PADI Instructors who develop their own distinctive specialty create a unique learning experience for scuba divers - and an opportunity for participants to get an exclusive dive certification.
This section contains an extensive roster of PADI distinctive specialties with details about the unusual dive courses that are available in different locations around the world.
Distinct specialty certifications will be exclusive to individual instructors or to a specific region.
Thus, it could relate to a precise area (e.g. Lava Tube Diver) or it could link to a unique line of work (e.g. Helicopter Diver).
But, you will need to get approval from PADI before you offer any niche training courses to scuba divers.
Once it's been approved, PADI Instructors can teach and certify divers for the individualised distinctive specialty course that they created.
Important: Certifications achieved from the PADI Distinctive Specialty Course list may count towards the five (5) specialties required for the prestigious rating of Master Scuba Diver.
It may be a tad optimistic to hope that becoming a PADI Zombie Apocalypse Diver will enter the A to Z list of PADI Specialty Courses (e.g. traditional scuba certifications).
Nevertheless, we have compiled a definitive checklist of unique and exclusive specialties that will appeal to divers with a passion for extreme adventures.
The guy who wrote the PADI Advanced Underwater Sign Language Distinctive Specialty is named Chuck Thompson, a PADI MSDT at Columbia Scuba, Maryland, USA.
Students should be prepared to learn some history about American Sign Language (ASL). But, after coming to grips with the sign language basics, you will get a chance to absorb more than one hundred signs based on ASL (e.g. letters and numbers).
In most cases, spending a couple of evenings studying in a classroom is enough to complete the training in gesticulation. Then, it's off to a confined water site to practice 'talking with sign language underwater'.
Note: Another section explains why scuba divers can't have a normal voice conversation underwater and how diving communication equipment can help them converse with one another.
The decline in the population of sea turtles around the world is notable and concerning. Even so, there are steps we can take to address the global fight to help save the species.
This particular Distinctive Specialty contains two (2) scuba dives or two (2) snorkeling excursions. It is an ideal opportunity to learn more about sea turtle facts and information and the essential role that they have in marine ecosystems worldwide.
As a result, the unique training in conservation techniques teaches you how to identify and then record the sightings of different species of sea turtles.
Note: There is a non-diver route for the AWARE Sea Turtle Awareness Distinctive Specialty course. Thus, snorkelers can take part if they follow the different requirements for administration and certification.
Most shark species are apex predators (also called top predators). In short, it means they are at the top of a food chain and they have no natural predator that feeds on them as prey.
Seeing sharks underwater is an exciting experience for most seasoned divers. Yet, the thought of being up close and personal with these underwater "monsters" will scare almost every non-diver.
Even so, you can learn more about their behaviour, and importance for healthy marine ecosystems, in the AWARE Shark Conservation Distinctive Specialty course.
Some of the topics you will learn about include:
To participate in the two (2) training dives you need to be certified as Open Water Diver or above, at least twelve (12) years old, and have no contraindications for scuba diving.
Note: Another section recounts the day we went snorkeling with sharks in Thailand as part of an organised baby bamboo shark release.
So, why should you take the CoralWatch Coral Health Chart Distinctive Specialty, first created in 2010? The primary benefits are coral monitoring and data collection.
The impact of coral bleaching is devastating in many regions. But, students can learn the skills required to identify healthy vs. poor corals - and then record the relevant data.
Here's how it works:
There's no specific requirement for participants to do any coral surveys. But, divers and snorkelers can get recognition for the knowledge they gained from the course tuition.
As part of the training, you will be using education materials created specifically for the Coral Health Chart Distinctive Specialty course.
The extra missions for students who take part in the CoralWatch Coral Health Chart Distinctive Specialty course training, will include:
Note: Scuba divers need to have an Open Water Diver Certification (or higher), and snorkelers will need to have 'competent' swimming skills.
Combined with all the usual conservation methods taking place, the restoration of coral reefs is a specialist subject.
But, Mark Goldsmith at Blue Vision Adventures at Playa Blanca Punta Cana has created a course that opens up the process for the masses.
He got the PADI® Coral First Aid Specialty Diver Course approved back in 2014. Since then, recreational divers, tourists, and fisheries departments have been learning more about coral garden methodologies.
What is Coral Gardening?
Coral gardening is a method that involves rescuing wild coral reef polyps as samples. Then, 'planting' them in protected, shallow settings gives them a better environment for growing into healthy structures.
After allowing the tissues some time to recover and grow, they get replanted at degraded or damaged reefs to help promote the natural process for sexual reproduction.
After completing the course knowledge development you will take part in three skill sessions - in a shallow open water environment.
The normal course flow for the training dives will include:
A review of effective buoyancy control and how to use diving lift bags. The skill sets include the movement of an object from one location to a different site.
Methods for pre-coral handling, how to set up coral garden frames, and how to attach polyp fragments.
Modern techniques for data collection, coral measurement, recording mortality and survival numbers, and how to review data sheets.
Note: Participants need to be at least twelve (12) years old and hold the Open Water Diver Certificate (or higher).
The PADI Crown of Thorns Management Specialty Divers Course received approval in August 2019. So, it's one of the more recent additions to the A to Z list of distinctive specialties.
There are several valid reasons why Lee A Ricketts at Alegria Dive Resort in Moalboal, Cebu, the Philippines created a dive course to help decrease the population of the Crown of Thorns species.
The role of balancing coral reef ecosystem dynamics falls on many of its natural inhabitants, including:
Even though they all succumb to natural predators, there is a significant population decline in the voracious predators of Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTs).
That particular honour goes to the Triton's trumpet (Charonia tritonis) - a large sea snail. Sometimes called the giant triton, these marine gastropod molluscs (family Charoniidae) can grow up to twenty four inches in shell length.
As a result, there has been a serious outbreak in the Crown of Thorns population in recent years. So much so, that their invasion of coral reefs worldwide has been 'out of control'.
The prerequisites for taking part in the PADI® Crown of Thorns Distinctive Specialty Diver Course include:
Important: The scuba diver injuries help guide has more information about the Crown of Thorns Starfish sting and how to treat a puncture wound if Emergency Medical Services are not immediately available.
Okay full disclosure! This is one my personal favourites in this extensive list of PADI® Distinctive Specialty courses. You can read about the others in the PADI Core Specialties list (e.g. Wreck Diver).
In most cases, divers only need one (1) day to complete the training. You will learn about frogfish facts in the classroom (around 90 minutes) and then finish the course with two scuba dives, and a debriefing.
Let's dive in a bit deeper:
The primary objective for attending the course is to acquire a basic knowledge of the life and behaviour of frogfishes. You should also develop an ability to identify at least ten (10) frogfish species (using a frogfish identification guide).
So, what's needed to become a Frogfish Specialist and get your unique certification card? You need to be certified as (any):
In most cases, divers with these advanced certifications will get longer bottom times. So, you would have more time to search for even more frogfish.
Tip: Divers should consider themselves as being "unlucky" if they don't find five to ten different species of frogfishes in Dauin (southern Philippines) at any time of the year. But, the best months to take the Frogfish Specialist course are April to July.
If you head over to Homestead Crater, Utah, you can sign up for the Hot Spring Diver Distinctive Specialty course.
This unique scuba diving experience takes place in geothermal pools at the landlocked deserts in Utah. It also happens to be the second driest state in North America - after Nevada.
Most of the pools are small and shallow. Even so, natural hot tubs have become popular dive sites beneath the rock dome.
The sixty five (65) feet deep pool receives some daylight - as it streams in through a hole in the top of the cavern. This is what creates the electric-blue appearance in the mineral-laced water.
You will learn about the safe-diving practices needed for diving in a hot spring. Furthermore, you need to make sure you don't get hyperthermia through overheating in 95° Fahrenheit water temperature.
Pro Tip: Another section explains how to make four (4) training dives and get certified as PADI Cavern Diver Specialist - and you can do it in only two (2) days.
Scientists continue to identify new species of sea slugs and nudibranchs on a regular basis and add them to the 3,000+ classifications already discovered worldwide.
Being an ardent fan of nudibranchs myself, the Bali Sea Slug Specialty Course is close to the top of my list for courses offered by PADI® Distinctive Specialties Instructors.
Here's the deal:
You should contact the original creators of the program (AquaMarine Diving in Bali) if you want to improve your general knowledge about nudis and sea slugs, including:
The specialised training also includes hands-on tuition about the best practices for diving close to sea slugs and nudibranchs. Other important topics covered for the Indonesia Sea Slugs and Nudibranchs Awareness certification, include:
In fact, you can complete the Knowledge Development as a stand-alone course. But, it would be a missed opportunity not to dive at some of the best destinations for scuba diving in Bali (e.g. Candidasa, and Tulamben).
Note: Don't miss diving around the world famous USAT Liberty Wreck - resting on its side off the beach at Tulamben in the north east, close to Bali's largest volcano 'Gunung Agung'.
Lionfishes are native to the Pacific Ocean. Yet, they continue to invade the north-western Atlantic as well as some notable areas in the Caribbean.
Why is it an issue?
Because lionfish have no natural predators in these regions (e.g. moray eels). The Invasive Lionfish Tracker Distinctive Specialty Course explains what action is needed to help control the invading population.
When you make the two (2) required scuba training dives for certification you will also learn practical ways of capturing and euthanizing lionfish in a safe and humane way.
If you travel to Kona, in Hawaii, you will find the local home base for the PADI Manta Ray Diver Distinctive Specialty course.
Even though they call him 'Manta Man' his real name is Keller Laros. He noticed distinctive markings on the rays he was diving around and started to catalog and record his observations. That's when he decided to go ahead and create the Manta Ray Diver specialty course outline in 2006.
And the outcome...
You need to make two (2) dives to complete the program. You will make one dive at sunset and the second dive at nighttime.
Total duration for completing the manta ray course is about eight (8) hours. Several classroom sessions will include:
Important: Actual sightings of manta rays is not a requirement for getting certified as a Manta Ray Diver.
In 2009, Hawaii state law introduced legislation for the protection of manta ray species. As a result, there are severe penalties for anyone caught killing or harming a manta (including their habitats).
This course offer scuba divers an orientation into the theoretical and practical work through documentation and studies of shipwrecks. It also contains information about using safe diving practices at all underwater archaeological dive sites.
Successful completion means you will have a basic understanding about marine archaeological theory and practical execution.
Marine Archaeology Specialty Course Prerequisites:
You will learn about:
The goals for the training dives include mastering basic underwater documentation with measurements and sketches. Students also need to execute responsible diving practices while exploring dive sites of historical importance using the appropriate safety diving procedures.
Bonne Terre is a small town in Missouri in the Midwestern region of the United States. It has a vast, water-filled maze stretching hundreds of feet deep into the earth's crust.
In fact, Bonne Terre used to be home to the largest lead mine in the world.
Nowadays, it is famous for being a tourist attraction and a playground for scuba divers.
Dozens of dive trails, created by flooded rooms and redundant mine shafts, have formed a superb diving experience.
Course participants get an in-depth briefing about the history of Bonne Terre. Then, for safety reasons, you'll perform a walking tour of the mine.
All personalised scuba diving tours require extra tuition focusing on the skills you need to dive a flooded mine.
Then, you can make two scuba dives along the underwater trails. This is where you'll see historic artifacts, including:
There are several reasons why Project AWARE supports this specialty and Sport Diver magazine ranks Mola Mola Awareness at number 7 in their 'Coolest PADI Specialties on the Planet'.
Paul Spratt of Tamarind Divers in Bali, Indonesia, first wrote the specialty outline in 2012. He claims official sightings of the mola mola fish occur more often in the region per year than anywhere else in the world.
Why is that?
Mola mola, also known as ocean sunfish (and headfish in some areas) like to be around small reef fish at cleaning times.
Hence, the biggest bony fish in the sea come up from the deep on cold-water upwellings, especially around:
So, what will divers learn in the PADI Mola Mola Awareness Diver Distinctive Specialty Course? First, you'll learn how to dive passively around big fish and in a conservative manner.
Next, you get to understand more about the characteristics and behaviour of Molidae species (family name for common mola).
In fact, there are six (6) different species of these oceanic fishes. Nonetheless, the course focuses on the molas found in Bali (e.g. Mola alexandrini or bump-head sunfish).
As you may expect, not many scuba divers have the Mola Mola Awareness Diver certification card in their portfolio. You might consider it as being an exclusive club!
Even so, there is only one prerequisite - you need to be certified as Open Water Diver (or higher). Having the Advanced Open Water certification is even better because you usually find mola molas between fifteen (15) and thirty (30) metres below the surface.
The course price includes a presentation (which may be conducted online via Zoom), the student manual, and two (2) open water training dives.
In most cases, it will only take two days to complete this distinctive specialty, and the best months of the year for spotting mola mola fish are those between late July and early October.
What if an experienced diver wants (or needs) to make scuba dives without having a partner accompany them in the water?
PADI consents to a special kind of 'solo diving' through the Self Reliant Diver course. It is a safer way of learning about the potential risks of diving alone, using redundancy equipment, and diving with back-up gear.
The three scuba training dives required to complete the certification are available through our dive shop in Pattaya, Thailand.
There are several important reasons why scuba divers will use surface marker buoys (SMBs). The most common uses include:
The course contains two (2) scuba training dives for the in-water sessions. You will learn about the local protocols and proper techniques for using (both):
Note: The scuba diving accessories section has more tips and information about gadgets and gizmo stuff that you may want to add to your standard scuba kit.
This adventure is also called blackwater diving because it needs to be a night dive. But, it's becoming more popular because of the weird pelagic critters that show up in open oceans when it's pitch black.
The creator of the PADI Pelagic Magic Diver specialist certification is Jeff Leicher (back in 2016). So, as long as you have the Open Water Diver C-Card you can sign up for the blackwater diver's course.
This is the important part:
You will learn how to use a retractable tether system for blackwater night diving. In short, tethered scuba divers hang in the dark water abyss - suspended from a surface support vessel.
The tether acts as a 'safety net' to ensure the divers don't stray too far away from the boat. It also means they stay within the safe depth limits for recreational scuba divers.
Tethering a scuba diver from a boat has some safety issues. That's why the course focuses on how to use the mechanism in a safe manner.
As a result, you will also learn how to adapt your eyes (and posture) for optimum night vision in the Pelagic Magic Diver course.
The tuition that you'll receive brings you up to speed about different aquatic animals that divers see in the darkness. Typical examples of nocturnal species include moray eels, octopuses, and scorpion fishes.
It is also important to avoid injuring yourself - or any of the fragile pelagic ecosystems that you may bump into. Thus, already having some night diving experience will be a big advantage on a journey to becoming a Pelagic Magic Diver Specialist.
Note: Another section explains how to get the PADI® Night Diver Specialty Certification and how the dives may be credited towards the prestigious rating of Master Scuba Diver.
Threshers are large lamniformes (mackerel sharks). You can find them in deep waters of all temperate and tropical oceans. The three extant species (remaining) fall under the genus Alopias.
The pelagic thresher (scientific name Alopias pelagicus) is one of the easy shark species to identify, mainly due to its distinct tail formation - shaped like a scythe.
So, where is the best place to see thresher sharks? I had a scuba diving holiday there myself in 2004, and Malapascua Island in Cebu is one of the destinations I would recommend.
In truth, getting to the island wasn't a simple task. But, divers have a good chance of seeing the nocturnal, pelagic creatures on early morning dives at Monad Shoal.
Note: Since 2007, the World Conservation Union listed all three species of thresher sharks (the Common thresher, Pelagic thresher, and Bigeye thresher) as vulnerable to extinction.
Andrea Agarwal is the founder of Thresher Shark Divers in Cebu, Philippines and the creator of the PADI® Thresher Shark Diver Distinctive Specialty (in 2004).
The course usually takes two days to complete and it has two (2) knowledge development presentations:
Next, you get to lead one of the two (2) required scuba dives in open water, searching for thresher sharks (e.g. waiting patiently on the sea bed).
Part of the training includes observing any large pelagics that decide to show up and adding the details to a shark database.
Important: Generally, divers will look for thresher sharks at depths around thirty (30) metres. So, you will need to have an Advanced Open Water certification or the Deep Adventure Dive (e.g. they also recommend being an Enriched Air (nitrox) diver).
Note: Do you and your partner share a common love for scuba diving and plan to get married? Check out our underwater weddings in Thailand and yours will be a unique and memorable occasion.
Some divers call them 'sea slugs'. But, small, soft-bodied, molluscs that breathe using an apparatus on the outside of their body are classified as nudibranchs.
Vietnam has no shortage of diverse nudibranch species. Furthermore, some of them still remain unrecorded in official reference manuals.
Jeremy P. Stein is a Course Director at Rainbow Divers (Vietnam). He created the PADI Vietnam Nudibranch Distinctive Specialty course in 2005.
Let's dive in...
How can you get certified as a Vietnam Nudibranch Specialist? First, you need to complete the knowledge development sections.
Next, you make two (2) scuba dives in an open water environment. In most cases, you can do both dives on the same day (weather permitting).
After the training you should be able to (all):
You can sign up for the sea slug course any month of the year. But, the best time to search for nudibranchs in Vietnam is:
Tip: Beginners can get a head start for the course by learning the basics about taxonomy Nudibranchia in our sea slug facts and information guide.
Many years ago, sailors feared whales, seeing them as gigantic sea monsters. Nowadays, these remarkable mammals captivate almost everyone who gets anywhere near them.
Why are whales special?
First of all, the blue whale is bigger than any dinosaur. It is the largest 'known' animal to live on our planet.
Then, some people have been lucky enough to hear the enchanting noises they make. They are famous for their incredible migrations, and some whales have even protected other species against harm.
But, mammalian oceanic whales need help from concerned individuals and organisations. One way to make a difference is by taking the PADI Whale Defender Distinctive Specialty course - written by Jay Clue in 2020 based at Dive Ninja Expeditions in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
The training you'll receive focuses on the complex history between humans and whales. You will also learn about the biology and evolution of Cetacea species and why they are important creatures to have living in healthy oceans.
The Whale Defender Distinctive Specialty only takes half a day to complete and the certification fee includes all the learning materials needed.
Note: There are no prerequisites to join the course so you don't need to have experience in scuba diving, snorkeling, or freediving. You can also complete the certification online with one of the Whale Defender Specialty Instructors if you are unable to travel.
We often get asked how long is a whale shark in metres and do they behave 'aggressively' around scuba divers.
In fact, whale sharks are the largest extant (surviving) fishes in the ocean. Yet, their reputation as gentle giants is truly appropriate.
In recent years, new research and monitoring programs have been providing us with accurate knowledge and understanding about whale shark activities and population size.
Here's the deal:
Sign up for the Whale Shark Awareness Distinctive Specialty Course and you will learn about their biology, behaviour, and distribution patterns.
Note: It is best to interact passively with aquatic life while you observe these gigantic creatures in the two (2) required scuba dives or snorkeling excursions.
The originators of the PADI® Zombie Apocalypse Diver certification say it is the only scuba course designed from the bottom up with one single objective - to stay alive!
This is definitely one of the most 'distinct' in this PADI Distinctive Specialties list. Their use of futuristic dive training and the latest intelligence known about living-dead, flesheaters is... shall we say... creative?
Here's the deal:
The course will be challenging and a lot of fun. Nonetheless, anyone from the age of ten (10) can become a Zombie Apocalypse Diver.
We understand no animals were harmed during the creation of this activity. There will be no blood, gore, or violence. But, you should expect to witness a little zombie makeup and the occasional encounter with some slippery slime.
Note: There is a special children's course conducted in a shallow swimming pool. It meets the certification requirements for a special Aqua-Mission as part of the PADI Seal Team Program (without the C-Card).