Possibly the most common question we receive from new divers goes something like:

“Hi, I just finished up my SDI Open Water course this week. What an experience. I thoroughly loved every minute. NOW I’m now thinking about my next step, but I am swamped with information! HELP! What should I do next?”
Common question, easy answer: DIVE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. Really, there is no better way to become a better, more comfortable, more aware diver and better dive buddy than logging additional dives.
Of course, working for a training agency, especially one with a curriculum that covers everything from scuba try-dives to public safety diving while including full cave and CCR diving, I should put in a plug for continuing diver education! After all, even our instructor-trainers are encouraged to take “personal development” courses every year. But I have to admit, the answer to “Which Course Next?” is not quite as easy to come up with.
So, I asked around Headquarters staffers to get their suggestions for a new diver looking to build confidence and experience, and even then, it was a split decision.
By far the majority of our dive pros suggested Nitrox as a useful next step. Perhaps because we are snowed in here in Maine and diving opportunities are limited, because nitrox CAN be taught without any open water dives. Strange to recommend a course where diving is optional, don’t you think. Well, consensus is that a nitrox course reinforces some basic dive planning practices (always a good thing for divers of ALL experience levels), and when they can dive, allows divers to use a gas that is simply hands-down a better option in most cases than straight air. That is if more bottom time is something the diver is interested in.
However, nitrox only just beat out Advanced Adventure. This is one of SDI’s leading specialty classes and gives divers a chance to log a handful of ‘specialty’ dives under the tutelage of an SDI instructor. Specifically, students are required to do two core specialty dives (deep and navigation) and then get to choose three more from the full list of SDI specialties such as boat, drift, night and so on.
What threw a slight wrench into the works was that a couple of folks in the office here asked what level of diver the person asking the question was. The assumption being that the decision about what course to take next was not confined to new open water divers alone.
How about experienced divers who are asking whether they should stick with SDI programs or branch out to the TDI side; perhaps starting with an Intro-to-Tech class? What about an experienced tech diver wondering if Cavern/Cave would be better than Advanced Wreck? After all, they are both overhead environments!
I have to admit, at this point, it dawned on me just how open-ended the “what next” question is. How can we possible give a good answer? Luckily, there is an out, but it does involve a little work on the part of the person asking the question.
First, be honest and make a realistic assessment of your comfort and skills in the water. This is especially important for divers who have a few dives logged. Really, really important for divers who started to dive back when we used cylinders carved from rock and we have to dodge saber-toothed tigers during surface intervals, but who have not logged many dives in the past year or so. Perhaps a simple refresher is what’s called for.
Secondly, write down what dive-related goals you have. Is there a specific dive you want to do? Is there a dive trip you want to take? Do you want to take the most striking photo of a shark feeding? Those goals can help qualify what you do next.
Thirdly, put down a timeline. Is it important to you that you take your rebreather on an excursion to the wreck of the Prince of Wales next month, or can it wait until next year?
Lastly, put aside some expendables… time and money. Make a note of how much of each you can afford to invest in the adventure.
Now when your list is finished, take it to your local shop or an instructor you know and ask the question “What course should I take next.” I guarantee you’ll get a better answer.


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