.

    Free Descent

    Use the acrynom SORTED for descending. S = Signal, O = Orient, R = Regs in mouth, T = Time, E = Equalize, D = Down.

    Entry
    1. Big Stride Entry: usually used on a dive boat with dive platform.
    2. Shore / Beach: simply walk / wade (walk backwards) into the water, inflate your BC, might have to surface swim to dive site
    3. Back roll: for smaller boat where you cannot perform big stride entry. Sit on the side of the boat, check surface is clear, one hand protects back of head and other hand holds onto mask and regulator.
    Buoyancy, Weight Check

    For open water dives, the student will most likely be overweighted. Being nervous and stressed makes the descend harder. That said, being overweight at least gets the student down to the bottom or the platform to perform the skills. The tradeoff is of course harder buoyancy control. One must adjust the BC frequently at different depths to compensate for the extra weight carried.

    1. At the beginning of the dive: defalte BCD completely while holding a normal breathe, you should be floating at eye level. With a slow exhale, one should sink.
    2. At safety stop: with 800 psi of air in the tank and no air in the BCD, one should float comfortably. One would start sinking if carrying too much weight, in which case one has to prudently and conservatively add small bursts of air back in the BCD to stay at the 15 ft mark. Adding too much air will make the diver shoot straight up to the surface, especially considering that there is the greatest pressure change at 15 ft mark. If one has too little weight, one would not be able to stay at the safety stop even if you empty all air in the BCD. This is extremely dangerous, especially on a dive where a safety stop is required. Hold onto the downline if there is one to maintain the depth. This is another reason that students start out being overweighted rather than underweighted.
    Alternate air source

    In an out-of-air scenario, a common mistake I see people make is to let go of their primary second stage while searching for their partner’s alternate second stage. If it takes one longer than expected to get a hold of the alternate second stage for some reasons, having an out-of-air second stage in one’s mouth is not useless. It prevents water from getting into the mouth.

    Mask Clearing

    Partial mask clearing and fully flooded mask clearing can be daunting. I personally cannot open my eyes in water, so I keep them closed. I exhale through my nose as I flood the mask to prep for the final clearing. It helps to tilt the head up 30 degrees and blow out through the nose.

    Other Tips

    I had a trouble putting on a 7mm wetsuit outside of my swimsuit. Wearing a skin suit (I like Henderson HotSkin) first has helped tremendously.