While back in Koh Tao for one more week of island fun, I tagged along on a few dives with Lindsay and MM, who were both getting their Advanced Open Water certification. I did my own advanced certification back when I was living in Cayman in 2010, and I was so excited for them to do the same! Conditions on the island weren’t great and I was pretty disappointed with my resulting photos. Since I can’t give ya’ll any real eye candy in this post I thought instead I’d give you some useful information. I know, I know… there’s a first time for everything!
The Advanced Open Water course is the next step in the PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) learning ladder after the introductory Open Water course. In my opinion, the Advanced Open Water is the most fun course out of all of them — there’s little theory involved, so it mostly consists of going on five fun dives.
The benefit of doing the course, apart from the pursuit of a good time, is that afterwards you’ll be able to go deeper (30 meters versus 18 at Open Water level) and do more challenging dives that are often reserved for those with advanced certification.
Typically, students are required to do an Underwater Navigation dive, and a Deep Water Dive, and then pick three other adventure dives of their own. These can range from Underwater Photography to Wreck Diving to Night Diving and beyond.
I didn’t tag along for all five dives but I did make time for three of them….
Even with all my diving experience doing everything from swimming with sharks in the Bahamas to dry suit diving in Iceland, I’ve never felt truly comfortable with night diving. I don’t really like the dark even on land, so as you can imagine it’s even more intimidating underwater.
Still, I like to challenge myself, so I tagged along on this dive. For the first time I tried to bring my camera along as well, but that was pretty much a big fat fail. Gives me something to work for in the future though! This adventure dive is all about testing a student’s comfort level underwater and showing them a new crop of nocturnal sealife.
While night diving still gives me the shivers, I don’t think twice about descending down deep — occasionally even below recreational limits (don’t tell PADI!) In this adventure dive, students go below 18 meters for the first time, and an instructor uses props to show them how colors, volume and even mental agility are affected at depth.
One semi-fun, semi-super dangerous side effect of deep diving is nitrogen narcosis, which can have a similar effect to laughing gas on divers. I’ve felt truly “narced” just once in my life, while wall diving in the Cayman Islands. Suddenly coral was hysterical and I desperately wanted to ride a turtle. Luckily my clear-headed dive buddy kept it together.
A downside to deep diving is that light and color are scarce, so it really isn’t the most rewarding setting for underwater photography. Most deep dive specialties in Koh Tao are brought to Chumphon, which is one of my favorite dive sites for its massive swirls of schooling fish.
While I’m not a wreck diving addict like some, I think they are a fun shake-up from the usual reef setting. Wrecks can be both historically significant and crucial to the future as artificial reefs. In Koh Tao, divers can explore the HTMS Sattakut, which conditions can make into a beautiful dive (see photos in link) or a slightly frustrating one. Wrecks are typically reserved for Advanced Open Water divers, making this a fun addition to the course.
On this particular day conditions were pretty poor so I wasn’t happy with any of my photos. Still, it’s a recently sunk wreck and it was fun to see how the aquatic life is moving in and taking over.
With a wide variety of dive sites and great dive schools like my friends over at Roctopus, Koh Tao is the perfect place to get your Advanced Open Water certification! It will open a whole new world of possibilities to divers looking to explore the underwater world.
Do you have an Advanced Open Water certification? Which specialties did you do?