How to pass your Open Water Diver course

Updated: 30 Jan, 2018

I tell my PADI Open Water students five things to help them become better divers, and pass the Open Water course.

Three rules. Two tips. In some ways it’s a bit of cheat, but if you understand why these rules and tips are so important and core to scuba diving, you’ll become a better diver, faster.

Rule 1

Never stop breathing / always keep breathing.

This one doesn’t change from PADI’s. It’s important for your safety, the question comes up in tests, and it is why instructors get you to breath out small bubbles during regulator-based skills.

Plus, I like breathing. It’s one of my favourite things to do, with diving a close second.

Rule 2


The first rule in making things better, is to stop making them worse.

I’m not sure where I first heard that, but it stuck. When things go wrong, the first thing to do is stop. Then assess the situation, create a plan of action, then enact that plan.

Stop. Think. Do.

Additionally, this rule works well for spacing out actions. Between each action, stop. Pause.

Kick. Pause. Let yourself drift for a moment, then kick again. Don’t rush it.

When doing a course skill/task, stop between steps of the skill. Pause to think, and get it right.

Rule 3

Slow down.

Not necessarily calm down or relax, but it helps. Slow down. Breathe. Slower.

Kick slower.

Move slower. Act slower. Like you have lethargy, almost. Do everything in super slow motion. 120 frames per second.

Ascend slowly. Reach for things slowly. Even signal slowly, or at least purposefully.

Rushing causes unclear signals, can unbalance new divers easily, and leads to greater air consumption.

Tip 1

Section one, knowledge review one, question one.

This relates to the PADI revised (2014) Open Water manual, where the very first question is about how pressure, density, volume and depth are related.

This one abstract concept affects everything in diving. It might make little sense at first, but everything else comes back to it.

This is why we need to adjust our buoyancy as our depth changes. Why we need to do CESA to avoid decompression illness.

You don’t need to memorise the numbers (though it helps), but just being aware of the relationship in everything you do is enough.

Tip 2

Air goes up.

Which way does air go? Air goes up.

Air goes up, so:

  • Tilt your mask during a freeflow exercise, so it doesn’t get knocked off by bubbles going up.
  • Grab the correct (up-most) dump valve to stop an uncontrolled ascent.
  • Press on the top of your mask when clearing it.
  • Look at your (or your buddy’s) bubbles to avoid disorientation.
  • When inflating a surface marker buoy (SMB), ensure the regulator is below the opening of the SMB. Do not try to ‘pour’ air into it.

Why do you lay down to avoid DCS and not stand? Because air goes up, and you don’t want the bubbles to rise and form inside your head.

Air goes up.

Related, water goes down. This is why clearing your snorkel using the blast method can be difficult, and also why you tilt your mask back when clearing it, and tilt your BCD when draining the water out at the end of a day.

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